Sunday Morning Radio: Third Rock Radio, Houston, TX

Way back in the Olden Days when I was in college, my love for music (and my major) led me to a gig at the college radio station, where I eventually worked my way up to being music director. We’d get all sorts of promotional stuff sent to the station all the time, but one of the items I remember best is what the staff used to call ‘the Army records.’

They’d arrive like clockwork every month, 12″ vinyl in plain white sleeves with a cutout for the label. They were basically one-hour radio shows produced by the US Army, featuring the hits of the day interspersed with commercial spots for the Army – at the time their slogan was ‘Be all that you can be.’ And since the Army apparently didn’t know our station’s format, we’d get Army records in Rock, Easy Listening and Country formats. They never made it to the air, but after a while we had boxes of them in a corner of the production studio.

Why am I telling you this? Because the idea has been updated and brought to the internet in the form of Third Rock Radio out of Houston, Texas. Third Rock is a production of NASA, and it’s basically a 24/7 Army Record on an internet-only radio station.

Their playlist can best be described as ‘Indie Alternative’ – their playlist features new Indie bands (Okkervil River, American Authors), more established bands (Silversun Pickups, Sick Puppies), and what can be considered ‘legacy’ artists (Radiohead, Cake, Our Lady Peace). And interspersed between blocks of music are news items, interviews and pitches for young folks to join NASA’s intern programs or attend their ‘Space Camps.’

The station is paid for by NASA with a grant program (lest our conservative friends feel the need to complain about wasting tax dollars), and it’s an automated station with a couple of DJs who appear sporadically – but mostly it’s a slickly-produced and tightly-formatted station, heavy on music but light on personality. The ostensible goal is to recruit young listeners into careers in engineering and science. It’s a laudable goal, with a sharp focus on science in an age where science seems to be under attack on many fronts.

And while the music is pleasant enough, after a while it just blends into the background – you won’t hear anything too heavy, too lo-fi or too in-your-face on this station. But if you’re looking for a station where you’ll hear a fair amount of stuff you might not otherwise hear unless you went looking for it, you could do worse than Third Rock Radio.

And on a personal note – I find the station pleasant enough, but they did introduce me to a song called ‘We The Common‘ by a band called Thao and The Get Down Stay Down last year, which I may never forgive them for.

You can check out Third Rock Radio at their official web site.

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