Monday, November 22, 2010

Radio Interference

I attended a focus group for WERS 88.9 FM a week ago on Boylston Street. The management invited 16 random listeners to weigh in on the play mix of this eclectic and sometimes meandering college station. Seventeen of us showed up and everyone told the facilitator the same thing: “Surprise me!”

The consensus among us 35-54 year-olds was for novelty. However, the facilitator was more interested in a comparison shopping of radio formats. Is it just me or is the format of the focus group itself as outdated as the goal of this facilitation? I say that because he kept trying to draw these forced linear parallels between the upstart powerhouse WERS and the balance of the remaining Boston-based FM rock choices. The whole point was to co-opt any style, manner, or focus smacking of the slightest originality from anywhere else.

I told the guy that WERS was in the unique position to build bridges between the contemporary alt bands that draw inspiration from the sounds us middle elders grooved to in our bigger-headed and delusional college days. Wouldn't it be cool to hear testimonials from the new regime rationalizing what's preservation-worthy and what deserves to be flushed from the clammy grip of passing hot flashes?

Ephemeral or perennial?

The facilitator was having none of it. He wasn't biting if it wasn't already being done somewhere else. This bummed me out, man.

Flash forward to a recent Friday afternoon ritual, a.k.a. "Friday afternoon musical challenge" where knowledge diva Sadalit "Sadie" Van Buren petitions an unpolished list of 95/128 hub-based miscreants and would-be session-hands. Each week Ms. Van Buren invites us to disrobe from our silicon-coated techie armor and into our secret musical selves. Sadie picks out a segue-conducive musical theme and then we strike our collective encore lighters for a jukebox jam. We pool the soul and body-piercing rhythms and melodies that line the standing room only sections of our most favored play lists and treasured performances.

Sadie tosses that spinning platter into the air and we lunge for those hidden stashes of inspiration we would never entrust to social media -- let alone the servers we prune and pamper to exasperation behind our rave-proof firewalls. The resulting pile-on is impressive -- sometimes the majority of list members join in. One collaborator who I divine some similar inspirations from asked the group how much of our constructions were supported by Google validations when fumbling for the misplaced reading glasses of our inner listening ears.

Q: (courtesy of Philip Edward Kret): How many of you in this group honestly think these things up on the spot and how many are in front of you (your whole collections to peruse!) on your iPods, and how many use tools like Google to cheat your aging memory. Lots of memory aids going on here methinks or maybe you just have a nice neat record collection and have all you need to know (lucky you!). Thoughts?

A: (courtesy of Adrian M. duCille): It’s mostly in my head – I’m bopping my head & singing on a daily basis (long commute)?

These Friday afternoon bolts of lightning remind me of what my first wife said many bumps in the road ago. She said that sanity itself rested on the presence of music. With it we have a chance to do great things. Without it we’re shattered, collectively and solo-wise. Everyone has a song inside them. Every collaboration is a variation on that theme -- a tireless novelty that enmeshes our thinking and our emotions.

In that spirit we all appreciate the conductivity powers of "our" Sadie -- a possessive coined by Lynda Moulton and seconded by her gallery of musical challengers.

1 comment:

sadalit said...

Hey Marc,

One of our colleagues said last week that they were envious of your participation in the WERS focus group - and I am too! But I also know I would have felt the same frustration with the facilitator's leaning toward co-opting. I really like your suggestion of the testimonials - I'd enjoy hearing the voices of current college students introducing various songs that I loved in my college days - even if it's to trash them!

w/r/t the musical challenge, it will probably be no suprise to you that I've gotten slight pressure from some of the participants to move it to a social media channel. Corporate email is uncool. It wasn't designed for this kind of activity. It can't scale. But those reasons haven't held us back so far.

I think we'd have far fewer participants if I took the challenge to, say, Blip. More strangers might chime in to the thread, which would produce some great suggestions, but in this instance I'm not so much looking to leverage the experience of people I don't know as desiring to make a connection with those I do. And using corporate email to achieve this connection is kind of a virtual anti-victim device that lets us feel a little more human and sane in our cube-worlds.

Thank you for joining in, and let's continue!

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