Expectation, Encounter, the Strange, and Why the Sale of KUSF Sucks

First of all, I will admit that I enjoy saying "the strange" since watching "Deadwood," even if I mean it in a somewhat different manner.

So in my clunker of a car, there's a radio but the panel that should tell me what station I'm on doesn't work. As a result, I'm in a more or less constant state of hitting the little arrow button. And I am struck by how much radio these days caters to the known, to ready-made categories, and to nostalgia.

Classic rock abounds. And what is less rock & roll than nostalgia? It's literally sickening. A few months ago, I was in the Hello Kitty shop in Japantown (don't ask) and the in-store radio was playing Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Then there is the country music station, the so-called alternative music station, the dance pop music station. Each confirms the listener's world.

And there's nothing really wrong with this. After all, taste defines who we are and vice-versa: we are what we like.

But these stations are so closed in their world views. There is a conspicuous lack of variety. Which is why I used to love happening upon KUSF, the famous radio station of the University of San Francisco. Man, I'd listen to a long set of 10 songs, not know one of them and yet thoroughly enjoy all of them. They'd be all over the place without being random. There was always a clear intelligence at work, a curation, a refinement: a taste. But a taste that sprawled, that enjoyed oddity, that relished the strange and unexpected. And this was performed for listeners.

I am certainly one who enjoys what he enjoys. I return to the same drink, more often than not. I return to the same music, more often than. I return to the same books, the same directors, the same behaviors. And, like I said, there's nothing wrong with this. I know what I like; I know who I am.

But sometimes it's nice not to know who I am, to have my taste pushed, challenged, stretched, explored, interrogated, refined, redefined, altered. Sometimes, I want a real encounter with the world, an event without a known finale.

I know when I read — and when I think and write — I want a take on things I would not expect, an argument I would never have considered. I don't read to confirm what I know; I read to expand how and what I think. I want the strange.

And that was what KUSF offered everyday. There was a thrill, an excitement, to listening. Imagine that: thrill and excitement from listening to the radio! That's how it should be — the public airwaves should push us, stretch us, redefine us. The aberration should be the nostalgia station.

To add insult to injury, KUSF was sold so some classic fucking rock station from San Jose could broadcast in San Francisco, as well. It's madness, I tell you, madness. It's part of the Starfucks Conspiracy: the world today proliferates the same, confirming the world we know. Rather than an idiosyncratic, local coffee shop, we get McCoffee. And rather than a radio station that proffers the new and the strange, we get the same old shit, confirming that we are in fact a bunch of soulless sad sacks.

And in fucking San Francisco, no less. It makes me weep.


Andrew said...

I can set my watch to the frequency of Lady Gaga on the local radio station, so i can appreciate your position. In Canada, we have the CBC radio, a public, advertisement free network of programs exploring the boundaries of many styles: i appreciate it a little more now. What i really find sad are groups of people who are willing to fight (steel boots and fists) over their affinity to a particular genre of station, or style, taste, behavior. Sadly, rejecting opportunity for being challenged, stretched, etc. What was that again about speaking to the smartest, homogenizing the rest?

Lack of variety, you bet! I wonder who still believes that there is a lack of congruency when commercials interrupt the narrative of a program/song/style. Advertising does such a good job these days, just like Pamela jogging on the beach on Baywatch can carry the narrative along. Is it product placement in program narrative, or narrative placement in advertising? It’s a damn intelligent strategy given both; when you are aiming for hegemony over conscious dogma. Repetition. Or something like that, when everyone aims/advertises to the median (Nash equilibrium), there is bound to be overlap. What kind of formed concepts do audiences build? Inbred, and bastards. Two cheers for corporate america, don’t forget to vote: for your democratic republican, your republic democrat, or inbred bastard. How big is the Bush family tree?

At least inbreeding has a tendency to have vulnerabilities. But why worry when Apples ‘genius’ can fill in any questions of your taste.

Chad Lott said...

Considering your King's Speech vs. Social Network post, I would've imagined this post to be more celebrative of things like Pandora (even with its blazingly loud advertisements for the Academy of Sciences).

Radio has been disappointing forever. Even college radio.

Of course there's still spots like West Add Radio: http://www.westaddradio.com/

@Andrew. Canada definitely has some real coolness, but I just heard an interview with Kids in the Hall Alum Dave Foley that made me feel pure terror for anyone involved in a Canadian divorce. Yikes.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Chad: Pandora and its ilk don't understand taste; they confirm genre. There's no surprise, no traversal: it's radio without the production costs.

And KUSF fucking rocked — and hopefully will rock again. So does KALX in Berkeley only I can't pick it up in SF>