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A Pit Stop on the FM Band: An hour with 91X and 94.9

Local stalwart's diary listening to these two stations

Queens of the Stone Age.  It segues into the Queens of the Stone Age's "Go with the Flow." If FM 94.9 was trying to be a nostalgia gap-closing classic rock station, I think they'd be doing okay.
  • Queens of the Stone Age. It segues into the Queens of the Stone Age's "Go with the Flow." If FM 94.9 was trying to be a nostalgia gap-closing classic rock station, I think they'd be doing okay.

LISTENING SESSION: 94.9fm

6:00: Our listening session kicks off about a third of the way into "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand. You know, past the intro gearshift. Ah, FM radio. It's like hanging out with that friend of yours with an mp3 library of only 500 songs. My friend Danny was like that in college. Some of his staples include Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love," Radiohead's "I Might Be Wrong," and at least three different Ja Rule songs.

My old boss would say that one of the reasons she didn't want satellite radio was because she liked traffic and weather.

My old boss would say that one of the reasons she didn't want satellite radio was because she liked traffic and weather.

6:02: "We don't sound like any other station in Southern California. Musically diverse radio for San Diego -- a Lincoln Financial station." Quite the claims. It segues into the Queens of the Stone Age's "Go with the Flow," which I think came on around the same time as "Take Me Out." If FM 94.9 was trying to be a nostalgia gap-closing classic rock station, I think they'd be doing okay. As to the claim of not sounding like any other station, somehow I get the impression that that is an unverifiable claim. If you are bickering with the other local rock station by slashing artists from your playlist because they are playing the other station's concert, wouldn't that lead the readers of the station's mission statement to assume that your station sounds similar to the other station?

6:05: Radiohead, "High and Dry," an instantaneous transition into this song. Haven't had a commercial yet, which is nice. This Radiohead song is played too much, but as far as I'm concerned, they could replace all of the "Karma Police" plays with it, and it wouldn't be too much. I think I was in seventh grade when this song came out. I remember seeing the video for it once or twice, but I don't remember it getting a lot of radio play. It probably is the radio equivalent of an Office Space effect, ignored in its time but regarded as a classic and seemingly omnipresent after a few years have passed.

6:08: The FM 94.9 mission statement is an entertaining read. "#8 -- Deeper Tracks -- We will play more than just the hit singles from albums, both old and new" doesn't seem to be in effect yet. We've had three hits in a row. If only the 94.9 softball team could get that lucky! Zing!

6:09: This is Tom DeLonge from Angels and Airwaves. "You're listening to my favorite [bleep]ing station, FM 94.9, where it's about the [bleep]ing music." Now they're going to play an Angels and Airwaves song, which, from what I've heard, are very long. That bleeping out of the swear words may have gotten me banned from listening to this station when I was younger. I still remember the talk my mom had with me after my two-year-old brother turned on the radio in my bedroom, which was set to WAVA, and started dancing to Salt n' Pepa's "Let's Talk About Sex." I was forced to "take a break" from that station for a while. If only it could have been "What a Man"; things might have turned out very differently.

6:12: This band is the new project of the lead guy from blink-182. I came to San Diego after blink had made the big time, but I'm guessing that a good number of music fans found their rise to prominence on the national music scene an infuriating prospect. I saw them twice at festivals. Their stage banter reminded me of Terrence and Phillip on South Park. Realizing that they made the same dick jokes at every show was sobering.

6:14: Extended Edge-esque delay-effect guitar fadeout on this song. They have expanded their musical horizons indeed.

6:15: Ah, an announcer! They're taking a break, but when they come back we've got "Piggy," "a Zero," and a "Bombtrack." And, what's this? Traffic is forthcoming! But for now, a Kaiser Permanente ad. Kaiser Permanente "lets doctors be doctors." You know what happens when we do that? Your doctors become even better doctors!

6:16: Ad for Malibu rum with guys using fake, borderline-offensive Jamaican accents reenacting scenes from island life. Going to the shrimp shack, drinking rum. They sound a step away from singing "Zip-a-Dee Doo-Dah," mon.

