When I was a kid, pre-Internet, I had a love/hate relationship with the radio.
I grew up in New York, and in my teens WNEW-FM was my constant companion. WNEW positioned itself as the station “Where Rock Lives.” Every song seemed perfectly picked, placed, and contextualized — it was music curation at its finest. Listening as a twelve-to-thirteen-year-old, I discovered tons of new music, or at least artists who were new to me. Rock really did seem to live on that station. Its DJs were true hosts. I clung to every word that Jonathan Schwartz, Vin Scelsa, and Scott Muni uttered. After all, in a time before message boards or social media, these people were my friend – intimate friends who turned me on to Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead, and Bob Dylan.
But after a while, I became frustrated with WNEW-FM. I had discovered a whole new world–punk rock –and WNEW wasn’t playing very much of it. I heard an occasional Ramones song, but where were the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Jam, and Wire? WNEW was too busy playing Foreigner, Styx, and Journey. Yuck, yuck, and yuck. (Ironically, I now have a custom-made Slacker station called The Bands I Hated in High School Kinda Sound Good to Me Now–but I’m getting ahead of myself here.)
Eventually I broke up with WNEW. The station had betrayed me. There was just so much Foreigner I could take. It certainly was no longer the place where my rock lived. I abandoned WNEW, and I abandoned the radio.
Years later, Napster came onto the scene, and music listening changed forever. All the world’s music accessible with a click of a mouse. I loved Napster at first but soon grew uncomfortable with both its bad song results and its lack of artist support.
Through the 2000s I drifted from service to service online. Rhapsody, Imeem, Lala, iTunes, eMusic…I tried them all. But somehow, despite the cool music platform that the web had become, something was missing. Some days it was enough and I found treasures, but most days it felt a bit cold, clinical. Listening to music on these services was mostly clean and efficient, but it wasn’t all that entertaining, and it certainly wasn’t magical. These were algorithms and applications…not good friends crafting music experiences. The human element was missing.
For the first time in years, I found myself missing the old WNEW-FM.
Then, in 2011, I found Slacker.
Slacker would have seemed like an impossible dream to the eighteen-year-old me. It worked everywhere. On my computer, on my phone, in my car. Best of all is the curation. At Slacker, I have more than 200 pre-programmed stations to choose from. Sure, there are the expected genre stations — Today’s Hits, New Hip Hop, Country, and an excellent slate of Alternative stations. But Slacker also digs really deep with Eclectic Rock, Great Songs You Forgot, Old School R&B, and Grunge: 20 Years Later. These are thematic stations that terrestrial radio could never dream of.
With Slacker, I can access the biggest hits, or reinvent the concept of formats, on a daily basis. Only people who live and breathe music every day could come up with stations like Dive Bar Jukebox, Broken Heart Radio, or The 50 Most Embarrassing Facebook Songs. No algorithm in the world can put a music mix together like these stations.
With Slacker, I am able to follow hosts like Mat Bates and Scott Riggs, whose expert curation routinely blows me away.
I love Scott’s Indie Hits mix and I find Mat’s New Music First stations invaluable. I really couldn’t live without The New 40, the Slacker station that plays the best 40 songs regardless of genre, each and every week.
Yet as good at turning me on to music as Mat and Scott are, I love being able to overrule them, to have more power than the DJ, to take a good station and make it better. I can fine-tune any station by tweaking the music mix based on related artists, song popularity, and song age. Fine-tune is an extremely cool feature. I can add sports from ESPN, news from ABC, and talk from American Public Media.
At Slacker, I have total control of a music library of more than 13 million songs. I can lean in and make custom playlists. I can lean back by simply typing a band or song name into the Search box and just let the music play. For a guy who spent days as a kid making mixed tapes, this seems unbelievably fast, efficient, and wondrous.
Most important, at Slacker I feel like the human spirit of the old WNEW FM lives, but within a new technological construct. Experts like Scott & Mat make superb stations – they are bringing music curation back. The technology platform makes everything easier, better, more customizable.
So go ahead, poke around, play a station, or enter a song. It’s up to you — with Slacker, all you have to do is listen up.