Traveling Radio Horror Stories

  • Traveling Radio Horror Stories
    When taking car trips I used to listen mostly to tapes, CDs and minidiscs, since so much radio across the country sounds the same after a few hundred miles. But these days I listen to the radio much more, almost as a challenge to see if I can find something I can tolerate or that is even kind of interesting. For example, in the Indianapolis area I’ve found a commercial station that has a Grateful Dead show and an obscure progressive rock show, both clearly hosted by amateur DJs.

    On the trip to Bowling Green for the UPC this past weekend, however, I was disturbed by my radio twice. On I-90 West of Toledo I had the radio on seek, and was trying to scan the left end of the dial. It stopped at the end of some modern rock/nu-metal song at around 88.7 FM, so I figured it must be some college or high school station and so stayed on that station to listen. Next I heard a border-line advertisement for some night club. I say “border-line” because it wasn’t too agressive, and because 88.7 is in the non-commercial band and so commercials are disallowed by the FCC…. or so I thought. Next a DJ came on and introed the station as “89X” or some such thing — immediate thought was, “great, some college station doing a bad imitation of a bad modern rock station.” But then a steady line of increasingly bad and annoying commercials came on, and I couldn’t believe it.

    “How can they get away with this?” I thought to myself. I turned to my driving companion and asked incredulously, “are these really commercials, or am I crazy?” Oh, yes, them was commercials. Reeling from this apparent violation of one of the highest commandments in American broadcasting, I was composing my letter of complaint to the FCC in my head.

    After several minutes of commercial bombardment a quick station ID came on which solved the mystery for me. “89 X,” deep troated voice over shouted, “Windsor, Detroit.” Wait… Detroit I could hear really well, but was that first city Windsor? Damn! That station’s in Canada (though clearly looking to the bigger Detroit area for advertising and listeners), and they don’t have the same non-commercial rules. Damned Canucks have invaded our noncommercial airspace.

    A little later, also somewhere in the Toledo area, the seek stopped again somewhere on the left-end of the dial. This time it was a techno song, but it sounded strangely out-of-date — like a techno song that someone raved to in 1991. A driving beat and constant sample that went “God” over and over.

    Now, I’ve been fooled by Christian rock stations before. I’m tuning around the noncommercial band, hear something that sounds vaguely like a punk or inidie song, but then there’s some subtle lyrical differences. Talk of pain, salvation and words like “him,” give the tip off that this ain’t no college station. But the DJs play it pretty straight, with few explicitly christian references — it’s only when some announcer decides to explain the message in the song, or when some heavy-handed PSA comes on that you know for sure that you’ve been duped by the bible-thumping-rockers.

    So, hearing this techno song repeating “God,” I said to my driving partner, “Wouldn’t it be funny if this turned out to be Christian Techno? I mean, this song sounds 10 years old, and the Christian rockers are usually about a trend behind the mainstream, so it would stand to reason that the Christian electronica would be similarly behind the times.” Futher fueling our suspicions, the song then dropped samples of a guy saying “This is the house of God.” Still, such samples wouldn’t be out of place in a Ministry song, or any late 80s Wax Trax single.

    The song ends, and the DJ comes on and announces the song — no obvious clues yet. But then as he closes the show says that he’d like to leave us with a little message. GOTCHA! No secular DJ leaves us with a message, unless it’s a commercial sponsor’s. He goes on to explain how man is evil, and looking for salvation. Ach! Sucked in again by the techno-bible-thumpers.

    It used to be that the left end of the dial was the home to all that is weird, challenging and just plain crazy. But that land has been squatted by the missionaries with their own version of “educational” radio. Listener beware!

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