Left Of The Dial

Album: Tim (1985)
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Songfacts®:

  • The left side of the FM radio dial is where you'll find college radio stations, which in the early and mid-'80s were the only places you could hear indie artists - it was truly "alternative." One such band was Let's Active, whose guitarist, Lynn Blakey, got to know Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg. She asked him to write her a letter, but he doesn't write letters, so he lost touch with her. Instead, he kept the radio tuned left of the dial when the band was on tour, hoping to hear her music. One night, he did - she was doing an interview on one of the college stations. Unfortunately, these stations have low power and a limited range, so he wasn't able to hear her for very long.

    "I heard her voice for the first time in six months for about a minute," Westerberg told Rolling Stone. "Then the station faded out."
  • A little background on what you'll find "left of the dial." In America, the FM frequencies from 88.1 to 91.9 MHz are reserved for non-commercial stations, which tends to be a mix of National Public Radio (NPR) affiliates, community radio, and college radio. As commercial radio got more homogenized in the early '80s, college radio became vital for emerging artists that didn't hew to popular taste. Most of these acts stayed underground, but a few broke through - R.E.M., for example. The stations were run by students who could typically play whatever they liked, often records from their own collections. When record labels tried to build a buzz for these up-and-coming artists, they would often send music and other goodies to these stations, hoping for airplay.

Comments: 6

  • John from Los AngelesThis song always reminds me of the coolest girl I dated in college. Wistful and moving. Takes me back to the mid 80s, sitting in a bar in Chicago, drinking a Bud long neck and hoping Wendy would walk in.
  • Rabbit Bunny from Westminster MdOne of the most perfect Rock songs ever!
  • Brian from Boston, MaLeft of the dial is a reference to where on the radio you will find smaller indipendent stations.These stations are were you would be most likely to find alternative bands such as R.E.M. the previous posts are correct however in saying that the song is not about R.E.M. My purpose here is just to explain the term Left of the dial. This is a great song The Replacements are an underrated band.
  • Terry from Ottawa, CanadaMaybe my friends and I just weren't clued in so much. We always thought this was a tribute to college radio. The Replacements were a staple at my college radio station in Calgary Ab. Most college stations in Canada on FM were on the left side of the radio dial, like 91.5 or 89.9 etc. It's true that The Replacements' career, radio-wise, was at the college level. never knew about any tributes to people or bands.
  • Mister Whirly from Minneapolis, MnYep, the song was written about Lynn Blakey of Let's Active. The song is often misattributed to being written about R.E.M.
  • Don from San Antonio, TxI've heard this was written for the girl in Let's Active, they met at a gig and exchanged phone numbers. He lost hers...and while on tour he came across an interview on the radio, but she never mentioned him.
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