Radio Jackie and the anorak pheromones

Radio Jackie is the last truly independent local radio station. It’s based in Tolworth and broadcasting to “South-West London and North Surrey”. ‘Independent’ means it’s not been assimilated into the typical ‘Borg’ (talk to a Startrek enthusiast for an explanation) groups that almost every other ‘local’ radio station has.

It manages to retain its independence because of its pirate heritage. Despite never really experimenting with ground breaking formats but sounding identical to any and all “ILR” stations (as the commercial sector was known) when it was a pirate in the late 70s / early 80s, it somehow became a respected standard for the first generation of land-based pirate radio enthusiasts, so exuded a magnetic charm and appeal that was only detectable by the radio anorak. This anorak pheromone still works today to attract a collection of goodwill and people happy to work for nearly nothing or actually nothing. That keeps the real costs down. Not that that’s a bad thing. This is probably exactly how real community radio should work.

Disappointingly, the output of the now legal Jackie all these decades later still has nothing exciting to offer, but maybe ‘bland’ is what true local radio actual has to be.

A 24 hour news team manage to pump out an hourly bulletin of news nicely oriented to the local area, but it’s all pretty standard reporting and based on an old BBC local radio style from a few decades ago. It has an honesty and a safe believability to it, without sensationalism or attempts at radical presentation with silly music playing in the background or daft echoes on the voice. It’s nice. It’s trustworthy.

Inbetween the news bulletins are the programmes. These consist of a presenter allowed to speak every 10 minutes or so. Most times songs are played in twos, joined together by a female voice saying something with the word Jackie in it. As is usual these days, she sounds as if she recorded her messages whilst straining with constipation on the toilet. When will voice artists stop sounding like this? But, why is she there saying what the presenter could open his/her microphone and say? At least if it was the presenter uttering the liner and nothing more than just the liner between the songs, people would feel he cared and hadn’t popped off to make a coffee. It’s not as if he has anything else to do, like researching the content of his links or something difficult like that.

When it does come to the presenter’s link, yes he has a number of fixed things he has to read each hour, but generally whatever he puts in as an ad lib is tame and gentle and oriented around dedications and saying hi to people who are going to be sent car stickers. It’s important to mention local areas or places or pubs or shops in these links. Then, immediately after this bland link, that’s when the commercials are played. Again, this is a habit I’ve never understood.

I mean, if a person is listening for the wonderful songs that are being played, then they want to hear the songs as near to each other as possible, right? Why would they want to hear great big long gaps, full of bla-di-bla before a song is played? Surely it would make more sense to not run the commercials after a period of presenter woffle? But no, the music enthusiast has to wait.

The same applies to the speech enthusiast. When songs are played one after the other in a block, why is he being kept waiting to hear the talkie bits? This way of treating people seems guaranteed to upset the speech enthusiast and the music enthusiast.

And just what type of music enthusiast is attracted to Radio Jackie? Well, the playlist is heavy with very inoffensive old songs from a variety of different genres, although most were previously released as singles and charted. It’s big though, a bit like the London Eye taking quite a long while to gently rotate round back to the start. Maybe that’s a good thing compared to other stations which seem to have just forty songs going round faster than a 78.

In these days of people tending to have grown up with a particular genre it’s difficult to see who this wide range of styles of mainly oldies music interrupted with inoffensive chatter actually appeals to. Possibly to people who just don’t care passionately about their musical tastes any more. Possibly to people who just want some bit of beige coloured wallpaper they can leave up in the background. Possibly to people who want to drift in and every now and again hear mention of a place they don’t live too far from. Possibly to people who remember the imaginary good old days of wires strung in fields, metal boxes with glowing valves and a cassette machine pumping ‘shows’ into the ether.

Are there really enough of any of these people listening to keep stations like Radio Jackie going? In my heart I hope so, but I feel uneasy because I don’t quite know why I hope so. Is it the anorak pheromones?