The Collegian
Thursday, September 24, 2020

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Music Mondays: Car Radio

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

I now have only my car radio. My cassette player gave out on me two weeks ago after 210,000 miles, countless real tapes, several tapes attached to aux cords attached to a few different smartphones. 

I listen now to the airwaves. I hear songs I don’t know the names to. I can’t look them up, not while driving. But they’re all familiar regardless. That familiarity, it comforts, it caresses. I can’t hear those nameless songs again until a disc jockey miles away decides it’s time. What a thrill. 

I wait for something good. I flip between the three stations I know. Two pop, one rock. I haven’t branched out yet. I forgot that I could.

But then I hit a run of songs I forgot I’d missed. “Summer of ‘69” into “Funky Cold Medina” into “Hey, Soul Sister.” What a whirlwind. I remember all the words. I sing. 

In my car alone, with the windows up as tight as they can go, I sing. I’m so gangster, I’m so thug, and on. My chest is untrimmed just as his, it’d be a bit weird if it weren’t. If only this story had been about “Drops of Jupiter.” Would've been a touch cooler, though I can't say I know the words quite as well.

I gaze ahead all the time, thinking about how much I miss the control. I could select any song in the world before, any podcast. And often it was podcasts. I needed people talking all around me, so I didn’t have to think about anything else except where to turn and where to stop. 

With the radio, I’m afraid I’ll be thinking all the time, about everything but the road. 

It’s amazing the run of songs I hear on the 80s, 90s, and Now station, 98.5 FM. I think about how “now” has extended into its third decade. The gap between 90s and now grows and grows. How long can it last, that tagline? Then again, will pop music really ever leave the 80s?

Depeche Mode. Madonna. Ellie Goulding. I switch. Sorry, Ellie.

English Nick is talking on 97.1 the River, Atlanta’s Classic Hits. I’ve been listening to him all my life, passively, when my parents had the control, when they drove me. Everyone’s opinions on how to best go back to school are valid, he tells me. In that moment, I think so too.

He tells me about his teenage bedroom, his Def Leppard posters. I guess that’s valid too. 

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It’s amazing. The songs you forget, the ones you remember, all of it unchanged over years and years. I count the number of times Elton John shouts “Saturday.” I sing both lead and backup on “Takin’ Care of Business,” doing my duty. I tap my fingers on the steering wheel to “Sweet Home Alabama,” as I turn on onto Old Alabama Road, here in Roswell, Georgia. It’s nice, it just is. 

Commercials now. Every station at once — isn’t it always that way? I learn about flood insurance, bug bite ointment, the nearest Ford dealership. And then finally, that rich, dulcet voice from my friend in the Diamond Business. Never have Shane Co.’s ads left the airwaves and entered into any visual medium. Their jewelry needs only that voice. 

I roll into my driveway and reach for my headphones. I stick them in my ears before I’ve even taken the key out of the car. I search for anything new, anything unknown. 

I do hope people like 90.1 — the University of Richmond's station, where I work — when they’re in Richmond. At least you’re bound to hear something you’ve never heard. Plus, we’re never on commercial. 

Until I’m back in Richmond riding in my friend’s car, I’ll hear out English Nick. I’ll travel through time and try not to think, except about the color of the lights and the needle of the speedometer. I make no decisions when I leave the house now, though. I just turn on the car. 

Contact opinions and columns editor Conner Evans at conner.evans@richmond.edu.

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