The Plastic Hippo

March 6, 2010

All we hear is Radio Ga Ga

Filed under: Media — theplastichippo @ 4:16 pm

Some years ago, in the mid 90`s, a gullible bunch of media journalists boarded a specially equipped BBC bus as part of the Radio Academy Festival in Birmingham. Fuelled with Belgian lager and fine French wine served by buxom lovelies, the event was intended to demonstrate the power of Digital Audio Broadcasting, heralding the start of the digital age.

The bus was driven around Birmingham city centre and the drunken hacks were treated to a specially arranged DAB broadcast that moved some tired and emotional scribblers to tears at the sublime quality of the radio output. They subsequently reported that the future was digital and that teenagers would have to hide half a hundredweight of hardware under the duvet to listen to their favourite boy bands or death metal iconoclasts late at night. Sadly, it was a fraud, the “broadcast” came from the back of the bus with a BBC techie loading pre-recorded mini discs into a rather splendid quadraphonic, surround sound system that was so loud that it could induced a bowel movement in Beelzebub.

The BBC, under the control of an item called Mark Thompson, has now decided to shut down 6 Music and the Asian Network and cut funding to the BBC website. Digital Audio Broadcasting seems destined to go the way of vinyl flexi-discs and Light Programme. The greatly missed John Peel and his underrated but equally magnificent producer, John Walters, must be spinning in their graves.

These two Gods of independent music championed unsigned bands who had actual talent and gave us music that was worth hearing. The decision by the BBC to close a platform for new music plays into the hands of entrepreneurial parasites with names like Simon Cowell who prefer to peddle manufactured pap where pretty people show lots of flesh and raise themselves from stools at the inevitable key change.

It seems that the music has died. Young bands, practising away in garages, bedrooms and attics cannot now hope to break into the top 40 monotony of drivel pumped out by mainstream radio. As the serial Beatle tribute payer, Paul Weller said: “The public wants what the public gets.”

The Asian Network was successfully building an audience that defied its imposed demographic with quality broadcasting and an output that drew listeners from as far east as Great Yarmouth. Commercial radio would never even attempt to reach such an audience. The people that run the station know what they are doing; the people who run the BBC do not. Seen as a ticked box on the BBC charter listed under diversity, the Asian Network now has a global cross-over audience and the BBC accountants have no idea what to do with it. So, it`s going, along with 6 Music and 25% of the website to provide funding for “quality” programming. Strictly Come Dancing perhaps, yet more puerile bike shed humour from Jonathon Ross or the dire Midlands Today?

The BBC still produces quality output, but this is increasingly being marginalised off the air and into niche markets in the free view box and on digital radio. DAB was supposed to be the biggest change to radio since the Beeb sank the pirates and then employed them all on the newly created Radio 1 in 1967.

Now, Radio 1 consists of public schoolboys assuming sarf London innit accents, shouting between indistinguishable tracks. Radio 2 is fine if you like avuncular curmudgeons, camp music hall entertainers and endless Michael Buble. Radio 3 remains hard work and only Radio 4 provides interesting and varied content but not, generally, music. Five Live – let`s not, along with so many others, go there. “Our next caller is Daz from Bloxwich – hello Daz, I understand you want to complain about migrant budgerigars stealing our bird seed.”

As record company profits plummet and the download is king, tired old dinosaurs rumble out of retirement and onto the road to try and earn a crust. If Macca wants to buy Abbey Road, 200 quid a ticket for Hyde Park will do very nicely. Nostalgia is profitable; record sales, diversity and innovation are not.

At the event in Birmingham back in the 90`s, then Director-General John Birt, had an audience of broadcasting professionals hooting with derisive laughter when he committed the BBC to supporting “new music” genres and embrace the digital age. The hilarity was brought about by hearing a grey man in a grey suit, more John Major than John Peel, pretend to know what Dub, Trance and New Jack Swing sounded like in a voice style that resembled a 1930`s BBC announcer.

Current DG Mark Thompson celebrated his 21st birthday in 1978, the year Elvis Costello recorded “Radio Radio”.

“And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools trying to anaesthetise the way that you feel.”

The image of young Mark, pogo-ing and singing along as he was being given the key to the door is almost as hilarious. These days, he will not wish to bite the hand that feeds him. There is no accounting for taste.



  1. Wonderful piece Hippo – and bang on the money. Are you any good with fixing wireless sets – the switch on mine broke ‘cos it was old.

    Just got to watch out for those shifty foreign budgies.

    Hot damn, and pass the prune sauce


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — March 6, 2010 @ 8:53 pm | Reply

  2. […] All we hear is Radio Ga Ga […]

    Pingback by Davies enjoying football at Notts – BBC Sport | Sports Headlines Today — March 11, 2010 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

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