On weekday work mornings, I listen to music to focus myself and tune out ambient office noise. There are two things that happen to me quite often:
1. I end up listening to the same bands and records over and over and over again.
2. I feel like a slug from 8 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., even with coffee.
KCRW is a National Public Radio member station that operates out of Santa Monica College, and it seems to have a cult following in Los Angeles. Its programming is mainly for the Southern California and Greater Los Angeles area, but anyone can tune in on its website or its app. Their music director, Jason Bentley, hosts the Morning Becomes Eclectic program every weekday from 9 a.m. to noon. For three hours, he plays all kinds of music: new stuff from new artists, genres you don’t hear on mainstream radio and super deep cuts. A few times a week, the last hour will feature realtime live performances with mini-interviews.
I discovered Morning Becomes Eclectic when I saw social media advertising that Iggy Pop had dropped by to play a live set in support of Depression Cherry. I downloaded the app one night to listen and look through the rest of the recordings, and found out they came from a daily program. The next morning I tuned in, and I was instantly hooked.
Bentley plays a lot of my favorite artists — like Spoon, Angel Olsen, Real Estate and Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam — that have stellar tracks I sometimes forget about, and rediscovering those songs through someone else’s set is like experiencing them for the first time. I’ve also been introduced to or further acquainted with so many good artists and bands over the past few months, like Rubblebucket, Ty Segall, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cherry Glazerr and Jim James. These new influences spill into my music library, as I have a running list of tracks to buy on Bandcamp or iTunes. Sometimes the show has tracks I don’t really care for, but I never consider it boring. The artist/song variety is the stimulation I need to focus and get my work done, and I’m simultaneously exploring what’s happening in the music world.
The other thing that I’ve come to appreciate about Morning Becomes Eclectic is its place in both Los Angeles and public radio culture. The programming is a reflection of the best of the LA music scene. That’s partly because some of the the track picks for the day often coincide with the artists being in LA that night for a show, but mostly because Bentley is attuned to what Angelenos like. The music is diverse in origin but always refined in tastes, just like the people who live here. I also love that Bentley’s daily sets are ephemeral, and the latest show disappears from the app and website after a day. It’s refreshing in a world where everything else is always on-demand, and to know that the only people who have had that particular listening experience are you and the others that happened to tune in too.
People often think about the news, traffic alerts or programs like This American Life when they think about NPR, and I’ll admit that I didn’t know there was anything like Morning Becomes Eclectic before I discovered it. Both types of programming are equally important when it comes to public access and community building. When politicians want to defund the public agencies that support the arts, it makes me angry. It’s crucial that we support those public agencies by both listening and donating, so that everyone continues to enjoy them. The producers, journalists and creative professionals behind KCRW and other public radio stations deserve more recognition for the work they do, and I’m giving them a huge gold star.
Do you listen to Morning Becomes Eclectic, or other public radio programs? Let’s talk about it in the comments.