Radio Free Oklahoma

The Spy

I like the radio. It’s my favorite type of media. The idea that there are transmissions all around me, waiting to be picked out of the air and decoded has always kind of felt like magic. I remember lying in bed as a kid with a tiny boombox right next to my head, listening to the radio all night super softly (I didn’t have headphones at that point, and my folks had a strict 10 pm lights out policy). I had no standards, I loved everything. Casey Kasem, AM talk radio out of Chicago, Larry King, Dr. Demento, classic rock, public radio, oldies, jazz…I listened to everything, and I loved it.

As I got older and discovered my parents record collections, my taste became more selective. I wanted there to be a station that played the music I was discovering- new wave, punk, the early days of indie rock. I heard about The Spy from a friend in 7th grade, and spent several months (and thousands of antenna configurations) listening and trying to listen to the fuzzy signal out of Stillwater. (“HEY, COLLEGE RADIO! I’ve read about this in books!”)

The radio landscape of OKC makes it hard for me to love radio. I am fast becoming an ipod and NPR guy. Even KOMA, which for years was an oasis of 60s soul and psychedellic gems has become another of several places to listen to The Eagles. That’s why I was very happy that The Spy came back from the dead yet again. This latest version has proven to be the best ever. I loved the amateur “lets put on a show” spirit, the fact that you could turn on your radio on a friday evening and hear classic Rockabilly one moment and turn it on a few hours later and hear crazy post punk noise, the support for local music and local businesses, crazy/brilliant programming decisions (chinese rock live from Shanghai, for example). The whole thing clearly was a labor of love, and as someone with a crazy labor of love of my own, I really respect that. It’s really nice to see people do what they love in exactly the way they want to do it and succeed.

That’s why I was doubly disappointed to see that the owners of the station had pulled the plug on The Spy again; the new wrinkle is that instead of killing it and staking their hopes on reggaeton like last time, they noticed that there was some profit potential here and decided to replace it with an automated sound-alike station; the format is similar, the name is the same, but something’s off.

Something I’ve observed over my 28 years is that you can’t co-opt someone else’s dream. Like an old suit, you can squeeze yourself into it, but it’ll never fit right. In the absence of feeling, all creative endeavors fail. I suspect the people currently managing the radio frequency 105.3 don’t see it as a creative endeavor at all, which is why it’s not going to last long in its current form. The Spy continues online in an unmolested form, but I feel like something is missing there, too. The magic of the radio, the thing that makes it special and different from your CD collection or podcasting or a cassette deck, is that it’s literally in the air. You can stumble on it accidentally, catch a snippet of something revolutionary in the static and be changed forever. I want The Spy to be in the air around us. That’s where it belongs.

(c) Colin Newman All rights reserved.

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