6:17: Verizon V Cast phone commercial, featuring songs from Yellowcard and the Subways. I wonder if that ad was pitched as having the feature that people might hear these songs playing while flipping channels, and they stop on the station thinking it was playing the song they'd excerpted. I bet it was. Screw those ad executives.

6:18: VW ad featuring a fake German accent. Don't know who thinks those things are good ideas.

6:19: One more commercial, but we're back! Liza with traffic. My old boss would say that one of the reasons she didn't want satellite radio was because she liked traffic and weather. Never mind that XM has an entire station devoted to San Diego traffic and weather; we have SigAlert, which, if you've ever lived in a state without it, seems like God's gift to drivers. The "absence of local channels" is a selling point that indicates desperation in the case of whoever is pushing it -- the cable companies vs. DirecTV or terrestrial radio vs. satellite. In any case, it was one of the first features added, making the pathetic argument obsolete.

6:21: The Cure's "Boys Don't Cry" is playing. I always thought the Cure was gloomy. Doesn't sound too gloomy to me. Doesn't sound too good either, but whatever.

6:22: I guess the "Piggy" he referenced was the Nine Inch Nails song from The Downward Spiral. I guess this qualifies as a deep track off the album. I would have preferred "Ruiner," but I haven't heard that song in, like, seven years and bet I would hate it now. It seemed as if Nine Inch Nails was on a cushy path to success with the whole depressed-teenager demographic in the palm of their hand, but they seemed to have botched it. How'd that happen? Was it the long waits in between albums? The unwillingness to go to the embarrassing lengths of Marilyn Manson? The song title "Starfuckers, Inc."?

6:27: "No borders, no boundaries, just great music for America's finest city!" I wonder if the guy who comes up with those sayings goes out for drinks with the ladies who write the sex and beauty tips for Cosmo. I wonder what a conversation between those two would sound like. Would they spew catchphrases to each other all night? They are playing "Zero" by the Smashing Pumpkins now. I had a "Zero" shirt in ninth grade; I admit it. It was given to me as a gift, but I wore it proudly for a while there.

6:30: "Steady as She Goes"! I was hoping they would play this! You know, because it's such a great example of mission statement points #8 (mentioned above) and #9 -- "Less Repetition --Although people want to hear their favorite songs more than once, we will try not to play them out." After hearing "Steady as She Goes" for the first time several months ago, I was wary of the Raconteurs, because this song, frankly, is nothing special. I can imagine that anyone who had heard this song played to death on the radio must've been unexcited about their July concert. I like the rest of the album, not as much as the White Stripes, but this is a perfect example of an artist with more to offer than one single, and they aren't going to have their other songs played on the radio, despite the fact that their audience (White Stripes fans) are established. On the plus side, the DJ did inform me that Pee Wee Herman is in the music video, which I learned the other day on Muzzle of Bees (www.muzzleofbees.com). Thanks, Ryan!

6:33: "FM 94.9 -- It's about the music!" And the promised "Bombtrack" by Rage Against the Machine. I know the Onion did an article about it a few years ago, but seriously, what has Zack de la Rocha been up to? Could he just retire off his Rage Against the Machine earnings? Would there be any chance that I would like Rage if they came out now? When I first heard "Killing in the Name Of," it seemed almost terrifying, how intense and angry these guys were, and how intense and angry my parents would be if they caught me listening to it. As you get older and realize that the critics who were acclaiming these guys were all in their 30s and older, it gets tougher to imagine them getting pumped up by something geared to 22-year-olds and younger.

6:37: Piano chords start this next song. Some churning studio effect. I have no idea what it is. Could be the Police, based on the reggae guitars.... Ah, no, it's the Clash's "Charlie Don't Surf." There we go, 94.9. Reaching into its deeper-tracks bag to play a rarely heard Clash song. A Clash song that isn't "Rock the Casbah" or "Should I Stay" is a treat. Let's hear some more "Jail Guitar Doors," "The Card Cheat," "The Right Profile," "Janie Jones," "Clash City Rockers," "This Is England," "Career Opportunities," "Clampdown," and "Revolution Rock," while we're at it. This song sort of meanders along. It's already had one fake-out ending.

6:42: "Charlie Don't Surf" was for Dawn in south Orange County! Call 570-1949 for more requests! New Gnarls Barkley when we come back! I'm predicting the Violent Femmes cover "Gone Daddy Gone."

