Laser 558, what’s wrong with Radio 2 and the real reason people liked Genesis

Never heard of him…

So what links Laser 558, Radio 2 and Genesis?

Not that you need a reason (yes you do) but it is worth taking a look at the musical landscape of 1985 to put into context (some would say justify) why I (and many people like me) liked Genesis.

My theory is that it’s all because of Radio 1 and 2.

Nowadays you can get a Spotify account, You Tube and Wikipedia and in three months you could probably pass a degree in popular music studies.  All I had in 1984 was Top of the Pops, Radio 2 and my mum’s James Last Orchestra Albums. It is little wonder therefore that I didn’t have a clue. No one did.

When Elvis died in 1977 I remember the headline in the Daily Mail – “Elvis King of Rock dies at 42” it said.

I’d never heard of him.

In the early ’80s friends would discuss quite seriously whether Genesis or Dire Straits were “heavy metal”. We weren’t sure. The radio never played it so we never heard it.

By 1984/5 things were so bad at Radio 1 with overly inane DJs playing overly inane pop we began listening to a pirate radio station: Laser 558.

This was twenty years after pirate Radio Caroline revolutionised radio by playing pop music all day. Prior to Caroline, pop music was only played by the BBC for a couple of hours a week on “The Light Programme” (the fore-runner of Radio 1&2). That’s a couple of hours of chart music a week at a time that the Beatles released Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sergeant Pepper. Well done BBC.

Pirate radio arises where there is a gap between what people want to listen to and what traditional radio broadcasts, hence the original Radio Caroline in the ’60s. Laser’s emergence in the ’80s was clear evidence that BBC radio was out of touch, and Radio 1’s switch to FM followed a few years later as it tried to relaunch itself.

Laser broadcast from the middle of the sea, on 558AM (illegally I presume) and played a more eclectic mix than Radio 1 and had far less chat from the (American only) DJs. I heard Deep Purple’s “Black Night” on that station for the first time played by the DJ Charlie Wolf who would nightly bring his audience to “fever pitch” (his catchphrase).

Radio 2 hasn’t improved. My mum listened to it in 1985 – and she’s still listening to it now. I’m now the same age as she was then – but I find it unlistenable. It’s like they go out of their way to play the worst music.

  • Example 1: “the Man Who Sold The World”. Clearly a choice between Bowie and Nirvana? Radio 2 played the Lulu version last time I tuned in.
  • Example 2: Russell Brand had a great show regularly featuring Noel Gallagher and Morrisey which when cancelled had his fellow DJ / snake-in-human-form Paul Gambaccini saying (in perhaps the most ironic statement since King Herod criticised his babysitter) “I never felt he had the talent for Radio 2…”
  • Example 3: Is it my imagination or does Tony Blackburn always choose the worst records on his “Pick of the Pops” show? Blackburn: “This week in September 1968 – there’s The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and Aretha’s “Say a Little Prayer” in the Top Ten and Otis Redding and The Beach Boys in the Top Twenty so here’s “I Pretend” by Des O’Connor”…after which we have the entire chart from this week in 1987 starting with great tunes from Janet Jackson and Five Star…”

Seriously – it’s like the only people who think these tunes are any good are the ones in charge of national radio. It’s a scandal.

My mum still thinks Cliff is cool. He’s not. Someone has been playing tosh on that station for forty years, and it’s time they were brought to account…

Record #15: Deep Purple: Black Night





4 responses to “Laser 558, what’s wrong with Radio 2 and the real reason people liked Genesis”

  1. […] In return, I may have mentioned to him my dislike of Blackburn’s musical tastes (see this earlier post) using inflammatory language such as […]


  2. Bob Ridgway Avatar
    Bob Ridgway

    Well said There is a conspiracy not to play any rock on Radio 2 Hence Jamie Cullens jazz programme,etc but NO ROCK SHOW. I could do a great rock show. I have a DAB so listen to XS radio and radio 6 OK the variation is too extreme. Steve Lamaqc can do Led Zep next to show reggae roots hip hop thing


  3. norman dewhurst Avatar
    norman dewhurst

    I loved the music on laser558. but you cannot blame the beeb for lack of needle time in the 60s and 70s radios 1&2 were under the control of the music unions, they tried to put our as much music on disc as possible, I think radio 1 had only 5 hours of needle time the rest of the music had to be shared with radio 2, It was 1 disc for about 2 recorded music, not good for fab radio 1, the problem in the 60s and 70s was lack of commercial stations to kick the beeb up the backside, when capital radio came on in London, I listened all day, but these days radio 2 has nearly caught up with its target audience, it really is impossible to cover all musical tastes, but 2 does cover a large range during the week, I like sounds of the 70s with sara cox on satudays and paul o.grady and micheal ball on sunday, its pity about the rubbish tony Blackburn plays, and too much talk still on radio 2.


    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      That’s a good point you make about the unions – thanks.
      It’s all a matter of taste I guess, but your comment about Radio 2 almost catching up with its audience says it all – it still hasn’t done so after 30 years of non union control. BBC Radio 6 Music has filled the void, but the core listenership of Radio 2 is the same people who listened to it thirty years ago – when they were 40. As you say, it’s impossible to cater for everyone, but the risk of trying to please as many people as possible is that you water everything down and get a bland playlist. You know the kind of thing – a middle of the road tune that people say “that’d sound perfect for Radio 2”


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