Thursday, July 14, 2011

Goodbye Q101

Well, I didn't have time to write a Tunes Tuesday post this week and I haven't done a Memory Monday in a while, but this post will be a mixture of the two. Unfortunately it's a very sad post.

After today, Chicago will no longer have an Alternative Rock radio station.

Tears actually welled up in my eyes as I typed that.

Q101, which started an all-alternative rock format in 1992, was bought out a couple weeks ago and there were rumors that it would change to an all-news/talk radio format. I tried to ignore these rumors and tell myself that I didn't really care because I don't listen to the radio much. Every once in a while I borrow my mom's car to run errands and forget my iPod and I tune in then, usually catching the cool noon request hour called "The Last Letter Game," hosted by a female DJ named Electra, who really likes Tool. Sometimes really late at night when I'm driving home from bartending, I tune in as well and that's my favorite time because I'll catch them playing tunes that are less mainstream like by Fugazi or The Butthole Surfers. In other words that's when I flashback to what Q101 used to be for me.

I started listening to Q101 right when it adopted the alternative rock format, switching my loyalties from the hard rock station The Blaze. I was in 7th grade. It was 1992. I'd gotten into Nirvana the summer before and with them/through them discovered a slew of other bands from The Sex Pistols to Mudhoney to L7. I was addicted to MTV's late night program "120 Minutes" that exposed me to more and more alternative rock bands. Then Q101 came along and the floodgates of music were opened to me. The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Juliana Hatfield, PJ Harvey, The Replacements, Green Day, Tool, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Babes In Toyland, Primus, Rage Against The Machine. I can't remember exactly when or how I discovered each of them whether it was on MTV, Q101, or through reading about them in Spin magazine or in an interview with Kurt Cobain. But Q101 gave me a place to listen to them all the time. I was young and I couldn't afford to buy every CD I loved as soon as I heard it. So I was glued to the radio in my room or to my Walkman when I was walking or rollerblading to school or around town.

Q101 was the first thing that Chicago gave me that felt like mine.

We moved to the Chicago area when I was 8. I've never been completely happy here because you know first impressions.... And my first impression was a lot of really mean kids that I seriously struggled to fit in with. I've said it before and I'll say it repeatedly, when I discovered bands like Nirvana, Faith No More, REM and Hole, I found a voice, I found inner strength, I recognized that I wasn't alone. Listening to Q101 in junior high and freshman year of high school gave me the first real sense of connection I had to Chicago. There was a larger community out there who liked what I liked and I would find them.

Here I am in my bedroom during the fall of my freshman year of high school. I remember that my dad caught me off guard when he took this. I hated having pictures taken of me back then because I hated how I looked, but now I see a beautiful, fresh-faced fourteen year-old girl. Check out the classic grunge look: flannels, corduroys, *and* Doc Martens. It's the trifecta!. And I remember that was listening to Q101 and reading Sassy magazine. You can see evidence of the giant collage that engulfed my entire teenage bedroom, which I talked about today on Teen Fiction Cafe (along sharing a really bad drawing of Kurt Cobain that I did and with my general cluelessness about art, please go over there and school me!) and the old acoustic guitar that I never did learn how to play well.

I remember that at Christmas time they would play full albums and I'd beg my parents to drive around looking at the Christmas lights so I could hear every song of "It's A Shame About Ray" by the Lemonheads just because it was so cool to hear it on the radio, especially in my parents' car, which I convinced them to put a Q101 window decal up in.

I remember discovering local bands like Veruca Salt, who I absolutely heard on Q101 before any place else. They had a Local 101 showcase that introduced me to alt-rock acts and punk bands. They did concert showcases too where I got to see The Lupins and Hum.

I remember the day Kurt Cobain was found dead and the DJs reacting to his suicide in much the same way I did. They did an hour long tribute to him, which I recorded and I still have that cassette tape though I'm almost afraid to listen to it because it's certain to make me sob.

I remember sophomore year when I made my first friend with a driver's license and we all crammed into his family's Saturn, far too many of us than legally fit, me usually sitting on some guys lap, blaring Rage Against The Machine when it came on Q101, screaming along even though could barely breath because the car was so full of cigarette smoke.

