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My Home Town Sucks

I don’t believe that a nation’s culture has a lot to do with art galleries, museums or music festivals, all the things that are typically called “cultural institutions”; these are testaments to and celebrations of the best that the culture has to offer, monuments to great achievements of a culture’s past, yes, but in same way that the Oscars tend to ignore Pauly Shore, they’re not what you’d call a representative sample.

If you were to look at the Ottawa radio spectrum, listen for a bit, from that simple logic would flow one inescapable conclusion: my country’s capital, my hometown of Ottawa, Canada, is a backwater shithole populated largely by doughy, retarded, juvenile fuckheads.

Last week I stumbled out of bed to the tune of Denise Williams’s mall-culture standard, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”. This song, and believe me I hope you don’t give the tiniest sliver of a damn about this, was released in 1984. This song is one of the worst examples of manufactured bubblegum mall-pop ever overproduced, it should have been strangled in the crib with a bicycle chain, and yet here it is: old enough to vote and still getting air time.

I don’t know how my national capital got turned into a cultural glue factory. Maybe it was when the two-laughing-assholes-in-the-morning “wacky fun” radio became the de-facto standard, or maybe it was when living in soulless cookie-cutter hellholes like Kanata or Nepean suddenly became a good idea. Maybe it was when the CRTC mandated that thirty percent of broadcast radio content be <scare-quotes>Canadian</scare-quotes>, to protect our precious, milquetoast culture, and then broadcasters decided to meet that quota playing Bryan Adams, Celine Dion and Alanis a third of the time.

Jesus Christ, if you’re growing up in Ottawa listening to this stuff you could easily have no idea at all that there’s anything in the world that isn’t top-40 lite-rock. Our only vaguely tolerable alt-rock station caved and turned into a new-country station a few years ago, and now you’ve got virtually no options. CBC, for news and lighter (but not, mercifully, “lite”) jazz, CKCU for, well, whatever the hell whoever is on feels like playing (quality varies from “That’s a brilliant song I’ve never heard before” to “We’ve got a guy here who says he can play the ‘bag'”) and that’s pretty much it. Spin that dial and see if I’m lying; there’s only so many times you need to hear “Takin’ Care Of Business” in one day, Christ.

I have “KissFM” as my alarm clock radio, because the awful, gibbering stupidity of the empty talking heads on the morning show makes me so disgusted at the state of the world that staying in bed is not an option, and my radio is on the other side of the room. As soon as my feet can cover the distance, that audiorrhea is switched off and the home computer puts my music collection on shuffle. “Forty-five minutes of commercial-free music”, you say? I’ve almost six hundred solid hours of music on my hard drive, without a commercial in sight. I win. You see a “no repeat workday”, as in “we will not play the same song twice between 8:30 and 5:30″, as a selling point. I see a coal mine full of dead birds. You lose again.

You may disagree. If you don’t find manufactured pop and laugh tracks as demoralizing, dehumanizing and just generally as soul-destroying as I do, I’m glad for you, because you’re probably a bit happier with the world than I am, but I can feel it rotting my insides. And if you’re one of the people actually purveying it, believe me, if I could distill the hate I feel for what you’ve done into a bottle and pour it into your eyes I’d smile and do it, and I’d have plenty of it left over. Enough for you to swim in.

12 Comments | Skip to comment form

  1. Mike Kozlowski

    Here in my reality, “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” was sung by Deniece Williams in 1984. And, yes, I had to look that up, thankfully.

  2. John

    I find that between Chez, the Bear, the Fox, and Bob I can usually manage enough listenable music to tide me through the 20-minute commute to and from work. My fifth preset is CBC-2, because they really do have some good stuff on there sometimes. CKCU sucks *far* too much to be worth listening to, even if for ten minutes every second week at 3am on a weekday they’ve got new and wonderful stuff.

    I can’t imagine voluntarily ever listening to Hot, Kiss, or Y101. Yikes.

    Oh, and X? You called it a “tolerable alt-rock station” that caved and become country. Bullshit, it was a tolerable alt-rock station for about the first three months and then caved and became flavour-of-the-alt-pop week for the rest of it’s miserable existence. No, sorry, there’s only so many times I can hear the same 3 fucking Nickleback and Creed and Default and Theory of a NickleDefault and all the other prepackaged top-alt-40 crap in the same day before I lose it and start killing other drivers WITH A SPORK. The occasional Nirvana gets tiresome when all they ever fucking played was Smells Like Teen Spirit.

    So, no, X’s death was long in coming and not soon enough. The most consistently listenable station is, sadly, Chez, because while they play crap, at least they have 40 years of crap to choose from instead of “the last three months, repeatedly” like all the others.

  3. Anatole

    Tell it like it is, Mike.

    I’m not a TV channel-surfer, but trying not to slip into a coma while listening to most Ottawa radio requires a lot of finger-numbing button-pushing.

    Even when X was alive, it was just another station I could try in desperation. I rarely enjoy more than 2-3 songs in a row on any given station. (Still, it was a rude awakening when I got back from Australia and tuned to X only to find the “hick accent”, as you say.)

    And I think I’m with John on Chez.

