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Today's blog comes from one of my mentors, Dan Sanders:
Last Wednesday, November 6th, it occurred to me that Guy Fawkes Day, November 5th, had just passed (how did I miss it?). Also on November 6th, the CMA awards show was telecast. For those few wondering what CMA stands for (he says, with tongue in cheek), it’s Country Music Association. I hardly ever watch any awards shows these days, and I did not watch the CMAs, although there was a time when it was almost demanded by my profession, and it was my desire to watch every awards show going, from the best kitchen spoon players to the empty paper towel tube marching band.
At one time in my dusty radio career, I played country music. I did this in a town that thought country music consisted of a bunch of fiddle-playing hayseeds. Say “country” to a blueblood Bostonian back then, and you would think I had held garlic to a vampire. During my career, I played country and rock in all its forms, as well as MOR, or middle of the road music, way back in the day. The MOR format was an attempt to please everyone, and during the 1960s and the 1970s, the beautiful music radio stations were "MOR radio.” Its contemporary analogues are the smooth jazz and soft rock, or “adult contemporary” stations.
I worked at one country radio station where, in the middle of the night, the program director called me and asked if I had seen the format. I said yes I had, and I threw it out. He said he could tell, and it sounded good. All I had done was a bit of cross blending of musical genres.
But I digress. I believe I was going to tell you why I didn’t watch the CMA awards: I was in a small audience listening to a true genius, singer-songwriter legend Arlo Guthrie. For the few who do not know who he is (no tongue in cheek), have you ever heard “Alice’s Restaurant,” which most radio stations play on Thanksgiving? Or have you heard “Coming into Los Angeles” or “Massachusetts”? If not, you probably at least know about his father, Woody Guthrie.
I listen as this man known primarily as a folksinger said he was not a folksinger. He said there had to be something called folk music, because it became folk-rock, but what is rock, what is country? Why genres? I enjoyed beyond words hearing Arlo speak on many subjects, and I especially loved that he reaffirmed my belief that labels should not be used to condone or condemn any type of music: There is great country, good country, and gosh-awful country, as well as folk, rock, and blues, and on and on. Great music can be found in every format. You just have to look for it.
I also believe that all these genres can blend one into the other, but commercial radio stations have to pick their demographic, draw the line in the sand based on what they think you like, and DJs are supposed to stick to the resulting playlist.
Arlo Guthrie said there is great music everywhere if you look for it and give it a chance. Keep your mind open and look around, and maybe at 3 am some morning another DJ will decide to blend music from all across the scale, and it will be fun for DJ and listener alike as you wonder what the DJ is going to play next.
There’s more on this and other matters at Rambling Harbor. Give a listen.