6:43: Liza is back -- more accidents. Jesus, people, get home from work before 6:45! Then you can sit around and transcribe your thoughts while listening to staticky radio! They stick a narrated commercial on the end of the traffic as a sort of buffer to ease you into the real commercials.

6:44: A couple of commercials for car stuff. Boring without the stereotypical accents...

6:45: Home Depot ad. I don't listen to much SD radio, but I miss a lot of the jingles from DC radio back home. Jerry's Ford was the king of ads; their jingle would be stuck in your head for days. Also, Joon Rhee Karate, Senate Auto Insurance, and Bernie Streeter's Arby's restaurants.

6:46: Lexus ad. The average guy enjoying listening to "Piggy" by Nine Inch Nails is probably just about $24,940 away from buying a Lexus.

6:47: The second "dads and grads" ad I've heard in this segment. That oh-so-clever person should be shot.

6:48: Carl's Jr. ad where two Maxim-reading dudes debate about whether one is allowed to eat a salad. You know, because he is male, not female. It's as if they put a mike at the table the last time my buddy and I went to Carl's Jr.

6:49: Plug for Bonnaroo! Live streaming video offered on the 94.9 page. Oh, no, you go to their page and click on the same banner I have in my blog ads! The new Gnarls Barkley is called "Who Cares?" and it's safe to say that it will never be as big as "Crazy." The "who cares" sample is neat, but you have to imagine "Crazy" was lightning in a bottle. I can't wait until my parents discover it in about four months. I give credit where it is due; it's good to hear some of the other stuff off the album.

6:52: Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere is one of the station's recommended CDs. That must be in accordance with mission statement point #7 -- "Take Risks -- We will not be afraid to push boundaries and champion good new music." You know, going out on a limb to recommend the CD with the most popular and omnipresent song that radio has seen in a good long time.

6:53: And, as if on cue, the opening bass rumble of Filter's "Hey, Man, Nice Shot" comes onto my stereo. I think I once saw a list where this CD was, like, the third most likely CD you could find in a used-CD bin. Seriously, screw these guys. This song screams to be used in movie previews or promos for a new, but soon to be canceled, Fox TV series. It doesn't scream to be blaring through my speakers.

6:56: Another song I don't recognize. I Google the phrase "and I feel like William Tell," and it turns out that this is Squeeze, "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)." I think these guys were on Theme Time the other day. They don't sound like something I care to listen to, kind of similar to that Cure song. I'm just glad that this is winding down. I feel like the guy in A Clockwork Orange, when his eyes are forced open to watch the violent footage. Except that I did this willingly....

6:59: One more minute! Is Squeeze gonna be the last thing I hear? Is Squeeze better than Sponge? Is Spoon better than Squeeze? Will the seven o'clock radio hour be devoted to exploring this pressing issue? We'll never know! Because...

7:00: I'm done.

That could have been worse; I'm not gonna lie. We had a Gnarls album track, which was unexpected. The Clash's "Charlie Don't Surf" was as well. Most artists were rock acts from the mid-'90s, which I found strange. It is bizarre to have so many artists who were once a major part of your music-listening experience but which you don't read about anymore in this age of blogs and new stuff coming out every day. You can talk about great old Dylan or Springsteen or Dead bootlegs, or the latest new hype, but somehow the mid-'90s doesn't seem to contain many buried treasures.

The commercials weren't as constant as I feared, but there were at least ten minutes of them, which equals one-sixth of the time spent listening to the radio. That can add up if you're spending lots of time in the car or listening at work. Commercials suck; there is no way around it. As people stop tolerating the clever, sexy TV ads because of TiVo and the Internet, boring old radio ads are going to seem intolerable.

The only other point I can make now is the softball comment I made at 6:08. Do you think 94.9 and 91X have softball teams? If they do, they must play each other, right? Can the public obtain tickets to this? If they are this petty and bitchy behind the scenes at the stations, imagine the heat when they take it to the diamond!


