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Chris Oakley – The History of Radio: Part 14

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

chris-oakley Having worked in radio now for over ten years you can imagine the circle of radio friends I have. They range from presenters on networks like Galaxy, Heart and ILR stations to people who have shows on internet radio. The one thing they have in common however is not the love of radio, but they’re asking the same question about its future.

It’s incredible how many times in the last few years I’ve had the same discussion. It was never an issue at the start of the noughties, but recently it has become the main focus for any passionate trailblazer. I say passionate trailblazer because it seems that most industry professionals have become nonchalant about the way forward. They’re secure that nothing has or is going to change. Maybe they just don’t understand the implications that technology has on radio, which is fair enough, but I strongly urge everybody gets a basic understanding and opens their eye’s to what I believe is about to happen as we enter a new decade.

I start by highlighting some astronomical technological advances over the past ten years which are shaping the Landscape:
• iPods and personal music / video players
• Faster internet connections
• Internet streaming
• File sharing
• Richer web content
• Pod casting
• DAB radio
• FREE Social networking sites
• More advanced mobile phones / media devices
• Digital music distribution via Spotify, iTunes, Napster and more
• SKY + and other “on demand” video and radio services

These advances alone have opened the gates to a new generation of radio enthusiast and allow them to take to broadcasting easily with positive vigour. When I became interested in radio it was 1988. I didn’t have access to any mics, mixers or transmission gear. What was available was expensive and I didn’t have any money. Then
after watching an episode of Grange Hill where Gonch and Ziggy set up a closed loop radio station within the school I had the idea of using my Transformer walkie talkies to natter to the masses.

“After 20 minutes of doing my first radio show I’d been turned off”

I used the cassette player from my ZX Spectrum to play music and used some selotape to hold the talk key down on my walkie talkie. Before going any further I spent ages looking for a copy of Wired for Sound by Cliff Richard to play as a dedication to my brother. He wasn’t listening anyway but it didn’t matter – I was a dedicated broadcaster.

I entertained by reading game reviews from computer magazine Your Sinclair and playing music on the cassette player which I’d put next to the mic on the walkie talkie. The other walkie talkie I’d switched on and put downstairs in the lounge so my mum could hear the show. I went downstairs after 20 minutes of doing my bit… she’d switched it off.

Living on top of junction 12 on the M56 meant that my show had been heard by a demographic of sweaty truckers each for a brief second as the signal reached their CBs. I was fourteen it was my first show and as you can imagine it stank. But it doesn’t matter – that experience has stayed with me. This all sounds insane and most people wouldn’t dream of doing anything like that. However looking back I can say that it was the point in my life I started to realise I was a bit more radical than most, more comfortable working as an outsider than within a corporate structure.
While others talked into brush heads or ventured to their hospital radio stations to gain experience I was looking for more interesting ways to satisfy myself. Always shaking the system and questioning methods. Not much has changed since then – except I have even more questions and still no answers. You may be asking “how is this relevant to the future of radio?” Well if I was fourteen today I wouldn’t be using a walkie talkie – I would be using the internet. I would have a music play out system like DARP or SAM broadcaster on my PC. I would have an affordable USB mixer with microphone and, thanks to mp3s and file sharing, a massive record library.

You can forget hunting high and low for Cliff Richard in your mum’s record collection – just type his name into Spotify and you have your pick of the crop to record and save. By the way I never did find Wired for Sound for my first broadcast.

“Being a DJ was like being a Rock Star”

Of course I can’t condone file sharing and accessing music illegally, but I’m talking about the future here and music sharing is very real and has a massive impact. An artist friend of mine you may remember as one half of 90’s dance group the KLF, Jimmy Cauty, said that he won’t be stopped from doing something just because there’s a copyright law that say’s he can’t. The music sharing and copyright argument will rage forever. As technology creates new and interesting ways of amassing your music, legal or not, it’s still basically tape-to-tape, so let’s not over react – it’s just a little easier and quicker these days.

Even the musicians whose music we play on air are bleating on about royalties and losses through illegal music access. I’m a musician myself in the band Holice and know very well that the music industry too has to pull its socks up and re-evaluate its business model – and funnily enough they should be aware of exactly the same issues floating up here.

To be continued….

by Chris Oakley


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