But over the last few months, I haven't touched the truck's station changer more than twice or three times a week. We in the OKC area have seen a return of "The Spy." Originally, the KSPI station based in Stillwater went by that name, and a disc jockey named Ferris O'Brien played a wide range of alternative/new wave/punk/indie/whatever name we've given this week to music that hasn't been processed through the A&R grinder releases. Later, The Spy operated out of an Oklahoma City station for a few years, until station owners first switched it to a Spanish-language music format, then to the Spanish-language version of ESPN radio.
O'Brien brought the station back through a local marketing agreement with Citadel Communications. He's said his ultimate plans include buying the station outright. The refreshing aspect of playing Ear Spy in my truck is that I don't hear the same songs I've been hearing for decades -- songs that aren't actually bad, but which can't justify having greater airplay now than they had in their initial release.
There's no way I could claim to like everything I hear on the new SpyFM. I lost my chance to be a bona fide New Waver in the early 80s when I said out loud that I just didn't get The Smiths and I didn't think that Morrissey was really that great, and 25 years haven't changed my mind. I'll probably lose any chance at being "indie," the 21st century equivalent of New Waver ("Not punk. New Wave. It's a totally different head. Totally." Thank you, Johnny Slash) when I say that Vampire Weekend does absolutely nothing for me. But even the things I don't like I can stand, because they're not the same thing that just got played 15 minutes ago on another station.
O'Brien probably has a longterm plan for the station to develop its alternative voice and its promotion of local musicians, and kudos to him. The Spy already features several homegrown programs -- local music on Thursday; rockabilly, jump blues and the actual old-time rock and roll Bob Seger was referring to on Friday evenings; dance music late Friday night and early Saturday morning and a Wednesday night show that features music the Spy would have played had it been on the air for the last six years. The latter's the weakest. While the music is good, the show hosts are a pair of OKC bloggers who, like most of us, are a lot funnier to themselves than they are to others and who do better writing short, sometimes humorous bursts online than they do coming up with enough chat to fill the spaces between an hour's worth of songs (A reason you'll never hear me on the radio, by the way). But even they're playing stuff that's not the same old thing.
I'd love to see O'Brien branch out with a show featuring some of the Americana music of the last few years that's taken country, bluegrass and roots music as far beyond the Nashville hats-and-tarts scene as Los Campesinos! took folkish poppy dance tunes beyond the Billboard graveyard. And there's a little too much Morrissey and way too much Flaming Lips (of course, for me, that level is reached the first time a Lips tune gets played, which shows I'm still not ever going to be cool). But I've found a half-dozen bands I'd never heard of and now enjoy tremendously and I've got a notepad in my car to write down lyrics when I hear them in the non-DJ portions of the day so I can search them later (and stop bothering O'Brien's email inbox with a "What was that song you played about 9:30 this morning" again).
And listening to the radio is fun again. Thanks a lot, Ferris & The SpyFM, and good luck.
(The headline is taken from the song of the same name by the dB's, a power pop band of the late '70s and '80s that deserved the acclaim R.E.M. got and which wouldn't have frittered it away on junk like Up. Or from a different song by the quirky duo of Was (Not Was), who also helped us "Walk the Dinosaur" and warned us that when the "woodwork squeaks...out come the freaks.")