Is it just me or is radio ready for another kick up the backside similar to the explosion of the offshore stations in the sixties and indeed the eighties with Laser Radio?
Never since the days of the BBC Light Programme or the old ILR stations has it been less enjoyable to listen to the radio. I was always a great supporter of less regulation thinking that more stations meant more variety. How wrong can I have been? Look at London: so many stations, not much choice. Where are the individual personalities that can entertain the audience without a studio full of idiots? If I have to listen to one more zoo format with the all-too-predictable girl/boy duo, I shall go mad. It wouldn't be so bad if they were funny, but it is just mindless drivel. "Hey! Let's be original and take the piss out of the audience, use sexual suggestion and read show-biz gossip out of the 'Sun'."
No wonder sales of in-car mini discs and CD players are on the increase. The industry is in danger of driving the audience away by being too predictable. I heard somebody say that the Gold format is dead. Of course it isn't. What is killing it is the programmers with no imagination. For instance if you play The Searchers, why is it always 'Needles & Pins'? They had many other hits worth a play. Hot Hits stations can and should repeat the same songs over and over, but Gold stations should have huge playlists. I still love the Beach Boys but don't want to hear just 'God Only Knows'.
Ah! But I hear someone say "the research says". I am not prone to violence but I would gladly shoot anyone who lets research rule their playlist. How many intelligent people take part in surveys? "Sorry mate, too busy, I have got a life," is my reply to anybody with a clipboard. So I suspect that only sad idiots respond to researchers with the predictable results. If you ask what is my favourite food I would say 'lobster' but that doesn't mean I want it every hour.
People actually like variety and surprises, which is just what is missing from our radio industry. It does amaze me when I hear programmers talk about their stations being personality-based and then play five-in-a-row with a liner card link. Even more depressing is the inflated salaries these so called 'big personalities' get paid (notice I didn't say "earn").
If you had told me some years ago that I would drive to Manchester and not bother to turn my radio on, I would have said you were mad. But that is the current situation. Not because I have changed. I still expect the radio to sound fresh, exciting and entertaining and so do most listeners. The sad fact is that if Caroline were to hit the airwaves today it would clean up again. Ah well, back to playing great songs on my mini disc player that you never hear on the radio.
During a Florida holiday, Chris and I
found a Fifties-only station in the Tampa Bay area, which should have been great,
but appeared to have been programmed by someone with the imagination of a goldfish.
Of all the terrific doo-wop, r & b, r & r and soul released during that decade,
this station only seemed to have about 30 discs for their playlist, all major
hits, which naturally included a lot of stuff you wouldn't mind never hearing
again. We listened during one evening and the following morning, and after hearing
both (I am not making this up) 'How Much Is That Doggie In the Window' and 'Short
Shorts' TWICE during that short space of time, didn't bother to tune in again.
Two other oldies stations were both playing a Sixties/Seventies mix again
with FAR too much repetition. Award for the most overplayed disc while we were
there, went to Van Morrison's 'Brown-Eyed Girl'.
Peter Young says:
Re Twiggy Day's piece, obviously I agree with every single word. I can only say it's pretty grim out there. I never thought I'd say it, but one of the best and most listenable presenters during the week is dear old J.Y. You've got to hand it to him, 35 years on a daily show is an incredible achievement.
Another member of the Young clan - no relation - Steve Young comments from Canada:
I read Twiggy Day's article and I couldn't agree more with his statement "listeners want to be surprised". We have the same problem here with the same stuff, over and over and over. We do have one station that's not too bad, but even they target a specific demographic which limits their playlist.... What's an avid radio listener to do? Tune into Internet radio I guess... Why don't you guys start an Internet station? You could tap into your vast resources of historical material and talent to make it happen, I'm sure.
See Steve's contributions to our London
and Caroline Scrapbooks
Carl Dixon writes:
The Roger Day piece was particularly interesting. I agree with his sentiments. Personality radio has changed over the years and the playlists on some oldies stations need some thorough reorganising. We all have records of songs that were hits, but never seem to be played. Do you remember 'Jesamine', by The Casuals, or 'Candy' by a group called Men? Who was 'Uncle Lew Warbottom' anyway? What about Hurricane Smith, love him or not, 'Don't Let It Die' was a good song and so current. I used to love White Plains. 'My Baby Loves Lovin' and 'I've Got You On My Mind' are two of my favourite non-soul early seventies hits. I am sure 'The Erazer' has been at work and deleted them from the 'records'. The list is endless, especially if you include all the reggae stuff that was around in 1969/1973 that seems to have disappeared too. I'll have a bit of Prince Buster please. Sorry, don't you mean Prince Naseem?!
