Story By: Fran Healy
A month or two ago I was in Ireland at a radio station. We were sitting waiting to go on, listening to this brilliant DJ talking and playing music, when he introduced the guest on before us: Wild Andy from the local zoo.
Slowly, he started introducing some of animals he’d brought with him including a python and a snapping turtle. All these animals were in the studio with him, unseen to the listener, yet it was brilliant radio! The way they were describing these creatures was so funny.
To me that slot – and let me tell you that turtle was a tough act to follow – summed up radio’s heart: its warmth, its spirit and its ability to reach beyond the limitations of just sound, to create something truly engaging and enlightening.
And if radio can make stars of animals from the local zoo you can’t see, it’s no wonder why for artists at all levels – with songs you can actually hear – it remains the keystone.
Streaming and music online generally is brilliant. I used to tape the charts off the radio when I was growing up because I couldn’t afford to buy records, so to have access to all that music instantly is mind blowing. But, both as a listener and as someone in a band, there’s still a tool-like quality to it.
Radio, on the other hand, is a relationship. After all, it’s still the only place where you will accidentally stumble on a song you love.
Sure, algorithms are super clever – they’re amazing when you’re choosing your car insurance – but, when it comes to picking new music, they can’t reflect a mood or enthuse about why they love a song like a DJ on radio can. Plus, online, you make a decision to actively seek out new music.
Radio on the other hand has the power to make you stop what you’re doing and just listen to a song you’ve never heard before, right out of the blue – whether you’re sat at home or in the barbers.
Good radio is never passive. Great radio is truly personal, with a romance to it. I still remember Terry Wogan’s last broadcast for Radio 2, it was so moving. And it’s why I have my favourite stations in Berlin where I live now; I might not catch all the German but I know which station’s music choices I enjoy the most.
When it comes to my music, I feel like the internet and streaming are like billboards or a noticeboard for the songs. They’re out there, easy to find and a really great way to experience our material, but you can easily zip on to the next billboard.
Radio still offers that moment where you can make contact with other humans. It’s the place where people, whether they know you or not, can hear what you’re all about.
I get the feeling you can have a million views of your video online but people won’t necessarily know who you are; whereas if a million people listen to you on Radio 1 or 2, then people definitely know!
That’s the difference between the two at the moment: the internet is a new way to carry the story, radio has an aura that helps to create your story.
But there’s no denying digital services are evolving and changing. It’s very young, it needs to find its own heartbeat.
Curated playlists on streaming services are exciting and take me back to taping the chart, while Zane Lowe’s work on Beats is really interesting.
As a band, we’re starting to engage with the staff at these places in the way we do with people who work at radio stations around the globe, and it’s telling that they’re embracing the ideas and learning from the traditions of radio.
Yet there’s one thing streaming services can’t do – and the reason I think radio will be around for a good while yet – people don’t listen together.
Radio offers a focal point: it’s on in your taxi… It’s on at the supermarket… There’s a radio on your alarm clock… And, at a time when communities seem to be getting further and further apart, it’s nice to have an accessible relationship with at least one media.
You don’t need a dish or enough bandwidth, radio is a simple portal into a magical world. And, trust me, it is really magical – because no matter how many times you’ve heard a track in the studio, seen it with the video, the first time you hear a song on the radio is still the one!
When you hear it compressed through a car stereo, it’s no longer something you wrote because, when it’s out there, it’s alive, it belongs to everybody. That only happens with radio… for now.
? Radio Festival takes place on September 26 at the British Library. For tickets and more information please visit: www.radioacademy.org