  4. Guillaume

    You’re absolutely right in most regards. I’ve been complaining for years that there’s no good music on the radio. Mostly because I’m a fan of electronica. Thankfully I recently discovered a great station that I thought I might share with you. It’s 97.1 Couleure FM if you like good classical music, or jazz from 5-10 every night, and you don’t mind the fact that the station is french, then by all means I highly suggest it. What pisses me odd the most however is what happened to Hot. It used to play almost-tolerable rap once in a while, now they play ONLY top40 “hits”. One of my friends phoned to complain and they told him that they are only allowed to play 2 non-top40 songs per hour. So that’s why you will hear the SAME CRAP OVER AND OVER. So if anyone wants to make a pirate radio station, please tell me, I’ve got several gigs of good music to donate to the cause.

  5. Mike Hoye

    Thanks, Koz. I’ve made the correction. John, you’re right, and I’ve made that one too.

    Guillaume – yes, yes indeed. I second your opinion. It reminds me of RDS, the French TSN (ESPN-Canuck, for our American audience): On TSN, what do you see? Hockey, Baseball, Basketball, Wresting, Curling. On RDS? All that plus international events like judo, ping-pong, badminton, possibly a zillion other international sporting events that you absolutely don’t get to see on TSN.

    I’m amazed that the French feel a need to protect their culture. They should just stand pat until the rest of the country decides to stop drowning in boredom and asks for a lifeline.

  6. Mike Bruce

    I, literally literally, have not voluntarily listened to the radio for years. Too much pain.

    Morning shows make me hate my fellow man too much to function for hours afterwards.

    I can’t yell too loudly about variety. I tend to listen to a small set of things for weeks, and then go to something else (I can’t remember how long an underfilled MP3 CD with just The Epoxies and Firewater on it has been playing in my car). Thing is, it’s a small set of things chosen from a large set. And it doesn’t completely suck which is the bigger problem with most radio music.

  7. Mike Bruce

    Also: I really dislike the idea of flipping between bunches of radio stations just to not be irritated.

    Also also: I really cannot abide commercials, another important factor in my flight from radio.

  8. beltzner

    As a sidenote, I don’t think that this pandemic of absolute shit on 20+ channels of FM radio is limited to the greater Ottawa-Gatineau region. I can set my watch by Edge102’s playlist, can reset my brain by listening to the “prattle” and watered down “jokes” on any of the morning shows, and can barely tolerate Jack FM only because nobody’s goddamned talking most of the time … that alone forgives the station’s proclivity towards playing Riverboat Fantasy at least once during the morning and evening commutes.

    I’ve also actually long suspected that Toronto radio stations have well established commercial break times, as when channel hopping (on a classic car stereo from 1985 with a tape deck (how quaint!) and only 6 presets (quainter, still!) I find that all stations are to commercial or obnoxious station ID at exactly the same time. Forget investigating collusion at the gas pump; investigate the three our for “media concerns” (CHUM, RockRadioNetwork, etc) that rule this nation’s airwaves.

    I can’t fucking wait for my iPod Shuffle to arrive so I can banish the banality forever.

  9. Jim Millen

    Everytime I read comments like this, I feel very glad for BBC Radio 1 here in the UK. Okay, so they do have a playlist and they do play some crappy pop tunes, but by and large it’s well worth listening to. They are also pretty good at playing new music, unsigned artists etc.

    Just out of curiosity, do many of you on the other side of the pond listen to Radio 1 via internet? If so, how does it compare to general radio stations over there?

  10. beltzner

    I preferred it when Chris Moyles was doing the drive-home show, as it made for an entertaining morning listen when I got into work.

    The Ultimate Mix and free-flowin’ Friday late night shows are fun to listen to on Friday afternoons here, too.

  11. Melanie

    I didn’t realize Ottawa radio was crap until people here in the States started making fun of me because one of my most familiar radio songs was “the Joker” by I-have-absolutely-no-idea. You know… “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker… sure don’t want to hurt no-one..whooooo…”

    Not that things are that much better here. I gave up on pop radio a long time ago. Now, on my 1-2 hour commute to work (each way), I listen to NPR, whose main saving graces are the BBC, Car Talk, Wait-wait don’t tell me, and Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday. When the endless pledge drives and depressing news get to me, I generally slip in a Book-on-Cd for a week or two’s entertainment. Though lately I’ve ventured into the local country station, which I find, despite the right-leaning politics and Christian overtones, rather pleasant to listen to.

    Except the morning show. Morning shows make me want to take my burning hot morning tea and pour it directly into my eyes. What scares me is that they have to generate an audience, or radio stations wouldn’t put them out.

  12. janice

    Chez in Ottawa gets my vote, but only for short stints – usually running errands in the car. As a previous poster stated, Chez has a larger pool to choose from and usually place the best of that bunch instead of the newest of everyone trying to become part of the best (at least I think that’s what they are doing). I, too hate commercials.

    One of the stations I miss from my adventures in living across the border is NPR. If you get a chance, listen to it sometime. Car Talk is hilarious. They know about Canada on NPR which was a nice change. The last Christmas I was there, a major portion of the day was devoted to Canadian authors describing their memories of Christmas here.