By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
I can scream from the mountaintops about the wonders of the Internet all I want. Shout about blogs. Hoot 'n' holler about podcasts. But for all the attention and growth that Dallas music Web sites have seen in the past few years, the result is still just the sound of a clicking keyboard in the grand scheme of this city--one of those QuietKey ones, no less, so it's not even that loud.
For now and the foreseeable future, FM radio is king here. No matter how tech-savvy the city becomes, nothing beats a cheap antenna and no-frills stereo for immediate musical gratification. For Dallas in particular, a strange set of factors will forever keep radio relevant: Mass transit is the pits, so people love their cars, and anyone who leaves a mass of CDs (or, heavens, their MP3 player) in the car is usually mocked because of how likely it is that said items will be stolen. Gotta love Dallas.
So it's frustrating to surf through the dial and find so little to latch onto: '90s hits on "New Rock" 102.1 The Edge; the two hip-hop stations mirroring their national playlists so much that they occasionally air the same song simultaneously (I've heard this happen twice in the past two weeks, and that's only from casual listening); the only quality country station, 95.3 The Range, and jazz station, 88.1 KNTU, barely even in reception range through much of Dallas.
Truth be told, Dallas could have it worse in the music radio realm...at least our Latin and classic top-40 variety is adequate. Yippee. But where does that leave the other listeners who want a station with a true new music (heck, even local music) identity? For the most part, 89.3 KNON is the only station left with equal parts wattage and mission, and they ain't doing so shabby, if last month's crowded, reggaeton-lovin' KNON Latin Energy Festival was any indication.
Even that station, nearing its 25th anniversary, fails in the ultimate point of a radio destination--to have a spot on the dial where you know what you're getting into. At KNON, rock barely exists, and the overload of other genres (R&B, Cajun, reggae, blues, gospel...Laotian?) forces each into a shrunken daily slot. How else do you expect the program director to fit in the weekend Bollywood show, after all?
But there's one station hidden in the recesses of Dallas that is poking its head out with a clear, wonderful identity. Its signal is tiny--you won't catch it on any highway or busy stretch of road--but its message is loud. Meat Radio was the city's best-kept secret for some time; I'd been eager to spread the word about its weekend broadcasts of great local music, along with soul, blues, Southern rock, '60s garage, '70s power-pop, punk and so on, but the DJs there asked me to shut my yap.
That changed when Quick's Hunter Hauk leaked the info last month (and reminded readers a second time last week): "I don't even know how that happened," station manager DJ Meat says with a nervous laugh. "Not much I could do about it."
The station, not even a year old, was started at a time when practically everyone else in town was jumping on the blog-and-podcast bandwagon. So why radio? "Not everyone has an Internet connection, I guess," DJ Meat says. "I just wanted something for the neighborhood, basically, so people could hear what was going on with the music scene in Dallas and the music scene in general...There's no outlet for that in Dallas, for indie music or local acts all that much, except for a few shows here and there."
The busiest part of the schedule is on weekends, when Meat airs political/grassroots programs like Democracy Now! and half-indie/half-local shows hosted by the likes of the Happy Bullets' Rhett Jones and Double Wide booking agent Chelsea Callahan. What's important about the station, really, is its balance between a small pocket of good local music (rather than a bloat of every average Dallas act) and the new underground songs and classic deep cuts that inspire the best acts in town. His resolve to have something important on the airwaves keeps DJ Meat devoting time to this free station (now airing 24/7 and shared in podcast form at myspace.com/meatradio).
"No," he says flatly about fears of the station being shut down. "If you look at the way the FCC controls the airwaves...they control who has a voice and who doesn't by charging $100,000 just to have an FM signal. There's legislation that's being worked on right now for communities to have a low-power FM signal that's about 100 watts, but that's a real slow process. So I just decided to go ahead, put one up, see what happens."
If things go awry, Meat says, he'll shift to podcasting. Until then, I'm just glad I finally have a radio station to enjoy on my drives around Dallas. Maybe you do as well.