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Columns

January 25, 2014

Picking your own music has its downside

As a kid, I was a big radio listener. We didn’t have cable TV, the best way for me to keep up with new music was to plop down in my favorite chair on Sundays and listen to Casey Kasem’s Top 40.

Right now that sounds about as hip as if I told you that I spent my childhood listening to 78s on a Victrola. But the truth is, I still love listening to the radio, and I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow that.

Don’t get me wrong — I also love the fact that, through services such as Spotify or iTunes, I have thousands of albums and songs at my fingertips. The thing is, one is no good without the other.

I was getting ready to drive home the other day and I had the urge to hear a particular song (if you must know, it was “Golden Rings” by Tammy Wynette and George Jones). A few clicks on my smartphone and, boom, I was vainly trying to carry the soprano line in this classic country duet.

This is a wonderful thing, my singing voice notwithstanding. But I never would have known this song if it weren’t for the random nature of radio.

I have to give a shout-out to “Big Chuck” D’Imperio here. His morning segment, featuring hits from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s (plus an Eddie Arnold tune), was where I first heard “Golden Rings” and a score of other classic country greats.

When I discovered Pandora, an online radio station of sorts that builds “stations” based on song “seeds,” I populated my first station with these songs. Five years later, that radio station is still delivering me new gems previously unknown to me.

But, at least for my generation, the Spotify model of picking and choosing exactly what we want seems to be crowding out the Big Chuck model of just tapping into a stream of media and getting whatever happens to be flowing by. And I fear that, by narrowing the parameters of what we “like,” we are depriving ourselves of the happy accident of discovering something we didn’t set out to find.

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