I must say, because of the way radio works today I tend to flick around the car radio for the songs I like rather than the general sound of a station. We must be lucky to have heard the likes of RNI or Luxembourg in their glory all those years ago. I remember hearing the SOS broadcast on the Mebo 2 by the DJ, when RNI was on fire!
Chris Dannatt says:
Hear Hear and about time!! At last someone standing up and saying out loud what I have been thinking for years!
I began my radio career very late at age 35 as a commercial producer for the then Yorkshire Radio Network. At the time, one of the first "Split Frequency" operations was a station called Viking Gold. (1161MW - Hull) This station began at the end of 1988, and by May 1989, became "Classic Gold", networked to cover the Hull, Bradford and Sheffield areas. In only a short space of time, this station was outstripping the local FM brands in all three areas, and I recall much was made of the fact at the time, that the average listening was a staggering 13 hours daily, with a reach of something like 37% group wide! When the FMs were attracting around 28%, this was regarded as phenomenally successful, and was the blueprint for the GWR version, which we all now know and love(!).
The point is, this station NEVER had a computer selecting the music, everything was presenter choice, although there was a rotation clock to work to. ALL the presenters were mature, knowledgeable and passionate about their music, and knew their audience. The station management was also mature and experienced enough to nurture these presenters as personalities. The result was a station that played all manner of oldies, and not just from the "Greatest Hits" albums. The feedback from listeners was staggering, and the station was a household name...
As with so many golden geese, the operation was snapped up by Metro Radio, who came along, tinkered and dabbled with the format, and slowly but surely reversed the trend so that the FMs once more took the lion's share of the listeners. It was as if they could not comprehend that a service such as this should be a huge success! In only a short time the format was ruined as the computers, the faceless and the talentless took over. All the minor hits disappeared, slowly replaced by "only tunes that made the top 10". (Even on the FM'ers, each station - although in a different area of Northern England - was playing the same tune at precisely the same time! )
No-one since, in my opinion has got the Gold formula correct. Gold is not dead, because there are many thousands of hits (and a few misses), that could easily make a Gold station playlist to knock the spots off anything on offer at the moment. There is no need to be "safe" with this type of format. Listeners grew up with the music and feel comfortable with it. It plays on memories and touches their lives.... That is not something I've read in a book, I have seen it in action, and I know it works.
Cheers, Roger......keep up the pressure! It's reassuring to know that there are still others out there of the same mind!
Victor Hartman adds:
How I agree with Roger Day's article about the state of UK radio. To quote our American friends, "It sucks!"
Unfortunately I also agree with what Greg Bance said at Big L 2000 in August about RSLs being a sop from the government even though I work on them from time to time!
The best radio is to be found outside the UK where there are no "Better music mixes" (Vomit factor 9, Captain!) The likes of Arrow, 10FM, NRJ in France and Radio Comercial in Portugal all leave the cheezy Brit stations far behind. Not to mention BFBS2 where the arch-Anorak Windsor (pictured above with Roger) works. Excellent radio.
Twiggy's former Mi Amigo shipmate,
Howie Castle comments:
I couldn't agree more with what Roger says. Music formats, specifically (but certainly not limited to) oldies/classic hits/classic rock, are rapidly being burned out by intensive repetition. Their "numbers" are falling. In all formats "research" is a TOOL, and should not be used as a SUBSTITUTE, for creativity. Couple this with the management cop-out that it "showed up in the research" to cover up their lack of market knowledge and courage and you have today's corporate radio.
Paul de Haan from Groningen, Holland says:
In my opinion, a radio station these days is no longer a unity like in the good old days. For instance, listening to one of the Classic Gold stations. In Holland the former Amber Radio on 1152 is now part of Classic Gold and sometimes called Classic Gold Amber. Listening to the breakfast show hosted by DLT and comparing this show with, for instance, a DLT Caroline South or North show from the mid-sixties it's clear that DLT has become part of a monstermachine without its own personality.
