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RADIO ON by Sarah Vowell


A Listener's Diary

by Sarah Vowell

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-14712-0
Publisher: St. Martin's

 Be ready to hit the scan button repeatedly with this wildly uneven, day-by-day-by-day diary of a year--1995--spent listening to the radio. Like strip malls and superhighways, radio has become such an integral part of the American landscape that we rarely notice its sheer ubiquity. Between our houses, our cars, our offices, even our elevators, there are more than 500,000,000 radios in this country, all spewing a 24-hour-a-day hodgepodge of everything from rock to religion to right-wing ranting. Any account of this vast cacophony is necessarily subjective, but Vowell, a music columnist for San Francisco Weekly, spices her impressionistic stew with unhealthy dollops of narcissism and jejune banality: ``I only conceived this diary as a means to say that I'm just as confused and overwhelmed as my elders, just as ill-informed and worried and perplexed and lacking in answers (but willing to look) as people twice my age.'' In these limited terms, the book is a roaring success. As Vowell spins her way around the country, tuning in to the local radio stations, she reacts like the perfect poster girl for Generation X: I mean, don't you just hate Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and all those mean Republicans? And how about National Public Radio, isn't it, totally nonadventurous and establishment? And doesn't Top-Forty completely bite? What little wisdom there is to be found in this landscape apparently comes mainly from grungy Seattle rockers like Nirvana and Pearl Jam (those who believe that truth resides in rock lyrics will be particularly taken with this book). By the end, Vowell is justly sick and tired of radio, of the noise and chatter, the hate and spew and ``all the stupidity.'' Unfortunately, one of those rare books in which subject and author are in near-perfect harmony.