By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
By Chaz Kangas
By Allison Babka
Editor's note: On the morning of Nov. 27, RFT freelancer Paul Friswold was found semiconscious and incoherent in the backseat of a Chevy Nova, just outside the Shrewsbury city limits. Because Friswold is semiconscious and incoherent even in his normal state, we here in the music department were less concerned about his dilapidated condition when the police delivered him to the office than we were about the feature he has been working on since midsummer about the state of St. Louis radio. After much stalling, pleading for more time and even a faked case of leprosy, the time had come for Mr. Friswold to either turn in the story he claimed "would change the way people listen to rock radio in this town" or pay the price with a savage editorial beatdown.
Apparently somebody beat us to the punch.
A CD booklet from Rush's Test for Echo, autographed by both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, was stapled to his back, and the preset buttons for the Nova's stereo marking 104.1 and 105.7 FM had been forcibly removed! (His mother tells us he "passed" these buttons later that week). When questioned about where the story was, Mr. Friswold could only giggle and point to his ubiquitous "Notebook of Knowledge." When asked what had happened to him, he would reply in a singsong voice: "Big money makes the world go 'round" and "They've taken control of everything -- the words you read, the songs you sing." Whatever. We have about 1,300 words to squeeze in between the porno ads, so we transcribed his notes and chucked him back on the street. You come to your own conclusions about what it all means.
After five weeks of listening to The Point, Extreme Radio and The Rock, it becomes painfully obvious that there is no God. Day after day, the same songs, over and over. In the case of The Point and Extreme Radio, there is no discernible difference between the two. On the 11th, one played Tool and the other played A Perfect Circle at 10:47 a.m.; on the 7th, they both played the same Stone Temple Pilots song at 10:52 a.m.; on the afternoon of the 6th, there were airings of "(Rock) Superstar" within minutes of each other on the two stations; Papa Roach is inescapable. This morning, Les Aaron made a snide comment about Limp Bizkit after playing them; Madison plays the same song with gusto. Les knows something.
So there is a God: He just torments me for fun. My editor, Randy, called. He says to hold off on the radio story (were the past five weeks for naught?). According to his sources, "the musical universe is contracting." The Extreme station will disappear, and the Point will be "Extremized." What will become of 104.1? "Something shitty" is Randy's hunch. Smart money's on him. He predicted bad things for The Point last summer, and Matt Costello freaked out on him. Now who's laughing?
Caught myself listening to Les Aaron today. What the fuck? There's something about that guy. The radio feature ain't gonna happen, but I'm still tuning in to hear him. Maybe it's the way he says "Les" like it ends with a "z," or those weird comments that pop out of his mouth at odd moments. Like today -- he was plugging his New Music Sunday show and suddenly he dropped that façade of professionalism and said, "Whatever else happens around here, I'll still be doing New Music Sunday." Then he went right back to being Mr. On-Air DJ. Randy's article hit the stands two days ago. Les must've seen it. Poor guy. Sounds like he's still sure he has a job, but all this mook-rock he's forced to play must be tearing him up.
New direction for radio feature: the uncanny parallels between radio in Kansas City and radio in St. Louis. Kansas City had The Rock at 98.9 FM and their alt-rock station at 105.9; St. Louis had the same Rock at 97.3 and the alt-rock Point at 105.7. KC's alt-rock station hit the crapper and turned into a cheesy '70s/'80s funk station. St. Louis' alt-rock station comes to the end of the line and goes Extreme. Now 104.1 is a retro girly station called The Mall. The future looks grim indeed: Two different cities with essentially the same lineup of rock-radio stations playing the same songs and changing formats to match one another's points to some sort of conspiracy, but a conspiracy of what? Bad music? Homogenization? A handful of corporations own all the radio stations nationwide. A format change here or there is normal, but the similarities are just too much. It's as if they're working toward something, but what? It's as if the corporate owners are whittling down the format choices nationwide until we're left with an archetype of each genre. Imagine -- one nationwide rock format, one nationwide oldies, one nationwide classical, and so on. They decided we had had enough alt-rock, so they changed it to mook-rock. Whatever comes after mook-rock on the devolutionary scale will be next year's format. They start on the coasts and let it seep into the middle of the country, just changing the call letters of the stations. The corporations could save a lot of money if they just went to a national numbering system, like ... BBC1 or BBC2. Oh, man. It keeps coming back to Les Aaron -- or, as he would say, "Lez Flippin' Aaron." Whether he realizes it or not, he's wrapped up in this somehow. At least he's free of the mook-rock now. He's ridin' a synth-pop gravy train with new-wave wheels on The Mall. If I could explain to him my theory about what's happening, maybe he could tell me why it's happening. And I could get his autograph.
No response from Les or The Mall. Les played that new J. Mascis song on his Sunday-night Point show. He sounds as if he really likes it. We're mirror images of each other. Scratch an '80s punk fan, find a Cure fan underneath; scratch Les Aaron, find a Dinosaur Jr. fan. He understands me.
Left Randy's name and number on the generic voice-mail box The Mall's secretary transferred me to this morning. Is Les ducking me? No, that's crazy talk. Les played "Bizarre Love Triangle" early in his shift. Is that a clue? It has to be. He's trying to help me out.
No call from Les. He played "Obsession" last Friday. If he plays it again this Friday, that means he's getting my messages but someone is keeping him from responding. It might be that prick Kane. His little "Who sounds more like Les Aaron?" game is insulting and demeaning. Making fun of a guy for having an accent -- more frat-boy hijinks from the frat-boy DJ.
"Bizarre Love Triangle" isn't the clue; it's New Order! New Order, "Obsession" -- it was right in front of my face all along! Randy was only partially right. It's not a "contraction of the musical universe," it's a contraction of radio itself! The format doesn't matter, and it hasn't for a long time. The music they play between the commercials, that's the least important thing about radio. What matters is the commercials' reaching the target audience. If they could get rid of the music entirely and just broadcast commercials all day, the corporations would do it. The 97.1 all-talk format is a testing ground: If talk radio reaches a big enough market, they'll devise a format of endless commercials, read by a charming Brit with a pleasant voice! They don't hook you on a format, they hook you on a DJ! That was their plan for a "New Order" in radio. Howard Stern moves from 104.1 to 105.7, and the audience follows. Les moves from 105.7 to 104.1, and I follow. I'm obsessed with Les Aaron. He is the Priest of the Temple of Syrinx. The corporation's great computers fill the hallowed halls of radio, and we're left with the horrifying conclusion that Rush is right! Our only hope is to get KSHE to play 2112 around the clock until everyone else catches on and overthrows corporate radio.
But that can wait until after Les Aaron's New Music Sunday. Maybe he'll play that new Go-Betweens song again. Les, you had me at "flippin'."