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?
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, 6 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.