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Tune in, tune out, turn off

Six in the morning. Unmoving lump under the covers notes how sleep is the perfect state.

Loud buzz, like somebody sawing my head in two. Turn over. One eye open. Can discern the green glow of numbers on the clock radio. Recognize buzz as the alarm going off.

Then somebody screaming at me, squealing, breaking noises occur, suggesting a car has come through the bedroom window.

Other eye open now. Sigh. Recognize second noise as crummy head-banging rock 'n' roll on the radio.

Turn over again. Realize things could be worse. I could be subjected to that immortal whine, "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees . . . "

This is not as it is supposed to be. I am supposed to just love those oldies on the radio, on what seems like every other FM station on the Tampa Bay radio dial.

Yes, 39-year-old white female, possessor of college degree, credit-card debt, running shoes, dying house plants, occasional dark thoughts, a complete stock of low-fat frozen dinners and a blossoming appreciation for just how attractive many middle-aged people are: I fit the profile of the aging baby boomer.

And if you believe the wits who program radio stations, it necessarily follows that, given these facts about me, when I hear a song by Buddy Holly, Chicago or Hall and Oates, I drop everything and start to dance.

I do not.

I gag.

This is not a complete exaggeration. Certain exceptions always hold my ear: Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin, the Rolling Stones, Martha and the Vandellas.

Bruce Springsteen be damned, but my fondness for a lot of the rest ended right about the time Richard Nixon got on the plane out of Washington and flew to California for good. So _ dare I say it? _ hats off to Ron and Ron and the ad mavens who cooked up the current billboard slogan for 95YNF, Less Music by Dead Guys.

Our reasons might differ, but like them, all that old music ("cool oldies" as they are so cleverly called on the station that bills itself U92) does not provoke in me an unstoppable impulse to dig out my high school yearbook so that I can see photographs of that strange-looking thing who worked on the prom committee so she would be sure to have a date and happened to go by my name.

That's not who I am now. Or is it?

Therein lies the bottom line reason why the oldies craze makes me crazy. It poses an existential dilemma.

I listen to the Righteous Brothers, Steely Dan, the Eagles, Stevie Wonder, find myself singing along in the car or the kitchen and start to suspect I haven't grown up one bit. No matter what else in my life has changed, I am no wiser. Some part of me is forever stuck in adolescent time _ just like Dick Clark.

This would be enough to send an aging boomer off to a shrink, but rather than that, I consulted an old pal in New Jersey, Steve Butler, the executive editor of a national daily of the radio business called Inside Radio.

In a desperate voice, I asked when this oldies trend on the FM band would end. Steve, on the other end of the long distance telephone, said he didn't know.

To explain a business that cashes in on the music of the '50s, '60s and '70s, he gave a very contemporary answer.

Oldies stations and their variations are popular across the country because they're sure-fire moneymakers, Steve said.

"People who grew up on Top Forty are just older," he said. The stations "are just following where the money is."

They're following the money because radio stations were bought and sold so often in the junk-bond-driven '80s that they are now heavily in debt and, in true '90s style, have to pay now, my friend told me. "They want to keep their bankers happy."

So much for nostalgia.

I don't know what to do now. I tried WMNF, the alternative station, and the first thing I heard the other morning was Van Morrison. Had to be new Van Morrison, I told myself, just had to be.

I switched stations. On WUSF, George Bush was getting his head handed to him in New Hampshire by Pat Buchanan. Turned the knob again. More screeching. It was the Power Pig. Turned the knob again. Ron and Ron laughing at their own jokes. Turned the knob again. Hugh Smith reading the news in his reassuring voice. Turned the knob again. On came Simon when he was still with Garfunkel.

Turned the knob again.

Off.

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