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CHECKING THE TRENDS

Anyone hoping to explore the width and breadth of music in general during drive time is out of luck. Over the course of the twenty-plus hours of Colorado radio analyzed for this article, we heard plenty of rock, country and pop, as well as dollops of salsa, Christian music, R&B, classical and contemporary jazz. But we didn't hear any worldbeat, unless you count a single pop-reggae song played by KS-104. And neither did we hear any folk, bluegrass, blues or anything resembling real jazz.

Most distressing of all, we didn't hear any hip-hop, which in many ways is the most popular genre in the United States among young listeners. Rap has been virtually eliminated from the playlists of most Denver stations--and those outlets that have stayed the rap course have mainly limited its play to obscure time periods. Largely because of the controversy over gangsta rap, this entire style is being forced back into the underground here. The result, in all likelihood, will be a widening of the already enormous gap between the listening habits of blacks and whites--a sonic segregation that symbolizes, and possibly exacerbates, racial misunderstandings as a whole.

New music is also given short shrift on weekday mornings. Most of the six country outlets play current hits, but they choose from an exceedingly small number of possible selections--generally the twenty best sellers. Christian KLZ-AM, R&B-oriented KDKO and the three Spanish broadcasters also drop a few fairly recent offerings into their stew, and several rock stations make occasional concessions to contemporaneity. But these selections tend toward safety and familiarity, and they're often supplemented by the tried and true, a la the Peak. Moreover, seven stations are dedicated almost entirely to issuing blasts from past eras. More and more, music lovers interested in hearing new things are better off heading to the listening room of their nearby CD store than they are switching on the radio.

By doing so, they'll avoid the latest fashion in personality radio--male-female tandems. Nine high-profile Denver-area stations have installed such teams in the a.m., and while those on KOSI, KTRR and KBNO are more benign than objectionable, that's not the case elsewhere. KZDG's Big Ron and Dawn, KYGO's Sandy, Chuck and Devera, KWMX's Eric, Robbyn and Larry, KIMN's Dom and L.A. and KALC's Frank, Frosty and Jamie are cut from the same cloth: They specialize in spicy, often risque banter in which males are the stars and females serve as de facto audiences for them. These women are placed in subservient roles: Their job is to laugh at their superiors' jokes, compliment their wit or react to their antics as young girls in Fifties sitcoms did when confronted by snakes or bugs. A more timely model for these women seems to be Elaine, the Julia Louis-Dreyfuss character on TV's Seinfeld. Like Elaine, they're surrounded by men but never complain; they're one of the boys--and when they're not, their differences are played for laughs. On KIMN, for example, L.A.'s May 9 objection to a caller's desire to place Kathie Lee Gifford on a spaceship to oblivion precipitated a barrage of ridicule that she good-naturedly brushed off. A day later on KALC, Jamie's objection to the assumption that she must be sleeping with any man with whom she spends time prompted cohorts Frank and Frosty to pretend that they were romantically interested in each other; they cooed and lisped while Jamie responded with the equivalent of "Stop it, you two!"

Female DJs do have the upper hand at some stations in the morning, including KHIH, KCFR and KUVO. But none of these women engage in comedy; they are serious, friendly or nurturing, but never funny. The implication, then, is that a woman can crack wise only when she's in the company of a man who's better at it than she is.

Obviously, a single radio pro in a decision-making position could shatter this stereotype. But to do so would take someone who's innovative and willing to take risks. And as far as we can tell, Denverites like this are in dreadfully short supply.

 
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