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Losing out, trading Lake for Beach

The Lake isn't entirely gone. You can find something online called "The Lake" that plays uninterrupted "classic adult album alternative" music, as Wikipedia rather nicely described that radio format in its clunky, compound way.

You can find the same thing on HD radio. But on 107.7 on the FM dial, they've been simulcasting Entercom's AM sister station WBEN -- including those barons of bombast Beach and Bauerle -- since early this month.

So I threw it open to Facebook friends as laconically and noncommittally as I could: "Buffalo radio listeners: am gathering sentiments for a piece on the elimination of music on The Lake, in favor of 'doublecasting' WBEN, including Beach and Bauerle. Please, as briefly as possible, state where you stand, pro or con."

Any poll analyst of even mediocre brainpower would point out the obvious: "eliminate" is a bit of a loaded word. It's not exactly neutral. And those on any Facebook page of mine wouldn't be likely consumers of AM radio bloviation (though there are quite a few radio people among my Facebook friends -- and conservatives, too).

The response was unanimous: con. The only vaguely pro sentiment came from a career politician who, by his very occupational nature, must at least understand where the other side is coming from. "The Lake was the best station in town. Sad to lose them," he wrote. Then five hours later, he admitted, semi-tongue-in-cheek, "the one 'pro' is that The Lake played too much Jackson Browne. JB once a month is good. JB four times a day is obnoxious."

That's it. Everyone else of the 33 respondents was vehemently against Entercom's move. Nor have I heard a good thing about it anywhere since it happened. Hallwalls Executive Director Ed Cardoni even went so far as to write "Apart from our local NPR affiliates (WBFO, WNED) and Loraine O'Donnell on WECK in the early morning, Buffalo already had the worst radio outside the Bible Belt We the people should take our airwaves back from the few corporations that abuse in this way the privilege of using them."

His friend -- and The News' literary blogger -- R.D. Pohl called Entercom "a cynical company in a very cynical industry," which isn't far from my feelings, despite the cynical mockery that invites from those in the business of cynical mockery.

These are deeply thoughtful, progressive voices. A fellow News staffer articulated a sentiment I've heard often about WBEN: "Now you get 24 hours of right-wing rage, news reports that rip off our paper & ads telling people not to buy The News."

Among the curses of the liberal class is the insistence on trying to understand the other side. That's one reason I'd have to say that, while I deplore Beach and Bauerle's politics most of the time, I'd have to admit in a court of law that I think they are both phenomenally proficient radio talents, especially Beach, whom I've described more than once as perhaps the most talented single voice we've ever had in Buffalo radio (including Joey Reynolds, Dan Neaverth, Clint Buehlman, Stan Roberts, you name it).

Certainly, when Beach wants to be (Fridays at 5 p.m. during his "Movie Show" with Bob Stilson), he's the fastest and funniest.

I've heard Bauerle say some of the most disgusting things I've ever encountered on radio, but his combination of laryngeal power and brutal engagement with the audience can't be denied.

Even so, there's just no way to get away from the revolting corporate cynicism of taking decent music off the air and replacing it with WBEN bullying.

But then, the bullying tones of right-wing radio have always seemed to me a fair reflection of a crude bullying industry where passionate employees have always been subject at any moment to ridicule and the occupational equivalent of a blackjack from behind.

I confess that, except for Beach and Stilson on Fridays, I listen to radio only in the car. The reason is simple: Its refusal of genuine thoughtfulness and excellence is near-total locally. Even WBFO -- public radio from the University at Buffalo -- responded to the hopeless long-term mediocrity of its own jazz programming by eliminating it altogether in favor of duplicating NPR programs already on WNED-AM.

When even that can happen, what can you expect from a corporate giant like Entercom?

I honestly wish I knew more about radio programming in the Bible Belt. Surely, even there among the evangelical harangues, there have to be little pockets of pure indigenous American-roots music.

But then, there's that hopeless, buffooning idealist in me talking again.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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