(taken without permission from NY TImes)

Listeners Ask Radio Stations for Songs That Sustain a Weary Soul

October 1, 2001
Until terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, most radio stations only played "The Star-Spangled Banner" if they were signing off the air. But over the past three weeks, many listeners have wanted to hear it time and again along with "God Bless America," "America the Beautiful" and more recent patriotic songs like Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." Blaring, defiant rock songs, like Metallica's "Don't Tread on Me," also found themselves taking on new meanings.

The request lines at radio stations across the United States have been one sensitive gauge of the public's mood since the attacks, and an informal survey of radio requests across the country shows reactions as varied as radio formats. Older listeners have been calling for songs about patriotism and consolation, young ones for songs of reassurance and heroism. And hard-rock fans, typically men in their late teens and early 20's, want to hear songs about mayhem and fighting back. Even 21 days later as most stations have returned to their normal fare, there is a lingering appetite for songs of mourning and belligerence.

Many songs have taken on newly charged meanings. Songs of mourning, like Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" and Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven," have surged in popularity. At the same time, rock songs that may have been written as fantasies or metaphors have taken on violently literal resonances.

The day of the attack, many radio stations switched to full-time news and talk. When they returned to playing music, they struggled to set the right tone. "People are trying to heal right now," said Joe McCoy, the vice president and program director of the New York oldies station WCBS-FM (101.1), which has been getting requests for Ray Charles's version of "America the Beautiful" and the Brotherhood of Man's "United We Stand."

Formally or informally, many stations removed songs about death and about flying from their play lists, while they searched their libraries for versions of patriotic songs. At WSM (650 AM), the traditional country station in Nashville, listeners call to hear again Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Flag" every time the station plays it. Radio stations also made montages of songs and news sound bites, merging a song like Brooks and Dunn's "Only in America" with George W. Bush announcing a state of war.

Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A.," which he performed at the memorial prayer service on Sept. 23 in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, has returned to radio stations nationwide - not just on country stations, but as a request at stations like Z-100 (WHTZ-FM) in New York, a top-40 station where the song would not normally be played. First released in 1984, the song also re-emerged during the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

Another gulf war song, Whitney Houston's 1991 version of "The Star- Spangled Banner," has also been drawing requests on pop and rhythm-and-blues stations and was quickly re-released by Arista Records. The solo-guitar version of it that Jimi Hendrix recorded at Woodstock in 1969 has been widely requested at rock stations like WAAF (107.3 FM) in Boston.

At WAXQ (104.3 FM) in New York, the station turned its music choices over to listeners soon after the attack. They requested songs about life-changing events - Don Henley's "New York Minute," Don McLean's "American Pie," Supertramp's "Crime of the Century" - as well as the utopian dreams of John Lennon's "Imagine," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," U2's "Pride" and a new song, John Mellencamp's "Peaceful World." On hundreds of country stations, another new song is emerging: "We Will Stand" by Eric Horner, an anthem that declares, "America is stronger than the acts of evil men."

On top-40 stations, with a preponderance of young women among the listeners, requests are pouring in for Enrique Iglesias's "Hero," the song he performed on the benefit television show "A Tribute to America's Heroes," and for Jewel's "Hands," which promises comfort and help. "We were getting an average of 350 calls a week for Enrique and Jewel," said Paul Cubby Bryant, music director of WHTZ. "Those songs will be part of the format until they don't sound right anymore." Rhythm-and- blues listeners have been asking for Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and "Mercy Mercy Me."

Rock stations, meanwhile, are fielding requests for angrier songs, including one many stations are refusing to play at the moment: Drowning Pool's "Bodies," which has the chorus: "Let the bodies hit the floor." At KROQ (106.7 FM) in Los Angeles, the most requested songs include "Chop Suey" by System of a Down, which includes the lines "I cry when angels deserve to die/in my self-righteous suicide," Alien Ant Farm's version of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed America," which mentions "our hearts littering the topsoil." At the rock station WLZR (103.0 FM) in Milwaukee, young men are asking to hear Pearl Jam's version of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," Metallica's "Don't Tread on Me" and Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff."

"People call and say, `Send that one out to Osama bin Laden,' " said Marilynn Mee, the program director of WLZR. "We tell them, `Bin Laden's not going to hear this,' and they say, `Send it out anyway.' "

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