|Is no old music really the best way to revamp radio?|
So Dan Healy is the new boss of 2FM. Right. It’s not an easy job he’s just landed, as 2FM is struggling with a problem substantially worse than being a radio station that everybody hates: it’s a station nobody’s all that bothered about. So what is his first big announcement of regeneration? Songs before 1990 will be generally banned. Oh.
On one level. I can understand the rationale. 2FM is Ireland’s ostensible youth station, hence a music policy that focuses on recent music is the way to reel the 18-34 punters in, right?
There’s just one problem with that point of view: it’s bollocks.
This year, the song of the summer came straight from 1977. A song so catchy and imagination grasping that it’s been made into hours-long mixes featuring the likes of Alan Partridge and Ron F*cking Swanson. It came from an album that features contributions from the guy behind this and this, from a band that derived their name from a magazine review when they were an indie group named after a Beach Boys song. A band, incidentally, who have made their career from taking awesome old songs and making them awesome new songs.
This is also the year of Spike Island, a much-vaunted film inspired by the Madchester scene. Under Healy’s rules, most of the previous work of Nile Rodgers, Giorgio Moroder and Stone Roses, three of the most important musical figures of this year, would be technically banned.
So too would most of Glastonbury’s big hitters this year. Apart from the aforementioned Chic, the likes of the Stones, Public Enemy, Elvis Costello would have a lot of their key work seen as music non grata. Primal Scream and Nick Cave would just about survive. Even the Arctic Monkeys are embracing their retro selves, as Alex Turner looks like a cross between Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent these days. Why is that Public Image Ltd can sit easily with Monsters And Men, or Kenny Rogers followed by Vampire Weekend at the gold standard of music festivals, but not on a national radio station?
This is the thing Dan Healy appears to be overlooking: age and relevance are not the same thing.
When you listen to music on YouTube, or iTunes or Spotify or Grooveshark or the many, many other ways you can circumvent listening to radio these days, you might start contemporary but it won’t be long before you’re referred on to other similar songs or whole playlists full of stuff that may be a good bit older than where you started, but it still holds together. Shouldn’t a radio station do the same? Shouldn’t a radio station be a place where people can hear good music, all kinds of music, and hear skilled presenters enthuse about it and the connections between the artists of today and where they drew their inspiration? Ultimately, despite it being obsessively genrified nowadays there are only two kinds of music, good and bad. Automated algorithms on websites seem to be better at realising this than radio bosses.So, it seems, are ad men. In recent times songs by Fleetwood Mac, the Bellamy Brothers and Jona Lewie have enjoyed a resurgence due to their use in wildly popular TV ads. The youngest of those songs was released in 1988. We’ve come to the remarkable and preposterous situation where a bank, a mobile company and a Scandinavian warehouse that sells things called Pöpli or whatever have more influence over what we listen to than radio.
If Dan Healy was trying to make a wholesale change to 2FM’s appeal, a bit like when Matthew Bannister led a bonfire of the Smashey and Niceys from BBC Radio 1 in 1993, then this plan of his would make a whole lot more sense. If he genuinely wanted to rebrand 2FM as a brash, unapologetically youthful Radio 1 full of Grimmys, Coxys and Scott Millses, and formally cede the BBC Radio 2 demographics to Today FM, I’d applaud his daring. But he’s also said that he hasn’t thought about a shake-up of presenters, none of whom in the crucial 7am - 7pm timeframe fall into the 18-34 demographic Healy is so keen to attract.
I’m not suggesting that 2FM consistently play oldies of the vintage parodied in clips like this, or have the same old DJ’s trying to be something they’re not (although Terry Wogan as a Garage MC would be a welcome addition to any roster), but an arbitrary ban on music before a certain date is a daft cure based on the wrong diagnosis.
2FM might have its problems, first among them a lack of a compelling identity, and a public perception of calcified indifference .Stopping DJ’s from playing too much Deacon Blue will hardly change that.