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A Weird Pop Heaven Via Bay City's "Happy Radio"

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Along Rocks Off's various Texas travels, we almost never listen to an iPod or compact discs anymore. Anything we could pop in wouldn't match the rhythm of the road; the Stooges or Metallica don't really jive with Highways 59, 71 or 77. In today's world of satellite radios, streaming tunes on your iPhone, or downloading a podcast, folks forget about good old regional terrestrial radio. The real brick and mortar stations with townies manning the controls and breaking in weather and local sports reports every few spins may be slowly dying, but they're also the best way to drink in the local flavor. This weekend, we were coming home to Houston from Mustang Island south of Corpus Christi and discovered Bay City's KKHA (92.5 FM). The station's tag line is (naturally) "Happy Radio," and for the good hour and a half ROcks Off had it dialed in, we were in a weird pop heaven. What sets Happy's playlist apart is that it plays music we don't hear anymore in Houston proper, and definitely not all on the same station. It's a one-stop shop of AM Gold, soul, R&B, '60s staples and a twist of glam rock. More than likely, you would have to flip through The Arrow, The Eagle, Alvin's KACC and maybe KCOH in order to get this sort of mix - and on an exceptionally good day for all four stations at that.

Over the course of one hour Sunday afternoon, we heard Electric Light Orchestra, Sam & Dave, early (read: non-disco) Bee Gees, The Beach Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Captain & Tennille, Pilot, Todd Rundgren, Harry Nilsson, Stealers Wheel, Barry White, America and T.Rex.

In the long stretches on 59, only populated by smokehouses, abandoned weigh stations, Czech bakeries and two-light towns, the music can breathe. These songs may get lost in the urban clutter in the city, but on a stretch of open highway they become epic. You can listen to the craft in each tune, like all the flourishes that ELO's Jeff Lynne added to all his work, or the drums on Pilot's "Magic."

Right now as we write, KKHA just dished out George Harrison's "What Is Life," Harry Chapin's bitter "W.O.L.D." and Jose Feliciano's version of "Light My Fire." Somehow the latter always seemed a tad more dangerous than the Doors' original, considering it's by a blind Hispanic man with a dog at his feet. Or at least that's the way we will always see Jose in our heads.

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