LISTENING SESSION: 91Xfm

Stating that I was going to sit down for hour-long diary sessions with both the San Diego radio stations was a bold claim. When I realized that I was going to have to do the 91X diary, after spending an hour last week with 94.9, it was sort of like the feeling you get when the phone rings at, like, 9 a.m. after a night of heavy boozing and you realize that whoever you were making the bold claims to about going whitewater rafting or deep-sea fishing is taking you up.

I was goaded on by some comments left on the 94.9 diary, asserting that San Diego did have better radio than the rest of the country.

I wrote this diary today from 6 to 7 p.m., one week after the 94.9 diary.

6:00: We join 91X in progress. Alice in Chains' "Would" is about halfway through. For any baby boomers who shook their heads and said, "This stuff will never last" about the '90s MTV bands, San Diego radio in the year 2006 would be the perfect rebuttal. Another reason why 'Canes' tribute bands are a booming business.

6:02: A new Red Hot Chili Peppers song begins. Regarding "Dani California," do people have that big an attachment to California? The state is enormous. You could get 100 people in a room, and all of them would value different things about the state of California. A love song about the state seems to be about as deep as a love song about food. Seriously, what the hell?

6:04: Still going on. This song doesn't do much for me. It has a catchy, grunting chorus that I bet will be popular. It sounds like "Whoomp (There It Is)," but I guess that song was popular.

6:05: A Frusciante guitar solo that sounds "awesomely bad." That was how Rolling Stone described the guitar solo in Weezer's "Beverly Hills." I think a better way to describe it would be "bad." "Bad" done insincerely, on purpose, is a fine line to walk, one that is rarely done well. The DJ comes on now to talk about how someone probably has hearing loss. Probably from hearing the kick-ass Rage Against the Machine "Guerrilla Radio" playing in the background. Amazing, another song from the late '90s/turn of the century. It could be worse, but it is bizarre...at the beginning of this song, there is, like, 20 seconds of instrumentation before the lyrics start. The DJ did the patented "talk up until the lyrics begin" thing that radio stations are known to do. This is one of 94.9's ten commandments, that they will never talk over the beginning or ends of songs. To me, this isn't a big deal. It doesn't ruin too much for me. Two minutes into the song, I've forgotten that it happened. I can't think of too many situations where I would be furious to hear the DJ talking over intros. Maybe if they interrupted each song of the Abbey Road closing suite to prattle on about the X-fest or whatever, but yammering over a Rage song doesn't seem to diminish the artistic merit of it.

6:09: New...91X...Music...(echoes). A new song that I don't recognize plays. The way I would describe this song is "Perfect for MTV." I haven't seen music on MTV in God knows how long, but this sounds about as archetypical an MTV song as possible; i.e., it blows, and it won't be getting radio play ten years from now the way the bands above it have. This is the song where on the chorus the guy makes his voice go high. I can't even make out what he's saying. I would put odds at about 50/50 that this band is playing at Street Scene. Let's Google some lyrics...I thought they said, "These are the lives you have to lead," but that turns up nothing.

6:12: 91X world tour -- listen every hour to pick up Pearl Jam tickets. Make your reservation with us today. Go straight into a commercial for the World Cup.

6:13: The top three reasons this woman is getting a new washing machine from the Home Depot. They are all good reasons, but I feel lucky just to have a washing machine and am not considering getting a new one. You'd figure that many listeners are in a similar position as me. Next is a Scion commercial. I drove a Scion the other day. I like the boxy ones. I used to hate them, but I like them now. Boy, these thoughts are vacuous and annoying.

6:14: Carpet Barn commercial. You know what is weird? The next time you hear a shitty jingle for a shitty local company, remember that there are real people who recorded the vocals and music for that jingle. You imagine these things coming preformed, like the prerecorded tracks on a Casio keyboard, but no, they take time and effort by real people.

6:15: I heard the same Verizon V Cast, Yellowcard, Subways, Depeche Mode commercial on 94.9. It's good to see that the stations don't have the policy where they ban a commercial that the other station plays, as they do with artists such as the Flaming Lips.

6:17: Captain Morgan rum commercial. I didn't know you could advertise hard booze on the radio. The ad states that it is copyrighted. What the hell is that all about? Who is infringing on this Captain Morgan commercial's copyright?

