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Dec 2012

The Rules

December 18, 2012

The other night, I asked Lady Catharsis to read over my "Hall of Legends" post.  "I don't understand," she said, "why you want to create all these rules to tie your own hands."

Well, I thought it would be funny to deploy a phrase like "Bombast policy," which I love to say out loud, and to have all this stuff that I could invoke from time to time, an ever-growing mountain of arbitrary things that didn't necessarily add up to anything coherent.  But Lady Catharsis is a tough audience, and perhaps you are too.  Here goes, anyway:

Bombast was always meant to be non-specific in terms of genre.  Usually it succeeds.  Indeed I have a very hard time describing the program succinctly to someone who asks me about it.  "You really have to listen to it, and you might not like all of it, but you will probably like something in it."  That's about the best I can do.  It may seem that Bombast is all over the place, and indeed that is one of its selling points, even though I am selling nothing.

Still, I have established some basic guidelines and standards for myself just to keep the process of programming BOMBAST interesting and challenging, and to prevent laziness, jadedness, and complacency, to which I am prone.  And I figured that by making these "rules" public I could give listeners--all five of you--a glimpse into the process, and a standard to which you could hold me--a failsafe in case the show loses its edge.


No doubt you have seen those "skinny jeans" sported by many a dude.  They are not for me.  My thighs are robust and muscular, and, truth be told, fatty as well.

TMI, to be sure, but it's but one of several reasons why I cannot strike a hipster pose.  I enjoy dark comedy and satire.  I am not humorless.  But irony is not something that I do particularly well, and historically when I have exhibited pretensions of being "above" this or that thing, they have always been undermined by my own vulnerability to the stupid.  The joke is on me, sooner or later.

You have my promise that everything I choose for airplay on BOMBAST is something I genuinely love.  No cheap jokes, only valuable ones.  I don't pretend to like any music just because I think it's "cool."  I'm too old.  No trolling the listeners--you are not experimental subjects.  I like you.  Mostly.  I know that you won't be as crazy as I am about every single entry in the playlist, but everything on that list is played in good faith.


This is my wife's chance to "hack" the show.  While there would be some overlap in a Venn diagram of our musical tastes, there are many artists and albums about which our opinions differ.  The aim of this segment--increasingly, "these segments"--is to stretch the boundaries of the show, and spur me to find relationships between the music I would play and that which I wouldn't play.  Lady Catharsis could easily have her own program, but doesn't want one.  "I would just plug in my iPod," she says, "and say, 'I like ME!'"  I've heard worse shows.


A "rotation," in radio parlance, is a set number of songs that a station plays over and over again.  In the digital, automated era, it could be around 400 to 500.  Prior to this, that number would have been smaller.  This playlist is further broken down into "heavy," "medium," and "light" rotation, with "heavy rotation" meaning that you might hear a song every 3 to 4 hours.

A show like Bombast, which airs 2 hours a week, would maybe air a given song once every six months under these conditions, so it would seem that a rotation is nothing to worry about.  This is where the host's idiosyncracies come into play.  I don't know whether it's Asperger's or just the run-of-the-mill "laziness" and "complacency" I alluded to earlier, but something about me craves familiarity and repetition.  If I didn't put a roadblock in their way, I would keep coming back to the same groups, if not the same songs, week after week.  I know I'm not alone in this, as I have heard other local radio personalities do this with their shows.

So the "anti-rotation" policy, which isn't actually written down anywhere, is that I don't wish to come back to a given artist too soon once I've given them one airing.  "Backward never, forward forever," as the mighty U Roy would say.  But we should never say never.

What, then,  is "too soon?"  It's subjective, so let's just say that "too soon" amounts to "before a considerable amount of time has passed."  Helpful?  No?  Okay.  Given the wealth of interesting music in the world, and the constant stream of new releases, it seems silly to repeat ourselves on consecutive broadcasts, or even to play the same thing again within a few weeks after the first airplay.  It's been suggested that this "anti-rotation policy" could apply to tracks instead of artists, and about that there are two things to say.  1) Again, there is so much terrific music to be discovered week after week that even playing the same artists too frequently diminishes the ability to play all the fantastic things I hear. 2) There are a few escape clauses that allow me to make exceptions without feeling too bad about myself.


Everyone has a different shortlist of artists and albums that fit this category, but, let's face it: the rules are different for some people and some works.  Some bodies of work are so varied, and yet so consistently interesting, that you can come back to them without feeling like you are repeating yourself.  So, to return to that phrase we used earlier, a "considerable length of time" depends, on a case-by-case basis, on how often we can revisit the same people without feeling like we're being repetitive or lazy.  Hopefully this makes sense.

The "extreme genius" exemption can also apply to individual releases.  Again, we all have different opinions about which releases should be considered special, but for each of us certain albums or EPs come along that we find truly extraordinary.  The BOMBAST anti-rotation policy isn't meant to be a technicality that cheats listeners out of hearing how *consistently awesome* a given record or cd is, or a flimsy excuse not to satisfy a listener's interest in hearing more than one song by one artist.  Historical trivia: we have read that John Peel was so blown away by "Head Over Heels" by Cocteau Twins that he played an entire side of the LP on one night's broadcast, and the entire flipside the next night.  But moves like this must be reserved for exceptional music; otherwise they have no value.

The "Hall of Legends" is one way of "making moves" like this, and we will try to induct the deserving on a semi-regular basis.


Of course if I play something by a given artist, and then that artist surprises me by releasing something new shortly thereafter, I am not going to be all recalcitrant about playing the new thing, unless the new thing really lets me down.  Who among us hasn't been there?


Especially early on, as the show approaches certain seasonal observances for the first time, I might revisit some familiar faces simply because they have recorded songs that seem "just right" for a given show.  Also, sometimes big things happen in the world that get us thinking about this or that topic.  I'm not terribly into "theme" shows--especially right this moment, after having programmed SIX in a row [wtf?].  There's nothing wrong with just playing a broad range of outstanding music week after week, but like everyone I am occasionally vulnerable to the charms of topicality.


jk, I don't really have one of these.


This is what the "anti-Bob Marley" policy, as it has come to be known, really is.  Here is the deal.  WRFI is an independent, non-corporate radio station, and IMO it should privilege independent, non-corporate music.  So that is one goal.  Another worthy goal is that of providing value--not just in the local radio landscape, but also in the sense of not wasting the listeners' time by playing material with which they are already well familiar, and which some of them probably have in their personal collections.  There is plenty of music that you hear over and over again without even meaning to, and I don't intend to be part of that problem.

I don't have a handy list of those acts I consider to be well-enough-exposed already, or a guideline for what music is sufficiently "independent."  It's subjective.  You don't have to be happy with my judgment--change the station, or, better yet, join WRFI as a volunteer and get your own show that does a better job than mine with this stuff.  I'll be one of your listeners, I promise.


these are the policies that come to mind at the moment.  There are more, probably, rattling around in my brain "like dried beans."  And, as I have said during some show or other, "Bombast policies are meant to be violated."

So I have little idea what any of this amounts to, other than an unsolicited glimpse into my mind.  You're welcome!

Enjoy the program.