Grace Notes III: Internet Radio’s Time-Shifting Joys

Somerville, Mass.: Honk Fest 10/1/12

Last spring, when I knew I’d be ‘homeless’ for a couple of months, I asked on a couple of listserves and FaceBook for suggestions of radio music programs to record for later listening.  I got great responses.  Of course, I want MORE.

I promised respondents a report on what I’m listening to and how I’m doing it.  Here it is.


I am only interested in music programming.  Wrote Paul Simon 40+ years ago:

I get the news I need on the weather report
Oh, I can gather all the news I need on the weather report
Hey, I’ve got nothing to do today but smile

My tastes run to alt.rock, American songbook, esoterica – presenters with enthusiasms, folk/acoustic/Americana/whatever-they’re-calling-it-this-week, country & western (old style), country blues, jazz (ex-bop and ultra-progressive), classical and opera (ex-atonal, dissonant, etc.).

Hence the list (all times Eastern, but check a time service for Daylight Time changes).


 WERS Daytime, Boston.  Weekdays, 4 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Real student radio from Emerson College.  Runs the gamut from A to B: Annoying to Brilliant.  The presenters, the same.  But for 30 years I’ve enjoyed minds inquiring into what makes music programming work.

 Folk, etc.

 ‘All Things Acoustic’, WUAL, Tuscaloosa.  Friday, 9-11 p.m.  Very pleasant 2-hour show that is strictly acoustic.  Surprisingly, it is not particularly regionally oriented.

Acoustic Sunrise’, WUMB, Boston.  Sunday, 8 a.m. to 12 noon.  Over 20+ years, it’s had three presenters.  Naomi Arenberg has proven a worthy successor to the sorely missed Bob Cannon and Dick Pleasants.  A fine mix of music assembled by someone whose listening range is different from mine.

 ‘Music Mix with Brendan Hogan’, WUMB, Boston.  Weekdays, 7-10 p.m.  Eclectic sets, often quite long, mixing five decades of music very intelligently.  Hogan knows what’s good today and spotlights it.  He’s introduced me to a number of contemporary acts I wouldn’t have heard otherwise.

 ‘Midnight Special’, WFMT, Chicago.  Saturday, 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.  Any show that begins with Leadbelly’s ‘Midnight Special’ and ends with Kim & Reggie Harris’s cover of Phil Ochs’s ‘When I’m Gone’ is worth a listen.  Its motto: ‘Folk music and farce, show tunes and satire, madness and escape.’  I prefer the 3-hour Chicago version with its distinctly regional focus to the 2-hour national.

Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight’, WFUV, New York.  Saturday, 8-10 p.m.  Scelsa began making his mark on NYC radio just as I left in 1970.  You can never tell what you’ll hear.  And, you’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn about music you think you know.  Not for the absolute talkaphobe.


 Australian Broadcast Company ABC Classic, ‘All Night Classics’ Sunday – Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 4 p.m.  A well planned mix of old and new with brief, intelligent commentaries.  Perfect all day listening in the US.  The bias toward Australian performers and composers has proven not to be a bad thing.

 Australian Broadcast Company ABC Classic, ‘For the God Who Sings’, Sunday, 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.  If choral music of the Christian tradition interests you at all, Stephen Watkins fascinating programs aren’t to be missed.  His commentary focuses as much on liturgy and theology as on the music itself.

 Radio Classique, Paris.  Every evening, 6 p.m. to midnight.  Its late evening and all night programming (New York -6) is virtually talk-free.  But, the selections are of a ‘greatest hits’ nature and are not, evidently, planned thematically.  Still, a good way to spend an evening.

 Classical, Country, Esoterica & Orgies!

 WHRB, Cambridge.  A station for the musically adventurous.  With a couple of very notable exceptions, it’s a student station.  Its classical programming is well thought out and presented, though it has veered a bit far, in recent years, toward 20th and 21st century music.  Its two hour ‘Historic Performances’ on Sundays is always worth hearing.

           ‘Hillbilly at Harvard’…, the name says it all.

           One exception to the student rule is David Eliot who hosts a classical music ‘special concert’ each Monday evening.  His day of ‘orgies’ every six months focus on the American songbook, neglected pop figures pre-1950, comedy you’ll hear no where else, and so much more.

           Orgies are extended programs which may range from everything attributed to Bach (night and day, over two delirious weeks) to surveys of popular music and culture during WWII to the complete Alan Lomax.

           Before internet radio and computer recording, I organised my life around WHRB’s semi-annual Orgy Periods.  Annoyingly, WHRB invariably publishes its program guide well into the first month covered.

 Means for Recording

For 40+ years I’ve recorded music off the air.  I still have my Pioneer reel-to-reel, though not my BetaMax.

Last spring, the inadequate service I’d found for internet recording expired well after its time.  In a final graceful gesture, it suggested as a substitute.  What a substitute! is reliable, very easy to use and
covers every station I’ve tried ‘round the world.  (It doesn’t cover pay-to-listen services.) isn’t perfect.  But it’s so close I can only rave about it.

Media for Listening

One flaw in is that it directs automatically to iTunes.  Since (1) I am mistrustful of all things Apple, (2) I have been through all too many recording format changes and (3) I save programs that are especially good, I don’t like being locked into the iTunes system.

I use an iPod classic.  A less intuitive machine, I’ve never found.  And what a useless manual and website!  But it’s sure better than a Walkman, and its capacity I haven’t been able to challenge.

My Earcandy earbuds, which double as a headset for my ‘Droid, provide my soundtrack from the gym to the street.  Bose headphones are indispensable for hours on trains and airplanes.

My tuner, when I’m not listening to stuff I’ve recorded, is an iPod Touch’s ‘Tune In’ app.  A docking station hooked into your system is all you need.

For someone who walked his paper route with a transistor radio awkwardly stowed, today’s technology is a delicious fantasy made real.

Suggestions, Please

Overall, I’ve been disappointed in the jazz programs I’ve listened to.  Ditto, American songbook – very pasteurised.  I found nothing by way of historic country and country blues.


‘But Seriously, Folks…’

As Jack Benny would say….  We are living in a golden age of radio, really the golden age.  Never has there been so much good listening on offer as there is today.

Some things have gotten much better.