Refrain: Radio, Radio

In 1978, Elvis Costello sang:

… the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools
tryin’ to anaesthetise the way that you feel

He debuted on Saturday Night Live with that song, even though (allegedly), he wasn’t supposed to.

Rumor has always had it that with one song, Elvis alienated himself from radio programmers the world over with his angry statement of bile and truth.

I don’t know if all of that is true, but I do know that in 1978, I loved “Radio, Radio,” because it blasted the lack-of-imagination, formulaic and possibly payolized nature of AM and FM commercial radio. The world was exploding with good music as punk and new wave crested, but good luck hearing any of it on most radio stations.

And radio was so important. For a high school kid like me, radio was the only connection with music outside of my bedroom. I didn’t own a cassette player yet, and the Walkman hadn’t been invented. A year or two later, I could produce my own mix tapes, but in 1978, if I were away from my LPs, I only had the radio. And radio sucked.

Tonight, I’m watching Elvis on Austin City Limits and he opened with “Radio, Radio,” and it struck me how in a manner, that song has become totally irrelevant. An relic of the past like 8 tracks and magic 8 balls. And not just for me, but the whole world. Now I have my iPod, XM Radio and disks that can hold more than 100 MP3s. What do I, or anybody else, need radio for? Radio still sucks, but so what?

Then I was reading over the lyrics of the song tonight — there is a way “Radio, Radio” still matters. What is interesting, it is a meaning that Elvis could not have anticipated in 1977/78. The relevance is this — vapid talk radio, which is the only kind of talk radio there is (on both the left and the right). The song fits even better as an anthem against Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken as it does the mindless radio programmers of the Top 40 era.

Talk radio has come to dominate the airwaves, but with all the good current affairs blogs out there, does it really matter, either?

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