From TLC to Alan Jackson to a singer named Freedy, plenty of worthwhile singles can be found on the radio. You just have to know where to find them.

By David Browne
Updated February 17, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST
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Go ahead, flick on the radio. Now, what’s your musical wish? A little classic rock? Some Top 40 pop? Lite FM? Alternative rock? How about a dab of urban dance? Adult alternative, that hip easy-listening station, perhaps? Maybe Top 40 country? Or old-guard country? Or…?

Channel surfing was once strictly a television phenomenon, but its airwave equivalent-dial surfing-has now become essential to the radio experience. The question is no longer whether you can tune into a new single that will turn your head or an oldie that will make you weepily nostalgic; instead, it’s what format you need to track down in order to hear it. In the spirit of the dial, here’s a whirl through the winter’s highs, lows, and lo-fi’s at the prominent radio formats.

*Adult Contemporary: Your local lite-FM station has undergone a major change in the last few years by banishing the old-world likes of Streisand and Manilow in favor of current musical Slurpees like Carey and Marx. As for new music, the current No. 1 AC hit is the Eagles’ ”Love Will Keep Us Alive.” Nothing wrong with hearing a good Eagles single on the radio, but this nondescript audio syrup ain’t it. Vanessa Williams’ ”The Sweetest Days” — a bittersweet plea for making every minute count — is destined for Muzak, but at least it has the best squiggly introductory horn line since Diana Ross’ ”Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going to).”

*Urban Contemporary: In this nest of current R&B, dance, and hip-hop, the song that’s ruled the winter is the ultimate musical dis — ”Short Short Man” (also known as ”Short D — – Man”) by 20 Fingers featuring Gillette, with a hard, thumping beat and, er, a harder message: ”You need some tweezers to put that little thing away?” Gillette taunts. Ouch! If those jibes don’t hurt enough, they’re followed by synthesizer bleeps of mocking laughter. Or you can revel in TLC’s No. 1 pop hit ”Creep”; despite lyrics that amount to ”my guy’s a jerk but I have the power to stick around” (feminism of a sort, one supposes), the song shakes a pretty adult groove thang, and those vinyl crackles heard throughout are cheesy but endearing. Worth searching out is Nuttin’ Nyce’s ”Down 4 Whateva,” a funky rave that envelopes you in a whirlpool of frisky female voices.

*Modern Rock: All Pearl Jam, all Smashing Pumpkins, all the time. Well, okay — maybe a little Live or Weezer or Hole now and then, for variety. One of the truly unpredictable selections, however, is the first-ever charting pop single by cult favorite Freedy Johnston: The sweet jangle of ”Bad Reputation” — with its plaintive refrain of ”Do you want me now?” — positions him as the egghead version of Gin Blossoms.

*Country: The top hit of the moment, Alan Jackson’s ”Gone Country,” deserves its place; it blows away all of the middle-of-the-backroads balladeering beneath it. Jackson’s voice is incredibly deadpan as he mocks wannabes invading Nashville-when he sings, ”Look at them boots,” you can just about hear the sneer in his voice.

*CHR: Or contemporary hit radio, or old-fashioned Top 40, a format on life support thanks to niche programming. Bon Jovi’s ”Always” won’t go away, despite a shamelessly sexist video about a two-timer with whom we’re supposed to sympathize. 4P.M.’s top 10 ”Sukiyaki,” a remake of the old disco hit by A Taste of Honey, is vocal-harmony oatmeal that makes Boyz II Men’s mildly beefier ”On Bended Knee” sound like Megadeth. Best to wait for Des’ree’s beautiful sleeper hit ”You Gotta Be,” which practically glides off of the radio, or Real McCoy’s No. 3 hit, ”Another Night,” a swooshing glop of diva- on-a-downer voice, Eurotrash synths, and rapping. And keep an ear out for ex-Arrested Development singer Dionne Farris’ rising hit ”I Know,” an earthy mover that finds a hearty middle ground between dance music and guitar rock (check out the 12-inch mix for further proof). By the way, what format would Arrested Development fit on these days? How about suburban contemporary?

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