Bill Shapiro, the host of Cypress Avenue on KCUR 89.3, isn’t sure he knows what rock and roll is anymore. Shapiro now thinks of Cypress Avenue as a pop music show. That can include anything but opera, he says.
This Saturday’s show, airing from noon until 2 p.m., is Shapiro’s 22nd end-of-the-year installment. He used to call it a “best of” show, but he’s changed that. “Who am I to say what’s best?” he wonders, explaining that the show is really just a survey of the year’s releases he thinks people should hear.
People might not have heard the songs already, Shapiro says, because “most pop music is aural wallpaper. It’s background. And most pop radio is aural wallpaper too. But pop music is a potent thing. It’s the soundtrack to our lives.” Shapiro doesn’t want to let Top 40 radio shows determine how pop music should be treated. “My role is to enhance people’s enjoyment of pop music and to make them realize that when it’s good — and a very small percentage of pop music is — it’s every bit as valid an art form as cinema, painting, or anything else.”
Shapiro is saddened by the fact that so many radio stations are playing the exact same things. He hasn’t lost hope, though. He points out that if you look at Billboard charts from the 1960s — the decade that he considers to be the golden age of rock and roll — “you’re gonna find an awful lot of pure junk in there.” Still, it was in the ’60s, when FM stations gained acceptance among listeners, that the Federal Communications Commission insisted that programmers stop airing the same programs at the same time on both dials. Scrambling to come up with entirely new FM programming, most stations turned to free-form radio, bringing DJs into the studios and letting them play whatever they wanted.
With today’s technology, making a CD is not nearly as challenging as getting it heard. It is Shapiro’s kind of radio show — programmed by a DJ who just comes in and plays whatever — that keeps innovative new music on the air.
“History always goes cyclically,” he explains, referring to the philosopher Hegel — in keeping with his show’s claim to superior intelligence. Shapiro says people tend to be reactionary after spells of big names and big shows. And the industry is experiencing that sort of reactionary period as fans, musicians, and producers embrace smaller labels. Shapiro singles out HiTone, Bloodshot, and Righteous Babe Records as labels he expects to lead the way.
Although Shapiro hasn’t disclosed exactly what he’ll play on the afternoon of December 30, listeners can expect to hear something from Neko Case’s rich new album, Furnace Room Lullaby, a track or two by David Johansen & the Harry Smiths, and a sampling of San Francisco vocalist Chuck Prophet’s recent work.
After an afternoon of those sounds, Cypress Avenue fans may be tempted to reach for the Pabst Blue Ribbon in lieu of making champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve.