MUSIC COLUMN: Tune in to the dead air

It's often been suggested that popular music radio is in its death throes, with so many people now using Spotify or just listening to mp3s on their phones. So it's surprising but apt that a couple of new stations have emerged. The first is Radio Dead, which does precisely what the pun suggests '“ no, not playing tunes by Thom Yorke (although the way celebs have been going this year I should add 'at time of going to press'). No, the new station's remit is to play only records by artists no longer of this world.

Franz Ferdinand
Franz Ferdinand

Coincidentally, a poll of funeral directors asked what the most popular exit music was. Kool and the Gang’s ‘Celebration’ was #1 overall (it’s not clear if the music was chosen by the departed or their long-suffering relatives) while ‘Firestarter’ was at 2, and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ inevitably topped the ‘rock’ category. Surprisingly neither Oasis or Coldplay made #1 in the indie list - the turgid Mancs did have 4 entries in the top 10, but Snow Patrol’s funereally-paced ‘Chasing Cars’ was the dirge of choice for, we assume, young-ish people with an understandable lack of humour.

I’m loath to suggest it, but if Radio Dead takes off, they might fancy expanding their schedule to include some of these less-than-cheery tunes. The station’s boss, trash TV presenter Steve Penk (who has form, having once dedicated Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ to a potential suicide) does seem indecently keen to expand his playlist, saying: “Many of the original rock’n’roll giants are still with us: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino, but these artists will sadly die in the next few years and of course will be added to the Radio Dead playlist”.

All this makes Union Jack Radio seem like the height of respectability. Dedicated to British music, it’s actually an automated station, but with links disappointingly not voiced by Al Murray but instead by former Blake’s 7 actor Paul Darrow. Unlike Radio Dead they will have the facility to play new music – as long as it’s local music, for local people – and the listeners can interactively pick the next song on air. The tunes available make for interesting reading – black acts like Soul II Soul and Aswad are there, but Craig David’s not, presumably for reasons of taste. Ireland is represented by The Undertones (north) but not U2 (south of the border). Similarly, Christmas will be a cheerier, patriotic one as Kirsty McColl’s ‘New England’ is available, but her duet with the Pogues doesn’t make the cut. And while there’s no place for Delhi-born Cliff Richard, the terribly British James Blunt can be heard by anyone devious enough to suggest it.

This is the first time such a station has been introduced, but the idea of nationhood and music isn’t new – Scotland and Wales have their own alternatives to the Mercury Prize and the issue of who qualifies is tackled head-on with fairly well-defined rules. But the Canadians – always keen to play down influence from their slightly scary neighbours to the south – have had a radio ‘quota’ where convoluted rules define who can gain airplay (these rules being rewritten when Bryan Adams failed to qualify owing to his recording in the UK).

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    Of course, those north of the border might be subject to another great debate. The Scottish football team has recently become a haven for third-rate players with Glaswegian grannies – like the much-derided (but very successful) Irish team of the 1980s. Musicians are similarly welcomed – Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, despite being Gloucestershire-born, grew up in Edinburgh and Glasgow and has been spotted wearing a national football jersey onstage more than once.

    Thing is, without rewriting the rulebook, Glasgow-formed Snow Patrol also qualify – and I’m not sure the sun-starved locals are ready for round-the-clock darkness.