Who (or what) decides on what we are listening to?

Hissing, crackling and popping sounds can be heard behind the music, a song may be cut short by a BeatRoom owner whose feels the need to shift the mood or take the music down a new path, or a listener may suggest a new direction that opens up a whole different path for others to explore.

This happens at BeatSense.com. And did happen once in radio.

There was a time when a lot of the music that we heard or listened to originated with radio. Whether it was formatted by program directors and radio executives, or programmed more closely to home by the disc jockeys themselves and listener suggestions.

Similar to what BeatSense is doing now and some other websites, like GrooveShark tried to do in the last ten or so years. To give the music to back to human minds who make human decisions, different from week to week, day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute.

Growing up near Toronto, in the seventies and early eighties, I was exposed to radio that mostly was formatted. In order to find new and interesting artists one had to find interesting record stores, because what was offered was limiting and repetitive. So, unless you had a place or source to find more music you were stuck with Top 40, Classic Rock (where maybe 300 to 500 ‘hits’ were extracted from the album’s of bands like Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Doobie Brothers etc. and endlessly repeated), or other highly and obsessively plotted radio, scripted by numbers and math wizards whose function was not to be sensitive to the hearts and minds of disc jockeys and listeners, but to figure out how to create ‘earworms’ in their cloned listeners. Now that may have not been the case in other parts of the world with radio. But from what I’ve been able to find it dominated music programming in many places.

For a brief time in the late 60s and early 70s FM radio in North America was considered a wasteland, a place where ‘old’ people went to hear a pleasant non-disturbing backdrop to their days and evenings, or a place where one could hear ‘ethnic’ programming. But a series of pioneering people, including Tom Donahue (whose history can be traced easily online) wondered why so much music was being ignored by radio and therefore not being exposed to more ears. He was, like most radio people at the time confined to playing Top40 hits or some variation of that format at the stations where he had worked from across the United States.

So while working in San Francisco and exploring the dial he encountered a station that didn’t answer their phone and practically had dead zones in their programming he decided to push and explore what could be done to get more sounds out there. KMPX-FM was the station where he started what could be termed ‘Free Form’ radio on April 7, 1967.

Now some may dispute who actually started ‘Free Form’, but this is usually considered a defining moment. Others like Jim Ladd (KLOS Los Angeles) and Jim Leonard deserve credit, but there isn’t the space here to get into details. One can find full histories online.

Eventually, this type of free wheeling radio took hold across North America. Not dominating radio, because it didn’t have as its primary objective the need to garner ratings, but making itself hear and becoming influential not only musically but also with its spoken word pieces, disc jockey commentary and relationship with its listeners. By the time I came along this type of radio, which played anything from classical and jazz pieces to fusion, early glam and progressive rock, was done for. The suited men had decided that too many people were beginning to listen to it and so they needed to control it. In most case, anyhow. In North America and across the pond a music adventurer had to search hard to find something different.

So when I heard a small station out of a small town outside Toronto playing punk, new wave, jazz, dance music, psychedelic, prog rock, reggae and blues all within a couple of hours I was feeling like I’d found something special. And I did. And they played listeners requests almost without any critical objections. Their only criteria seemed to be if it was being played elsewhere they were not inclined to play it. It’s call letters were CFNY-FM and it was like a mini-revival in ‘Free Form’ incorporating all of the new sounds which were coming from around the world and being ignored by radio and radio programmers and were very hard to find at the time when one takes into consideration that there was no internet. College or university radio began to offer a wide scope of sounds as well, but sometimes lacked the resources that technology now offers us.

The station I listened to back then began to focus a lot on the new sounds, including early hip-hop, new wave and punk but always found time for anything that the disc jockey or listeners wanted to share with a larger audience. They only employed dedicated music lovers for their on-air personalities and not professional broadcasters. Similar to what beatsense.com is doing now and some other websites, like GrooveShark tried to do in the last ten or so years. To give the music to back to human minds who make human decisions, different from week to week, day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute. Beatsense.com has been where I have chosen to come because of its taking into account of this human factor. I don’t need decisions being made at unreachable distances about what music I ‘need’ to hear, or ‘should’ hear. Or even that some computer program or music programmer/promoter has determined that I ‘will’ like.

So that it remains legal and considerate of the artist or creator of the music, BeatSense employs YouTube. I believe that no one but the creator or artist has any true claim to the music. He/she or they should be able to do with it what they want. Nobody really ‘owns’ music. Anything can be pulled from YouTube by its originators at any time. But it is still rich enough for now. So here is a place where people can not only listen to music, but find a personal and emotional interaction with others in ‘real time’ that makes playing with the air more memorable and fun. Like I had with CFNY years ago.

It’s not only possible, but probable that you will find or be able to create that place or places where that experience will happen on beatsense.com.

Cheers, Lee Simon –  www.beatsense.com/eclecticgroovesfm

Related links:
Wikipedia – Freeform, Campus radio www.nythespirit.com

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