Long gone are the days of a news reader next door, a fellow deejay and a friendly chat together, reading out live commercials on air, back-announcing every record and commercials being part of the programme. Apart from that, the hardware has changed. Instead of working a panel, turntables, cartridges etc. they are looking at computer screens and working the mouse. They no longer drive a programme but are driven. Every hour this so-called deejay show is cut into pieces: news from 200 miles away, traffic news from 50 miles up north and dreadful commercial breaks. On the half hour every local station, like Amber, adds 1 minute of local horror. In between all this, the deejay is allowed to play three songs back-to-back and read the liner card off screen.
So, what's left? In my opinion The Big L and Caroline RSLs. For 28 days you will find what you are looking for: radio stations programmed by radio people instead of computer-driven horror.
Also try WLNG from Long Island on the net at www.wlng.com In my opinion this is one of the last stations where you will find all the ingredients for good radio. Also for great music from the past, try www.kdav.com You will not regret tuning in.
In 2002, Trevor Bailey has not noticed much improvement:
It's been a long time since I had a rant about the state of UK radio, but several
different strands have come together recently which have prompted me to let
off steam. Firstly your piece on pre-pirate radio started me thinking just how
much things have changed over the years in radio in this country. Your comments
on US radio (and tapes I have of Australian radio) make me think that the problem
isn't confined to the UK.
I have also recently acquired a Worldspace satellite radio, and ntl has recently added a selection of radio stations to the TV channels available, so the number of radio stations available to me has greatly increased. There is certainly more to listen to and not all of it is bad, but an awful lot is deeply unsatisfying.
I have been listening to Radio 2 (and am I the only person who thinks that John Peel would be more suited to this station than Radio 1?). There is a lot of good stuff on R2 nowadays; Sounds of the Sixties can usually throw up one or two long-lost hits each week. So many people request songs from the sixties that they remember from Big L/Caroline and haven't heard since. Jonathan Ross can be good, but can also be irritating, and seems to be stuck in punk mode. Perhaps it's me (no it's not) but I find Dale Winton's presentation of the old charts excruciatingly painful. Paul Gambuccini is always professional and Bob Harris plays interesting music but his habit of calling records "rekkuds" drives me up the wall.
But look, this is Radio 2 we are talking about. The UK's most listened-to radio station. It can be very good, but it still has something of an identity crisis. Weekdays and weekends are like listening to two different stations, and the difference between Saturdays and Sundays is like listening to a station that isn't sure who its audience is. I once tuned in on Sunday afternoon to Desmond Carrington, an experience not dissimilar to drawing teeth. However at least on Radio 2 you get the feeling that for the most part, the music is chosen by human beings.
I've been listening to a variety of radio stations, new to me, over the past few weeks and my goodness, some of them are extremely average. No matter what the format (with the exception of the BBC stations) the music seems to be entirely chosen by computer. You get such strange juxtaposition of musical styles, rather like a compilation CD where the tracks have nothing in common other than the fact that they came from the same decade and happened to be available to the compiler. It's a bit like watching "Heartbeat" on TV, a programme that has been going for ten years and yet will still play songs from opposite ends of the sixties in the same show. I'm listening to "Primetime Radio" as I'm writing this. It purports to play music from the 40s, 50s and 60s, but in fact also has the odd record from the 70s, 80s and 90s - but nothing too different. Safe as a football match in a covered stadium.
Perhaps there is an audience for "bland", and I certainly like undemanding music from time-to-time, as much as the next person. It's just that, for me, there is no sense of involvement. Disc jockeys who make jokes like, "I went out with a girl who had teeth like stars, they came out at night" (heard yesterday on "Primetime") just make you want to reach for the "off" button. I've mentioned "Primetime", but it's by no means the worse culprit. Why do so many stations have such a restricted playlist? There is an "oldies" station here (no names... OK then, Classic Gold Gem) that seems to think that the only hits that Carly Simon and Cher have had are "You're so Vain" and "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" respectively. Trent FM think that the only record Madonna has made is "Material Girl".
So what can be done about the state of UK radio? I wish I knew. Well actually I do. Get rid of computer-generated playlists for a start. Get rid of "personalities"(i.e. actors, TV presenters and game show hosts) and appoint presenters who genuinely like the music that they play. They should also be able to string a sentence together, in something resembling English, and without making a banal comment or cracking a "joke" that Noah would have been familiar with.
Does any one else have a view on the state of UK Radio and what changes would like to implement if they had a free hand?
For those who may have missed it, Tommy Vance expressed similar sentiments to those above during his interview on Big L '97.