Wednesday 17 January 2018

Bright new dawn beckons on the day the music dies

The internet, we're constantly told, is changing virtually every aspect of life, society and culture. Take music radio: not something I'm particularly into, although I do have fond memories of Atlantic 252, chart countdowns, the Metal Show and other music shows from my youth. (Once you pass 30, you tend to lose interest in the charts. Or should, anyway.)

It's still a huge part of broadcasting, though; music forms the bedrock for a majority of stations. It's cheaper than talk radio, can be easily pre-programmed, and broadcasters can even use market research and clever algorithms to decide their playlist.

But has the internet holed it below the waterline? More specifically, does online music-on-demand mean the end of music radio?

Many people have smartphones and other gadgets nowadays, on which dozens of sites stream music direct to your headphones. More importantly, you decide exactly what's playing.

So why would anyone with this technology choose music radio? Unless you like listening to the same mix of R 'n' B rubbish and caterwauling ballads, day in and day out, year after year.

A lot of claims made about the internet turned out to be wildly inaccurate, but this one, I feel, might prove accurate. Radio programmes give us a lot of things that can't be easily replicated by a website: the presenter's personality, the tone and flow of a show, in-depth reporting, the fact that you can trust what you're hearing.

But music? Spotify, MOG, Last.fm or Eircom's MusicHub offer virtually unlimited choice in tunes, and the listener controls the playlist. The internet also, of course, affords access to a worldwide music resource: you're not stuck with the handful of Irish stations that your radio can pick up.

Would this be a bad thing for radio here? I don't believe so. Music radio is fundamentally just filler: aural wallpaper. It doesn't give you anything you can't get elsewhere, and more of, and better -- unlike, say, talk radio.

And in that sense, endless music is actually a waste of the medium's great potential. Think of a fine radio play or debate or science programme you've enjoyed, then contrast that to 24-7 Rihanna and Jedward on another station. Why would you bother, really?

dmcmanus@independent.ie

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