A radio station for life

Every decade or so, both BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 2 upset their cling-on audiences.

Both stations have a remit as to whom they should serve, and it is age based.  Radio 1, as an example, is clearly instructed by the BBC trust to cater for people under 30.  To illustrate this, lets think about some happy individual who from their early teens has made listening to Radio 1 a part of their life.  As they have concluded their education and entered the early years of work, or more likely, the early years of a lifetime of unemployment, Radio 1 is still there.  As they meet new people, forge new relationships, find and lose their first love, Radio 1 is still there.

Then suddenly, at age 30, for what appears to be no reason, Radio 1 is torn out of their ears and they are not welcome.  Luckily, for many this will coincide with having ‘grown out’ of Radio 1.  “It plays shit these days, and the presenters talk shit, 10 years ago it was really good,” they’ll lament without realising that it is them that have grown old not Radio 1.  But for a large percentage, this being chucked by Radio 1 is an unexpected bolt out of the blue that leaves them dazed and confused.

So, what’s the alternative?

(A typical modern day Radio Caroline listener)

I’m guessing that a single radio station has to grow old with its audience, giving them a radio station for life.  To a large degree this is what has happened to BBC local radio.  It is still broadcasting at exactly the same people it was broadcasting at in the 1980s. Indeed, a lot of those doing the broadcasting on BBC local radio were also doing the broadcasting in the 1980s.  Everybody, listener and broadcaster has grown old together.  Inevitably they are also dying together.

Similarly, Radio Caroline, once the voice of spotty rebellious teenagers wanting to change the world in the 1960s, is now the voice of carpet slippers, golf clubs, hip replacements and safe package holidays.  This radio station for life continues playing the same records it has always played, with presenters that have also grown old with their audience but together can hang on to some delusional ‘dream’ of what once was.

In the world of pirate radio, Merseyland Alternative Radio started in the 1980s.  Now in the 2010s it is still playing exactly the same records, and dominated by exactly the same presenters.  And, as you might expect, has listeners that have always listened and have grown old with it.  Confusingly, despite every show actually playing old records, they even have special ‘oldies shows’ playing, erm, old records.  These appear to be old records that they believe are in some way different to the old records the rest of their shows are playing.  But nobody cares, because everybody wants to keep pretending it’s the 1980s all over again week after week.  Presenters and the remaining yet declining listeners are happy growing old together.

What exactly happens when the last listener to Radio Caroline or Merseyland Alternative Radio drops dead, I’m not sure.  I assume the stations just collapse and disappear.  We’ll have to wait and see, I guess, as this is all ‘new’ territory.

But, what we have here are two distinctly different radio models.  One is with an output designed for a specific age range, and keeping to that brief.  The other is for a moment in time and replaying that moment in time forever, a radio station for life, growing old with the same audience until everybody is dead.

If we had unlimited frequencies available, which we effectively do now that ‘internet radio’ is a growing delivery medium, I’m guessing that a new radio station could be started every five years.  It could target the, let’s say, 12 year olds of the day, with current, happening and ‘now’ programming.  Then, as they grew older so its programming would develop and grow with them, growing old together, constantly harping back to the glorious days of when they were teenagers, yet following them to the grave in the way that BBC local radio, Radio Caroline and Merseyland Alternative Radio all have.

Quick to catch on to this obvious need are Absolute Radio.  They have streams for every decade of the last 50 years.  ‘Absolute 60s‘ through to ‘Absolute 00s‘ all burble away keeping the relevant age groups happy. Considering that the 2000s are only a few years ago, ‘Absolute 00s‘ is camping on the radio station for life concept already.  I’m guessing the current ‘Absolute Radio‘ will begat an ‘Absolute 10s‘ in, well, 7 years from now.

As ‘internet radio’ delivery becomes more common I can see many more brands streaming radio stations for life alongside their radio stations for today, and I guess it’s all good.  I’m just curious about exactly when each station will then be killed off and maybe restructure and reposition itself to be the next new generation’s radio station for life.


  1. Agreed it's a little tedious to say the least how some “specialist” stations still play now what they did when they were famous. By specialist I really mean those with no new listeners under 50 and that seemingly don’t want any.
    MAR looks an example based on your tale. I can add Radio Mi Amigo – in its day (1978) playing current, albeit potentially dodgy, euro pop. In 2013 it plays.. non-current pop generally from 1978. A sort of Absolute 1978 for holidaymaking Dutch nerds. We have to mention Radio Caroline which appears to have decided recently to go for the well tried album format from 1976. They have a Liberal’s dilemma when asked for a heard of track that happens to be on an album – do they play it or find a crap one? Although they play a few new tracks to bugger my case, in times gone by, as “recently” as the late 80s, they played current stuff. Net result was a few “normal” listeners (except when Laser was around). That said in 2013 it seems few of the younger generation give a hoot about music radio. This maybe why Heart assumes it s listeners still rather harp after the 80s with maybe a couple of well proven, not at all trancy, chart tracks once a week. The internet stations really are for people who’s iPod is flat or have no money to buy music. From my side on the radio from I have an issue with this premise that I want to hear what I liked when I was young. Apart from the street talk and the not hugely problematic homosexual delivery in parts, give me radio 1/6 music any day. Leave your carolines, hearts, mi amigos and Mark Forrests to my mates as their official stations of choices. Leave the kids with their iPods. So we probably won’t need an “absolute 10s” .

    PS is this not at old post or am I locked in my short term memory?


  2. interesting stuff,disagree with caroline only playing oldies (for oldies) as they have a featured new songs / artists (approx 12 a week) played on tuesday mornings for a while now.


  3. fair dos thanks. I miss Tuesday's as I am usually in hospital. I'd summarise it has gone rocky, which will appeal to some of the next gen. As a bit of an oldie, but not old enough to live the 60s version, I hark back to the Peter Philips “clock” format of the 80s as the second successful period. This included new stuff, perhaps not enough, but some. Yes it was going mainstream and was a training ground for local radio but had few ads and on a good day presenters were up there with the best. I think there was an amazingly sharp witted guy on at 2am sometimes :). Being on AM clashed a bit with the “more music than you can shake a stick at” format but that was a technical limitation based on the desire to keep it naughty. were this version still around I'd like to thing the clock would have been amended a bit and it would/could still be better than Heart. whereas I am inclined to agree with Mr E about today's version.


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