Monthly Archives: February 2014

Whither original radio?

I stumbled on a new radio station while driving to work the other day – WHUS, Storrs, which I later learned is the college station of the University of Connecticut. They were playing John Lee Hooker, Hendrix (rare tracks) and other bluesy stuff. The DJ was about to introduce a guest to talk about “sense of place” or something when static interfered with the signal somewhere in downtown Norwich.
It’s so rare to find something interesting and unexpected on the radio these days. The dial is dominated by Clear Channel, I [Heart] Radio, and other conglomerates that play pre-programmed packages of the same classic rock hits, over and over and over. How many times can you listen to the Stones’ “Beast of Burden”? Or Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC? The FCC has really dropped the ball on this one, allowing radio stations all over the country to become homogenized mouthpieces that bring in big profits for their owners but don’t necessarily serve unique community interests, or provide an outlet for artists who aren’t on their “playlists.”
I remember the excitement of discovering a new radio station back in the ’70s. If I placed our small Emerson portable radio on my mother’s washing machine and angled the antenna just right, I could bring in WSUB, Groton. They played bands I had never heard of, like Starry-Eyed and Laughing, and early Ted Nugent, when Derek St. Holmes was singing instead of Ted screaming about pussy. Then I began listening to WAAF, Worcester, which would come in on our front porch. This was back when AAF played album rock, before all that heavy metal/“Air Force” crap started in the 1980s. Back then, they were as likely to play a deep Steely Dan track as they were Zeppelin. And of course there was WBRU, Providence, with Steve Stockman and other DJs debuting early New Wave and intelligent album rock.
These stations were not slaves to formula, but relied instead on their disc jockey’s good taste. But today, the possibility to be surprised by the radio seems to have disappeared, or been narrowly confined to the low end of the FM dial, where college stations and National Public Radio live. Even NPR is often predictable, even boring, with its formula of foreign affairs reporting, notable books, and sponsored health broadcasts (as my friend Tara, a psychiatric nurse, pointed out). The sense that something unscripted might happen has largely been lost.
The Wolf, 102.3, recently replaced its morning team with a syndicated show out of California, a sort of smoothed-over Imus in the Morning, with the perennial two-men, one-woman formula (the woman is always there as “spice” or, if you will, “straight man” to the hi-jinks of the men). Somebody somewhere has decided that men listen to the radio and women don’t, just as someone at the Mohegan Sun station figured it’s cheaper and more efficient to use a syndicated service instead of a local drive-time team.
I hope I can catch this UConn station again, if only to be surprised. That evening, on the way home, the format had changed to bluegrass, with a man singing about how he’d “like to throw my cell phone out the window and live like granddaddy did.” Now that beats another round of Foreigner any day.

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Hurry Up. Slow Down.

Hurry up.
Slow down.
These two messages tug and pull at me every day when I open my journal or sit at my writing desk.
Hurry up.
The voice in my head sets my heart to racing. I have to finish this book! What am I waiting for? I’m only half done.
As if hearing the same voice, my office clock ticks like the beats of a gong. I find some Tchaikovsky on YouTube, hoping to drown it out.
Slow down.
Isn’t this what all the Famous Authors tell us? I recently read a post on a writing magazine site to this effect: What’s your hurry? That’s the trouble with all you “amateurs.” You’re in too much of a hurry! You rush through your first draft and try to sell it as a final draft. You don’t take the time you need. Why don’t you slow down and enjoy the ride? Etc.
This said by the Famous Author (or at least the Author with a Contract) who has an agent and a history of solid book sales. Why should he be in a hurry? Sure, he has a deadline for every new book, but he doesn’t have a day job or the specter of the last failed manuscript dogging at his heels.
Hurry up. All of a sudden, everyone I know is posting pictures of their new book. There they are, dozens of author copies nestled in a box. Look at that elegant cover, with the author’s name in prominent type. And read the wonderful review from Publisher’s Weekly.
Good God, didn’t Writer X just have a book out? Is everybody Joyce Carol Oates all of a sudden?
My first novel was published in 2008. Six years ago. And though I published one on my own since, we all know that doesn’t count. We won’t even talk about the third novel, a disaster muddied by too much advice during graduate school.
Fourth novel: half done, shelved, temporarily. Fifth novel: Not saying a word about it. Not one word.
OK. A few words about it. I work on it spurts: Hurrying up, slowing down. Journaling about it. Yes, I know journal isn’t a verb. Thinking about it, setting it aside, picking it up again.
I have all the time in the world: I’m only teaching two classes this semester. I have two afternoons and two solid, empty, beckoning days a week to write. So how come I’m not getting any more writing done than when I taught four classes?
Because that is the pace of this work. Hurry up. Slow down. While I toil away, others blow by me, leaving me in the dust. While I try to figure out this business of writing (why doesn’t it get easier? Will I ever know what the hell I’m doing? Will I ever be published again?), others finish first, go on book tours, get rave reviews.
There’s nothing to do but turn up Tchaikovsky and continue to stumble along, fast, slow, energized, stalled, the tortoise and the hare both, hoping to cross the finish line eventually.

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