Time to turn back the clock on music radio

Do we need to think differently about music radio? To take a quantum leap backwards to move radio forward?

Once upon a time, up until the late 1980s (yeah I  know – ancient history for some of you) DJs on the radio had space to let their personality shine through. DJ’s were hired because they were good on-air personalities (they were not hired to be human Jukeboxes).

We had DJs who were whacky, sarcastic, some featured humorous sketches, made their own jingles, and did things that really were entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. They pushed boundaries and played their own choice of music. They were given the time and resources to prepare great radio shows.

Then someone in advertising/marketing/accounts decided these people were getting in the way of the music. So the idiots in charge started to curtail what their presenters could say and for how long they could speak between the music.

The fear at the time, I guess, was that people turned on their radio to listen to music and the DJs – as entertaining as they were – were getting in the way. Well; that was 30-odd years ago. People just wanting to hear music today have plenty of online options. You don’t need radio if you just want to hear music.

The great Wolfman Jack (have you seen American Graffiti?).
The one and only Wolfman Jack.

Subscribers to services such as Spotify get the music they want – and nothing else. No news, no gossip, no laughs, no local traffic reports, or weather (yes, I know there’s an app for that).

Personality DJs were pushed out to be replaced by people who’d happily play their boss’s choice of music and do and say what they were told. It was a sea-change in broadcast radio that saw many fine DJs left on the scrap heap.

The late great Kenny Everett (BBC Radio 1 and Capital Radio London).
Just a taste of what wild Ken would get up to… Making his own jingles at home.

Once you admit that a radio station has little chance of differentiating itself with the music it plays then there is only one thing left – the DJ.

Anyone can play music. Not everyone is a great entertainer, has a great personality, or can get creative.

But if change is to come – to turn the clock back a bit – it has to be a top down change; station managers have to first understand that their listeners have changed; and a whole new audience has grown up without relying on radio for their music fix.

The BBC’s Steve Wright in the afternoon.

Successful stations of the future will need to be known for more than just playing music because the competition is fierce if someone just wants to hear music.

Will the personality DJ, who can become so powerful they can hold their station to ransom, be allowed back on the air? I hope so.