6:18: Bob Baker Ford ad. They are gonna pay for people's fuel for the rest of the year. Screw those guys. I think that Ford and GM's struggles are hilarious. When we drove the Scion, the dealer said that the Ford guys don't like the Toyota guys. He said that Toyotas are more reliable, cost less, get better mileage, and all the Ford guys have going for them is that they are "made in America." Screw Ford.

6:19: I think we're coming back. I heard the first "Independent Radio the way it should be" claim. I never paid attention to 91X going "independent" from Clear Channel, but think it is hilarious. It's as if all of a sudden Scott Stapp was, like, "Hey, I don't suck anymore! You know, for the past decade, I've blown, and I admit that. I mean, how lame was I! But now things are different!"

6:20: I don't recognize this song either. "It takes my pain away." Google informs me that this is Jimmy Eat World, and the song is "Pain." It is terrible.

6:22: The DJ is talking over the beginning of "Steady As She Goes." He's talking about the Pearl Jam contest. I don't know how to enter it but would like to try. This is the first repeated song from the 94.9 diary. It doesn't sound better on 91X. You'd figure that with all the independence floating around there, there might be a radical thinker trying to play another song off the Raconteurs album. But, maybe, just maybe, they are SO independent that they are trying to be "awesomely bad," and playing the old, old single off this album is part of that image. That would be the ultimate irony: a radical independent station that was so independent and gave so little of a fuck that they played as many commercials and played out songs as your typical Clear Channel station would. I think I'd respect that station from afar, while avoiding listening to it like the plague.

6:25: Vintage 91X music. Ho-lee shit, they are playing "Zombie" by the Cranberries. My jaw just dropped. Holy shit. What the hell are the Cranberries up to these days? Is this being played as a put-on? It has to be...it has to be. This could have slain me had a friend put it on at the right point in time, but right now, I'm amazed. Think about this. Someone out there in charge of playing records that thousands of people are going to hear just put on "Zombie" by the Cranberries, and as far as you and I know, there will be no repercussions as far as his being fired is concerned.

6:28: The fact that they play this song leads you to believe that their playlists aren't entirely corporately derived. I mean, nobody could still have a financial interest in getting this song played. They aren't promoting an upcoming concert. So for the LOVE of GOD, if you get one song per hour that you get to pick, why not play something fantastic? Reach into the bag for one of your favorites, something that people may not have heard but will be eager to learn about. "The King of Carrot Flowers," "How a Resurrection Really Feels," "A Minha Menina." Why "Zombie"? Why!? Why!?

6:30: "Zombie" straight into Radiohead's "Creep." The lineup so far this hour could have played the '95 Lollapalooza. I get to see Radiohead on Monday, and I hope that they don't play this song. I think it blows. That's another thing: these DJs love Radiohead. Everyone loves Radiohead. They are one of the least accessible bands out there that are inexplicably beloved. So playing one of Radiohead's deeper cuts, hell, even something like "Might Be Wrong" isn't going to have anyone changing the station. In fact, it would discourage way more people from switching the station than "Creep" for the 8000th time would. I can't understand why artists who are as popular as Radiohead, who have reached the heights of fame and success despite a limited catalogue of radio-played songs, aren't given more of a chance by the radio. The fans are there. The critical acclaim is there. The DJs are fans. But we get "Creep," "Karma Police," "High and Dry," maybe "Fake Plastic Trees," but that's about it.

6:34: Question of the day: when can I get Pearl Jam tickets. Having sex in the lavatory is not allowed; in fact, it's damn near impossible. A clever promo. Caller number nine wins Pearl Jam tickets, so I give it a shot, because I'm not made of stone (and it would be awesome to win the tickets while writing this diary). It's constantly busy. I've had all right luck with radio contests in my life. I won tix to a GNR show (that ended up canceled) and got tickets to an advance screening of Revenge of the Sith last summer. So those contests do work. But it looks as if today isn't my day.

6:38: A terrible song is playing -- distortion and shrieking. Standing on the rooftop ready to fall. Evidently it was Rise Against. They may be at the Street Scene.... The guy who wins the Pearl Jam tickets is named David. He says he's on the way to school, but he sounds as if he's on his way to the set of The Dukes of Hazzard. He loves 91X, thank you. The DJ has the unenviable task of picking a winner, so he's gonna let David decide how the drawing is done. David is all about equality. "Cut them papers up, throw 'em in a hat. It's all about equality, baby, you know?" He sounds enthusiastic. Good for him.

