107.1 WWYZ, “The Boss”
To get a handle on the arbitrary abstraction known as “classic rock,” we dispatched Brendan Byrne to see what lurks between the beer commercials and the songs that sound like beer commercials—Ed.
Entering a bagel shop in deep Queens several mornings ago I was greeted by the blare of “Fat Bottomed Girls” at levels unconducive to communicating with staff through face mask. This was almost certainly not radio: there was no DJ connective tissue between Queen & the next solid gold classic, but it brought back, with an unProustian violence, the experience of every lunch counter and mom & pop retail joint I frequented in the aughts. Highly differentiated from bars (whose jukeboxes were often overridden by pissed-off bartenders with direct access to the stereo), this wasn’t music you were supposed to listen to, it was music meant to reassure you that you knew where you were. I worked at a bookshop in the West Village for a length of time uncertain to even me, where Q 104.3 was chosen for expressly this purpose. After a time, you were able to block it out, except for the commercials, which were designed to cut through even the most strident aural defenses and penetrate the soft brain tissue.
This was nostalgia, or something like it.
Outside of B&H, which just as often has the radio off these days, I never hear classic rock radio anymore. The other lunch counters have died, and the mom & pop shops have given way to the gentrified urban-mall experience, “local” chains with the affect of start-up studio spaces, haunted by soft AI-curated Spotify playlists. And, of course, I have been in Manhattan exactly twice in the last five months.
Prompted, I exposed myself willingly to Q104.3, which is now a subsidy of iHeart, the wonderful internet radio station well-beloved for its labor practices. I was greeted with a solid 5 minute block of commercials, which I no longer have even the most modest defense against, rolling right into traffic, and then “Free Bird.” That, I felt, was sufficient.
107.1 The Boss, which did not exist in the aughts, was playing The Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979,” which was, when I was 19, the kind of music that cool kids who did drugs listened to. I assume they all have children and financial wellness newsletters now, but I cannot believe they listen to radio.