Thanks for the Memories, Q101

I was up way too late last night, but I had to see an old friend off.

For many who grew up in Chicago during the 90s, Q101 was a constant. It’s my longest-held radio preset, a fixture in my daily life since about 1993 or 1994. Q101 was there from the angsty, flannel-clad  junior high days through the whirl that was high school, for late-night college studying and working around my current house.

The last few years, I haven’t listened as much. I don’t spend much time in the car, and I wake up better with talk radio – something about shocking the brain awake. And with the ease of digital music and streaming sites like Pandora and Grooveshark, Q101 and other terrestrial radio seem terribly clogged by commercials.

But without traditional radio introducing us to new stuff and reminding us of the old, how would we know what to download? Before rewriteable CDs existed, I would record songs off Q101 onto cassette tapes, creating mixes marred by bits of DJ overrun or commercials. I listened to those tapes until they nearly wore out, and only tossed them about two years ago.

I heard a couple weeks ago that Q101 (and The Loop) had been bought (by Randy Michaels, the same man who tried to destroy the Chicago Tribune) and would likely be switching to an all-talk format. I hoped the switch wouldn’t happen. Early this week, when it was confirmed that Q101 would indeed flip formats Thursday at midnight, I turned my radio there – and it’s stayed.

The DJs, knowing their time was limited, really rose to the occasion and played what they wanted – and it’s been spectacular, like revisiting my teenage years. You don’t realize how much music imprints with your memories until you start hearing a string of songs that you intrinsically tie to specific moments – driving home from senior year in the Blazer with broken AC, coming home after a party, or just staying up late, studying, plugged in with headphones to not wake my parents.

Last night, I got home from a tweetup and settled in to work on a presentation for next week’s Econ class. I curled up on the couch with my laptop, streaming Q101’s last hours. I was exhausted from a five-hour commute Weds night, but I was determined to make it until the midnight format change. I was transported, listening to all these songs that I knew after just a few chords. Suddenly I felt like I was 17 again, cramming for Mr. O’Leary’s AP Bio class, alone in a quiet house with just the radio for company.

On Twitter, thousands were commiserating – at one point, #q101 was trending worldwide, more than #hp7 or #harrypotter, despite the opening of the final movie. All day, we’d been tweeting about the station’s demise, compiling playlists and singing virtual karaoke as Nirvana, Oasis or the Smashing Pumpkins were played.

When midnight came, Chris Payne went into over time, but could no longer legally use the Q101 name, though it’s so entrenched he slipped a few times. I finished my work and flipped on my bedroom radio as I settled in for the night. I lay in bed with the lights off, listening to the last few songs, just like I used to.

They went out with the Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight,” which was perfect, and then the Cure’s “Friday, I’m in Love,” which was the first song played on Q101 in 1992. At 1:01 AM, they went to commercials, and that was that. It was exactly the right way to end, and I’m glad they were allowed to say goodbye properly rather than a middle-of-the-night, unannounced switch.

Did you listen to Q101? What will your new preset be?


3 responses to “Thanks for the Memories, Q101

  1. Wonderful column! I’m betting I’m nearly 10 years older than you, but I remember how much I liked Q101 when I first moved to Chicago in 1994. Just reading your post made me think of all the songs that I attach to specific moments in my life … I now have XM radio in my car and find myself listening to stations that play music I’m already familiar with. Same with Pandora. I wonder if it’s just because of my age (nearly 40) that I feel like I don’t discover new music like I did in my teens and college years – or is it because how we listen to music has changed so much? Whatever the case, I’m sad to see Q101 go … but it sounds like the station went off in great style!

    • Thanks for the comment, Tara! And yes, exactly: XM (which I have in my car for another couple weeks before my free trial ends) and Pandora both perpetuate music we already know and love. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Q101 and other terrestrial radio really introduce us to new stuff. I agree in that I don’t feel like I discover music like used to, and I think a large part is because I spend so much time listening to digital music I already know and love. I’ve made an effort the last year to dig deeper into Pandora, which has opened some new doors, but it’s not quite the same.

  2. I remeber listening to Q101 after I moved to Chicago. In particular, I recall listening to it while getting ready for work in the morning and first hearing Eddie Vedder and hearing his mom interviewed! I now listen to Sirius/XM and Pandora as well.

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