6:41: The DJ will announce the winner of the San Fran trip before 8 tonight. Until then, we'll do some commercials. This weekend, save up to 75 percent off at Guitar Center. Deals from the Warped Dimension. That doesn't even make sense. They've invented the fourth dimension, then punned on that title to create something that doubly doesn't exist. The prospect of six more minutes of commercials makes me wish I could disappear to the warped dimension, though.

6:42: VW ad with German stereotype talking. I don't like German accents, I'll be honest.

6:43: Two buddies discuss the master plan of summer fun. They're not gonna waste a minute of summer. They are excited about the master plan and headed to Sports Chalet to stock up on everything. Imagining the guys recording this dialogue is sobering. I wonder if the director gives instructions like, "Sound like a bigger tool."

6:44: Hyundai Sonata ad. Screw this. I don't know anything about Hyundai, but I bet their company is doing better than Ford. Screw Ford.

6:45: Wow, the world-famous Deja Vu is looking for girls. "Dance your way to financial freedom" is a quote from this ad. All dances are only ten dollars this Friday. This is impressive. You never see strip club ads on TV.

6:46: Hilary's 91-second music news. News about how the guy from Faith No More was on the 91X music show. They are playing a Next Big Thing concert in July at 'Canes for 91 cents. I think that it can safely be said that no Next Big Thing has ever played at 'Canes. They guarantee that nothing but passionate fans of his new band Peeping Tom will come out for the show. Wow, Mike thanks the guys for being involved with his band, says it "takes some cojones." The DJ responds, "It comes with the independence, man." !!!!! I guess "Zombie" comes with the independence as well.

6:48: Wolfmother and the Shins have been added to Street Scene. That is news. Good for those guys. Wolfmother I think I like. If you wait 30 years to rip off a band's sound verbatim, especially a band like Black Sabbath, who most people only know a few songs by, then you're going to make some fans. I wish I had thought to do it first.

6:49: Cake's "Let Me Go." Cake seems like one of those bands where soon we'll hear that, like, the guitarist from Cake used his modest earnings from a lifetime in the band and invested them in the IPO of Google or something and can now buy and sell us all. Hopefully he writes a song about how that feels.

6:52: "Fans of news will be a little perplexed by this new music from Knights of Cydonia." The DJ encourages us to go see this band live, but he times his speech wrong and the song cuts him off. Kind of funny, but it still doesn't irritate me. I think it's kind of funny each time because 94.9 acts as if it is an issue that music fans are frothing at the mouth about, as if not being able to hear the first ten seconds of a song by the Knights of Cydonia uninterrupted is a crime of taste.

6:54: I think this song is an instrumental. Nope, there's some vocals. A list of instrumentals that I like: "Bron-Yr-Aur," "Kid A," "All Around the World (Reprise)," "Trombone Dixie."

6:56: Song is still going on. It blows.

6:58: A mechanical prerecorded voice told me that I just heard a song by Muse, off their new album. Don't know what that was all about. I think I'll go on record as hating both bands, to be safe.

6:59: It looks as if we'll end with Spacehog's "In the Meantime." Probably not too many people clamoring to hear this song lately, but whatever. If you're gonna play the hits from the '90s, it's better to play this song than "Zombie."

Thus ends another diary. There seemed to be more commercials on 91X, but both stations took two commercial breaks during the hour, and both lasted around five minutes. Both stations played Rage Against the Machine. We heard tons of bands from the '90s that are defunct and/or jokes by now. 91X played a few newer bands that blew; 94.9 played a few older songs that blew.

91X's "independent" claims strike me as awesome. I don't know how they impact what is played on the station. It's too bad we can't hear a side-by-side comparison of 91X during its Clear Channel days. For a station that trumpets its independence, the product sounds similar to what you get a few notches up the dial.

Today I heard "Zombie" when I could have been listening to "King of Carrot Flowers." Until someone explains how this paradox of the universe happened to me, I'm going to be walking around in a silent Chief Broom-type daze.

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