But is it good radio?

If you pick up any sufficiently old book — especially one with a table of contents longer than a page in length — you’ll quickly notice that the table of contents uses a different page numbering scheme (usually lower case Roman numerals) from the main text of the book itself.   Ditto for the index, glossary, and appendix at the back of the book.   

It’s not because those sections of the book are less important than the main text of the book.   It’s because having the table of contents use the same numbering scheme as the main text, can alter the page numbers on which the text to which they refer. Creating a table of contents was already a tedious task for the typesetter; forcing them to make changes to the page numbers as a direct consequence of the work they’re trying to do, well it’s fair to say that it can easily add to the frustration and tedium of the work.   (Especially if the changes bounced back and forth multiple times between the table of contents and the main text…)

The advent of word processing software in approximately the past 20 to 30 years simplified the process of creating a table of contents: with a few mouse clicks you can do what previously took days to do.   The tedium and issues with recursive downstream impact have completely vanished.  

This is just one example of how computers and technology have greatly simplified tasks that might previously have been difficult, tedious, or in some cases, impossible without the tools we now take for granted.  

I mention this because yesterday, my favorite radio station, WXPN in Philadelphia, after about a week of teasers on social media, started an interesting project yesterday morning at 6 am (local time): they are suspending their usual programming 24/7 to play their music catalog alphabetically (by song title).  (I doubt it’s the whole catalog because I would presume they’re going to want to play something new by the time springtime rolls around…)

When I was in college in the early 90s, I was a DJ at the on-campus radio station.  Back then, it had an incredibly weak signal to the point that if you didn’t live in on-campus housing, you probably couldn’t pick it up.  We had two turntables, two cassette decks (plus one more tape deck for recording your shows), an 8-track deck, and a CD player.  I, like most DJs there, favored playing records and CDs to the other means of airing music because they were the easiest to cue up in preparation of the next song to play.  When it was my turn to be on the air, I’d load up a duffel bag with some of my own personal CDs and LPs to supplement the radio’s library.   (And as an added bonus, the extremely short range of our little AM station meant that I could play John Lennon’s Working Class Hero or similar songs without censorship or fear of reprisal from the FCC…)

Given that technology, imagine the effort it would take to play even a couple of hundred songs alphabetically: locate the albums that are the source of the songs you want to play (and you might need more than one copy of the album if you’re going to segue from one song to another on the same album and they’re not one right after the other in the correct order on the record or CD).  Then write out all of the song titles and alphabetize them into your playlist.   And then cue them up and play them in the order you spelled out.  It’s probably fair to say that any such playlist, if it contains more than, say, fifty to a hundred songs, is an effort whose tedium might rival the creation of a table of contents in a book.  

But with modern computer technology, this is relatively easily done.  I’m sure WXPN isn’t using iTunes, but any disk jockeying software that is at least as powerful as Apple’s music management system can do it with relative ease.  All that’s really needed is to do some curation of the overall archive (which might be ongoing as a part of the day-to-day running of the station) and have a DJ who knows when to pause the playing of the playlist to speak into the microphone and play ads.  (It’s a public radio station so the ads are minimal and are from sponsors…). And maybe have a pause in the playing for regular station identification.  I say “maybe” here because they occasionally put the software on shuffle and leave it to its own devices during holidays when no one wants to go into the station.  You hear the identification at the top of the hour then, too.

That’s pretty good stuff.   I’m just wondering which song — with multiple artists who’ve put their stamp on it — will be played the most times in a row.   I’ve narrowed it down to one of three possibilities: Hallelujah by Leonard CohenHard to Handle by Otis Redding, or Landslide by Fleetwood Mac.   But I could be wrong.   We shall find out soon enough….


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