Due to unforeseen circumstances, I've found myself temporarily living back in my native North Carolina for a month. It's an exciting yet strange feeling; I haven't lived in the south for five years and it takes some getting used to all over again. Hearing "Sir" without it coming from the mouth of a police officer or judge is a bit startling, and the overall pace of life in the Old North State can be a bit too relaxed for my tastes at times.
One thing I've certainly had to get used to is the sheer amount of driving required. In this little part of the world you have to drive to get any little thing done. The nearest convenience store is only a quarter mile away, but it's a quarter mile of sidewalk-free, steep shouldered, two-lane blacktop. That pack of smokes or carton of milk just doesn't seem worth it with traffic whizzing inches away from you at 40 miles per hour.
So I've been spending hours a day it seems behind the wheel. And what is driving without the radio? They go together like airplanes and peanuts. Since I can't seem to stand silence, the radio is on for even the most brief of trips. It should be noted that in New York I rarely listen to local radio. The only broadcasting I really ever pay attention to are web streams of the Washington, D.C. NPR station, WAMU. This is usually when I'm falling asleep or bored at work. So this whole aspect of relying on the dial while sitting in traffic or at stoplights is a relatively new thing to me. Here are a few things I've noticed about the state of commercial radio in 2008:
First, I got a taste of this new-fangled satellite radio while renting a car for my first week here. A few years ago, I was convinced that it would be genius to invest in either XM or Sirius, whichever looked stronger, because it was my firm belief that satellite would become insanely popular and the two companies would eventually merge. Now I'm not so sure. Satellite certainly had neat features (I could listen to Seattle traffic reports and then with a turn of the knob know the freeway conditions in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex) and an abundance of variety. There was even a time-adjusted version of the BBC's Radio 1, which was an interesting look into what was popular across the pond. But inherently it was just too clunky... I'm not sure if I need multiple channels of rap and spoken word and comedy; I kept feeling that perhaps while I was pausing on one channel I'd be missing something amazing on another. All in all the whole setup reminded me of digital cable and my disdain for having 190 channels, nearly all of them uninteresting.
When the rental car was gone and I was back in my old sedan, it took a few days for me to realize just how blessed the Raleigh/Durham area is in terms of public radio. Not only do we have three excellent college radio formats (WXDU, WXYC and WKNC, from Duke, U.N.C. and N.C. State, respectively) playing all sorts of crazy stuff 24 hours a day, but we also have probably one of the best NPR stations I've heard, in WUNC. In addition to their syndicated pickups of Morning Edition and All Things Considered, the station produces its own hugely entertaining original programming with some of public radio's best interviewers. And when things got boring on that end and the college stations were playing something alienating -- I can only take about two minutes of Mongolian throat singing -- it was a toss between WCPE, the wonderful and soothing classical music station, or WNCU, which provides jazz, gospel, reggae and more around the clock. With all of this available, the tedium of driving disappeared completely, and I looked forward to each trip to the grocery store or dry cleaners.
Of course I had to check out the commercial dial as well. It's not even a question of regional differences these days, though. Clear Channel and other media groups seem to have swooped in and bought up every rock or pop station in the area, and I couldn't really discern the classic rock station here from the ones I've heard anywhere else in the U.S. It's also telling when the traffic reporters and DJs have strange accents and mispronounce the local roads and towns. It just felt like a waste of time, and I'm not really too fond of Foghat to begin with.
I am fond of hip-hop and R&B however, so I spent a lot of time listening to those stations. It's interesting, the urban station for Raleigh/Durham (which has a large population of relocated northerners) played a mix of all sorts of songs, from New York artists and chart-toppers. The urban station for Greensboro, an hour west, seemed to be totally devoted to southern rap, so-called "snap music." Since this form of music doesn't usually make waves up north, I spent a large amount of time with my ears perked to see what exactly it was that made up the genre. I can now reliably tell you this about southern urban music:
-It must contain a reference to a woman getting "low" at least a dozen times
-It must contain a man in the background saying "yeah" or "okay" in a lackadaisical manner
-It must contain a reference to a buying a woman a drink
-Any sung parts must be delivered via vocoder
I was fascinated.
With my time in North Carolina ending soon, I'm not sure if I'll miss driving and the radio or not. It will be nice to get back to the old iPod and my MetroCard. So tell me, Huffington Post readers, what is radio like where you live? What peeves and/or delights you?