A red light flashes telling me that a caller is on the line. I pick it up, “WFPK, hello.” The man launches immediately into a tirade, shaming me for playing the artist that is currently on. Teasingly, I reply, “Tony Bennett?” He comes back, dumbfounded, “No, that stupid cunt, Lady Gaga.” Whoa! “Seriously? She’s doing a duet of ‘Anything Goes’ with Tony Bennett. It doesn’t even sound like Gaga.” But the man doesn’t back down. “She has no place on the WFPK airwaves.” I hang up the phone.
That’s not even close to the only call I’ve ever gotten like that, and not only about Gaga. You may remember an article written here a few months ago about WFPK including a couple of the new Beyoncé tracks into our playlist. By and large, most people were thrilled, even folks who didn’t usually listen to Bey. The songs leaned in a rock direction, one even had Jack White on guitar and co-vocals (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”) sounding entirely like his band The Dead Weather (whom we play), and the other (”Freedom”) felt like a mix of Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin and Florence + The Machine. But that didn’t matter. It was Beyoncé, and that brought out some pretty hateful remarks from a few folks. All of whom, of course, threatened to pull their membership if we continued to play those songs. Now, just for some quick, behind-the-curtain perspective. These songs are in a rotation. At most, either song is played once in a 24-hour day. That might mean once at 10 a.m. one day, 9 p.m. the next, and 3 a.m. the next. If you were just casually listening, you may not even hear it but once or twice a week. And, if you do hear it, both songs are about four minutes, a very brief amount of time in one’s day. So why such hatred? And to further that question, why is it that an artist can incite that kind of hatred, the kind that would make a person go out of their way to stop everything they’re doing, call someone they don’t actually know, and cuss them out … because of a song? By the way, one was about female empowerment, the other a breakup song. But it was Beyonce singing them, and that was enough to make the entire universe implode, at least that’s what I gathered from some of the emails and phone calls.
And don’t get me started on hip-hop. We’ve been playing select cuts from the genre since 2011. After talking with some of our listeners in their 40s, it occurred that a lot of them came of age as hip-hop was starting to break the mainstream. It’s an important part of who they are. So we curated with that in mind, finding the ones that featured melody and thoughtful lyrics and fit in with what we were already playing. Again, by and large, more than most listeners are happy to hear the occasional song by Tribe or De La Soul or J5 or Mos Def. We even went big on Chance The Rapper and was rewarded with a lot of positive tweets. But for a few, it really brought out the worst.
It leaves me with the basic question of why, or how, music can make someone turn so negative? Music is joyous, and inspiring. Even angry songs are meant to sooth in a different way. I loved the way metal made me feel in my youth, a reflection of my mood that I ultimately felt solace in. If it’s a good song, who cares who sings it? No, we’re not a pop station, and we’re not a hip-hop station, but if there is a song, a great song that comes through in one of those genres, hell yes I’m going to pay attention to it! The same way stations embraced Ray Charles at a time when it was unheard of, or Iggy Pop, or Prince. All artists who brought a lot of hate calls when rock stations started playing them. And if you simply just can’t handle it, then remember one important thing: It’s only four minutes. Go eat a bologna sandwich, and we’ll have Clapton back on when you return. We’re here to play the best music in all sounds and color. Let loose and have some fun with us, too.