I haven’t had a chance to mention it, but it was a privilege to be a guest DJ for KXT during their recent membership campaign. I compiled my playlist from music that the station already had in regular rotation, and it was quite easy to come up with a fairly diverse selection, tracks that I actually listen to on my own anyway. As I was tweaking my notes, a rather self-satisfied friend of mine who prides herself on having especially obscure taste in music peeked over my shoulder and said, “This is a ‘normal’ list. Why are you trying to satisfy the normals?”
“I am playing songs by bands I’ve actually heard you listen to: The Jam, Tom Tom Club, and The Cure,” I said. “The Cure is your favorite band.”
So the station plays music that she listens to, yet she was complaining. That sounded familiar, and though it’s been a while, we’ve been over this before. It brings up an assortment of other issues, but the one that’s especially relevant is that last Friday’s Summer Cut event oddly silenced KXT’s staunchest critics, even though it’s merely a live representation of what the station predominantly already has in its rotation — local bands, a dash of international music, and critically acclaimed national acts. The only thing missing was classic rock. That is until, the Flaming Lips, a group that formed in 1983, performed. That’s nearly 30 years ago. Does that count? Oh, yeah, they ran through a couple of their now-famous covers of “Eclipse” and “Brain Damage” from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. That counts.
The group also mentioned that Dallas was one of the first places to accept the group all those years ago, and they seemed quite nostalgic about it. Coyne continued that this brand new event was a “really f*cking cool festival,” and that the station should “have us back.” Quite the endorsement from a powerful and locally influential man, even from a state away.
The occasional critical sniping targeting KXT has always been a little curious to me. It just seems like the one issue some critics can zealously harp on in order to seem like the ultimate local music advocate, as if a station that played even fifty percent local music is a viable concept in today’s tough radio market. But if you can’t even successfully fill the clubs every night simply on the strength of local bands (and this year’s all-Texas lineup of Homegrown seemed just a tad underwhelming, if not attendance-wise, then lineup-wise) then would spinning heavier on the locals have the pledges rolling right in? I’m not so sure.
Have you ever seen an old classic rock band play live? In a stadium or elegant hall, for instance? You ever check out those front rows or orchestra pits? Who’s down there? Bespectacled, balding, sometimes adorably cotton-headed men and women, wearing cargo shorts and boat shoes. Some of them are fresh off of work, still wearing the starched white and tie. Who are these people? People who can afford hearing their favorite classic rock band at the comfort level of their choosing. They’re also willing to shell out whenever the virtual basket’s passed around in the local radio pew, when the poor, downtrodden “hip priest” hosts are forced to collect.
This is reality. If you want to have a little podcast with your favorite North Texas acts, fine. But when you’re in charge of a 100,000 watts, you have certain responsibilities. Besides, when most bands struggle to move a thousand CDs for five or ten bucks, or 500 LPs for twice that, how are they supposed to rely on the same tight pockets to support a radio station all on their own, simply because they play those same unmoved units on the air?
But speaking of podcasts, in one of the strongest shows of support yet for our oft neglected local underground, KXT’s Paul Slavens dedicated an entire episode of Track By Track to Pinkish Black, a willfully challenging band that wasn’t even really on the local media radar until Pitchfork started paying attention. Then again, Slavens has a proven track record of following his own path, completely ignoring what the critics think. It’s reassuring to know that someone is involved at the station who isn’t simply just a local homer, but actually has a discerning ear. But I got the feeling from being around other members of the staff when I was actually there that this was a crew comprised of people who have an actual nuanced take on local music, as Slavens does, and they have unfairly had to bear the brunt of some intellectually dishonest criticism from some official sources.
What were the headlines when KXT announced Summer Cut? ” “Fail No More,” was the merciful and long-awaited pardon from the always authoritative Central Track. “#KXTFail? Not so Fast,” said the Observer’s Daniel Hopkins. He then goes on to tell a story about the station playing the Fate Lions, who hail from Fort Worth. But the general consensus seemed to be surprise, even though KXT had booked a festival that is simply a logical continuation of what it does every day. The Observer even went so far as to honor a hashtag bashing the station with an award for “Best Hashtag” in its Best of 2011 issue.
I wonder why 102.1 The Edge—or even the “Indie”-verse (which is owned by that shining beacon of independent media, CBS Radio)—isn’t held to the same excruciating standard that this public radio station has. The Indie-Verse’s Nico Martini has been particularly outspoken in regard to his feelings about the KXT playlist. Do I really live in a city where DJs who work for corporate-owned radio stations pick on the harmlessly modest and soft-spoken altruism of public radio? It seems so.
But here’s why it doesn’t add up: In a recent playlist from Nico Martini’s American Highway radio show from May 14th, he played a total of fourteen songs, and eight of them were by artists who have recently been played on KXT. Those artists include Johnny Cash, Rhett Miller, The Lumineers, Ha Ha Tonka, Mountain Goats, Rodney Crowell, Amanda Shires, and Lucero. Check my work in the search engine if you don’t believe me.
Martini has called the station’s playlists “predictable.” But when over half of your own radio show is devoted to artists played on KXT, what does that say about your playlist? I’ll be kind. I would say that his playlist is rather “unpredictable,” because I was shocked that the amount of crossover was that high. Perhaps he was making a playlist for the normals.
Photo: Flaming Lips performing (via)