To start off here: “Killing in the Name,” an obvious reference to Rodney King and a vicious attack on the police state, sounded like a revolutionary song in 1992. It sounds like a revolutionary song now. The politics still sound modern. So does the sound. And to hear it now, in 2022, less than a week removed from some of the most regressive Supreme Court rulings the judiciary has ever produced, is a great reminder that its power is totally intact.
There was no context for it in 1992, so clearly the context was to put Rage Against the Machine on the radio and on MTV.
But we have to talk about this Vancouver radio station that is playing this song over and over. As of 30 minutes ago, when I put the station on again just to check, it’s still playing the song, which means that it’s been roughly a day since CKKS-FM started playing the song over and over, with some occasional commentary from the programmer.
This is seen as an “awesome” thing by a lot of folks, with good reason. From a purely musical standpoint “Killing in the Name” is a song with extremely high relistenability, because the number of musical shifts it makes in five minutes make it feel like four or five shorter songs. Listening to it over and over shockingly does not dull its power.
But I have to say … the stunt does not feel good to me. The reason comes down to the fact that it’s clearly the result of some under-the-hood corporate changes—likely caused by low ratings. The playing-the-same-song stunt is one that has been done many times over the years. And the reports suggest that a significant portion of the station’s on-air staff has been let go.
Unfortunately, terrestrial radio does not work like the movie Airheads, where a loose-cannon-style situation is enough to kick a station offline. This is an intentional move to draw attention (something called “stunt mode” in radio parlance), not a protest against a bad boss. And the fact that we’re talking about it is strong evidence that it’s working.
To give you an idea of what “stunt mode” is like: Last year, a Denver station briefly became “Free Britney Radio,” playing nothing but Britney Spears. In that case, the station also fired its morning crew and changed its format. This has been done for decades. It’s an attention grab, but it’s somehow working way better this time than it usually does, because of the song choice, which implies a political statement of some kind.
(My joke on all of this was that if the station pivots to conservative talk, noted Rage fan Paul Ryan will probably move to Vancouver.)
If I were Rage, I would be pissed that one of my most incendiary statements was being used by a radio station to fill air time after firing people. The music itself, and the message it sends, is as vibrant as ever. The choice to use it for stunt programming devalues it, however.
Or, it would, if the song was basically immune to being devalued.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 7 minutes, 11 seconds