Column 190 — Early Riser; Lincoln Calling starts tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 2:45 pm September 17, 2008

Here it is, my annual column where I laud one person’s heroic efforts while commenting on the gloomy state of local radio. These columns usually result in readers writing in to say, “If you don’t like it, buy an iPod” or something equally as mundane. I’m not naive. Actually, maybe I am. I know radio will never change, but I can’t help dreamin’. In the end, did Omaha’s lack of a radio station that plays quality local music really have a negative impact on the scene? Did the lack of a real college radio station matter to the fate of Saddle Creek? Probably not; or maybe it did in ways we’ll ever know.

By the way, whatever happened to KIND?

Column 190: Daylight Savings Time
New Day Rising rises a little earlier.

There continues to be one dim, lonely light burning in the dark, lifeless chasm of local radio. And now that light just got a little bit closer, a little bit brighter.

A couple weeks ago, local FM “alternative” rock station 89.7 The River moved one if its few valued assets — the 2-hour indie-music program New Day Rising — from 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday nights, making it slightly more within reach to all of us who have to work in the morning.

Since its inception in December 2004 (yes, it really has been almost four years) New Day Rising (named after a Husker Du song) has been the sole source of College Music Journal-style programming on the Omaha FM dial, a fact that goes beyond irony to imbecility, considering that our city has been recognized in the national and international press as one of the most vital music scenes in the country. Omaha radio’s non-support of our lauded local talent is nothing less than embarrassing.

But I digress.

New Day Rising host, producer and originator, Dave Leibowitz, said the show’s shift to an earlier time slot came as a result of gaining more listeners. “It’s an award for being successful,” he said a few hours before last Sunday night’s show. “I believe the ratings were up. Also over the years (a percentage) of the bands that started out on New Day Rising found a place in the station’s regular rotation.”

He pointed to bands like Silversun Pickups and MIA that somehow found themselves nestled between The River’s seemingly endless supply of cookie-monster neu-metal goon rock, one assumes to the consternation of the station’s mullet-haired listeners.

A typical episode combines just-released indie rock with older underground standards and a sprinkling of local offerings. Last Sunday’s show included tracks by such indie stalwarts as Jenny Lewis, Neko Case, Conor Oberst and The Shins as well as not-so-familiar acts like The Action Design, The Spinto Band and The Black and White Years, along with a track by local geniuses Little Brazil. Every episode is capped with a classic track from Sonic Youth. “They epitomize what I think the indie or alternative world is supposed to be about,” Leibowitz said. “They’re this generation’s Velvet Underground.”

Leibowitz creates his playlist by scanning what’s hot on the CMJ and FMQB (Friday Morning Quarterback, another industry magazine) charts, then adds new music received from record labels, promoters and bands. It’s all filtered by his personal music taste. “I won’t play something that I don’t like,” he said. “That wouldn’t benefit anyone. I try to make (the show) as well-rounded as possible, but I can’t be all things to all people. Our goal was never to ‘out-indie’ anyone; it was to play music that you can’t hear anywhere else on the radio.”

In a way, New Day Rising is Leibowitz’s personal weekly two-hour mix tape, lovingly created just for his listeners. That level of creative control recalls the good ol’ days when disc jockeys programmed their own shows, before the advent of Darth Vadar-like corporate entities whose goal is to please the greatest common denominator with the most flavorless, colorless and least offensive product.

Actually, with iPods and the Internet, isn’t radio in general becoming a thing of the past? Leibowitz doesn’t think so. “Just like there’s no substitute for discovering new music at a live performance, there’s also no substitute for hearing something for the first time on your radio,” he said. “It really is the easiest way to access music until you can get the Internet in your car or wherever you’re standing. You can get radio anywhere.”

Add to that the medium’s characteristic uncertainty. The web provides an endless sense of choice, the presumption that users can find whatever they want. Perfectly compartmentalized, their favorite music is always only a click away. Radio — for better or worse — takes away that choice. Listeners are forced to sit back and let someone else drive for awhile. Their destination is a mystery, except for the fact that, in New Day Rising’s case, the territory will be distinctively “indie,” whatever that means.

“Saying if something is indie or not isn’t very easy,” Leibowitz said. “You know something is metal by the guitar. Metal may have a million different dimensions, but there’s that one thing that defines it. Nothing defines indie that way. You may think you know what it is, and then along comes a band like The Faint who doesn’t fit the mold. It’s a difficult thing to classify, but people who understand indie know what it is.”

Back when New Day Rising first rose, “indie” was a dirty word that Leibowitz’s original co-host forbade me to use when describing their radio show. “That’s one thing that’s changed over the past four years — we’ve taken indie back,” Leibowitz said. “It used to be that the ‘I-word’ was something that people avoided; now it’s a badge of honor.”

A badge whose recipient, it seems, will forever be relegated to two late hours on a Sunday night. Well, it’s better than nothing.

I blew it by not mentioning all the online New Day Rising resources, such as the website (http://www.newdayrisingshow.com) and the myspace page (http://www.myspace.com/newdayrisingomaha). Go there and find out more, or just tune in on Sunday night. You won’t regret it.

Tonight is the opening night of the area’s best local music festival — Lincoln Calling. The main attraction this evening is at The Rococo Theater: Eagle*Seagull with Neva Dinova (coming off a scorching set opening for Okkervil River last Saturday night at Slowdown) and Manny Coon. Show starts at 7 p.m. and tix are $10. See the full LC schedule here. More on the festival as the week progresses.

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