The internet has helped to keep many niche music genre's alive and provided the tools for them to find and feed as wide an audience as possible. Of course with smaller audiences comes smaller revenues; so one of the sad bi-products has been the rise of soulless DJ free broadcasts. You can hear Christian-death-metal-hip-hop 24/7/365, but chances are the broadcast will really be a random loop of tunes programmed by a computer.
Sure its wonderful to hear a steady stream of your favorite tunes without interruptions. But there is something bland and even lonely about random tune after tune without context or explanation; even if every one of them is so well chosen you wish you had them on your iPod.
Both sides of this phenomenon - the joy of the niches and the loss of the DJ - came into focus recently while reading a wonderful piece by Chris Dahlen on Pitchfork called "Who Needs The DJ". The story is essentially a profile of Gary Sredzienski who has done a weekly polka radio show on The University Of NH's WUNH for almost 20 years. (An old friend of ours, Bruce Pingree, has actually been on the same great station for 30 years with a blues based eclectic mix in the tradition of the original great FM jock.s) Sredzienski's loyal audience relies on him to the point where folks have been known to drive to a hilltop and sit trying to catch the 6000 watt station's scratchy signal. But Dahlen takes the topic a big step beyond this single cool and quirky DJ and station. "Community radio has all but disappeared from the air, and the personal touch of pirate radio and podcasting (and we'd add net broadcasting) have yet to replace it," writes Dahlen. Meanwhile, thanks to the digital music revolution, we have more choices, and more sources of broadcast or streaming music than ever. And most of them don't have DJs."
Dahlen is right. We used to rely on DJ's to help us discover new music and to tell us insider stories and what bands were on tour. At first its a welcome relief form all of the commercials, but soon it becomes just song after song after song. A very few net broadcasts have found a reasonable solution using voice tracking technology which allows the jock to quickly record an entire show in minutes dropping their voice between the chosen digital tracks. One of the best at this is Radio Paradise who hand pick every music set with some wonderfully eclectic and surprising song choices. Then they add just enough commentary to make you feel that you have a guide along your musical journey.
The net has also provided a myriad of opportunities for music personalization. You can hear what you want whenever and wherever you want to. And with services like Pandora you can even discover new music based on your preferences. Gone for good are the days when you had to guess a song or artists; now the info is scrolling across your screen and more info and purchasing are just clicks away.
But without good guides to point out the hidden treasures would any journey be quite as fulfilling?
"Dylan wrote that song for his newborn son and that's George Harrison playing rhythm guitar. The song was recorded late one night when..."