More Messages: The ABCs of Radio

When was the last time you opened an ear to a classic-rock station on the standard radio dial and encountered a song you'd never heard before, or hadn't stumbled upon for quite a while? Anyone listening on July 2 to the Fox, Denver's highest-rated classic-rock broadcaster, experienced this unexpectedly pleasurable sensation. On that afternoon, the outlet was in the midst of playing each song from its vaults in alphabetical order, and this semi-annual exercise led to the airing of numerous tunes that haven't been beaten to death.

Examples? During a single set, the Fox offered "Corporal Clegg," a Pink Floyd track that first appeared on the comparatively obscure 1968 LP A Saucerful of Secrets; "Cult of Personality," the most memorable song by the Vernon Reid-led combo dubbed Living Colour; "Cumberland Blues," a less-tedious-than-usual Grateful Dead number from 1970's Workingman's Dead; and "Custard Pie," the rare Led Zeppelin cut that can't be described as chronically overplayed. (Find the last ditty on 1975's Physical Graffiti.)

This combination of tunage was surprisingly fresh and enjoyable, yet totally unlike what the Fox normally puts forth -- and that's a shame. By spinning only a relative handful of established favorites every rock fan already knows by heart, such stations treat folks like lab rats trained to respond identically to the same test stimuli day after day after day. No wonder so many people are searching out other music providers, like those available via satellite or the Internet, that go beyond the tried and true.

The Fox is fully capable of doing so, too. Indeed, the A-Z playlist proves that the signal could become more interesting immediately, without adding a single thing to its library. By refusing to do so, the Fox, and other stations like it, are participating in the demise of terrestrial radio. And they'll richly deserve what they get. -- Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts