Wading in the Internet and streaming in the UK

I happened to glance at the date of the last entry before I started writing, and I realized that too much time has passed between entries.  I need to release the crud from my brain.  All I can think of is the scene from Shrek (the first one) when he pulls a long, thin strand of ear wax out and lights it for a candle.

Lately, on my Monday day-off, I have taken to streaming UK radio stations while writing this blog or just bumping around on the Internet.  I stay away from the more institutional  broadcasting, like the BBC, and have sought out more independent local stations. At the moment, I am listening online to a station in Bristol, England.   I have streamed Capitol Gold from London, Moray Firth Radio (MFR) and Kingdom FM/Fife from Scotland, and Original 106.5 from Bristol, along with smaller stations.  The majority of stations I’ve discovered are either playing what we would call “oldies” (Motown/soul/British invasion, etc.) or the pop hits of the UK, which are more saccarine than N’SYNC, or they are songs from the US that would be heard on FM stations.  It’s amazing the amount of American hits that surface on British radio and interesting how songs are formatted.  For example, the group Kaiser Chiefs started on modern rock stations and crossed over to adult alternative radio in the US.  But, since the group is British, they have always been viewed as a pop group in the UK.  When you listen to UK stations and examine their playlists, they are widely diverse.  I remember when I was in college in the early 80s, and working on the campus station.  You know, those idealised young music enthusiasts who wanted to put their voices and music choices out over the airways.  My mother used to describe this as “playing radio”.  If provoked, I may blog on my college radio days.  Anyway, the station subscribed to a UK-produced programs featuring music from  UK “alternative” bands, like Spandau Ballet, ABC, Culture Club, U2. These bands were supposed to be cutting edge UK bands, who were working outside the mainstream and were getting airtime on select progressive  FM stations like WBCN in Boston, and on the newly-developed MTV.  They were supposed to be the alternative to more mainstream bands.  But it wasn’t until I started streaming online that I discovered that these bands were also getting play on BBC 1.  They were in the mainstream, in the broadest sense of the term.  It seems that UK stations are more progressive in their catagorization of pop music. They have few boundaries, unlike the heavily formatted stations here in the US.  It’s not uncommon to hear current UK bands and artists, like The Kaiser Chiefs, Scissor Sisters, Robbie Williams, U2, Lily Allen, Coldplay and other pop groups, getting equal airplay with American bands. But I was surprised how much American groups make it on the radio.  It’s probably 60/40 US to UK groups on British stations, as opposed to 70/30 in the states. UK stations are very loose in their presentation.  It’s not uncommon to hear them talk over the last 30 seconds of a song, whether or not if it’s fading out at the end.  There is very little of the sledgehammer promotion that come out of the mouths of US DJs.   A UK DJ can be themselves and interject their personality, unlike American DJs.  Personally, I like to listen to the accents.  Especially the women presenters. At the moment, the woman presenting the news has a gorgeous voice with a sensuous, rich voice.  She could whisper in my ear anytime.

Alright, why am I so fixated on streaming UK radio stations online?  On the surface, I like hearing a different style of broadcasting.  It’s a fresh sound to my ears with familiar music.  Although I suspect that these stations are trying to emulate American stations because I notice that the jingles and imaging resembles some American stations.  But I do like hearing these stations in hopes of someday hearing them over-air instead of online. I’m living vicariously through these stations in hopes to actually living in the UK off a huge lottery payoff.  Yeah, right.  Talk about fantasy.  Here’s a better fantasy: actually working on one of these stations.  It’s been almost ten years since I made radio my primary souce of income, and seven years since I last keyed a mike.  I miss it for lots of different reasons.  It’s hard to describe if you haven’t done it.  But a recent visit with my friend and her family triggered something.  My friend Judy, who lives in New Hampshire, was my radio mentor.  She was an instructor of mine in college, a co-worker at a station in southern Maine, and she is an extremely talented musician and writer of music for children.  Like me, she grew up on a steady diet of 70s Top 40 radio and is a huge trivia and pop culture freak.  I have always been envious of her talents and have lived vicariously through her as she has worked for radio stations in Philadelphia, Nashville and Boston.  She recently got the Boston gig with an oldies station on a fluke.  She was esctatic when she told me and I am happy for her, but Iam also jealous.  I felt something hollow deep inside when she gave me the news. The last time I worked in radio was in  for a country station in Boston in 2000.  The program director was happy with my work and was disappointed when I told him that I needed to work closer to home.  It’s hard sometimes to listen to radio these days and hear young people who are Djs.   And they are terrible. But radio is a funny biz:  if you take any time away, you lose your edge.  Program directors are more than willing to hire a young person for minimum wage if they can find their way around a console. I don’t know how I would do today. All the stations are digital and some programming is on computer hard drive. It’s not anything close to what I’m use to, but there’s a part of me that believes that I could still do it.  I remember what good radio sounds like.  I guess that’s why I’m jealous of Judy.  She can still live out her dreams.  I would have a hard time getting hired. 

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