By Don McManamy
For the Tidings
Listening to the radio is too tough. It just is.
I’m a station hopper — out of necessity. I can’t listen to the same disjointed and worn playlists over and over.
Unfortunately, this seems the game plan for many stations these days. It is as if all use the same contemporary playlists, and the retired playlists find their way to “classic” rock stations. Show after show, day after day. So I hunt endlessly looking for songs I like, desperately trying to create my own show. I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining. That could imply I haven’t sought out a solution. I’ll get to that in a bit.
Right, I should get an iPod then? I did. Now I can do radio’s work for them, sans a deejay. I like music, especially new music; iPods are about archiving. There’s nothing wrong with archiving. I am, however, talking about discovery. The only time an iPod will introduce something new is if I steal someone’s. I’m no thief.
I should search out my own music? Spend countless hours in record stores or online? No. High school and college are over, and I have things to do. Besides, that’s what I liked about radio. A time existed when radio shows filled that purpose. I like having someone introduce me to new artists.
So my point is discovery of new music and that radio needs good shows to accomplish this. Shows that are willing to move into that uncomfortable space many stations fear: playing songs people haven’t heard from artists no one knows. That’s what groundbreaking used to mean. Now it seems to be something an act has gotten permission to do from the label.
I’m just looking for a show I like. I want a show that has some thought behind it. I want the new songs as a means to the narrative. I think a show should be like a book and the host an author. Songs are the thoughts, words or chapters in the narrative of discovery. I want the story.
One solution to the prominence of plotless shows and their inherent lack of discovery is “Modulation,” a radio show hosted by Allison Graves from Ashland’s National Public Radio affiliate, Jefferson Public Radio.
Graves tells a story during every show. It is a story about music told in the context of songs. It makes synapses fire, bodies relax and minds start moving. It is about discovering the new.
It’s not over the top, either. Graves’ style is not to slide whispery words between songs like some minx. She doesn’t have to; she’s letting the music do the work. As you drift around in mental fluidity, she’ll pop in now and again with a clear, calm and intellectual voice giving you points of demarcation to manage your connection with the show’s theme.
Many are connected, too. “Modulation” broadcasts to all of Southern Oregon and Northern California, one of the largest geographic coverage areas of any public radio station in the United States.
As a listener, I’m discovering new music again. I get introductions to new artists, and often, after a little research, I’m shocked to find out the followings many already have.
The way the musical diversity is managed to represent commonality in feeling, emotion and thought is amazing. Considering how diverse the artists and songs, it would be remiss not to point out accomplishing a true theme is no easy task. Graves not only achieves but makes it sound easy. It is easy to let her steer the vessel while I enjoy the journey. I’m getting new music from new artists. What a listener gets out of a single “Modulation” serving is remarkable.
The show’s website states, ” ‘Modulation’ is a musical experience that celebrates creativity and diversity by combining the newest sounds in progressive pop, world-beat, indie, folk-rock, reggae, alt-country, electronic, chill and deep rhythms.” This is accurate but a bit of an understatement. You have to experience “Modulation” to understand.
You can catch “Modulation” every Sunday from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. Pacific time on JPR. ****UPDATE**** Modulation is now on Friday nights at 8pm.
Don McManamy is a freelance journalist living in Philadelphia.