#Current10: Loving The Current from afar

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Greetings from Minnesota
"Greetings from Minnesota" a display from the Minnesota History Center (Creative Commons / Flickr user jpellgen)

I missed the first four years of The Current, but in the past six years, I've certainly made up for lost time. Since 2009, I've listened to the station from morning to night — from the "9:30 Coffee Break" to "Cover to Cover" to "No Apologies" to The Chart Show. From Teenage Kicks to Rock and Roll Radio. From "I Wanna Be Your Man" to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" to "I Wanna Be Sedated" to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' " to "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" to "Anybody Wanna Take Me Home" to "Do I Wanna Know?"

I'm plugged into the Twin Cities, but I've never been to First Avenue or a Timberwolves game. I haven't experienced Rock the Garden or the Minnesota State Fair. Why? Because I live in Warwick, Rhode Island (10 miles south of Providence) — 1,363 miles away. And I'm honored to have been asked to rep the folks who stream the station all over the whole wide world. Here's the journey that led this devoted listener to The Current.

I've been hooked on radio forever — from transistor radios to incessant button-pushing in cars, from big table-top models to boomboxes to portable stereos, from Top 40 to "underground" FM programming and onto various sub-genres and programming permutations. Like LL Cool J, I couldn't live without my radio — a constant soundtrack, a sound salvation.

In those formative years, you pulled in the sounds 'round your own backyard (or, if you were lucky, from exotic frequencies hundreds of miles away). Unfortunately, as is the case in most locales, Rhode Island has never had a station that spins a wealth of music from many genres and generations all day long (though specialized programs on college radio scratched some of those itches a few hours a week). But suddenly the Internet made it possible to pull in radio from every corner of the globe. As Devo sang, "Freedom of choice is what you got / Freedom of choice is what you want!" But where to turn? What to choose?

After a spate of sampling, I didn't stray too far beyond my own backyard, hooking up with The River, an indie/AAA station north of Boston. But during a vacation in 2004, a serendipitous channel-scanning on the way to Gettysburg, Pa., led to a streaming residency at Philadelphia's WXPN, which adroitly mixed it up. That's where I first heard Jim McGuinn, who joined forces with XPN after helming modern rock stations in Philly. (And he did a stint at a classic-rock station in Rhode Island in the late '80s — small world!) His love of music and of the medium was inspiring and contagious. When Jim left Philly to take over program director duties at The Current in 2009, I pointed my cursor and followed him there.

Finally: here was a station that unites six-plus decades of rock-'n'-pop-'n'-beyond, all day long. The Current's slogan is succinct and indisputable: "Great music lives here." There are so many riches in every hour, f'rinstance: Semisonic, Hippo Campus, the Strokes, J Mascis, Chuck Berry, D'Angelo, Travis, Willie Nelson, and Damien Rice. The Stones segue into Kendrick Lamar; FKA Twigs follows Neil Young. Catfish and the Bottlemen's "Kathleen" and Guided By Voices' "I Am a Tree" ignite air-guitar frenzy. You can enjoy a hat trick of the Flying Burrito Brothers, Belle and Sebastian, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Rod Stewart's superb early '70s work gets the respect it deserves. And the playlist isn't too cool for the room: three songs from Billboard's Hot 100 are currently in heavy rotation (the Prince-channeling Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars, Hozier, and Sam Smith — popular music can be great, too). And there are the local heroes: I'm thrilled to have been introduced to Jeremy Messersmith's magnificent melodies, the Cloak Ox's knotty riffery, and to dance along with the pure, buoyant joy of Lizzo and Caroline Smith's "Let 'Em Say."

I was tempted to drop more names in that paragraph, but the point is clear (and hey, you listen all the time, too, right?): that's a wide and wild and wonderful mix of music. As is often stated during member drives, it's destination radio and draws listeners from far beyond The Current's backyard.

But great radio isn't just about great music. In many ways, it was the first interactive medium — you form a bond with the personalities on the other side of the speaker who are talking to you: the DJs who push your emotional buttons with the magic in the music. (Bonus: they take requests and give away tickets too!) These days many people opt to listen to the files on their phone or computer-generated/preference-based playlists. But the human touch — the vital connection — enhances the listening experience. And if you spend as much time with the radio as I do, you gotta like the company you keep. The Current's hosts are an engaging and entertaining and passionate crew — and they answer your e-mails and tweets!

There's a curious but enchanting disconnect to be steeped in the spirit of a place that is halfway across the country. I "knew" some of the landscape and landmarks due to an obsession with the Hold Steady, but the regular listening lends a phantom familiarity. Someday I'll get to the Twin Cities. I'll have a Shrunken Head at Psycho Suzi's, unearth some treasures at the Electric Fetus, walk the Skyway (bringing that song to life), dig into a Jucy Lucy at Matt's, catch a show at the Turf Club, and savor a Summit Sága or two at the Nomad, and listening to The Current all the while (maybe I can sit in on the "Coffee Break"!). It will feel like being in my own backyard.

Lou Papineau is a freelance writer from Warwick, R.I. He is a sustaining member of The Current. He blogs about beer and other diversions at bottlescansclaphands.wordpress.com.


If, like Lou, you live outside the broadcast area but still listen to The Current, let us know in the comments below!

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2 Photos

  • Northfield to Providence
    Map of The Current's broadcast range with respect to the author's current location. (Data: FCC / Map: Google Earth)
  • Jill Riley operating the board
    Jill Riley operates the console at The Current. (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

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