When you work for a radio station, as I have done since joining BRMB in 1998, it usually follows that you spend most spare time in your car or at home listening to the place you work for, partially out of a subconscious loyalty to your paymasters and partially down to ego as you want to see whether your colleagues mention how good your show is during theirs. Which never usually happened in my case.
There also seems to be some unwritten rule in the DJ’s code of conduct that says you must not advocate listening to any other station when you are socialising and that any indication to the general public that you have strayed to another frequency will be punishable by cheese wire. Well my illicit affair with talkSPORT (or talkRADIO as it was then known) was underway long before I put on the old goggles and did the Flying Eye travel updates at the start of my presenting career, and now that I’m part of the fabric of that very station, I don’t have to justify listening to it out of office hours as I’d have sometimes done at previous establishments.
The reason for this waffling pre-amble is down to a car journey that I undertook with Natalie and the children to head for Cambridgeshire at the start of the Easter holidays last week. On these sorts of trips, Natalie’s iPod is suitably loaded with such audio treats as the themes from Noddy, Mio Mao and Fifi & the Flowertots in order to maintain order amongst the 4 kids. However on this occasion, said iPod was somewhat poorly, and so Natalie (who was on driving duties) announced that we’d listen to music on the radio for the 2 hours that we’d be on the road.
No one complained, least of all me – my music radio listening is confined to Planet Rock, Kerrang and a smattering of Radio 2, and those three behemoths of broadcasting rarely cater for 5-year olds, so more ‘yoof’ oriented stations would be required to prevent whinges from the rear seats.
By the time we’d reached Gamlingay and our final desitination, it was me that was whinging, not the children. I had endured 2 hours of awful, awful radio from both BBC and ILR stations all playing the same songs seemingly trying to chase the same audience. Rhianna, Adele, Take That, Gaga et al on the most scandalous automatic repeat wherever the dial was twiddled. Now I’m not against any of those artists per se – what I object to is every single station on the dial playing them in order to compete for a certain sector of listeners at the expense of millions of others.
Programming at radio stations is now so desperately unimaginative that it’s no wonder local radio is struggling and car drivers would prefer to plug their iPod in for the drive to and from work and ignore the news & travel you’d think they’d crave as they drove. There is a perceived science to music programming at radio stations that the head of music there will bore you on for hours on end. They’ll tell you why the hour HAS to start with this big song by so & so and that is HAS to be followed by this less immediate but nonetheless popular song that tested really well last week and then you HAVE to play this 80’s classic that was No. 177 in our all-time songs countdown over Christmas 2 years ago and then you MUST…and so it continues.
Imagine how many songs a popular music station can choose from the last 30 years if it’s an “80’s 90’s and today” station and yet all of them simply select a core of a couple of hundred songs that it steadfastly refuses to change, save for the way it plays new songs to death – beyond death – and then jettisons them from the airwaves, never to pollute your ears again…unless it creeps in at #496 in the Chrismas countdown of course.
Capital Gold’s programming became such for a time that, if I heard Queen’s “Radio Gaga” as I edited Barmy Brummies stuff in the Gold studio, then I knew it was Thursday at about 12.30pm without even having to look up. It was that predictable.
I used to like Torn by Natalie Imbruglia when we started playing it at BRMB – after hearing it played every 3 hours of every day without fail for a month, I got heartily sick of it. Part of the reason for songs such as these was the modern phenomena of records getting mass airplay WEEKS before its release into stores. “Back For Good” by Take That was a classic example - an eagerly-anticipated album by Britain’s biggest boy band and an admittedly very strong lead-off single, and it was hammered by every ILR station for 4 weeks prior to it coming out on CD single (and cassette).
And yet…and yet. I remember when Bob Geldof became the host of the fledgling XFM drivetime show, and he described his ethos for the programme was to create a ‘mixtape’ every afternoon – that is to say, he and his producer tried to make as varied and interesting for the listener so that no 2 drivetime shows would ever sound the same.
It was a noble idea, and one that no doubt fired their collective imaginations in the short term, but before long, the stress of doing a show in such a way became too much, and the colder more scientific and research based method of music programming began to creep in. Soon after Geldof had moved on, seemingly unfulfilled by such a change in policy.
So whilst I yearn for a Utopian music station that will play Carpenters one minute, Pantera the next (ahh the joys of iPod shuffle) the reality is that music programming will always be there to play the same songs in a different order by and large. What I can still object to, however, is all these places who obtain licenses to broadcast to specific age groups and yet are able to twist and bend the rules so that they can play ‘Someone Like You’ on the hour just like everyone else does.
The Noddy theme tune went up in my estimation during that car journey I can tell you.
Anyway, I don’t need to worry about what’s on the radio for a while – the new Foo Fighters album is out. The Foos are one of a select few artists whose music I will buy specifically on the day of release (KISS, Rush, Jeff Beck & Half Man Half Biscuit are the others…one of those is a red herring)
‘Wasting Light’ is a total joy. Thunderously good stuff, and I’m choosing a different favourite with every listen. Today it’s “These Days”, tomorrow it’ll perhaps be “I Should Have Known” – whatever. In these times where rock is supposed to be dead (to quote Paul Gambaccini) bands like Grohl & Co are so important. Melody, aggression and musicianship? I’ll have that thank you very much. I would imagine Milton Keynes is a sellout by now though…Can’t complain though – Rush and Journey/Foreigner/Styx on the horizon anyway!!