Radio, what’s new? Someone still loves you…
From the local stations with their more diverse (and internet-accessible) evening programmes (see Frome FM’s monthly evening show by Push – a regular visitor here), to Internet only stations such as (Essex-based) Ship Full Of Bombs, there’s plenty of great music out there.
“Invisible airwaves crackle with life…bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.”
So said Geddy Lee, helium-filled mouthpiece of Rush about the Spirit of Radio. He had a vested interest of course, being a musician. He wanted his song played on the radio. He was hardly going to sing about how bland the music on Heart FM is, was he?* But despite the lingering question of impartiality hanging over Geddy like a cloud however, it’s fair to say he’s right. These magic sound boxes, these purveyors of moody food, of us that trade in love, as I believe Shakespeare once put it, are one of life’s most special treasures, although I suspect the Bard didn’t have Cliff Richard’s Millennium Prayer in mind when he came up with that bon mot.
“Everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio” summed up that other great man of letters and wearer of tights, Freddie Mercury on Radio Gaga.
Radio’s greatest gift is that someone else chooses the music for you and introduces you to new things. This is brilliant if that person has great taste, or has an interesting record collection. Conversely, it is awful news if that person is, say, Tony Blackburn.
Blackburn famously disliked anything that John Peel played. Nothing wrong with that of course. Everyone likes different things, and he seems like a nice chap. It’s probably just as well Blackburn wasn’t a DJ on a national radio station though. Oh. Hang on. He was. Hmmm. That’s more of a problem.
In the UK we have three BBC FM music stations. Radio 1 caters for 14-20 year old pop music lovers. Radio 3 caters for classical music lovers. And Radio 2 caters for retired readers of The Daily Mail who immediately complain the moment anything interesting occurs on the station (Ross, Brand, etc).
Because retired Daily Mail readers tend to have the odd bit of disposable income, most of the commercial stations are also chasing these listeners. I say “chasing”. Judging by their musical tastes, they’re all so old, few of them could run away very far.
The good news, therefore, is if you like your music served bland, with a side dressing of dreary, you have a huge variety of stations for choose from. Radio 2, Choice, Magic, Heart, Smooth, Galaxy, Milky Way, Snickers, the list (like the songs) seems to go on forever.
But this leaves a big gap of people (music lovers ages 21-59) not catered for by the BBC on FM radio. So thank goodness for BBC Radio 6 Music. A digital station, it has somehow assembled the impossible: interesting DJs with good taste in music. When you read it aloud it doesn’t sound so hard does it? Yet, much like finding the Loch Ness Monster or an intelligent Premiership football player such an accomplishment has eluded the grasp of many. It is like, if I may use my own neat simile, a breath of fresh air.
One of the best programmes on the radio at the moment is a series called The First Time With… on BBC Radio 6 Music with Matt Everett. On the show, Everett asks an eclectic mix of guests about the formative musical experiences (first song, first album etc) that shaped their tastes. In the last few weeks we have heard from Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Quentin Tarantino, Rod Stewart and Edwyn Collins. This Sunday, it is the turn of Dr Feelgood guitarist and Every Record Tells A Story favourite Wilko Johnson.
Dr Feelgood were forerunners of the Punk movement in the UK. Hailing from Canvey Island, they left behind a legacy of great live shows and some terrific albums. As I have mentioned in these pages previously, Wilko Johnson is a great character and sadly this may well be one of the last chances to hear him talk about his fascinating life (Wilko has terminal cancer).
The show is this Sunday at noon – don’t miss it…
Matt Everett talks to Wilko Johnson on his BBC Radio 6 Music show “The First Time” on Sunday 9th June. The series is also available as a podcast.
Record #198: Dr Feelgood – She Does It Right
* Geddy also sang “There is unrest in the forest, there is trouble with the trees, for the Maples want more sunlight and the oaks ignore their pleas” so it all carries something of a health warning, unless you’re a huge fan of stretched analogies.
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