The Geeky Neighbor Who Loved Me
Years ago, when I rode in my dad's truck listening to Rich Mullins, Sandi Patty, and early Michael W. Smith - who, like Dick Clark and Paula Dean, doesn't age - the radio dial would lean constantly toward 89.1 FM. My dad would drive down curvy East Tennessee roads with his elbow out the window, quietly singing harmony to familiar tunes tinnily buzzing out of the speakers of a white Dodge pickup. I myself learned to sing harmony to that stuff, my fake, peer-induced attempts at liking Nirvana notwithstanding. The station went through changes over the years, changing their target demographic from the middle-aged single to the Starbucks-fueled soccer mom, but resolutely keeping ties with all digital content that came pouring out of Nashville's recording studios. Eventually, of course, they realized that Soccer Mom's Soccer Kids like music too, and they began the occasional tangent into DC Talk and other offerings of Forefront Records.
This was my musical tour through middle school, my aural window to a world larger than Halls Crossroads.
Then came our falling out. 89.1, Love89, plowed onward with its target listener pleased as punch, and I heard "Vitalogy," "The Wall," "Zoso," and other gems from my aunt's collection. I spent my high school years with a foot in each world, loving bands like Jars of Clay and Caedmon's Call who made decidedly engaging art. Then, after years of impolite snickers on my part, the geeky neighbor, who I'd long written off, extended his hand across the fence to me.
I was a singer/songwriter with vague dreams of playing great songs for attentive crowds. I shunned anything kept ties with all of that trite and pigeonholing nonsense. My first record was made up of a bunch of one-takes sitting in front of a microphone at my parents' church. I'd been listening to the Counting Crows and anything I could find that was acoustic and depressing - ergo, the sound of said record, but Love89 accepted it. A guy called Kris Love had started a new program called the Detour, playing local folks, many of them friends of mine. He played embarrassingly terrible cuts from my record and found speeches full of kind words to say about them. Then I made another record, better and with only one or two embarrassments, and Kris played that one as well. Not being a soccer mom, I still thought the main format of the radio station was a trifle geeky, but I had to admit that anyone who would play my record (and say it was not only good, but worthwhile) had my attention.
My geeky neighbor (If Love89 could speak, would they call me, "My pretentiously esoteric neighbor who fancies himself a pillar of the intelligentsia?") and I had since waved to each other over the fence more often. I've even whispered quiet words of admiration over the station. Yet today, I awake to find that it shall all pass away soon.
Love89 has been sold, the DJs will lose their jobs, and the format will be replaced by a syndicated Christian radio source out of Los Angeles or someplace. I watched a news report summing up the story, and a woman lamented that the local flavor would be gone, but "at least there will still be Christian radio." This caused an amount of ranting on the part of me, the pretentiously esoteric pillar of the intelligentsia, until my graceful wife told me to put down the telephone and the flame-thrower and rethink my principles. I shall miss my neighbor, who championed my music and the music of my friends, passing it along with words of encouragement and praise to people who otherwise would never have paid attention. It is my hope that someone or something else will arise to do the work that was done by the DJs and programmers of that station. Keep the old radio warm and close; good music needs a home.