At least, not on the airwaves anymore. Apparently, New York doesn’t, either. Los Angeles’ last country music station switched to playing soul-pop last week with little fanfare and little publicity.
I suppose that lots of people from professional sociologists to armchair pop culture analysts will try and read a lot into this. But actually I don’t think it’s all that significant. It’s not like people don’t listen to country music in Los Angeles. Far from it — there are hundreds of thousands of country music fans here. I’m not one of them, but I suppose that if people like a particular kind of music, they’re going to find a way to listen to it. I’ve lots of friends all over America who like country music; it’s popular with a lot of folks from all walks of life and that’s as true in Southern California as it is anywhere else.
When I grew up here in the Antelope Valley, we couldn’t get any of the cool radio stations from Los Angeles. But somehow the cool kids found a way to listen to the cool music. I wasn’t a cool kid, so I listened to whatever did come on the radio stations we could get, and as a result I have a taste for music closer to that of people half a generation or more older than me. That’s not to say that when I did get out into the larger world and found other kinds of music, I didn’t like it. But I never really figured out where kids here got exposed to groups like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran. But they did find this music, and they did listen to it, and while I might have been a bit slower than my peers to get on board, I did too.
The point is that the kids who wanted to listen to modern music found a way to do it, even though there was no radio outlet for those genres which they could tap into easily. There was MTV, there were trips to the big city (for some reason, the richer kids who could afford to go to L.A. more frequently seemed to find new music faster), there were magazines and newspapers and television shows that reported on the music scene, and there was good old-fashioned word of mouth. And there were some artists so big that they even penetrated into a podunk area like the Antelope Valley, like U2, Prince, and Madonna. Even we knew who they were.
Today, it’s even easier than it was in the eighties to find the music you want to listen to without the assistance of radio. The internet has made it possible to listen to radio stations, watch videos, spread word-of-mouth, and generally disseminate music all over the world, for cheap. Kids aren’t just listening to the radios; they listen to iPods and watch streaming videos over the net; cell phone manufacturers seem to think we’ll want to listen to music on our phones so that’s in the future; under pressure from competitors, MTV is even playing music videos again. The technology has become so easy to use and so widely-disseminated that even folks who are technophobic can use it easily.
So country music fans in Los Angeles (and New York) need not fear very much. If they want to keep up with the developments in their favorite genre of music, it won’t be hard for them to get information, news, music, and everything else they want. Country music has its own cable television station that plays nothing but country videos and has country music news. Music stores and Wal-Mart aren’t about to stop carrying such big movers. The entertainment media is not going to stop reporting on his genre of music, and there’s always the internet.
So I don’t think this is particularly significant, nor does it indicate some sort of cultural rejection of middle America by coastal cities. Before she died, Patsy Cline said something like, “Country music is never going to go away. The things it is about are a part of us — loving, cheating, feeling bad, and feeling good later — and that’s what the music is all about.”