I remember a few months after that stoned as hell in the back of someone's minivan making out with a guy I was so crazy about when we heard Bush for the first time and of course we totally hated it. "Did he just say 'Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow?' Who the fuck is this asshole to attempt to rip off both David Bowie and Nirvana?"

And that ushered in the era of "Q101 Sucks" for me. As a bunch of Pearl Jam clones flooded the airwaves, I peeled that window decal off my parents' car ashamed. We wrote "Q101 sucks" on our backpacks and notebooks. We said it to the people handing out stickers after the concerts we went to. Another tape I still have is one my friend Tom made for me the summer between sophomore and junior year which was really more of a sound collage of him switching between his B52s vinyl, his eighth grade band's demo tape, a Latin radio station, and Q101, which mostly was playing Bush that summer and he caught clips of that stupid "Glycerine" song like 6 times in one day of making the tape, though at least he also recorded the Bjork song they played.

They didn't completely suck then, not as bad as they would in a few more years when Creed and Limp Bizkit ruled the airwaves and the tape deck in my car broke making the summer of 1999, the summer of pure musical hell. (Don't even get me started on that asshole Fred Durst who represented the sexist frat mentality that Kurt Cobain loathed yet has a Cobain tattoo on his chest, which I'd like to sandblast off.). But by the mid-nineties alternative had gone mainstream and Q101 like MTV was too busy focusing on hyped up, commercial crap like Bush and forgetting that they used to be about discovering new bands. And to a degree we didn't want them to. Instead of getting excited about hearing a band I loved on the radio, I started to hate the songs on the albums that got radio airplay. I was into Rancid and Op Ivy way before you heard "Time Bomb" or "Ruby Soho" on the radio thank you very much. Ahh teenage self-righteousness. I wanted all of my bands to be MINE and never ever sell-out... whatever that means.

I think the Chicago band Slapstick (members of which went on to be in Alkaline Trio, which Q101 certainly does play now) sums up the decline of Q101 and "alternative rock" in general in their song "Alternative Radio":

Don't wanna hear no alternative music
it don't say anything
I don't like anything about you
1234 Fuck you Alternative radio
This shit's really getting to me
Q101 and fucking MTV
everything just seems to sound the same yeah
don't care about punk rock shows
great spot about the Counting Crows
everything it stands for is so fucking lame
Fuck you Alternative radio
Alternative D.J. isnt your friend when hes cashin in on the latest trend
forty minutes to keep rock commercial free yeah
so much for the music industry
money where the punks be
someone's gotta stand up for the punk rock scene
Fuck you Alternative radio

In all honesty, this might have been when Q101 died for me, all the way back in 1996 or 1997-- certainly in 1999 when the aforementioned Nu Metal awfulness took over and it seemed like rock 'n' roll was a total bore again. Chicagoist said that Q101 hasn't been good in 15 years and it should have burned out rather than fading away and maybe that's true, but I'm too much of a nostalgic, emotional person to agree with that completely or mourn the loss of what was once one of my favorite providers of music.

Q101 meant a lot to me in it's early years. I still have the request line memorized (312-591-8300) from years of calling in to try to win concert tickets or request songs or tell them that they should play something cool and actually alternative for once. I've been trying to call it though I wasn't sure what I'd request. "Mrs. Robinson" by The Lemonheads, which is the first song I remember hearing on Q101? "Seether" by Veruca Salt or "Stars" by Hum, which are songs I know I discovered thanks to Q101? But I can't get through because presumably a lot of Chicagoans are feeling nostalgic today.

I'm disheartened by the fact that new "alternative" (whatever that means anymore) bands will have one less place to be heard. Chicago has two other rock stations, but neither of them focus exclusively on "alternative rock," so there will be a big void for those of us who can't afford satellite radio. And seriously it's a MAJOR SHAME that the city that hosts Lollapalooza, the original celebration of alternative rock won't have an alternative radio station any more. Also now that the first thing that made me feel like I fit in here in Chicago is gone, I've got to say that the pull to move away is even stronger.

