I cannot tell a lie: when I’m in my own car, which, save for the gym, is virtually the only time I have complete, unfettered control over what I listen to, my iPod still reigns supreme. Radio is usually something I don’t bother with, unless I’ve burned out on the hundred or so gigs of music on the eight-year-old device and need some “recalibration time” (the term used to describe how the biodome of this city’s radio stations can make anything sound great by contrast).
However, realizing that I spend so little time with a finger on the pulse of Augusta radio, I decided that a music writer at this paper demands it, as a city’s radio offerings can tell you as much about what isn’t going on in that city’s music scene as what is.
Here are some notes from the reunion, in no order but left-to-right on the dial:
89.1 WLJK — South Carolina’s public radio, which follows to a T the format of most National Public Radio stations across the country: a wide variety of left-leaning news and call-in programs, the latter being the only spot where you can fulfill that desperate need to hear the opinion of a UPS driver from Steubenville, Ohio, on the healthcare debate.
90.7 WACG — The Georgia version of 89.1, mentioned separately because it adheres to the talk format only during commute and peak hours, filling the void otherwise with an endless drone of classical music. Here’s the thing about classical music. Those who listen to it fall into one of three categories: 1. Classical music enthusiasts, those who recognize it as the foundation for every tonal and rhythmic idea we’ve had since; 2. People who are studying for some big test; 3. Expectant mothers who hold one earpiece of a set of headphones up to their stomachs in hopes of the music somehow rewriting their fetus’s DNA into a Nobel Prize-winning, disease-curing world-changer. Like 89.1, on the weekends, it’s either Garrison Keillor, Ira Glass or the Car Talk guys.
92.3 WAEG — I know people who swear by this smooth jazz station from Evans — mostly administrative workers who would otherwise be stressed out of their minds without a calming tone of sanded-down versions of R&B songs piped in at low volume. I happen to think every city needs one of these, right about where this one is on the dial. I tune in intermittently when I’m alone in the car, and I gleefully come upon some classic Spyro Gyra, Weather Report or Dave Koz. You know you do, too.
93.9 WDRR — The DJ-less, “we play anything” station. I have been surprised by some of the selections on this station in the past, and pleasantly so, but I’d like to issue it a challenge: You play anything? Okay, how about mixing in a Shins or Arcade Fire song, or perhaps something off Snoop Dogg’s first album, in between Level 42’s “Something About You” and whatever Black Eyed Peas song is currently being driven into the dirt. This isn’t a criticism; I know this station jostled things up a bit with the kitchen-sink approach to programming, and by broadening the scope just a little, could stir the pot even further.
95.1 WGAC — Aside from the 18-hour-long Rush Limbaugh show, Austin Rhodes’ show is the only block here I’d label “vital listening.” Love him, hate him or even have ambivalent feelings toward Rhodes altogether, there’s no denying that, if you aren’t catching up through this show, you’re probably catching up from someone who did. Full disclosure: Austin Rhodes does write a column in these pages, but that doesn’t shade the above opinion in any way.
95.5 WCHZ — I consider this incarnation of Augusta’s rock station to be of the pedigree of Channel Z 95.1, which disbanded in 1996 (remember the 5 o’clock Hootie Hoo every Friday?), and it is now the torch bearer of the purest form of rock ‘n’ roll to be found anywhere on Augusta airwaves. I talk to a dozen people a week who would love nothing more than the heyday of Channel Z to return, but think about it: between BOB FM and 95 Rock (this station), can’t you get your fill of classic tracks by Pearl Jam, REM and The Cranberries?
96.3 WKSP — Between the Minnesota Fattz and Cher morning show, the Keith Sweat/R. Kelly/Shai/Blackstreet playlist and the Mighty Peanut weekend show, this station takes me straight back to high school. Only problem is, high school was two decades ago and I was a complete loser then. I tend to skip over this one for those reasons.
98.3 WHHD — Augusta’s first HD station (others have followed suit since its inception) is the one that reminds me how uncool I am every time I take a listen. Drake? The guy who coined the term “YOLO” and brought $50,000 in one-dollar bills to a strip club so he could make it rain that much more? Katy Perry? She hosted SNL a few times, right? Usher? He still makes music? I don’t remember much after “My Way.” I can’t even tell you what the No. 1 song in the country is right now. It’s “Royals” by an artist called Lorde, apparently. I’m really hoping that’s one of those “you’d know it if you heard it” songs.
99.5 WKXC — Well, this is still country. Nothing much more to say here.
100.9 WAKB — Current R&B hits. Revert to above commentary on 98.3.
102.3 WEKL — Classic rock remains classic rock. I’d say a little heavy on the “newer” classics like Foreigner and Styx and thin on earlier stuff, but most disturbing is that bands such as The Black Crowes and Pearl Jam are now on the playlist. I remember when those bands formed — that can only mean one thing.
103.1 WFXA — Foxie 103 is still Foxie 103 — popular hip-hop/R&B. However, considering the last real hip-hop album I bought was the first Wu-Tang release, I look at this genre like the TV show “Homeland” — it’s too far into the series to consider trying to catch up at this point.
104.3 WBBQ — The old Augusta standby. However, they’ve been blasting Christmas music for the last month, so early and obnoxiously, I almost thought it was being played in an ironic sense. Pass.
105.7 WSCG — Another country station. As I have no opinion whatsoever on the genre as it currently stands, see above notes on 99.5.
107.7 WPRW — Occupying the very last available frequency always seemed to hold some intrinsic coolness — like 107.7 KNDD “The End” does in Seattle. However, this is merely another homogenous hip-hop/R&B station, much like Foxie 103.