The concept of a “locavore” is pretty easy for most folks to grasp: someone who buys things that are produced locally. Typically, this is used when describing people who purchase locally-produced foods, whether those foods are animal or vegetable. There’s also the idea of “Think Global, Act Local” to remind people that we need to support local businesses. And, between the bevy of days designed to get us out there frequenting local businesses (i.e. Record Store Day, Free Comic Book Day, Small Business Saturday, etc.), you have a whole host of reminders that we need to consume local resources first, before we look outside of what’s right nearby.
And so, it was with a terribly heavy heart I heard the news yesterday that WFNX (101.7FM to those of us in Eastern MA) had been sold to Clear Channel. Yes, the folks who own the “IHeartRadio” brand that seems hell-bent on destroying all variety in radio had bought yet another station and was planning to take it from its current alternative music format to (likely) either Spanish-language talk or country.
I can’t describe how awful I felt when I heard this. I have all kinds of words that I would typically use for this circumstance which I try pretty hard not to use on this blog, for fear of giving the impression that I’m an off-duty sailor. Basically, this decision is just bullshit and it’s robbing the local area of a resource that many of us really enjoyed. My sister introduced me to WFNX in the early 90’s, on one of my trips up to Boston while I was still in college. I loved the variety, the fact that they played music that no one else even considered putting on the radio, and the sheer bravado of putting on music that wasn’t designed for people who only wanted aural pap. When I moved up to the Boston area several years later, WFNX became “my station” – the one I would listen to in the car all the time. Even now, working well out of the range of its puny transmitter, I stream it to my desktop at work so that I can keep tabs on the music I love and the DJ’s that I find highly amusing (in an era when most DJ’s are interchangeable animatronic figures with their own inner laugh tracks on constantly).
These days, when you turn on the radio in your car (assuming you only have terrestrial radio and haven’t ponied up for Sirius/XM), what you hear is fairly homogeneous. Any station you land on fits neatly into one of five categories: news/talk, classical, classic rock, pop rock or college radio. The alternative rock stations have been wiped clean off the map in many cities (my beloved WHFS in DC disappeared one day, suddenly, but is available for streaming these days). And now, the station that introduced me to Mumford & Sons, Foster the People, Arcade Fire, Young the Giant and many, many others is disappearing. The radio personalities that actually lent personality to the radio were let go. A skeleton crew will man the station until its final switchover somewhere between 2-8 weeks from now, and then Clear Channel will re-baptize it as something else.
If you think about what being a locavore means, there’s an inherent sense of consciously bypassing the homogenized experience – the pre-packaged, chemically-enhanced version of what’s on the market. You want the fresh strawberries from the farm one county over, not the ones that flew in from 3,000 miles away. You want the beef that’s hormone-free instead of the beef that’s had god only knows WHAT done to it in order to get that cow to grow faster in a pen that’s smaller than a bathroom stall. Sure, you pay more for that, but you pay knowing that you’re supporting local businesses and your own local community, and you’re doing something that’s better for you in the process.
Listening to local radio isn’t all that different. Sure, the sales channel isn’t exactly the same – you don’t purchase directly from the station, although you may hear about a show or a service and purchase directly from the vendor who advertised on the radio. But still, how is there all that much difference? When you have the opportunity to listen to new bands that have a sound that challenges your preconceived notions of what’s good, expanding your mind, how is that so different from turning up your nose at packaged foods? In my mind, my rejection of all things Bieber and any of the digitally-enhanced crapola that comes out of the record company machine doesn’t stray all that much from my desire to have organic milk in the house. I’m consciously rejecting that which I know is being spoon-fed to me and branching out. That I listen to this on local radio is far better than just streaming it from some faceless server owned by a media conglomerate.
The other piece of this is that I don’t just listen: I buy. When I hear something I like, I go to Newbury Comics and I buy it. I don’t buy constantly, and I often look through their used selections when something finally occurs to me months after a disc has come out and I’ve heard enough to know it’s worth buying. But I buy. And I buy local. Newbury Comics is much like a DC-area chain I used to work for back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. That chain was destroyed by the rise of Tower Records and Best Buy, and ultimately Walmart and Target did them all in. Newbury’s still managed to survive, although they’re very much on life support, to hear their CEO tell it. They’ve had to expand their offerings to include more clothes and other ancillary items, because that’s where they’re getting sufficient margin. They’re being eaten alive by iTunes.
So, if I have to leave you with one idea as I sit in mourning for WFNX and desperately hope that Newbury won’t go the way of the dodo anytime soon: be a locavore about more than just food. Think Global, but for pete’s sake CONSUME LOCAL. Listen to your local radio station. Buy from your local CD store. If you live in the radio/musical equivalent of a food desert, seek out new music and new acts and buy their stuff. Go to local shows if you can. Just don’t give up on what’s local. Because, just as a radio station can disappear in the blink of an eye, so can a family farm. Businesses need patrons to succeed, and they need word of mouth to grow their base. Don’t let another decent station or music chain suffer because the deal is better on Amazon or the instant gratification’s there with iTunes. Think Global, CONSUME LOCAL. Please.