No static at all

I saw a headline last week that said that a Portland music radio station was switching to an artificial intelligence robot instead of a live DJ during the slow hours of the afternoon. I thought to myself, it's sad that some person lost a gig, but the fact that it happened is a non-story. It's old hat.

Among many other sources, I've been listening to a rock-and-soul stream from WFMU in my old stomping grounds of Jersey City for some time now, and most of the time I'm on there, AI supplies the music and the commentary. It's pretty campy, with throwback jingles to the '60s and periodic New York City weather conditions, but there are no real commercials, the music is great, and I actually prefer the robot announcers to the few humans who come on now and then.

The other medium in which I have come to appreciate AI music sequencing is on Apple Music. After a while, the omniscient fruit knows your tastes pretty well, and you can click on your own radio station and let it play you what it knows you like. It's mostly familiar, but it does zig and zag a bit, just to keep things interesting. And the segues are always solid, and sometimes remarkable.

Perhaps the best Apple feature is the "friend mix." You can befriend other Apple Music listeners, and if you do, every week the bot will play you (whenever you want) a couple of hours of what they've been listening to. I have some friends with truly eclectic tastes, and these lists are usually big winners. The bot knows how to ease me through journeys that may start out with Foo Fighters, cruise through Led Zeppelin and 10,000 Maniacs, sample some Nala Sinephro, and wind down with Nina Simone. There is nowhere else that I could get that sort of mix, except, okay, maybe on KJIV, where the humans are as interesting and entertaining as any algorithm coud ever hope to be.

Anyway, here's to the robot DJs. May they continue to tickle and amuse us. I ain't afraid.


  1. In defense of DJs, I've been a loyal subscriber to the satellite radio for a few years now. Several stations are algorithmically programmed, but a bunch also have real DJs. The 80s channel, for example, has three of the four living original VJs talking between mp3s. The classical station has a FANTASTIC guy named Preston Trombly who's on from 9 to 3. But my favorite is Kid Leo, a guy from Cleveland who broke Springsteen in the Rust Belt in the seventies. Little Steven has repaid him by giving him free reign on the Little Steven Channel. He plays the same hundred-plus tunes each week, but the guy is just a good hang in the afternoons.

    Lately though, I've been listening to an app called Nugs. They've got all kinds of live shows from Springsteen to The Dead to Metallica to any number of up-and-coming jam bands from around the country. I've been following Dead and Company on their current tour. I'll be seeing them live in Boulder this weekend.

    If you're looking for something to do Sunday evening, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit will be playing at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. He'll be leaning heavily on his new record Weathervanes, which is a masterwork. I don't say that lightly. Sad I'll miss him just a fifteen minute walk from my house. But Bobby Weir, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, and the rest are calling. Should be a great weekend.

  2. My only peeve with live DJs happens when they talk over the instrumental introduction to a song. Often, that’s the most enjoyable part of the music .


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