What’s my age again?

By Managing Editor

When I got my driver’s license, I immediately jumped into my ’91 Buick Century to cruise around blasting Minneapolis’ local hip-hop station. I could not be peeled away—I had never felt more free flying down the freeway with bass throbbing underneath the pedals. Sure, I probably wasted $45 worth of gas driving in circles, but belting my heart out to the radio in a car was the priceless fuel to my angst-filled teenage years.

Once I moved to Chicago, everything changed. I left Old Rusty in the garage and learned to navigate the CTA. I could no longer depend on KDWB’s “Dave Ryan in the Morning” radio show to be my musical companion during my commute. I had to learn to become my own DJ, constantly downloading, organizing and updating various playlists to listen to. Curating the soundtrack for my CTA travels has become an indulgent process, but I rarely stray from Atmosphere B-sides and Jay Z/TheNotorious B.I.G. “Best Of’s.” And since adapting to MP3s, I haven’t turned on terrestrial radio in years.

As an El rider has learned, all live streaming or interweb ties are cut off as soon as the train goes underground, leaving you with whatever is on your smartphone or in your walkman. Commuters are left without a radio DJ to weave in new tracks with old favorites, and instead of being introduced to new, exciting artists who challenge break out habits and inspire us to listen with new ears, we’re doomed to only listen to the music that satisfies our existing tastes. 

don’t get me wrong—it’s an exciting time for music discovery. Non-interactive radio streaming services like Pandora help introduce lesser-known acts based on your current likes. Spotify partnered with Facebook, adding a social element to the experience. Its premium option also allows users to pre-stream songs so they can enjoy them on the train.

The best option I’ve come across is the app/website Songza, which allows users to choose playlists based on their mood according to what they might be doing at that time of day–unwinding, drinking with friends after work, looking at pictures of their ex, etc. Supposedly curated by music experts, Songza attempts to soundtrack your day in terms of a feeling rather than a specific genre, which can allow for more unique tracks to flow through your headphones.

Most of us listen to music while commuting, working, cleaning, doing homework, exercising or eating pizza. But without any human filter to challenge our tastes, it’s unfortunately unlikely that we are going to venture into any unknown musical worlds.