I was a year, maybe two, into my new passion, free-form college radio. About halfway through an overnight shift one dark January night, I had an epiphany. The transition between two tracks of music – called a ‘segue’ – caught me by surprise: they appeared totally seamless – you couldn’t tell where one had ended and the next one began. This became the baseline for my broadcasts ever since.
Slowly, criteria began to form. The program had to address the circumstances: what is the weather doing within the broadcast radius? What news is affecting my listeners? What is the mood right now? It is my job to recognize those things and in so doing, choose the right music – to provide the right Soundscape – but in such a way that stimulates the appreciation of the art and feeling in not only the many genres of music, but all sounds around us, in that particular moment. Granted, as curator, my choices lean to what moves me. I am the first to recognize what I think is cool is no where near what others think may be. I’m fine with that.
Noble as that may appear though, the chief constraint while broadcasting Soundscape is time. I walk into the studio with a crate of vinyl records, some CDs and sometimes a thumb drive, without much of an idea how the show is going to end up sounding. This is because it introduces an element of chance, and of risk too. So how come? When it has long been accepted that suitable preparation can minimize the risk of error, why allow so wide a margin for it?
Much has been said of discoveries made by accident – in science, art, music and literature – by thinking out of the box; saying “what if we did it this way?”; maybe aided by stimulants of some kind. By removing the scaffolding of support you are left with your instincts to get the job done, usually in an elevated state of fear. Great things, they say, can happen, but, so can really awful shit too.
I’ve always dismissed commercial radio programming for being too planned out, without regard to the reality around their antennae, which isn’t really fair because there are folks who like their radio just as it is, pre-programmed and predictable, thank you. If I pre-loaded my show on a thumb drive or my phone and arrived at the station to plug it in, all I’d do is sit there and watch the clock and do my station ID’s with a smile, but the show is already obsolete – expired – there is no immediacy to the performance. The difference between playing a recording of a band or orchestra versus going to their actual concert comes to mind.
Back in College, my fellow DJs and I were giddy at the possibilities. We were those nerds that played all three turntables, both cassette decks and both reel to reel rigs, all on the air at once. It was a divine mess. Eventually we got to work and filtered it all so it worked better. I remember a ‘minimalist’ stage when single voice synthesizer notes embellished with newly discovered (for us) process effects phasing in and out went on for an entire overnight shift… Good times!
Where is this going, you ask? My tenure at WMPG is long. I go in there sometimes with much else in my head and, I’m sure, short change my audience with re-hashed playlists from years past. But I’ve been doing this a long time, I still hope I’m hitting the mark – for at least one listener.
In 2017, I am broadening the Soundscape program in a manner that moved me in the beginning: multi-channel feeds, some up front, some in the background, and not all the time. I don’t think, for example, it’s fair to muddle up an artists original vision, but some artists work can be a palate upon which I apply my own vision. It is a delicate balance. Trying to get there excites me.
2017 features that new sound – in it, I have mixed live, real-time radio streams from around the world either under the music selection, or as a segue vehicle. This transforms Soundscape Radio into a actual global broadcast. As a kid who tuned into short wave radio well into the early mornings many years ago, this blows my mind. I hope you enjoy this continuing work-in-progress called Soundscape Radio. Feel free to send me your thoughts.