Friday, February 23, 2007

Running On Empty on The Capitol Beltway: The Day The Music Died.

There is one thing that remained constant for me throughout my years living in Fairfax. There is only one thing that I ever upheld when returning from various college campuses hours from Northern Virginia. No matter the year, my own varying and changing interests, or what was going on in my generally banal life, my Ford Taurus’ radio presets always had the same station plugged in as preset number one—94.7 “The Arrow,” the self-proclaimed “Capitol of Classic Rock.”

Why is this? Is there something intrinsically comforting about hearing “Black Dog,” “More Than A Feeling,” or “Knights in White Satin” while careening north on I-95 or east on I-66? Perhaps there’s some kind of esoteric world-view that is upheld by play lists that rarely alter, but slowly broadened to include The Cars early 80’s material, or the occasional broadcast of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under The Bridge.” Whatever the plainly subtle or casually stark reasoning behind 94.7’s appeal (more than likely it was their annual barbeque battle in the heart of Washington D.C. featuring delicious cooking smells juxtaposed against the aging appeal of members of Blue Oyster Cult awkwardly clawing their way through a jamming-heavy set) the station has forged a special place on a local radio dial that bolsters nothing to anyone in particular. WHFS, the stalwart “alternative rock” station of the 80’s and 90’s became an outlet that is now devoted to playing the soundtrack to your last eat-out Mexican dining experience after having spent the last six years refusing to believe that there was music recorded after 1996—one can only hear Bush’s “Glycerine” or Sponge’s “Plowed” so many times before scanning around for other, less annoyingly nostalgic, options. For many FM-jaded and beltway-entrenched listeners like myself 94.7 was the only bastion of hope—the crappy inflatable life raft cast off the side of the sinking vessel HMS Suburbia.

Until my father grew to love nothing but silence in his well waxed, detailed, and perpetually new-car-scented Explorer I would be bombarded with Lynryd Skynyrd’s “The Breeze,” Wings’ “Band On The Run,” and a general retrospective of all things Bob Seger and Neil Young on my way to countless baseball practices, bi-annual trips to the mall for new Levi’s, and the occasional Baltimore Orioles game. This was a welcomed departure from Oldies 100 in my mother’s perfume drenched and ever overly warm sedan while being whisked off to the dentist, weekly allergy shots, scout meetings, and the math tutor. Perhaps this is why when I began my foray into driving our local classic rock station found its’ way to the top of my programmed stations: I not only enjoyed and respected the aesthetic of these rock bands, but I just simply associated “Love Me Two Times” and the dueling lead guitars at the end of “Hotel California” with going somewhere more fun than an office building with a creaky elevator and a bunch of medical supply boxes lining its antiseptic hallways. This fact alone is most probably responsible for me subjecting countless friends to road trips fueled solely by unleaded gasoline, several packs of cigarettes, many 20oz Coca-Cola’s, and extensive searches for another classic rock station, and thus a third, fourth, or even fifth listening of the “We Will Rock You” into “We Are The Champions” experience (for this I am most decidedly not sorry.) After all, it was “Slow Ride” which was so conveniently played by 94.7 as I edged my automobile back onto the interstate after receiving the first of many speeding tickets I have been issued¹.

And now I have learned that my next trip home, one which will be the first sans-Taurus or any car for that matter, will also be greeted not by “Jailbreak” or “Born To Run,” spun by a fear-inducing and poetically phallic station known as “The Arrow,” but some ratings-ready, and cuddlingly-cute inception known as “94.7, The Globe.” After having read up on this newly formatted radio frequency I must say I am nothing short of dismayed, and a little confused. The Globe is totting itself as a “Green Station,” and according to the website their mission statement is simply, “We want to be part of the solution.” The solution to what is unclear. Having done a little more research into this “green station” paradigm I have found that they seem to utilize a more environmentally friendly transmitter (I had no idea transmitters were capable of being harbingers of environmental ill) and plan to educate and promote eco-friendly causes/alternatives. This is just great. First the steady rock rotation of my youth and increasing and impending adulthood is stricken from my short jaunts home, and now to up the ante my favorite station is apparently being run by the staff of the local Whole Foods. Here is The Globe’s station outline as it appears on their website:


1. THE GLOBE - We All share and have a vested interest in The Globe.

2. MUSIC MATTERS - Music is our priority. That's why we're here.

3. THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY - As a Local Radio Station, we'll support our community...because we live here too.

4. REAL DEEJAYS, REAL PEOPLE - Our DeeJays know The Music and have a say in what they play.

5. LISTEN TO THE LISTENERS - This is your radio station. You will co-create it and author its evolution.

6. MUSIC DIVERSITY - Do you know anyone who likes just one kind of music? Neither do we.

7. BE ADVENTUROUS - We'll be open minded about new ideas, innovation and New Music.

8. DEEPER TRACKS - As we all know, there are songs worth playing that are not just the Hit Singles.

9. LESS REPETITION - Without repeating, belaboring, or saying this over and over and over again...well, enough said.

10. WE WON'T INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE - The Globe will have commercials (got bills of our own to pay) but we will try to keep them to a minimum and present them in a way that respects our listeners and our advertisers.

11. LET'S HAVE FUN - None of this is a joke, but seriously...let's have some fun.

12. WE'RE NOT TRYING TO SAVE THE WORLD - Oh wait…see #1.

Now I know that some of these bullets seem reasonable, but we all have been subjected to the empty rhetoric of newly programmed media outlets. I dare to ask what was the problem with having a balls-to-the-wall, Americans -in-America, style rock station? I implore you to think on how it is possible for a once barbeque-cooking, Budweiser promoting, George Thorogood-hosting, juggernaut can morph into a handholding, “eat your vegetables,” flaccid and blank-shooting, whimper of a station. In all seriousness The Arrow was the kind of outlet that once re-monikered themselves Boss Radio, playing nothing but Bruce Springsteen and The E-Street Band for the 48 hours leading up to his concert in the area². According to one article I read about The Globe there will now be a special Earth Day event involving the station—try setting “Thunder Road” or “Cat Scratch Fever” against that contextually rocking backdrop.

There is nothing I can do about this turn of events but quietly mourn the loss of my old friend, The Arrow—the once mighty Capitol of Classic Rock. As I commute to and from work here in New York each day I will hold you first in my mind as I listen to The Band, Crosby, Stills, and Nash³, Led Zeppelin, and Tom Petty on my iPod. I won’t ever forget how you gently, yet forcefully, got me out of bed and accompanied me to work or school each day—or how, once drinking age embraced me, you kindly and parentally urged me to “keep rock and you alive; don’t drink and drive.” What The Globe attempts to provide will certainly be a stern and glaring reminder of what we once enjoyed (and evidently many took for granted.) While I was not able to be within broadcast range of your last day of delivering quality classic rock, I can only assume that it all ended with a well- charted sequence of songs. When I hear it in my head it unfolds something like this⁴:

AC/DC-“Highway to Hell”
Bad Company-“Bad Company”
Lynryd Skynyrd-“Tuesday’s Gone”
The Band-“The Weight”
The Rolling Stones-“Wild Horses”

I can almost hear the dramatic and sweeping piano outro of “Layla” from here, as you boldly tried to fit in one last song before the granola stench of the new management pulled you and your 60 minute uninterrupted rock block away from the control console.

Godspeed friend.


¹Rather than Tom Cochran’s soft rock classic “Life Is A Highway.”
²A bold move which caused my brother to actually call the station as they launched promotion at 9am on a Saturday morning.
³Maybe even Young.
⁴The first two selections are clearly in angry reaction to the infringement to come.


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