There is a certain irony that, less than a week after I gave up my #NewMusicFriday show on Radio Stradbroke, Annie Nightingale, the second-most seminal Radio One DJ in my life after John Peel, died. Hearing this took me back to October 2004 when I cried for a week after JP died. These were formative people for me, people who moulded the way I looked at music, the way I listened to music, because they taught me there was nothing wrong with liking stuff that no-one else liked. They taught me that the role of a good DJ, or radio presenter as it’s called nowadays, is not to tread a populist route, but to educate listeners, to bring them sounds they have never heard before.
I’ve written about JP before, and how I used to lie awake late at night listening to his shows, how hungry I was to hear something that either made my ears or my heart bleed. Nightingale has slightly different memories for me – these are memories of Sunday evenings at university, my massive dictionaries spread out across my desk in my room, and me working on my Unseens (translations from a piece in a foreign language that you’ve never seen before – in my case French and German pieces – into English) which were probably due the next day. I loved those evenings under the solitary desk lamp, because they involved music and language and paper and hand writing, the essences of being, really. They were huge puzzles to take apart and reconstruct while listening to the patterns the music would paint in my head. They were safe places, those Sunday evenings, although I suppose those 40-odd years ago we didn’t actually call them that.
Of course, on hearing the news, and on grieving for someone never met, and on grieving for another champion of new music gone, some shape of regret about giving up my show crept up on me, though only to the extent that I worry about the future of new music in the world. This feeds into my continuing disgust at the BBC’s decision to axe local afternoon radio shows, reducing even more potential outlets for new music. And new music shows on national radio are actually nothing of the sort, because they don’t have a real breadth of genres and artists and constituency that the industry needs; they essentially broadcast subsets of the mainstream rather than real underground, unheard, unsigned material. It’s very sad.
And today, a part of my mind, which is mainly preoccupied with more mundane things right now, has toyed with the idea of maybe just doing a 1-hour pre-record every week with the ten best new records of the week just gone, and to go out at the dead of night. But not yet, not right now, because what I discovered yesterday, in the three hours that I would normally have broadcast for on a Friday morning, was that I got a hell of a lot done that I wouldn’t other wise have got done, and that my mind during the week was lighter because I wasn’t constantly thinking of the new music I might play, not constantly thinking about how much time I’d need to gather it all together, not railing at the need to listen to lots of dross to find some good material.
There is, of course, a huge difference between John Peel and Annie Nightingale and people like me. They got paid to do what they did. I, like everyone on Raduio Stradbroke and similar brilliant micro radio stations with a deceptively huge reach, was a volunteer, and did it for free (and didn’t begrudge doing so), which can be a hell of a price to pay in one way or another.