All Ears

Disney Dreams Up the Best Radio Station in 30 Years

THE seminal moment of the teenpop era is of course in the Clueless movie, where Cher refers to college-rock R.E.M.-crap as "mope rock," or "dope rock," or "slope rock," whatever. When Hollywood says it in a script, it's alllllllll over. Anyone who runs into Alicia Silverstone remind her, and thank her. (The movie dates from when, 1995? Pre-Spice Girls, pre-Backstreet, pre-everything. They should recut the movie with a modern soundtrack dropped in—the Valley party would be better with "Genie in a Bottle" as "our song." LFO could be on the patio playing "Summer Girls," instead of that stupid ska band.)

Anyway, if you're collecting predictions on teenpop era span, I say through Year 2010 and beyond, EASY—that would be about 15 years, total. It's a gigantic land shift like the 1964 Beatles ("rock" era), or genre-wise like "heavy metal" (30 long years, right?—the last 20 mostly useless. . . . It's gonna take 20 years of new-era vocal groups just to neutralize that). Best spinoff would be if all the "serious musicians" and "singer-songwriters" gave up and went to work at Macy's. Can you imagine how preposterous a "singer-songwriter" would've seemed in 1963, 1964? (Actually, they were called folkies then.) From what I'm told they can't dance too good.

Funny that the truest pop underground of Year 2000 turns out to be grade schoolers (the trailing half of the 1996-1999 teenpop boom), but hardly surprising. This has been threatening to happen ever since Aqua snuck through 2.5 million copies of Aquarium in 1997-98 (ALL to preteens) in America—and throw in the Spice Girls' young kid-crowd for further confusion. So who knows how it will play out? Like, in 1982, who would've ever thought MTV would mean shit? It was all videos 24/7, and every 180 minutes you'd go, "OH FUCK, they're playing Sammy Hagar's 'Three Lock Box' AGAIN." But (along with Haysi Fantayzee's assassination of Ronald Reagan) it turned out to be one of the biggest music stories of the '80s.

illustration: Carly Castillon

I've finally figured it out, though—aliens landed several years ago, and Radio Disney is their beachhead! It's all very very clear: Hook the young minds, and then later start with the subliminal messages . . . "radio for kids!" is hardly one step away from "kill your parents" backwards three times per song. Or maybe Jesus came back, took a look around, and went, "Screw the grown-ups, I'm starting from scratch," and he's the PD for Radio Disney—nationally syndicated, now with actual airwave stations in about 80% of the U.S.'s largest markets including 1560 AM in New York, plus the Internet station at disney.go.com/radiodisney/?clk=11808. They're not self-supporting, so they cross-advertise other Disney sectors heavily to get their money's worth. And Web-search business articles say their demographic is mostly ages two-to-11. (Wonder what songs those two-year-olds like? The Pokémon theme??)

Station IDs/promos in chirpy grade school voices ("Radio Disney . . . We're all EARS!") that drive high schoolers and other 12-to-20s out the door screaming, but charm the heck out of parents, aunts, and uncles (that's me!). It's like the old hippie cliché, where you take that "tab of acid," walk into the next room, and BOOM! Everything's now in Technicolor! Upbeat! Happy! Wacky! YOU NEED THIS STATION! PRODUCTIVITY WILL INCREASE BY XX%!

. . . Oh man, I give up. RadioD just ran Britney Spears's "Soda Pop" (I'm thinking, "I don't hate this QUITE that much," it actually sounded OK) straight into the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand," and neither song blinked. That Beatles song can sound reallllll good when set up properly. (Fake reggae into exploding guitar—in 1964, Millie Small would have been the lead-in.) Thirty minutes later, Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" is on the Disney deck (yesterday they played Kylie Minogue's), and not too long after, the Stones'—I mean Britney's—" . . . Baby One More Time" into "Yakety Yak" from 1958.

I'm just jotting down the non-current-Top 30 tunes that spring out ('60s, '70s, and '80s), which keep getting more wack/astounding with each additional hour. Lots of novelty and dance songs spanning the last 40 years of hit radio . . . everything from "Yellow Submarine" to "Cars" by Gary Numan to a deranged version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and over to "The Curly Shuffle" and "Do the Bartman" and Alvin & the Chipmunks disco ("Turn the Beat Around"). Lots of KC on weekends. And TONS of vintage Weird Al, this station/core audience's Numero Uno all-time act, sort of their parallel universe Beatles. (Hey, "I Want a New Duck" rocks!)

The most surreal segue I've heard on Disney so far is the Contours' "Do You Love Me" (certainly one of my Top 10 or 20 dance songs ever) right into "We Like to Party" by my beloved doofus Vengaboys: classic DJ synergy, where a great track makes an adjoining one sound better (and "We Like to Party" back on CHR-pop was truly annoying). Then there's the greatest pop sequence I've ever heard on commercial radio in my entire life: Toy-Box's "Tarzan and Jane" cavorting into the Backstreet Boys' fantab "I Want It That Way" sliding into the Archies' epochal "Sugar Sugar." "My Boyfriend's Back" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)" sandwiched around 'N Sync's new single (very catchy!). The Jetsons TV theme song, Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," and the Isleys' "Shout," right next to Christina Aguilera, that damned Vengas bus, and the BSBoys. Joan Jett's glorious "Summertime Blues" hyperdrive Ramonesola, on a Monday afternoon! An insanely cute modern techno-ballad (movie track?) of Rosie and the Originals' "Angel Baby." The Happy Days theme, sounding as goofy as in 1976. Girl-pop-rock heaven: "Boys Will Be Boys" from the swell TLC-meets-new-wave 1998 Beyond Pink Barbie album. The great Clueless TV theme song (written by the Go-Gos' Charlotte Caffey), full version (can I buy this somewhere??), into Elvis's "Hound Dog." (Charlotte Caffey back-to-back with Scotty Moore? Don't think that's ever happened before on radio in this galaxy.)

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