Thursday, February 2, 2012

Radio daze

For as long as I can remember, radio has played every day wherever I live.

As a child, Mum had the kitchen radio tuned to an easy listening AM station (2CH). This was the 60s and very early 70s so I was barely aware of the Beatles' existence until they had split up! Although I believe the easy listening station played Obladee Obladah occasionally, and Mum quite liked that one.

By the time I was ten I had discovered the top 40 and had the radio tuned to a top 40 AM station (2UW) when I was not at school. I had my own transistor radio which was more or less welded to my right ear (as a result I hear differently in my right ear to my left these days) and hung on my bedpost at night, blaring Suzy Quatro at me before I fell asleep.

In those heady days of the early 70s I also had a portable cassette player/recorder and made my own Top 40 tapes by holding the transistor over the microphone of the recorder. You can imagine the quality!

By the 1980s FM radio had arrived in Sydney and I loved 2DAY FM, which played a cool mix of latest pop and rock music and hits from the previous 20 years. I liked the station so much I even bought one of their t shirts and wore it proudly. (Cringe.)

By the late 80s I was listening to 2MMM FM, more of a rock station but which had Doug Mulray as its breakfast drawcard. Ah, The Reverend Doctor Doug, Lord of Irrelevance. He pushed the naughty envelope to the limits back then when you couldn't swear on radio nearly as much as you can now.

Into the 90s Doug moved on, and I got sick of the music 2MMM was playing. I never got into Nirvana. I switched back to 2DAY and alternated with MIX106.5 and WSFM Classic HIts, other contemporary adult music stations which were easier on the ear.

As the new century dawned 2DAY decided it wanted a bit more of the 18-35 audience and started playing music I couldn't really get into. Some of it was fine but then every R&B song sounded like every other R&B song. My ears can only cope with so much Christina Aguilera, and Kyle Sandilands was moving from being funny and rude a la Doctor Doug to insulting and obnoxious. Now I was stuck with MIX106.5 and WS-FM, neither of which held me as a full-time listener. MIX would throw in a Whitney Houston song and I'd turn off.

Then a new station called Vega 95.3FM was launched a few years back. It was aimed at an intelligent mature listening audience with a very cool playlist of new and classic 70s and 80s, and interesting interviews. A magazine format if you like. Angela Catterns, as funny as she is smart, was on breakfasts and Wendy Harmer followed from 9am with three hours of music and interviews. I was smitten. At last a radio station I could listen to all day. I enjoyed it so much I bought a decent small sound system for my office so I could have it playing all day. I rang the station to say how much I liked it, gave feedback on new music and told all my friends about my new find.

Sadly though Vega didn't rate well. The station owners had launched the station with the declaration it was for Baby Boomers, but Baby Boomers don't like admitting they are Baby Boomers and that there is a radio station specifically for people of 'a certain age'. One by one the intelligent bits of formatting went west. Wendy Harmer left within a year, and Angela Catterns was joined by two perfectly nice but very sports-mad announcers. Slowly the format was being dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. Angela jumped ship after a couple of years too.

By then of course radio stations were using the internet to promote themselves and I signed up to do some online music surveys for the station. I'd listen to a selection of songs, say how much I liked then (or hated them), whether I was sick of listening to them. I was a good respondent, I answered surveys every few weeks for about six months.  There were a lot of songs I didn't like in the surveys and I was honest about them.

However, other listeners obviously differed to me as the music mix changed and the new songs they were playing tended to inevitably be mournful dirges by nasal males. "How to Save A Life" by The Fray was one of them. We both heard it so often we finally rang up Vega and begged them to stop playing it.

Despite the surveys, listeners disappeared in droves. We were two of them. One morning over breakfast I heard How To Save A Life one last execrable time, and swivelled the dial of the kitchen radio to ABC Classic FM. Yes, classical music. Opera. A smidge of jazz here and there - and best of all the lovely tones of Emma Ayres at breakfast. Emma is funny and bright and brings a touch of humour to what has traditionally been a staid station.

We've been ABC Classic listeners now for about three years. It's a lovely way to start the day.

Sometimes though, there's stuff we don't like, and now digital radio has provided us with an alternative if we don't feel in the mood for Beethoven. Koffee.

We upgraded the kitchen radio to a digital one last Christmas, our present to ourselves, and there's a station called Koffee which reminds me very much of Vega in the early days, a good music mix, some older stuff, interesting new stuff, some jazz-influenced or fusion tracks. Best of all there are no commercials. The odd station promo but otherwise wall to wall music. It's still Emma in the morning for me but after that Koffee plays during my workday. It's just right. What I've been looking for.

As for Vega, it rebadged itself as Classic Hits and now plays blokey 80s music with plenty of sports talk. You can hear songs by Cold Chisel at least four times a day.

I just hope Koffee never asks me to fill in a listener survey. It can only mean a change for the worse.


  1. Wow mate - I've never been all that into the radio... radio national in the car... national public radio in the US - give me clever funny people and interesting takes on the news and I am sold!

  2. Funny... the one station that never occurred to me is Radio National! :-) Angela Catterns used to do breakfasts on that I think but AM reception is so awful and muffled compared to FM. And DAB is even better. I sound like a radio freak. That's a bit creepy!