Words By Rosie Graham
Friday night dance parties, lazy Sunday mornings, long car drives.
Pre-drinks, garden sunbathing, spring cleaning.
Revision cramming, working out, cooking dinner.
To put it plainly, I love radio. Radio has acted as a soundtrack for my entire life and is one of few consistencies I’ve taken with me everywhere I go. Annie Mac late evening, Saturday Live on the weekends, Radio 6 in the afternoon, Capitol on a Friday night, Radio X in the car, northern radio when I’m feeling homesick… the list goes on. My best friend has fondly labelled me a ‘radio person’, and coming from a family of ‘radio people’, you’d be hard pushed to find a situation I wouldn’t turn on the radio for.
It wasn’t until I came to university that I realised how rare ‘radio people’ are. Please don’t mistake this for some ‘I’m such a hipster, entirely different from the mainstream’ claim – I’m merely referring to the ease of streaming services, podcasts and video platforms that have lapped radio’s progress manyfold. I’m an avid music fan, and often gravitate to playlisting on Spotify and one-off YouTube performances, but my priority is (and always has been) radio.
Where radio once reigned superior, sitting at the front of the music and media curve, new, more customisable services have prevailed. The lack of censorship or regulation of content, combined with the ability to listen whenever, wherever, however, has catalysed an influx of podcasts throughout the past decade. Saturated with motivational self-help narratives and real-life conversations, podcasts serve the fast-paced nature of modern life. Their adaptable and adoptable nature is completely unique. As a cult radio lover, I’ve never really gotten along with podcasts; their all-too-clinical clipped bites of sound, perfectly scripted conversations and creepy jingles take the magic out of listening (for me, anyway).
There’s something incredibly intimate about radio – the interaction, relationship and connection built between presenter and listener is so rewarding, even comforting. The spontaneity of conversation, the collective listenership and the personality of presenters that oozes from radio’s core is unparalleled in new alternatives, and resists against these new forms of listening. Unlike podcasts, radio relies on ‘radio people’, their experiences and their opinions. Without the contribution of listeners and the understanding that the radio is a shared medium, it’s dynamic and soulful premise would mirror that of a live podcast. For example, conversation topics and talk points are led by national trends and social conversation, game segments call on listeners to join in, and request shows place control in the hands of the listener.
The natural ability of radio to sit neatly in day-to-day routines, characterising chrononormativity, creates a scope of people who expect radio to work alongside their lives, in contrast to podcasts/streaming services, used as an addition to temporal structures. My childhood was littered with radio listening schedules, memories accompanied by the dulcet tones of Gardener’s Question Time on Sundays or the excitement of Scott Mills’ chart on Sunday nights (now Friday, weirdly), and, if I woke up on time, Chris Moyles on the early breakfast show as I got ready for school.
The vital sense of togetherness produced by radio’s ‘collective listenership’ holds an important emotional capacity to enable deeper conversations of communal struggle, digging in to social commentary. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, Radio 1’s Letter to my 10 Year Old Self granted a listener a couple of minutes to publicly reflect on their lives, acting as emotional catharsis. The segment triggered outpourings of support and ignited new conversations of humanity that were rehashed in the anxiety of lockdown. Further, Radio 1’s DJ Clara Amfo used radio to affirm her solidarity with the Black Lives Matter revolution last summer, her heartbreak audible as she lamented the murder of hip-hop artist George Floyd. These important and poignant discourses are furthered by the responsibility radio encourages, allowing listeners to develop and share their opinion and voice.
As an American Studies student at Sussex, it’s evident that radio wasn’t my one true calling (job-wise, at least) despite a valiant effort. Aged 15, I spent two weeks at a local indie radio station as part of my high school work experience programme, continued presenting and producing for my own radio show on the same station until I was about 17, and even chose music technology as one of my A Level subjects. Alas, radio has persisted as a soundtrack to my university experience, inspiring me to explore avenues of ethnomusicology in my academic work: I have written about Stormzy’s Glastonbury performance and the iconic song You’ll Never Walk Alone, as well as completing a dissertation on the intersections of music, race and violence at protest. My love for radio is timeless, as the radio itself is too, and I wear the ‘radio person’ badge with pride.