November 14, 2014

Drifting in The Current: Alternatives to Minnesota's Favorite Radio Station

Here, in the Twin Cities we are fortunate enough to have multiple radio stations that play ad-free music. We have our trifecta of public radio, MPR News, Classical MPR, and of course, The Current. The Current has come to be the trendsetter of the Twin Cities music scene, both providing a platform for local bands to be heard, and shaping the sound that now defines our region.

There is a definite "Current Sound". Songs tend to be standard classic pop forms, in mostly major keys, largely guitar driven, and upbeat in presentation if not always in content. It's the place to hear music that's A) New, B) Not Top-40, C) Local.

I've been irritated though over the last couple of years by the homogeneity of music I hear coming through the station. Whereas the Current used to feel like "my station" against the brainless pop of our other Clear-Channel outlets, it now often feels like a top-40 for people who don't think of themselves as top-40. What might have been formerly classified as "alternative" music, simply because it's an alternative to the computer-processed dance music currently on our Billboard-100 countdowns, now has it's own elite, it's own pop-mainstream.

I still appreciate The Current. It's strengths lie in its special programming like Sunday night's Local Show with Dave Campbell, Sunday morning's United States of Americana, and late Saturday's P.O.S. is ruining The Current. My own music has been played on The Current for which I'm extremely grateful. I just wish that the breadth of musical style that was played on these special shows would be played all of the time. Maybe people only want to listen to radio that's peppy and filled with hooks, but music is a reflection of emotions and I want to listen to radio that can satisfy all facets of my personality.

When I voice this complaint to other people, they often say "well, I don't want to listen to commercials, and this is the only station that plays music that doesn't make me want to chop my ears off." Keep your ears on your head buddy, there are more stations than this that play ad-free music. Two in particular:

KFAI is our "other" public radio station. It's much less professional than MPR stations, and as such can be a bit woolly around the edges. But that's part of what makes it great fun. On Tuesday nights I can listen to a broadcast of entirely French language music hosted by French-speaking hosts who sometimes forget their words. I can listen to a rap show where people enter and leave the studio willy-nilly. Interviews with local artists that would never get featured on the Current. What I love the most about this station is that there isn't a "rotation", every show is different so every time you dial it up you can expect something new. I rocked out one Saturday afternoon to Caribbean Soca music (a genre I'd never heard of) and another night heard really brutal punk rock. There are also good talk-radio and interviews with local authors.

Radio K is my favorite radio station in the Twin Cities. As someone who worked in college radio at one time I can attest to the fact that this is where all music is listened to. Sure, the tastes are formed by college students who may or may not appreciate all the nuances of your favorite bands, but on the whole, these kids try really hard. Short slots mean that you can listen to a different DJ every couple of hours and tune in for themed shows at night. This is the only station in the Twin Cities where you can hear a 7-minute long industrial punk jam. You can careen from grindcore to graduate-level jazz studies. Their signal strength is much weaker than either of the other stations listed here, but if you're in your car, it's worth trying to dial it up.

Embrace variety, support all of your ad-free radio stations!

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