Radio the way it should be?

So, as I mentioned, proper programming started on Thursday (3rd April) at 9am from pop-up Radio Caroline North.

It started with John Dwyer, the main organiser, followed into mid-morning by Enda Caldwell and then Terry Lennaine. I like Enda and he’s big on the modern music radio scene, although he is a bit too used to the modern style of presentation forced upon radio presenters these days, so initially kept insisting in listing all that was going to be played. I’ve always assumed telling the audience what’s coming up is like saying sorry for the shit that’s playing right now. As the week went on his personality and humour certainly came across as the ‘young boy’ of the group.

John Dwyer has that veteran old style yet a commanding voice that talks with the audience rather than at them, but my favourite from weekday daytimes is Terry Lennaine. He has local knowledge, knows the local (older) club music scene, and effortlessly blends content into his ‘links’ (the talking bits inbetween the songs) that is current, informed and interesting. He’s definitely somebody who locals can identify with, and should still be on the radio properly in Liverpool. He has history on BBC Merseyside and Radio City, but is wasted by not being on either. Having said that, he has a personality so probably wouldn’t fit on the current format of Radio City.

Now, at times on pop-up Radio Caroline North there are one hour pre-recorded shows separating the shows from the ‘live’ presenters, some of whom are living on the ship itself. The pre-recorded shows have a huge production to them, lots of jingles, music beds, and informed shouty disc jockeys playing a specific style of music. As an example Brian Cullen plays solid 1960s and sounds hyped up and exactly like 1960s American radio sounded. I don’t think, even with the rosiest of spectacles, the original Caroline North was ever actually that slick, so his kind of style plays to those who think Caroline North was like that, even if it wasn’t.

Music is a bit a problem for radio anoraks. Here are the two arguments.

1) This pop-up Radio Caroline North should be presenting a replication of the original, only playing songs that were out in the 1950s and 1960s. This, in lots of ways, makes sense. It does seem odd to have a temporary radio station supposedly celebrating the birth of Radio Caroline, not doing more or less what the original station did. It would be proper to keep Caroline North playing 1960s songs and jingles, but maybe it would be boring if it was limited to all the well-known songs. Listening to long time internet broadcasters Big L it becomes obvious that they have an amazing collection of the less over-played 1960s oldies, so maybe the pop-up Caroline North could have filled its time with more than just the over-played regulars. Maybe that would work if the station was to just ‘honour’ the 1960s.

2) The other argument, one which seems to have been favoured by those providing the pop-up Caroline North, is that the essence and atmosphere of Caroline should be demonstrated with music from other, or all, eras. Now, I tend to favour this argument. I hate oldies. I especially hate 1960s oldies.

So, the pop-up Caroline North plays a whole host of songs from the past, but not restricted to the 1960s. To the absolute horror of radio anorak purists, they include some of the less chart successful, but well known by the clubbers of the 80s and 90s, funky soul stuff. Funky soul is hated by radio anoraks, who tend to be conditioned to only like the pop of the 1960s and the soft rock pop of the decades that were to follow. For them, listening to this pop-up Caroline North is like somebody scratching a blackboard with their fingernails. They hate it. Their heads are exploding and paramedics are having to be called.

For me, it was pleasant to hear the more modern choons, especially club versions, it just seems a shame they don’t play anything even more modern! You know, like the stuff Enda plays on other stations.

Anyway.  Radio execs from the world of corporate image radio will tune-in and snigger about the music format being ‘all over the place’. But, hey, isn’t that what you lot pretend the annoying Jack FM format is? The pop-up Caroline North music format sure is all over the place, and were it around for longer than a couple of weeks, then this is something that would need to be addressed in order to maintain a more realistic audience. I personally would drop a lot of the very old shit in favour of the here and now, but maybe I’m driven by that pathological hatred of oldies.

The main reason I can’t and don’t listen to the regular Radio Caroline, the one down south, is because of the oldies. And the dirgy newies. And the presentation. They are boring and sound bored and robotic and ploddy.

Not so the pop-up Radio Caroline North. See, they do things a bit differently when it comes to presentation. Firstly, what they don’t do is let the computer just segue out three or four songs and then speak in a little self-contained ‘bubble’ safely away from the songs in the style that today’s radio execs force upon modern day presenters. Most radio stations today sound like they are actually scared of the songs. They won’t go near them. They talk carefully three times an hour sounding about as passionate as a railway station platform announcer.

This horrendous style of presentation started because it was an easy way to introduce ‘voice-tracking’ and do away with live presenters. Far easier to have a computer burble out the announcements and not have to sort of fit them into the songs. So, passionless radio had evolved to replace radio with passion.

So, the pop-up Radio Caroline North is quite passionate radio. It is also fun.  It is refreshing to hear presenters not just talking in a self-contained bubble. Instead, you hear them talking up to the vocals on songs, not always, chasing the fade, not always, and generally being able to enthuse about each song as they play it. Sure, they are guilty of seguing songs, a sin for which, were I running a radio station, I would instantly shoot the presenter dead. But, for the most part they are involving and immersing themselves in the songs as they are playing. That brings out the passion. Passion is infectious. Listeners get caught up with that passion, and in exchange give a loyalty and love back to the radio station. Nobody ‘loves’ the corporate radio stations any more. That’s because of this lack of passion. They have the radio stations on, true, but don’t ‘listen’ in the way they once did.

People will ‘listen’ to the pop-up Radio Caroline North because the presenters, or disc-jockeys or whatever they should be called, sound human and enthusiastic. And fun.  The microphone has a permanent ‘reverb’ on it, just like they did in the 1960s, or do for karaoke singers today. It adds to the authority and excitement with which they speak.

One stupid move is to install a pre-historic Gates radio mixer for pop-up Radio Caroline North. These mixers use rotary knobs instead of modern faders, and a most problematic and over-complex way of cueing and pre-fade listening to channels before they go to air. They were originally designed to be operated by more than one person at a time, and in co-operation with others operating other equipment, such as a ‘gram operator’ starting the record player instead of the mixer operator starting it at the same time as fading it in. On Radio Caroline North they are using this ridiculous mixer because it looks authentic and old, yet ignoring the fact that they are also using more modern items such as a playout computer, CD players and even a mini-disk player (whatever they are), alongside a gramophone record player.

Most of the technical cock-ups during their shows are due to the near impossibility to use this mixer. It would certainly have made more sense to use a real modern day mixer, and maybe just had the dinosaur one for display and photocalls.

So, apart from the persistent technical cock-ups during a show, like songs playing over commercials, or songs being heard being ‘cued up’, all of which will become less over the remaining weeks, the weekday presentation certainly holds everything together and doesn’t disappoint.

Slightly annoying are the weekend guys, who are nearly all the ancient Birikenhead pirates. They keep on telling us all how great they and their Birkenhead pirate stations used to be, whilst not doing or saying anything to stand-out and excite in the way that the weekday presenters do. And the music gets all so very yawny soft-rockish and presentation slipped into the unimpressive world of the worst of BBC local radio imaginable.

This is when it stopped being radio the way it should be.