With services like Spotify and Pandora, it’s easy to find any song or artist and listen repeatedly until each word is imprinted in the brain. But lost in this on-demand age of music is the art of the curated set. A good DJ can provide the soundtrack for the day and change moods with a perfect transition from one song to the next. The DJ’s voice surrounding you in the darkness of the car can transform a lonely ride into a cathartic trip. It can be downright magical. MC Fresh brings this art to the airwaves each Monday on 88.7 KBVR FM. For two hours, she plays tracks and reads excerpts from poetry, prose, and non-fiction to give listeners a holistic sense of a chosen theme. The themes vary, but the feeling of a shared experience is constant.
Talking to MC Fresh, whose real name is Mindy Crandall, it becomes clear how she is able to evoke the joy of discovery as well as the comfort of nostalgia. Music was a huge part of her life growing up, and as an adult she continues to be adorably geeky about it. She laughs easily but turns passionate when discussing The Smiths, The Pixies, Leonard Cohen, or even Fleetwood Mac.
“My mom played the piano all the time at home,” Crandall recalled. “In high school, popular music became a huge deal. Music was part of our group identity.”
Growing up in rural Otis, Oregon, Crandall may not have had access to cutting-edge radio, but she did develop an appreciation for it.
“The radio was crappy where I lived growing up, but it was still a lifeline. I remember staying up late and listening to the radio and trying to record full songs from it. It was still the only way you heard new music,” Crandall said.
Crandall and her friends had a music support group, sharing mix tapes and suggestions across genres. Their home base was a record store run by a hippie who ordered anything the group wanted. It was the only music source for 30 miles in the days when music was not a click away.
“I don’t know how on Earth he made a living, but it was the high school hangout,” said Crandall.
She and her friends were music geeks who drove two hours to see shows in Portland—the Pixies in 1989 and punk legends Bad Brains, among many others. At her high school, she easily moved between groups and music styles, developing an eclectic taste in music and books. The music of her high school years influenced her choices today. A rural upbringing coupled with years of moving around exposed to her multiple styles and genres, and helped her appreciate music’s power.
Crandall has lived in Eugene and Portland, but also small-town Montana (“a music wasteland”), inland Maine (“not much radio”), and Germany. “German radio is like small-town American radio. They listen to the worst American music.”
When Crandall moved back to Corvallis to start her PhD program, Word Waves became a reality. She had been thinking about combining readings and music around a theme for about a year.
“I have all these friends and we exchange all these mix CDs. Sometimes we’ll talk and ask, ‘Oh, what’s your best break-up song? Or pick-me-up song?’”
Adding the readings seemed like a natural fit when exploring a mood. She started “thinking about all the ways that music is really expressing yourself just like poetry or prose. To me, they’re one and the same. To me, a well-written song is a poem in its own right. Then again, the Pixies are my favorite band and half the time they make zero sense.
“There’s something about music, too, that music exists for its own sake. Because I am a total book nerd, I like the idea of words. It’s just a crossover to me.”
Crandall leads her listeners through an emotional landscape, and the fact that she has a great voice doesn’t hurt.
“I love being read to,” she said. “[I thought] it would be a great experience to listen to the radio, hear good music, and then be read to.” So she gives this experience to her loyal listeners each week.
The ideas for themes come from many different places. Some are from songs, some from friends, and some from what she reads. Once she selects a theme, she will start to scour her collections of music and readings for selections. Sunday evening finds her “plowing through books.”
Readings come mostly from fiction but also some poetry. “Sometimes a reading will suggest the music and sometimes the music will suggest the readings. It’s just me sitting cross-legged in front of my bookcase putting sticky notes in the books.”
The combined effect of readings and songs is incredibly powerful. I found myself driving around my neighborhood instead of parking so I would not miss a moment during her break-up song show. I was almost in tears with The Smiths. A few songs later, I was singing at the top of my lungs with a ridiculous grin plastered on my face. It was as if she crawled into my brain and made a soundtrack for my past. I felt like a teenager and I knew everyone else listening probably did, too.
