They say that the Southern California car culture is isolating. It’s hard to argue with that, when everyone’s shut up in their own little boxes. But today, on my way to work (delayed a bit on account of dentist), I was listening to KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic and stopped at a traffic signal. They were playing a live version of Elvis Costello’s “Allison.” I looked in my rear view mirror, and realized that the driver behind me was singing along to the same song. Even though it only went one way—she had no way of knowing I was listening to the same music—it was still a moment of connection through shared experience.

I really liked the last two Five For Fighting albums, America Town and The Battle for Everything. “Superman” was quite possibly the only song I’ve heard that made me run out and buy an album without checking other songs first. So I was eagerly awaiting “Two Lights.”

Unfortunately, after listening through twice, I only actually like two songs on the album: “California Justice” and “Policeman’s Xmas Party.” Everything else is just too…sappy.

And “The Riddle” is everywhere. Radio, supermarkets, fast food, shopping malls. I can’t escape it. Worse, it’s one of those tunes that worms its way into your mind and runs around in circles.

But here’s the odd thing: Does anyone else think the verse sounds a little bit like “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy?”

The recent controversy over Star 98.7’s decision to drop their morning talk show (since reversed) and try out a new format brings up one of those great mysteries of the ages: Why do so many radio stations play the same small list of songs over and over?

I understand the desire to play popular songs frequently, since it should improve ratings. I know record labels still pay radio stations to make sure their songs get played, even though it’s technically illegal. (They use intermediaries these days, but I don’t think anyone’s fooled.) But it seems to me that there must be a limit to the effectiveness of playing the same song over and over.

Heck, even Star, masters of the binge-and-purge playlist, got pissed off at Ryan Seacrest once when he played the same song 5 or 6 times in a row. This was probably 3 or 4 years ago, and I caught a few minutes of him saying that he didn’t understand what management was so upset about. “They’re always telling us to support the music,” he said.

Is that what it takes? Playing the same songs 10 times a day is OK, as long as no one song gets played 10 times in a row? Even though it takes up time that could be used to play more songs that might, radical as this might sound, get listeners interested in a new artist or album? That they might actually go out and buy?

In the late 1990s there were several LA-area radio stations that would play deep cuts off an album—songs that hadn’t been released as singles—or the album versions of songs that had. All gone. A few years ago, there was a station that had a policy of no repeats between 9am and 5pm. Gone.

Is it just the push toward the lowest common denominator, spurred on by the rise of giant radio conglomerates? (Clear Channel owns a huge chunk of LA radio.) Maybe. There’s a lot more room on satellite radio, and whenever I’ve been in a store or restaurant that plays satellite radio, I start hearing those album cuts and songs other than the Top 40 of a genre.

Of course, the way cable TV has gone—with former niche networks branching out for that lowest common denominator, giving rise to the lament of 500 channels and nothing on—this may be only a temporary renaissance. The same cycle of homogenization seems to hit all media, turning vitality into banality over and over.

Since Star 98.7 has suddenly decided to play actual music in the mornings last week, I’ve listened to it a couple of times on the way to work. They do still seem to like playing the same 10 songs over and over again, so there’s only so much I can take before switching over to another station, but something strange jumped out at me about their new slogan.

“Today’s Music Alternative”

I’m sure they intend it to mean an alternative source for music, but it sounds like an alternative to music. And considering they’ve dropped their talk shows and DJs in favor of more time for music, I don’t think that’s the message they’re trying to convey.