College Radio Grows Up; Nine Inch Nails Returns

By Tom Calderone for The New York Times on February 7, 2005

BACK when U2 and R.E.M. were struggling to get on the radio, Tom Calderone was there making sure people tuned in. As a student at Buffalo State College in the mid-1980's, Mr. Calderone was WBNY's program director at a time when college radio was waging a rock insurgency, broadcasting artists who were ignored by commercial stations and establishing a new radio genre: alternative rock. He went on to program and consult for alternative rock stations in Washington, Seattle and New York City. In 1998 Mr. Calderone traded radio for video and joined MTV, where he is executive vice president in charge of video programming and artist relations. In response to questions from Joel Topcik, Mr. Calderone spoke about what he's been listening to and why.

'Left of the Dial'

Rhino Records just put out a four-CD box set called "Left of the Dial: Dispatches From the 80's Underground," with everyone from the Pixies, the Replacements, Killing Joke, Husker Du and my all-time favorite, Sonic Youth. The packaging's great - it's rich in information with original artwork and cool posters. These are the bands that were coming out when I first got started in college radio, and the box set shows how so many of them really stand the test of time.

The New Alternative Rock

I think everyone needs to hear the Secret Machines record "Now Here Is Nowhere" (Reprise) - it's that important. It came out last year and didn't get the attention it deserved. It's sort of Pink Floyd meets the Jesus and Mary Chain. I've also been a huge fan of Mercury Rev for a long time. They're hard to put your arms around, but their new album, "The Secret Migration" (V2), has some true hooks on it. It's really the first one where, if you don't know them, you can say, "O.K., I get it." And the new album from And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, "Worlds Apart" (Interscope) is deep and lyrically strong. All this stuff is generally guitar-driven, but not in the power punk or classic rock way. It's in the production - these albums sound really big. You have a sense of swirling, almost hovering around the sound. The drums are somewhat tribal. It's truly alternative rock.

Nine Inch Nails

Labels present a lot of rough material to us. It's really important for us to hear music early because it helps us decide how we're going to use bands in our programming - we're already starting to make a list of artists to play at the video awards later this year. I heard a rough track from the new Nine Inch Nails album, "With Teeth" (Nothing/Interscope), which should be out in May. It's always hard to get back into the public consciousness when there's so many years between albums, but this is just as pounding and passionate and lyrically strong as ever. Trent Reznor really stepped up his vocals - I don't want to offend him by saying he's actually singing more, but his voice sounds great.


I've heard rough cuts from the new Common album coming out this spring. This is a very important record for him. He's played to a certain audience base, but the inclusion of Kanye West, who produced and appears on the record, just stepped up the entire production, and I think it'll put Common into the stratosphere. He's got the right lyrics, and Kanye paired them with the right beats. The hardcore fans won't be put off by it, and it'll probably turn new people on.


We need some new faces in hip-hop, and I think Jin is one of them. He's an Asian-American hip-hop artist from Queens (by way of Florida). His album, "The Rest Is History" (Ruff Ryders), came out last fall. He's silly, fun, self-deprecating onstage, and he's got tons of energy. He's so generous with his fans, the way he reacts to them. I just saw him do a show where he was really having fun with the audience, doing call and response in different languages. Hip-hop needs more diversity. Jin isn't from the plant, you know, where they're just churning them out.

David Kane Quartet

Full disclosure: I know David Kane from Buffalo. He had a band called David Kane's Them Jazzbeards that played cool, somewhat campy jazz. The quartet is a smaller version of Jazzbeards but also more electronic with keyboards and sampling. It's rock meets jazz meets film noir, almost 1950's sci-fi. Their album "The Life and Times of Guy Friday" (K-9) plays like a soundtrack - you can hear a movie as you listen through it. Actually, the Jazzbeards did a live soundtrack for a Soviet silent movie, "The Man With a Movie Camera," and David did music for a movie called "Shadow Creature," which I guess did well in the Philippines.

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