“The overarching goal is this camaraderie,” she said. “There are these universal feelings that we all go through. And people write about them and they sing about them. While it might not be the feeling that speaks to you that week, the idea is just that it’s something you can relate to.”
A good example is her recent show on cheating. “It’s not that pleasant to think about, but it happens to so many people all the time. For someone like me, the first thing I do is seek solace in music. It’s comforting to know it’s a shared human experience. Whatever you’re going through, countless other people have gone through.”
The power of the DJ is that she transports you out of the present and magically connects you to thousands of others. And unlike the physical presence of other people, it is not invasive or claustrophobic. You control the dial and the volume—you can turn them off or turn it up.
“I can remember driving in the middle of nowhere and you can always get some random AM station, and that’s what’s so gorgeous about it. Late at night when you’re driving alone just to keep you going that last little bit, it’s human voices,” Crandall recalled, smiling at the memory.
She worries that this connection is lost as one or two corporations own most stations and DJs are replaced by automation.
“I like the idea of a physical person sitting in there taking the time to pick out music that they think you want to hear as opposed to an algorithm that’s saying, ‘You liked Iron and Wine, you will like Elliott Smith.’”
She continued, “The idea of Spotify or Pandora radio…there’s no personal connection.”
KBVR is a perfect place for a show like Word Waves. It is eclectic and reflective of the community. Reggae, Hawaiian music, sports talk, and hip-hop can coexist side-by-side.
“I get a little cheesy, but I love local radio, especially college radio. It’s so random, you truly never know what you’re going to get. It’s not dictated by a big company or Top 40,” Crandall said.
She keeps track of everything she plays and reads to avoid repetition. Her notebook reflects her brainstorming. Jammed full of notes on her sets, poems, and prose, it shows how much work it takes to produce two hours of amazing radio.
She plans to keep DJing as long as she is a student and wherever she moves next. She has a niche. “I like radio because it is just listening and everything else is up to your imagination. That’s the beauty of stories in general, right? You can imagine them however you want.”
She would love to see listeners post ideas for songs, readings, and themes on her Word Waves Facebook page. It’s another great way to connect. But you can also sit back, tune in each Monday at 4 p.m., put on your headphones and wait to see where the set leads.
“The radio is the ultimate mix CD. You never know what’s coming next.”
Cheating: A Word Waves set list from April 8
Florence + The Machine “I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Live)”
Reading: excerpt from “Anna Karenina”, Leo Tolstoy
Lead Belly “In the Pines”
Tom Waits “Another Man’s Vine” from Blood Money
Leonard Cohen “Everybody Knows” from Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Reading: excerpt from “The Once and Future King”, T.H. White
The White Stripes “Fell In Love With A Girl” from White Blood Cells
Elvis Costello & The Attractions “High Fidelity” from Get Happy!!
Franz Ferdinand “Cheating On You” from Franz Ferdinand
Reading: excerpt from “A New Life”, Bernard Malamud
The Outfield “Your Love” from Super Hits
Simon and Garfunkel “Cecilia” from Bridge over troubled water
Reading: excerpt from “The Lonely Polygamist”, by Brady Udall
The Killers “Mr. Brightside” from Hot Fuss
The American Analog Set “The Green Green Grass” from Set Free
The The “Your Cheatin’ Heart” from HANKY PANKY
Reading: excerpt from “The Awakening”, Kate Chopin
The Black Keys “Ten Cent Pistol” from Brothers
Morphine “Thursday” from Cure for Pain
The Robert Cray Band “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” from Strong Persuader
Reading: excerpt from “The Lonely Polygamist”, Brady Udall
The White Stripes “The Denial Twist” from Get Behind Me Satan
Amy Winehouse “Back To Black” from Back To Black
Tegan and Sara “Back In Your Head” from Back In Your Head – EP
Reading: excerpt from “Sex at Dawn: How we Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships”, Christopher Ryan & Calcida Jetha
X “Under the Big Black Sun” from Under the Big Black Sun
Meshell Ndegeocello “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)” from Plantation Lullabies
Luther Ingram “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Wanna Be Right)”
By Bridget Egan