Ghost of Christmas Music

The Mall is bumped off in favor of "Jingle Bell Rock." Ouch.

It probably won't pump up my indie cred to admit that I'm going to miss 104.1, "The Mall," the "Hits of the '80s, '90s and Beyond" station that switched over to all Christmas music in November. Sure, part of that may be due to the fact that almost all Christmas music (with the sparkling exception of Elvis' Blue Christmas) makes me want to push acupuncture needles through my eardrums like Kakihara in Ichi the Killer. But I'll also miss their retro lunch hours, where the request format opened the door for some edgier New Wave fare than you usually hear on a corporate giant. Well, that's gone -- unless you consider "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" to be edgy fare.

There is something wonderfully appropriate in the fact that a station called "The Mall" started broadcasting Christmas music a few weeks before Thanksgiving. But it also points to a larger, national trend of moving stations to an all-Christmas format to give their corporate owners some breathing room when planning a new format and to help induce a little listener amnesia that will make the transfer to a new sound that much easier. Not all stations that have switched over to holiday fare are reformatting, but The Mall, having fired its syndicated morning show hosts Steve and DC, is looking for a fresh start.

What's the new format? It's a secret! Or they haven't decided yet, in which case it's time for action. Sure, giant media conglomerate (and WMLL owner) Emmis Communications probably has a complex algorithm involving ad revenue and demographics to determine what format to place in a certain city. Or maybe, just maybe, the corporate overlords sitting on their sacks of cash at Emmis HQ are looking at each other nervously and complaining, "If only we knew what Radar Station readers thought, then we could choose the best format for St. Louis!"

Well, let's let 'em know. If you've got an idea for a radio station that would do this town right, describe it in 50 words or less and e-mail it to me with the subject head "Radio Free St. Louis." In a few weeks we'll run the winning suggestion and send the column to Emmis, where the winner will no doubt land a fat gig as a consultant. But just in case you don't, you'll also win a mixed CD from yours truly.

Yeah, I'm a cheap bastard.

Bands, particularly local bands, are always looking for ways to get noticed. They give away countless CDs, plaster posters wherever the law allows (and then some) and generally talk themselves up whenever possible. Pop-rockers the Maxtone Four, however, have stumbled onto a great way to get some press: They're booking shows with national bands that normally give St. Louis a pass in favor of more indie-friendly towns like Lawrence. Band member Brian McClelland explains that he's sick and tired of his favorite bands not playing here, so he's taking the matter into his own hands. He hopes to book shows in the future with indie-poppers like Sloan and the Apples in Stereo. The Four are off to a great start with their long-awaited performance with Dressy Bessy, Saturday, December 6 at the Way Out Club. Dressy Bessy is impeccably cool sunshine pop out of Denver. The band's ode to summer, "California," is as pure pop pleasure as it gets.

See the kind of things I write about these bands? That's why McClelland's plan is brilliant: He shares musical tastes with a lot of music critics, so every time he books a show with someone like Elf Power (hint, hint) or the Apples, his shows are going to get good ink. Not to mention the fact that the indie-pop scene in St. Louis is very underserved, with no local club really dedicated to bringing jangly good times to town. Maybe there's a little too much macho-rock in town and it's hard to break out, but the good attendance at the few recent underground pop shows indicates that we could stand a lot more than we're getting. So good luck in booking, Maxtone Four.

If indie pop ain't your thing, if you'd rather have some funk in your trunk or you are just a warm and fuzzy charity type, then maybe you'd better hit the South City Funk-Off at Lemmons December 6. It's the CivilTones vs. the Dogtown Allstars. We can't testify as to exactly how funky it will be, or what nefarious-yet-bootylicious moves the bands will try out on one another to obtain victory, but two cans o' food get you a dollar off admission, with all the donations going to the St. Louis Area Foodbank. Surely you have a couple cans of hominy or some such thing just sitting in your cupboard, getting lonely and feeling useless. Take them out on the town, why don't you?

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