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What Do You Listen To While Driving?

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Driving preferences are very personal. How we like to sit, how we like to set the temperature, how we pick a lane on the highway. But today, I’m asking about the most personal of all. What do you like to listen to in the car?

Once upon a time, you didn’t have much choice about what you listened to in the car. You either put on a local AM radio station or nothing at all. Some automakers fiddled about with in-dash record players, but they sucked out loud. Eventually, FM radio came along, but it was only with the advent of the 8-track and the Compact Cassette that you got real choice in what you listened to. CDs would come along much later.

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It was only in the early 2000s that we saw a real revolution take hold. It was the rise of the MP3 player, which then begat the aux cord. Today, most of us have some kind of Bluetooth link between our smartphone and our car stereos, but it was the aux cord that really changed the game way back when.

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Children Collide’s first album remains one of my favorites for a hills run.

I don’t just want to talk about formats, though. I want to know what you listen to. Maybe you’re ride or die for Billy Joel. Maybe you still think The Thermals are the most slept-on indie band in the history of North America.

Or perhaps you only listen to crossover collaborations between major pop artists as record labels try to break new talent in the UK and US markets. If that’s the case, we should talk about how Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj totally stunted on Jessie J in 2014’s Bang Bang.

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In parts of Australia, you can listen to a digital broadcast of supermarket radio in your car. Complete with the in-store ads and all.

Growing up, I was big into alternative rock and emo, with a side of trance. On one fateful night, The Offspring spurred me into such an excited state that I ran clear off a mountain road when I missed a braking zone into a tight hairpin. Learn from my example, teenagers – don’t go stupid with your tunes cranked to 11.

But today, I might surprise you. I’m often listening to local AM radio. I don’t have a lot of social connections in my local area, kind of like an old person. The conversational nature of AM radio makes me feel like I live in some kind of community, even if I spend most of my time in the cold isolation of the far-flung suburbs.

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Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

On any trip longer than 30 minutes, though, I’m on my podcast thang. I crank through episodes of D&D Court from the legends at Not Another D&D Podcast. It’s hosted by a bunch of professional Dungeons and Dragons players and DMs. They pass judgement on cases sent in by listeners, such as whether it’s okay or completely stupid for a player to roleplay as Anchorman. I’m a subscriber so I get all the bonus episodes, too. I’ve got a long solo road trip coming up and I can’t wait to blast through them for eight hours straight.

I’d imagine your preferences are entirely different from mine. So tell me—what do you put on when you’re going for a drive?

Image credits: Lewin Day

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Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
9 days ago

Depends on the time of day and location. If it is a weekday and between 6AM-7PM, I’m probably listening to KEXP (either over-the-air or via streaming app on my phone). If I’m on a road trip on the weekend, it’s probably something indie…or maybe classic rock…or jazz.

LaythU-K
LaythU-K
9 days ago

KMHD; Jazz Without Boundaries

Morgan Thomas
Morgan Thomas
12 days ago

In the Hiace work van, it’s AM radio (I’m an old fart) or a rotation of CDs with audio ripped from Youtube videos of comedy specials.
In the Fairlane the AM reception gets too much interference, and it’s old-school enough to have a factory 6-disc stacker, but the Premium sound system has 11 speakers including a subwoofer, so when I’m on my own it’s usually cranked up with a choice of Paul Kelly, Venus Hum, B52s, Metallica, New Order, or Mike Batt (my tastes are varied and sometimes weird)

0l0id
0l0id
12 days ago

I’ve read somewhere that once you’re in your late 30’s, your playlist is basically an 20/80 blend of some new stuff you may have heard on the radio and a well pruned repertoir of everything you listened to in highschool.

I can attest that it’s at least partially true. The other day on a long drive from LA to OC I listened to a Sonata Arctica album back to back….[said no one else ever, by the way. A Finnish metal band is about as out of place in gridlock near Norwalk, as a Corvair in the Derien Gap.]

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
12 days ago

My CD player is currently loaded up with some Butthole Surfers albums, some Big Black, several obscure 70s funk compilations and some drum and bass. Oh and Saul Williams’ first album because it is killer.. I plug a cheap MP3 player in when I can be bothered, but it’s a bit of a kludge.

Pancakeman!
Pancakeman!
12 days ago

Wait, nobody else is a swiftie?

LostinTransit
LostinTransit
12 days ago

I’ve had an oscillating hiss/hum in my ears since 2010 all because I didn’t wear ear plugs while at the factory..

Parsko
Parsko
12 days ago

My car.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
13 days ago

AM radio in the US is unlistenable if you have a brain, because it’s either angry rightwing trash or religious zealotry.

My car stereos have CD players, Bluetooth sounds like trash, and the stereo itself sounds pretty bad even with a good source, so I mostly play CDs I burned 10-15 years ago when that was still a thing.

When I’m organized (I.E. never) I bring my high-quality DAC phone/music player and connect it with the aux jack.

I cannot stand skips and dropouts from a spotty internet connection, and I don’t like using a finite resource (mobile bandwidth) when I have the music files locally, so I don’t use Spotify. They don’t have much of what I like anyway.

Drew
Drew
12 days ago

AM radio in the US is unlistenable if you have a brain, because it’s either angry rightwing trash or religious zealotry.

It’s too bad, because AM radio used to have a fair mix of weird/fun conspiracy theories, sports, local news, and less common music. Most of the fun talk about ghosts, UFOs, and Sasquatch morphed into angry political conspiracies and everything else moved to FM/satellite or just disappeared. If you search the HD radio alternate channels, you can find some, but it’s just not the same, and it definitely takes more time and effort than just twisting that AM radio knob.

Nate Stanley
Nate Stanley
13 days ago

I think I’ve looked at all the responses here and didn’t see the obvious answer…

The Cars.

Back in my working days with 90 minute plus commutes, I got a lot of mileage from Danny Gatton (Redneck Jazz) and Albert Collins.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
13 days ago

Three local FM presets: Mexican eclectic mix, mostly yacht rock with some 70’s r&b, and old school hip hop. They all seem to be independent stations. I live pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
13 days ago

Didn’t we do this a week ago?
Well anyway…
https://smallwonder.bandcamp.com/album/wendy-2

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