I just came back from a quick weekend in New York City. We drove down. NYC is only about a 4 hour drive (plus traffic) from Boston, so any trip I’ve ever made there has been via car or bus. I’ve always been a music junkie, and I’ve always had a soft spot for radio, so I’ve always been excited by that moment, somewhere in south-western Connecticut, where the car radio starts to pick up the signals for NYC stations. As the music got clearer and stronger, I knew we were getting closer and closer to the center of the universe, Z100’s broadcast antenna, better known as the Empire State Building.
For a long time, I called Z100 my favorite radio station in the world. Maybe part of it was the New York factor. Just knowing where it came from made it that much cooler. I know it’s probably infinitely uncool to call a top 40 radio station cool, but I like pop music. I’m unashamed. Kiss 108, Boston’s top 40 station, came close to being so cool in my mind. The two stations’ playlists were nearly identical, but Z100 was always one step ahead. On every trip to New York I’d hear something brand new – something I usually fell in love with – weeks, or maybe just days, before they’d start playing it in Boston.
This trip to New York was a little different. We drove into the city around noontime on Friday and left again in the morning on Sunday. That’s On Air with Ryan Seacrest on Friday afternoon and American Top 40 with (guess who?!) Ryan Seacrest on Sunday morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Ryan Seacrest as much as the next guy (Actually, most people can’t stand him, so I probably like him more than most. There I go being uncool again…) but those are the exact same syndicated radio programs I can hear at home. Same music, same news, same DJ. Different commercials, maybe. For all intents and purposes, I didn’t hear Z100 at all this weekend.
Z100 is part of Clear Channel’s giant iHeartRadio network, so I can actually listen to it online anytime I want to, if I want to. But why would I if now all they play is the same thing I can hear at home. I know the rise of iPods and Spotify and friends has made real radio – local, curated, DJ-based radio – an endangered species, but I wish the industry itself weren’t helping the cause by hunting its own. If I want to listen to listen to Ryan Seacrest, I don’t mind waiting until a trip to LA to do it. If I want to listen to Z100, I want to listen to Z100.