It sounded better when I was younger.

I can vaguely remember when radio was cool. Detroit used to be one of the great radio cities of America, in fact. When I was growing up in Michigan, we had everything from unrepentant hard rock stations like WLLZ (the initials are rumored to be an acronym for "We Love Led Zepplin") and WRIF (home of DREAD, Detroit Rockers Engaged in the Abolition of Disco) to unpronouncable country station like WWWW (they used to give money to people who could say their call letters four times without a mistake), and dependable news stations WXYZ (which isn't the WXYZ that created the Lone Ranger, but that's OK, because the other WXYZ was in Detroit, too.)

Radio started getting less cool as I got older. Sure, my musical tastes changed, but that wasn't the real issue; the real crisis was the death-by-homogenization that radio suffered as the evil megacorporations took over. The country stations went "young country", the rock stations went "party", and the news stations when "talk". By the time I started college, Detroit radio was barely worth listening to anymore.

Not that things improved any when I got to Toledo. The stations there displayed even less personality. I finally gave up on Detroit and Toledo, and spent my college years listing to CIMX, a Canadian "new rock alternative" (or is that "new rock/alternative"?) station that could be heard all over Southeast Michigan and Northwest Ohio because Canada allows radio stations to use stronger transmitters.

In fact, CIMX's signal was so strong that when I started grad school, I could listen to CIMX halfway down the Ohio Turnpike. Not that there were any good stations in the Akron/Canton/Kent area, mind you. I had to listen to WENZ 107.9, a "modern rock" station out of Cleveland that played a lot of 80s music at lunchtime. (As someone who often sleeps until noon, a station's lunchtime show is very important to me.)

Moving to Phoenix didn't do much to improve the situation. The only station (in West Phoenix) that I found tolerable was "Mix 96", and by tolerable I mean "they never played Britney Spears". Their format was "the best of the 70s, 80s, and today", at least until the Millennium rolled around and they had to start talking about the 1990s in the past tense. I even got a free frisbee from them at some event, which I ended up throwing in a box of stuff I gave to Goodwill. (I'm sure Goodwill was positively overwhelmed by my generosity.)

I'm back in Michigan now, and the radio situation has even worse than it was when I left. Most of the rock stations are unrecognizable, WLLZ is gone, WWWW has moved to Ann Arbor (a country station in a college town?) and even CIMX has transformed into something I don't recognize. (Apparently, "new rock alternative" now includes rap-rock and other stuff I don't grok.) My car and clock radio are currenty set to WDVD, because it only occasionally plays music that makes me want to change the channel. It has some serious issues, however. This afternoon, for instance, when the clock-radio alarm sounded, WDVD's disc jockey was encouraging listeners to call the station and win a pair of tickets "to see Annie at the Masonic Theatre."

So, my first complete thought of the day was "Wow. When did I become I so uncool that I listen to stations that give away Annie tickets?" Then I started rocking out to the Michelle Branch song they were playing, because that's exactly how uncool I've become.

Posted at 11:17:17 PM EST on 30 January 2004 from Trenton, MI