That phrase has Craven's dander up. Speak it in his presence, and you'll be fixed with a stern eye. Say it again and prepare for fisticuffs.
Craven has recently come to understand there are some who believe radio is a continuum. On one end lies community radio stations like KAFM. On the other lies "real radio."
"Real radio" stations, as Craven has come to understand the phrase in this context, are those which are "commercial." They are commercial in the sense that they exist to make money, and they are commercial in the sense that they - well, play commercials.
More than once, in recent weeks, Craven has heard someone contrast stations like KAFM with their "real" counterparts. KAFM struggles to make do with a limited budget; "real radio" stations, Craven has been told, have more money.
Whereas KAFM's amateur programmers speak in natural, unschooled measure, their regional dialects still evident, on "real radio" stations, the on-air talent is smooth and homogenous. At KAFM, a programmer may struggle with an equipment malfunction now and then; on "real radio" stations, there is a coterie of pre-amps, voice processors, compressors and rack-mounted multi-track digital recorders waiting to massage every phoneme that drips from a "real" announcer's lips.
Well, in the words of Adam Savage, "I reject your reality and substitute my own."
Call me crazy, but so-called "real radio" doesn't seem all that real to me. For all their honey-voiced professionals and high technology, "real radio" stations offer draconian playlists of sometimes as few as 50 songs -- if they play music at all. There are no discs to be jockeyed, and the playlist is generated by a room full of suits in New York or, worse yet, a computer.
A "real radio" announcer may never pepper his reads with "uhs" or stumble over a pronunciation, but he or she is also prone to prattle on about frivolous subjects, exhorting his or her listeners with the same boozy calls to party that sounded old in 1978. On "real radio" stations, you are bombarded by a relentless battery of over-compressed, hard-sell commercials every four to 10 minutes.
I know some fine, talented announcers who do good work on commercial radio stations in the Grand Valley. But even the best of them are frequently stunted, held back, chained by the strictures of corporate management and focus group-think that comes from working for a radio conglomerate.
I would much rather listen to a hemming and hawing amateur who programs as an act of love than some seasoned pro whose involvement with the music he plays typically means pushing a button or clicking a mouse. I would by far prefer to hear the clicks and pops and even skips on an obscure vinyl release that is new to my ears than listen to "Call Me Maybe" more times per day than God has names.
I will always choose a halting, uncertain - but human! - voice over the too-practiced, mindless chatter that passes for discourse on "real radio." King Crimson's Robert Fripp was talking about musicians when he said it, but there is wisdom in his words for those who care about radio as well:
"I recommend my students not to be professional unless they really have to be. I tell them, 'If you love music, sell Hoovers or be a plumber. Do something useful with your life.'"
Notes is supported by the Gay and Lesbian Fund, helping the Red Cross prepare for disaster relief in Colorado.
Craven Lovelace produces Notes, a daily cultural history of popular music, for KAFM 88.1 Community Radio, kafmradio.org. You can visit cravenlovelace.com for more of his musings on the world of popular culture.