Sampling the Russian Radio

Since my iPod made the fantastic decision on Friday to delete all of its contents, I have been forced to put my mobil’nik headphones to good use and listen to Russian radio. I guess my iPod’s digital peacing out has actually been a blessing in disguise—now I get to explore St. Petersburg through a different medium from canals and convoluted bus routes. Plus, apparently all the cool kids keep their cell radios on permanently. So.

If you are willing to put up with the lamentable sound quality of the headphones, 106.3 (Listen Record) plays legitimate trance mixes. That’s definitely not something we get on public radio in the US.

It surprised me enough to hear the Backstreet Boys while I was waiting for the elevator in my apartment building, but when I heard “Bye Bye Bye” on the same channel three hours later, I realized I now have absolutely no way to defend Russian popular taste from accusations of it being stuck in the 1990s. The culprit was Love Radio 105.3, which is essentially like DC’s Hot 99.5 but, as far as I can tell, without the trashy hosts and with more selection (i.e. they play more than eight songs an hour). However, since they play a fair share of Nyusha, I can forgive the DJs for the N*Sync.

Then there are the channels that play the type of Russian pop songs that no one without an XXL-size love for this culture would ever want to listen to. This includes the ballads, the bells that sound like snowflakes (they’re really not helping the Russia-is-always-cold stereotype), the Grigory Leps-style growling, and just generally awful lyrics. Classic.

105.9, or Radio Monte Carlo, plays a funny mix of house, classical guitar, and French Bossa Nova. I really, desperately want to see the demographic this is aimed at. But there is a channel for everyone: Europop, hip-hop, some weird American soft-rock/pseudocountry station I can’t really wrap my head around since I have never heard these songs even at home, classical music, talk shows, and last but not least—a thrash metal station. Which, combined with the stereo quality, was not all that pleasant.

Regardless of my own musical tastes, however, it has been a lot of fun and a great learning experience to listen to the radio here. I am impressed with the variety of genres available and the relatively few commercials. Perhaps it seems like an odd way to observe a country and its economy, but it would be interesting to watch what happens to Russian radio in this respect as the country progresses into the next decade. If nothing else, hopefully they will get rid of the Backstreet Boys.

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