"It's sixty minutes of Zen!" Jack Kulp exclaims. "What more could you want?"
Nothing. Jack is my new savior, or at least my new priest, my shaman, my conduit. He is describing the holy ritual by which nearly my every day now begins.
He is describing KOIT's Nine O'Clock Commercial-Free Workplace Kickoff Hour.
Lite rock, less talk -- 96.5, KOIT.
God, this is embarrassing.
The SF FM station's cute little slogan, frequently inserted between songs, is "Music that makes you feel good," which is an awfully polite way of saying "Thanks for listening, you pansy." It is a magical land where Dido and Sheryl Crow somehow sound a little edgy. Where Rod Stewart and Elton John and Peter "Mad Dog" Cetera roam the earth like giants. Where Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings" -- far better than you remember it, and certainly preferable to the hideous "From a Distance" -- appears with the same frequency as "Hey Ya" or that terrible Usher baby-daddy song do elsewhere.
"In the old days, KOIT was perceived as kind of an elevator-music radio station, maybe ten to fifteen years ago," Jack notes. "But it's really evolved into more upbeat, brighter songs."
And then there's the Nine O'Clock Commercial-Free Workplace Kickoff Hour, which delivers its own specialized form of nirvana. "It's a specially selected set of music that our program director and music director have put together to kinda ease people into their workday," Jack explains by phone after his six-to-ten a.m. shift. "And the fact that there are no interruptions, there's no chatter -- you don't hear me at all, except for a couple of breaks just identifying the station -- it really, it eases people into their workday. And I know that sounds like a cliché, but it's not. It's been hugely successful -- we've been doing it for about seven years now. People love it."
People like me. But I don't use it to ease into my workday. I use it to wake up.
First of all, yes, on occasion, I allot the hour between 9 and 10 a.m. to the herculean task of getting out of bed. Your disgust in this regard is none of my concern; I am not responsible for your poor choice of career.
Now, yes, there are certainly much hipper forms of musical accompaniment for this task. But morning talk radio remains absolutely repellent, even now that Howard Stern and his army of imitators have somehow turned their litany of third-grade fart and boob jokes into a form of political martyrdom. As for college radio, the idea here is motivation, and unfortunately your average college DJs invariably sound as if they have recently been mistaken for a raging hippo and shot with a tranquilizer gun.
That was, uh ... (twenty-second pause) ... Deerhoof, with a track from their ... (mumbles, jostles microphone) ... latest album, which I think is called ... (thirty-second pause, sound of chair overturning).
Comparatively, lapsing in and out of consciousness to the strains of Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy" is a far preferable experience. But the Nine O'Clock Commercial-Free Workplace Kickoff Hour truly specializes in reintroducing and redeeming the soft rock ballads responsible society has taught us to reflexively hate. Madonna's "Crazy for You"? Glorious. REO Speedwagon's "Can't Fight This Feeling"? Epic. George Michael's "Father Figure" is far superior to anything on that Postal Service album. And anyone who dares sully the name of Bonnie Raitt's incomparable "I Can't Make You Love Me" will face the wrath of my Ghost Fog Saber Technique.
Stripped of jarring commercial breaks and bleating jock monologues, even KOIT's more questionable cuts attain a sort of mythic status. Despite the stunning terriblosity of those contemporary Santana pop sellout duets with the likes of Michelle Branch and that Matchbox Twenty dude, it's still fun to imagine being rich enough to hire Santana to follow you around with a six-string and punctuate everything you say with blaring lead guitar lines.
Yeah, I'll take a foot-long roasted chicken breast on parmesan oregano.
Ping-ping-PING, ping-ping, doot-doot-do-do-doot-doot.
Naw, just mayo, lettuce, and a few green peppers.
Other tunes enjoy a fabulous sociological angle: Lonestar's "I'm Already There" -- a gushy faux-country ballad about an on-the-road dude serenading his wife and kid over the phone from what is, in all likelihood, a strip club -- is another fine addition to the I-Love-You-But-I'm-a-Megalomaniacal-Rock-Star-Asshole-So-I'll-See-You-in-Six-Months genre still owned by Kiss' "Beth." And the dueling versions of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," performed by Celine Dion and Aretha Franklin respectively (KOIT plays both), provide a handy microcosm for modern-day race relations -- specifically, how white people got so intolerably lame. Celine's version is like a remake of Shaft performed entirely by the cast of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
But pointlessly snarky critical analysis is the exact thing the Nine O'Clock Commercial-Free Workplace Kickoff Hour does not require of you; it's a chance to let down your cultural elitist guard and enjoy some good ol'-fashioned lite rock without fear of censure or public ridicule -- a cornucopia of guilty but undeniable pleasures that's almost weirdly, unnaturally perfect. Even Jack admits that if he picked the songs himself, folks would run away in droves.
"We would play a Carpenters, and then a Talking Heads," he says of his own mythical playlist. "And then we'd play a Frank Sinatra, and then a Rolling Stones. We'd play maybe twenty Beatles songs in a row, and then maybe throw in a Manilow song." (For the record, Jack also digs "a few Outkast tunes.")
But what KOIT's programming scientists have done is weave cheesy soft rock tunes into an intricate web of greatness, a rising tide that lifts all boats and uses legendary world-class chumps like Phil Collins and John Mayer to gracefully coax the world-weary Bay Area into the ol' cubicle for another workday. Thank you, thank you, thank God for you, the wind beneath our wings.
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