Saturday 15 December 2018

Standing out from the homogeneous radio crowd

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

What's the point of local radio? Is it to provide something different from the nationals, something specifically tailored to local audiences?

Surely, yes, otherwise the term has no meaning. Their programming, however, would often lead you to doubt that, especially the music policy.

I listen to lots of local radio while tooling around the country, and understand why the majority of schedules are music-heavy: talk isn't cheap. It costs more to produce documentaries than play records. That's fair enough.

But the type of music played is indistinguishable from any other station, be that fellow locals, Dublin commercials, 2fm, Today FM. A mixture of contemporary chart music – R 'n' B and all that stuff– and classic hits. The odd programme is dedicated to, say, traditional Irish or whatever. They're rare, though.

Should there not be some obligation on local stations to mark themselves out? What's the point of tuning in and hearing the same music, with the same style of intro, made in the same non-geographical non-accent, making the same facile comments, organising the same sort of competitions, with the same prizes? Everything is the same: homogeneous, banal. It doesn't even strictly have to be area-specific, but at least make it different to everywhere else.

The weirdest thing is when you tune into a classic hits show and hear Richard Marx and Fine Young Cannibals and realise you could be listening to this in 1989. It hasn't changed in decades.

The thing is, it needn't be like this. For example, Dublin-based community station Near fm, which we praised in April for its programmes on the EU, has delivered the goods again with Mad Scientists of Music, a new series on experimental music in Ireland.

Gareth Stack takes a look at everything from educational music, mass collaboration and audio-comedy legend Roger Gregg, to electronica, computer-generated music and something-called "toy hacking".

This is a not-for-profit, local station creating work that's original, exciting and great. Others take note – it is possible.

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