In an episode of the Simpsons, Carl quips: “Have you ever noticed how oldies stations always play the same songs? Like, how about some new oldies, geniuses?” It would seem that corporate America would agree, though perhaps not in the way intended by the consumer. The homely and humble oldies station has become just another monolith. This artificial acceleration of culture damages us all.
Radio stations change from time to time. I learned this at a young age. I will never forget the day when WCAU FM changed its format from top forty to oldies, and their call to WOGL. I thought my radio had broken, but soon learned the truth about the radio station and about life. Over the last few years, WOGL has slowly changed from oldies to the hits of the sixties, seventies, and eighties. They don’t even play real oldies anymore. Now they play Michael Jackson and Abba. Now Philadelphia does not have an oldies station.
As a kid I vividly remember sitting in my grandparent’s car, listening to the kind of music their generation listens to. Stations played that music well into my childhood, letting them enjoy their music into their older years. Eventually their music went away and we began seeing more oldies stations. I don’t feel like the boomers have reached that point. A lot of them still work and drive and listen to the radio. A lot of them don’t know how to use technology like the iPhone, so don’t realize that easy ways exist to still hear the oldies they miss. Because of this, a lot of them have just given up on the idea of hearing their favorite music. That makes me sad.
I have to get my Mom to take me to karate, since it resides way out in the middle of fields and things. Today, she couldn’t handle the wussified Christmas music burbling out of the radio, so asked me to find something. I could hardly figure out how to work the digital tuner, which I loathe. Analog things like radios and tapes should have analog controls. Just give me a dial! I put it into scan mode but it didn’t matter, all crap on a Sunday afternoon, and Christmas didn’t help. I finally just switched it off and got out my iPhone.
“What kind of music do you want to hear?” I asked, starting to consider my options to find her something. “I don’t know, as long as it’s not Christmas music.” I opened Pocket Tunes Radio and looked for an oldies station. This only took two taps.
I quickly found Oldies .977. She knew all the artists and titles and around when they came out. The station also displays this information. Giving her access to this music made me feel really good. Some songs she hadn’t heard for years. I knew she needed this music.
I offered to give her my iPhone 4, but she said the whole thing seemed too complicated, and she didn’t want to pay for the data plan. I still think parents could figure something out which would only take a few taps. Those who don’t want to consume precious data could always load songs onto an iPhone, iPod, or iPad. I just did it this way because I didn’t know what else to do, and it worked.
Parents have some other options as well. Satellite receivers such as XM Radio offer oldies stations, though require a subscription. Most modern car CD players can play MP3 cd’s, meaning you can get your kid to put a bunch of oldies onto cd’s, then play them in your car. An mp3 cd means it holds compressed files, so it can hold much more music than a standard playable CD. Some car stereos also have a line-in jack, a small jack which looks like a headphone jack and works in the opposite way, allowing you to pipe audio into your stereo. They also make small FM transmitters so you can play audio and pick it up with your car’s radio. You could then get a simple inexpensive MP3 player and load it (or have it loaded for you) with your beloved oldies, charging it from your car’s cigarette lighter. No matter what you choose, you don’t have to remain bound to corporate radio.
While listening to her oldies, Mom went down memory lane as she put it. She liked every song she heard – Diana Ross, The Supremes, The Turtles, Cher, what she called obscure Beatles, and her favorite, Smokey Robinson. She told me that she and her friend saw him many times, and they saw the Beatles when they came to America for the first time and sat in the first row. Many songs reminded her of going to the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) dances in a church basement or gymnasium. During a slow song, she said: “This is the kind of song you would have to wait for a boy to ask you to dance.” She couldn’t picture today’s kids holding each other and dancing in this way. Neither could I.
One song by Frankie Avalon reminded her of the summer time, and the dance hall at the boardwalk in Ocean City. She explained how dances provided a safe space for teen-agers to socialize. At home this meant meeting kids from her school and the local area. At the shore this meant socializing with different kids. I remembered going to the skating rink, but that seemed fading even then. Mom agreed, and wondered what kids do now. I don’t know, probably meet on Facebook, then get together and get high in a basement.
The fifties and sixties seemed like such a carefree time. Hold onto it if you lived through it. Don’t let faceless corporations take it from you. Learn to understand the technology you need to hear the music which made your memories. Ask your kids for help. And if you have a parent in this situation, this makes a great Christmas present.