In the seventies, eighties and early nineties radio sounded a lot different. Its focus centered around DJs and their “personality”. On the whole the format didn’t really change very much and neither did the DJs. John Peel aside, the DJ would be ego driven, wacky, outspoken, cheesey or a rich, pungent cocktail of each. If you saw them at a roadshow or in a publicity photo they would be dressed with one or all of an extremely loud shirt, colourful glasses and highlighted hair. As listeners we went along with this. Frankly, we didn’t know any better or for that matter, realise what questionable activities they got up to in their spare time.
Then there was a swift awakening from our audio slumber. Video didn’t kill the radio star, but a comedy double act did! Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse created Smashie and Nicey and the truth about what we’d been fed by radio stations across the nation suddenly smacked us in the face. Almost overnight radio had dated 20 years as Smashie and Nicey ridiculed all that was supposedly (quite literally) great about the industry. Resignations, retirements and sackings followed whilst radio changed.
That change for a time was a welcome relief. Independent stations split their AM and FM frequencies, new licences were awarded and community radio stations added to a new found choice.
Gradually, however the airwaves have become somewhat bleak again. Independent stations have merged into all encompassing brands and local radio has almost become a thing of the past as networking has taken hold. It doesn’t matter which part of Britain you live in, chances are come 10am you’ll have to suffer Toby Anstis. Toby once won the Great British Lack of Personality Award narrowly defeating Nigel Mansell, Ken Barlow and a chair. In fairness, with the exception of the odd breakfast show, personality is a strict no-no in the radio industry these days. Presenters, (they’re not DJs anymore) are restricted in what they say, how much they can say and the time they’ve got to say it as stations chase the same demographic. Playlists are narrow and even the songs themselves are edited if they are deemed too long to fit the format.
I have friends who work as presenters today, many for a long time now. When they were younger it was their dream job. Now most tell me they don’t enjoy it anymore. (If they don’t what chance has the listener got?) Of course, radio couldn’t stay as it had been in the ego inflated decades of Fluff Freeman and co but unfortunately what we have ended up with today, by and large, is just plain bland. Take some time and listen to radio presenter’s links over a period. There won’t be many of them, they’ll be very short and they’ll amount to nothing paricularly exciting, funny or original. Radio Fab FM has been replaced by the Brand Bland Network.
We desperately need a modern day equivalent of Smashie and Nicey to shake us out of this new slumber, so we can once again realise just what dross we are being served, so that talent can make their mark again without fear of breaking convention. We’ve switched right across the spectrum from one extreme to the other and it’s time for change.
Harry and Paul it’s time for you to save radio. Again.