It's strange to think that Q101 won't be around to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind in September. The way we listen to music has evolved so much since I bought that on cassette tape to listen to on my Walkman. And of course it's not just music.

Earlier this year, I learned that I was losing something else that had been significant to me since junior high/early high school, One Life To Live, which again I've had my ups and downs with and I know a lot of people view it as cheesy, but it has meant a lot to me. (And here's the blog reflecting on that.) Last week, the news came out that OLTL had been "saved" by a company that will air it online only. Details on how that will work still aren't entirely clear and I have my doubts that it will ever be the same. The way we are reading is changing, too. I have to say I'm not completely comfortable with it. It scares me a bit and I'm beginning to feel like I can't keep up. The internet changed everything, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, but that's a whole other thing that I don't really want to get into right now.

Maybe this is all hitting me extra hard because it's the day after my 32nd birthday and I'm already dealing with a mixture of nostalgia and a hell of a lot of uncertainty about the next directions to take with my life and especially my writing. Strangely, I'm feeling as out of place as I did when Q101 went alternative when I was 12. It all comes full-circle, so maybe I should just go lay on my bed, burn some incense and turn the radio up and write in my journal until I figure things out like used to back then.

My one last thought is that I wish Q101 had stayed true to it's less-mainstream roots in the early 90s, though that definitely would not have saved them. While the station isn't perfect, I lost faith in it when I lost faith in "alternative rock" in general, but I know there are still some cool bands out there. In fact, Q101 just played a band that friends of mine have been telling me to check out forever, but I hadn't gotten around to looking up online yet: Mumford & Sons. Sure enough, they were amazing and it brought back that feeling of being twelve and wanting to run out to the record store and look for them.

Thanks for giving me that feeling one last time, Q101. I loved you and I loved to hate you, but mostly I'm grateful for all the music you helped me enjoy.


Kelly Polark said...

I was shocked to learn of the demise of Q101. I went to the last two Q101 Jamboree concerts and many more of their sponsored concerts. There will definitely be a void of new rock on the radio in Chicago.

donnas said...

I was really surprised when I heard about this today. When I first moved up to Chicago for school it was the station I found first. While eventually they did start playing more mainstream music. At least it was a place to find some new artists that is now gone.

Kristen said...

I was really sad to hear they were bought out but hadn't heard what the station was becoming. I wasn't optimistic enough to think it'd stay alternative. Sad, now that we've moved out of range of 95.1. Guess I will only be listening to the radio on the way to and from my parents or in-laws. *sigh*

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

It's definitely a huge void. I went to a lot of their concerts, too, Kelly, though not as much in recent years. And Donna, I agree completely, though it was a bit too mainstream for my tastes, it was still a place to find new artists and hear some classic alternative. Kristen, I guess I was in denial and tried to be optimistic. I'm pretty much just going to be bringing my iPod in the car at all times now.

SarahMarie said...

I was tearing up as I read this because I could have written this exact same post last week. To me, Q101 was the soundtrack of my high school years, and to know that I can no longer press a button and hear them when I'm in the car makes me sad. (Hadn't heard the news about OLTL until just now, so thanks for sharing that.)

Shawn said...

Hi Stephanie,
This is a great blog post that really shows how people connect to their local radio station (even when it ends up disappointing them). As a true lover of radio, I totally understand.

I don't know how you feel about listening to the radio online, and I know it's not as convenient when you're driving (smartphone rigged up with tuner), but I actually put together a great group of people and started a local radio station for Chicago that features independent, local, and lesser heard music at DJs are live in the studio 24/7/365 (well, 21/7...3-6AM is a tough volunteer slot to fill), and the music is a really eclectic mix. The hosts are true music fans who are passionate about what they're playing. I hope you'll check it out if you haven't already.

And by the way, I interviewed you about your book several years ago on WBEZ. Hope all is well with you.

--Shawn Campbell

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Shawn, of course I remember you! I'm not much of an online radio listener because oddly despite my love for music usually when I'm writing I can't be listening to it and 95% of the time if I'm on my computer I'm writing, but I will definitely check CHIRP out because it sounds completely amazing. Thanks so much for telling me about it. I hope you are doing well!