I take no pleasure in admitting that I’ve conducted a 5-year smear campaign against Columbia’s local “alternative” station 102.3 BXR. Any time Columbia radio stations ever came up in conversation, I was quick to dismiss BXR as having gone downhill, down the furthest hill you could possibly find with a camp set up at the bottom.
My parents even talk of a time when BXR was cool. Way back in 1997 when we first moved to Columbia, BXR played the good stuff. They invited new artists into “Studio X” to perform live acoustic versions of their hit songs. Artists like Dave Matthews, Wilco, Sheryl Crow, Los Lonely Boys, etc. all made BXR hip, cool and relevant.
However, as with many radio stations, being hip and relevant doesn’t last long. BXR’s problem over the last few years is that they haven’t really moved on from this era of music. There’s nothing wrong with hearing “Low” by Cracker every once in a while, but this shouldn’t be a mainstay on the only alternative radio station in town. And Cracker is hardly the worst offender.
U2, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Counting Crows. These are all regulars on BXR. And while it’s okay to like these artists, I think that BXR and Cumulus Radio aren’t giving Columbians enough credit when it comes to new and interesting music.
This is why I was shocked to hear Elle King’s “Ex’s & Oh’s” last night on BXR. I did an actual double take, the exaggerated kind you see in movies and TV shows, just to make sure that my eyes hadn’t deceived me.
I was shocked for several reasons:
- I’ve never heard “Ex’s & Oh’s” before
- Elle King, as far as I know, isn’t playing a show in Columbia any time soon
- It’s actually good
This is coming from the same station that introduces “new” artists months after they’ve been popular two hours away in Kansas City. This is the same station that pretty much ignored Arctic Monkeys (arguably the biggest rock band in the world) until they miraculously PLAYED A SHOW IN COLUMBIA, MISSOURI last winter. Arctic Monkeys have five albums under their belt and BXR plays only three of their songs: two from last year’s release and one from their first album, which came out eight years ago.
“Ex’s & Oh’s” is a great song. Elle King has a raspy, throaty voice that makes you wonder just how many cigarettes she must’ve smoked to acquire it, but you don’t care because she got the combination right. She’s an infectious mix of Gin Wigmore and ZZ Ward, which is the perfect concoction for Columbia.
This might be the beginning of a new time for BXR. It seems as though Cumulus Radio is finally allowing the station to seek out new music that still fits Columbia’s tastes (while still insisting they play The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight” five times a day.) Baby steps.
I heard another song just this morning that I’d never encountered before, “Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves feat. Esmé Patterson. It may not conform exactly to my music tastes, but the beauty of great radio is that it can change what listeners like and what they want to listen to. Plus, if you play upcoming artists often enough, they may actually come to your town and play there. And that’s infinitely cooler.