Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do you believe in rock ‘n’ roll radio?

My first recollection of hearing and liking music is linked to radio. It was 1972 in the kitchen of our maisonette, 20 Pennington House (it no longer exists), in deepest Oldbury. The track was School’s Out by Alice Cooper and I have to presume it was being played by Radio 1, though I don’t specifically recall that bit.

I was probably in the right age group to appreciate the growth and spread of radio in the UK without even being conscious of it. I have great recollections of the presenters from that era and now recognise our family must have changed loyalties to BRMB and Les Ross at some point around the time that Dave Lee Travis took over R1 breakfast from Noel Edmonds.

Even then I still thought it was just about the music, I recall haranguing the aforementioned Mr Ross (about heavy metal) when he opened a fete at St Mary’s Church in Bearwood and made my radio debut as a phone-in contributor to Les’s Jukebox Jury with my negative contribution on The Crusaders’ Street Life. I was late for school as a result of that, though school never seemed as important as radio.

Into the 80s it becomes blurred. I was more of an active participant, partly through knowing a few radio presenters and eventually becoming one myself, sort of. Radio became a bigger part of my life – I appreciated the craft and actively tried to get recordings (on cassette) of great presenters like Chris Tarrant, Danny Baker, Howard Stern. These were the days before podcasts of course and I recall first hearing Chris Evans on GLR when travelling back by car from London.

There’s a couple of reasons I’m tip-toeing through my memories for you, it ties in significantly to the debate over whether streaming services, regardless of what they’re called, can rightly be referred to as ‘radio’. I think we can all appreciate that radio is so much more. Others have covered this topic very well, particularly James Cridland (the debate rages below the main feature), Phil Riley, David Lloyd covering the emotive issues  and Adam Bowie.

Whatever generation of listener you are, your choice of music and radio station is a personal issue. I have long been a fan of Kerrang Radio in the West Midlands, I was delighted when they were awarded their broadcast license some nine years ago and have been a listener ever since. Naturally I’d have loved to work there (I did try!), many of my friends and ex-colleagues did so and it is sad to witness its passing from the FM spectrum.

From today they will be no longer be such a great presence in the West Mids and that is a great loss to our region, for a while it seemed that they could become proof of a niche music station’s ability to succeed. A far greater radio mind than mine has covered the business reasoning and emotional response very well here.

The team at Kerrang Radio steered the brand into some great new territories and will have introduced many great acts to a bigger audience, that’s one of the many superb functions of music radio and it’s a proven fact that ‘real’ radio remains the source of most new musical discovery in this country. There is a massive human element to this and presenters like Johnny Doom make that happen. He is one of a few who – with wit and style – make almost any music listenable. That’s the difference that proper radio makes, no algorithm can do the same.

We are fortunate in some ways given that the West Mids 105.2FM frequency is not being handed down to some lowest-common-denominator pop/easy-listening hybrid of which there are so many. Instead we have the pleasure of Planet Rock which could easily become an even greater radio brand under the stewardship of its new owner. I will declare an interest since I have worked with the team there over a number of years; it has given me the opportunity to witness their commitment to continuing the UK’s rock legacy.

Regardless of what comes next, the ability to listen to a vast range of music has never been greater or more widely available. People are so conservative in their tastes though, left to their own devices they may not explore. I’ve written before about the need for an arbiter of taste, a guide to what you might like – yes, it is possible that the right software will eventually predict on your behalf but it will never take the place of a great radio presenter. 

To finish as I began (in the past) I have great memories of when I encountered certain songs or acts. I first heard Alive by Pearl Jam, courtesy of a play on Simon Bates and began a career-long worship of them. I got into Mogwai via a John Peel session heard in the car as I went to pick my mum up from the station when she was occupying the role of live-in nanny for my now 16 year old daughter. I discovered Doves in a roundabout way after hearing a Sub-Sub song (This Time I’m Not Wrong) on a visit to my mate Lloyd who was then running a pub in Barnstaple. I could go on – just remember (as I do) that there is no easy replacement for radio, streaming will only repeat what you think you want to hear – sometimes you need help.

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