The Songs Remain the Same

Rejecting young talent in favor of dinosaurs with proven track records, classic rock radio rakes in the ratings and the cash A along with a severe case of geezer burn

With the glut of new faces ignored by radio, record companies now rely on MTV, print media, and plain old word of mouth to launch a band. Pearl Jam and the Spin Doctors, this year's pet newcomers, built cultish followings by touring incessantly. Rock stations didn't play tunes by these bands until months after they released albums. And for every success story, Appleton says, there are a heap of radio-ready bands that never get a shot.

"Radio has grown so terrified of experimentation that everyone in the record industry is scrambling to find the next Pearl Jam," says one disgusted music scout. "It's a pack mentality that manages to punish originality."

The response to such gripes echoes the excuse put forward by tabloid journalists: Hey, we're just giving folks what they want. Unlike the subversive voices that commandeered FM radio during the Sixties, today's owners have little interest in expanding listeners' tastes, or changing the world. As ZETA-4's free-form-DJ-turned-program-director Neil Mirsky puts it: "We're here to entertain people, not to educate them."

Pick your way through the maze of trailer-park roads off Interstate 595 in Davie, toward the radio towers that are the closest South Florida comes to redwoods, and eventually you'll find WSHE. From the outside, this drab, single-story building layered in shale and white shingles doesn't strike the eye as a $20 million property. But then, airwave inflation does have a way of overlooking aesthetics.

Inside, a worn chorus leaks from the ceiling: "I can't get no sat-is-fac-tion." The truth, as anyone who listens to WSHE knows, is that you can get satisfaction. You can get so much satisfaction listening to South Florida's sole remaining AOR station that you may very well grow confused and believe you are actually listening to a classic rock station. At which point you will have to be reminded, sternly, that SHE plays new music, too A often by fresh young artists such as Robert Plant and the Moody Blues.

Whatever comes out of your box, don't blame Art Garza. He's just the DJ. His routine, like most other jocks', amounts to mechanics. Read the log sheet.

Slip the right disc inside the right machine. Provide the requisite patter. "It ain't exactly brain surgery," Garza says.

Which might explain why the SHE studio, a dim ten-by-ten cell that Garza prowls from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. weekdays, is crammed with totems of distraction. Celebrity photos, scribbled with juvenile messages, blanket one wall. (A shot of Dan Marino, inscribed to afternoon drive DJ Diana Smart, reads, "Here's looking up your endzone with a Ford Probe, Love, Dan.") Nearby sits Glenn Richards's "bar stool": a plastic turd crowned with a photo of SHE DJ Richards. A set of pouting porn princesses, captured on official Penthouse trading cards, stare vacantly from their perch on the soundboard.

"What can I say, man, it gets kinda boring around here," Garza offers sheepishly. Clad in surfer pants and a Pink Floyd T-shirt, thinning hair pulled into a ponytail, the jock cuts a figure calculated to convey both a zest for partying and a futile disdain for adulthood. A silver skull ring the size of a golf ball sprouts from one hairy knuckle.

Garza, who signed on with SHE a year ago, grew up listening to the "Godfather of Rock and Roll, Joe Anthony."

Joe who?
"Well, he was the godfather of rock and roll in San Antonio," Garza explains. "I remember once he played 90 minutes of Mahogany Rush and someone called to complain, you know, enough with the Mahogany Rush! So he played another 90 minutes.

"And there are times, even now, that we get to be spontaneous," Garza insists. "Like during the hurricane. We put together a triple shot for the weekend. 'Rock Me Like a Hurricane,' 'Like a Hurricane,' and 'Riding the Storm Out.'" Barring natural disasters of previously unfathomed magnitude, however, he concedes the DJ's life can grow pretty dull.

Garza cues the next CD and purrs into the microphone. "That's another song set from SHE A the Stones, Van Halen, Zep, and U2. Now, here's a little BTO for Hollywood." The opening riff of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" burbles out of the speakers. Garza squints at the playlist. He has stacked in order the tunes he'll be airing for the next three hours, the all-request lunch excepted, from the wall of classics behind him, and the single row of acceptable new music to his left.

"Every jock lobbies for his own tunes," Garza explains. "Take for example 'Wildfire Woman' by Bad Company. I'd like to put it in the mix. It wasn't a huge hit, but sometimes you gotta say, 'What the fuck!'" He swivels and presses the next song into service: "Dream On" by Aerosmith, whose members will soon be eligible to receive Social Security.

Down the hall, on the business side of the operation, program director Bill Pugh is taking an extremely important call. "Yeah, we got the 25-to-54 men, across the board. Substantial increases. No, nothing below 25. But much better with the men. Yeah.

Right. Bye.
"That was the boss," he explains. "Checking the latest numbers." Not WSHE's Arbitrons, as it turns out, but those of WMMO, an Orlando FM station that just switched from AOR to classic rock, under Pugh's tutelage. No such move, he is quick to note, is in the offing for SHE. In fact, the 39-year-old Ohio native says he would like to see the station play more new music, bands like Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Gin Blossoms, both of whom he has championed.

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