Weirdness Takes Work: Using Cultural Capitals to Understand How Freeform Radio DJs Choose Music
Easton, Emily W
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Despite the wide variety of music available, most listeners tend to consume only a small fraction of it. While studies of musical taste and consumption have noted this problem, there is little (if any) work on musical participants who do develop and maintain more expansive tastes. As casual listeners gain access to an increasingly overwhelming array of music, understanding the work it takes to develop and support more expansive musical tastes helps to explain why more listeners do not do so, but, more importantly, how it can be done. This dissertation attempts to learn from one such group: freeform radio DJs. Freeform stations, unlike most other music radio stations, give DJs the freedom to choose the music for their own shows and these stations feature music from a wider range of albums, artists, and genres. Freeform stations often explicitly aim to broadcast a more diverse selection of music. Compared to mainstream radio, freeform radio stations can sound significantly weirder, which raises the question of how freeform stations ensure each of their DJs plays the right kind of weird that attracts and retains audiences. Research on formatted radio has explored how programmers rely on centrally developed strategies that feature music their audiences already enjoy. What is less understood is how freeform radio stations attract audiences without a centralized strategy that limits programs to specific patterns or genres (i.e. formats), while also playing music most of their listeners have never heard before. At freeform stations, DJs act as curators, working within explicit, though informal, parameters to choose music for the station’s audience. In addition to understanding how individuals develop more expansive taste, this research explores how one freeform radio station balanced DJ autonomy with station identity to introduce audiences to a wider variety of music.
Subjectmusic, popular culture, radio, freeform radio, cultural industries, communication