Friday, October 03, 2008

Familiarity Breeds Yet Again

Since Original 106fm stopped broadcasting I’ve been giving this expression a fair amount of use: "When one studio door shuts, another opens".

Although when it comes to continuing the Showcase, which puts unsigned and independent music on the radio, people seem to be cowering behind the studio door, fingers in ears, exclaiming the idea to be “dangerous”.

Well, dangerous might be a small exaggeration, but what I’m finding is that playing "new music" on commercial radio is seen as a bad idea because, the theory goes, listeners want familiar songs. Songs that they know and love and have heard many times before.

If they don’t hear a familiar song they’ll change channel.

And that’s even with the new music put into a “new music show” with a presenter telling you that there is “new music” about to come on.

It’s surprising the ‘familiar’ theory is so prevalent because pop radio has been with us for over 40 years and by now we should be used to hearing the occasionally different song.

The only person widely associated with broadcasting new music the late BBC broadcaster John Peel and bizarrely enough he became popular before joining the BBC playing new and different music on a pirate radio station.

So even in the late 60’s pirate radio fell into the trap of playing safe.

The message is loud and clear: commercial radio plays music you already know and new music is the BBC’s remit.

Commercial television doesn’t have a problem with untried talent. If you went to ITV chief Michael Grade and suggested he should drop “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent” I am sure he’d suggest you did something unprintable.

These two shows are their biggest ratings winners and although the format maybe familiar the acts aren’t. It is a sure bet that radio wouldn’t have discovered Leona Lewis or Will Young.

I’ve recently been reminded that “radio is a village”. A great analogy to be sure but, to my eye, commercial radio’s current attitude appears more like local gentry, living on a big hill near the village, with a loud speaker on the turret, expecting everyone to love them because of the familiar songs they broadcast.

The only time these gentry visit the village is to collect money from traders, or hand out prizes when ratings are being counted.

If, on these rare visits, they were to collect a few new songs from the village and then expand on that interaction, they might engender some respect, loyalty and more importantly for the traders - show they have a connection with the community.

Advertiser’s current worry is their message falling upon deaf ears because, if people are listening to familiar songs on the radio, are they really “listening”? Are they just treating it as background music?

Of course the other question radio should be asking is “How many times do people switch when they hear a song they are familiar with?”

Commercial radio is an excellent medium for musicians, listeners and advertisers to co-exist but for me the current trend of safety will widen the distance between the station and the community.


Anonymous said...

Hi Xan, I agree entirely with your comments. Will sincerely miss Original, it was different and challenged what most people perceive to be what ILR is all about. I still can't quite believed it has disappeared without any fanfare - just gone. Radio is so predictable once again with some notable exceptions from the BBC and perhaps Absolute - time will tell...

My thanks and best wishes to you and the now departed team at Original.

Darren, Winchester.

Xan Phillips said...

Thanks Darren, your support is most welcome. I've set up a new web site at which you might enjoy.

And we'll look forward to hearing how Absolute develop over the coming months.

Simon said...


thanks to some of your colleagues but mainly to you for the support you've shown us and hundreds of other bands. the radio work you did for new music in the south was unrivalled and I wish you every success with

you can, of course, count on our support. we'll be in touch.

Simon +Recreation

State of Undress said...

Hi Xan

We will certainly miss Original and particularly your Showcase. When will radio realise that every great classic song was once a brand new track that no-one had heard before? Good luck to your new project and big thanks for all the support you gave us during your two years at Original.

Charlie, State of Undress

Loz Bridge said...

Hi Xan, couldn't belive it when I heard they were taking off Original, your expanded "village" analogy makes a lot of sense. Thanks to yourself and everyone at Original for being such a strong supporter of new music, you're one of the good guys :o)

Needless to say we're completely behind

Loz, Southsea

Anonymous said...

Hi Xan,

Really sad to hear its gone, you were doing a fantastic job and we (Recreation) enjoyed our many visits into the Original studio's for live sessions and probing chats.

All the best and we'll be sure to keep in touch regarding your new exciting venture.

Andy - Recreation

Jimmy said...

I will miss the station and looked forward to hearing new music.
I'm signing up for your new showcase thing and will be encouraging others to do the same.

Cheers Xan, thanks for your continued support of local bands and new music!!

& the others in IDIOT3