Radio has undergone many development in recent decades, however I still have the same love/ hate relationship with radio I have had since my teenage years. The principal development is the move from broadcast media, to on-demand streaming over the internet. Yet, radio still performs the same function of a background noise to other tasks, then your attentions gets drawn into it for a while before returning to the background. Perhaps the major change is that there is so much more choice now, so we are perhaps more inclined to find really good radio, rather than tolerate whatever is available over analogue broadcast.
I love radio because, for me it is a way of keeping abreast of ideas and especially music, without having to actively select music on a track by track basis. I hate radio because it so often fails to provide music or content I want to listen to.
I don’t feel as though I’m asking for much. I simply want to listen to a general selection of the latest music, from a nice mixture of genres, with the occasional old classic thrown in. Ideally with good music coming to the fore, based on popularity with peers. I do also like genre specific radio, but mostly I prefer a little bit of everything.
The idea of personalised internet radio, which throws up a selection of music based on your past preferences, was hugely appealing to me. I am very frustrated that it doesn’t work terribly well. It tries to pigeon hole my preferences and I get stuck in very limited sub genres. I feel I have to actively do whatever I can to maximise the randomness. So I am left with the problem of it no longer being radio as I have to actively control what it plays too much. These problems I have found with services such as LastFM or Spotify.
So, there is perhaps still very much a place for curated content, the traditional DJ (Disc Jockey), selecting the music that they like and that which they think listeners will find interesting. I believe this is true, I was a massive fan of the late John Peel, because he was a true DJ. However the vast majority of radio DJs don’t follow this philosophy, commonly selecting music from a list, someone else has generated, so, really, what is the point of having a DJ?
My major problem with commercial radio and a large chunk of Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), or the BBC, in UK terms, is that music is selected for non-musical reasons. Music may be selected to ‘appeal’ to a certain demographic, for example young people or old people. Does anyone really think that their taste in music is determined by where they live, their socio-economic status, their age? No, music is music!
I can understand why commercial radio does this, there role is to maximise the number of listeners all the time to attract the advertising revenue, but this means that no-one is truly happy with such radio. PBS does sometimes do better, because instead it strives to provide content that some people will like and through a wide diversity in content, aiming to provide something that everyone likes at some point. It is this reason why PBS trumps commercial radio, it is something for everyone. however even the BBC don’t do this quite enough, particularly Radio 1 and 2. I struggle to find many DJs I like enough to make a point of regularly listening to them.
Sometimes, great things happen when you are not searching for them. I wrote on this blog recently that I am learning Welsh. To help with my Welsh, I’ve been listening to Welsh language radio, to improve my listening skills and pick up some vocabulary. I found a DJ I really love on the BBC Radio Cymru, in Georgia Ruth Williams, someone who plays an interesting selection of music, old and new, from Wales and around the world. Her programme is fantastic, exactly how radio should be, teh DJ putting some effort in to select a programme of music. Yes there is a focus on Welsh music on this radio show, but there is nothing wrong with that in my view! I just like hearing strange electronic noise, followed by beautiful classical music. Good music over trying to make an appeal to people for non-musical reasons.
I should also plug WFMU here, this New Jersey, USA based radio station is especially wonderful, with several excellent DJs.