There is nothing better than discovering music we’ve never heard before. And these days, there is no shortage of people and media trying to point us in the right direction.
YouTube and SoundCloud clips of new bands are scattered all over my Twitter and Facebook feeds plus, every Friday, and without my asking, Spotify throws a fresh ‘release radar’ playlist my way. That’s fine. No objections at all.
But it wasn’t always like this, and it would be a shame to forget how things were before social media, and even prior to the internet. Yes, I’m talking about listening to the radio.
Even among older gig and festival goers (and there are many), the idea of spending ten hours a week or more in 2017 listening to the radio can seem incredulous. Yet, thanks to inventions such as BBC’s iPlayer, it has never been easier.
There is no longer any need to slip a blank C120 cassette into your hifi before you go to bed, having hopefully also set the timer and made sure the system is tuned to the correct radio station.
No, virtually every radio programme can be listened to again (and again) and, if you are listening to the BBC in the UK, downloaded onto a phone or tablet.
Just over a year ago, I listened to Tom Ravenscroft’s 6Music programme while I was flying to Peru. It felt strange in a way, but why not? I’ve also taken numerous radio shows to the beach, where wifi can seem an ocean away.
There is, of course, a catch. Thanks to the abundance of radio stations and broadcasters, one is bound to pick and choose. Inevitably we return to the DJs and programmes that we like, which can mean that, more often than not, we can end up hearing the same type of music over and over again.
Then again, you are more likely to come across music that you haven’t heard before by listening to the likes of Mary Ann Hobbs (pictured above), Huw Stephens or Annie Mac than you are by relying on Spotify presenting you with an algorithm-inspired playlist each week.
The best observation I ever heard about music radio is that it should give you the chance to listen to not what you want to hear, but what you didn’t know that you wanted to hear. This astute analysis came from John Walters, a broadcaster and, for many years, producer of John Peel’s Radio 1 programmes.
Walters died in 2001, three years before Peel himself. It is still against Peel that other DJs and broadcasters are frequently judged. Perhaps unfairly. I loved listening to Peel as much as anyone but disagree heartily with those that claim there are no good DJs on the radio today.
Thanks to Twitter and other social media, broadcasters have become less distant. Yes, the likes of Peel and Terry Wogan were eminently successful in bringing themselves into our homes, and into our lives.
But Twitter allows us to join the same social circle as a DJ, chat to fellow enthusiasts, comment on music we hear them play on the radio, and even check the name of an artist that we didn’t catch first time around.
For DJs, this presumably means spending hours on Twitter, retweeting compliments and, one assumes, ignoring any hate mail. For just as we will never all agree on whether a song or album is any good, there will never be universal agreement on the best broadcasters.
It can also be comforting when DJs tweet things they cannot say on the radio, such as showing concern for refugees (Annie Mac), or fear of Donald Trump (most DJs).
All I ask is that the people I tune into week in, week out carry on being as enthusiastic about music as me. For sure, play one or two records I dislike or am ambivalent about, but then hit me with the next Kelela, Kojey Radical or A Winged Victory For The Sullen.
You see, I don’t ask much. Although a little less psychedelic rock wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Cheers.