Monday, August 27, 2007

Radio One More Time: Five forty-fives

In recent years, the role of the early evening slot after Newsbeat has been the opportunity for daytime to wind up, slowly thinning out the familiar so that, by the time Zane Lowe comes on, the audience won't be too spooked by a bearded man suddenly shouting at them while he plays something loud and alarming.

It wasn't like that when Peter Powell ruled the roost - coming out of Newsbeat at 5.45, he'd then launch into the Five forty-fives slot. Five new releases, played back to back. A solid twenty-minute chunk of records the listeners would be unfamiliar with. On a programme presented by a man so wet he apologised for having to play Cardiac Arrest by Madness during a chart rundown as "it must be terrible to hear that if someone in your family has just had a heart attack."

You have to remember this was back before the internet, when songs generally weren't known the world over the minute the final mix was signed off. It was even before record labels attempted to make "the first play" of singles into an event in their own right, strictly juggling embargoes on U2 songs to make sure that Chris Moyles gets the rights to be the first presenter to crash the vocals on the track. Back before new releases get sent to radio stations so far in advance of the day they arrive in the shops that Gnarl Barkley's Crazy felt like an oldie before it had registered a single sale.

Five records, back-to-back, which people were unfamiliar with, on what was still - technically - a daytime Radio One programme. And, by the law of mathematics, there had to be a lot more Hollywood Beyond and Modern Romance type acts than there were Duran Duran and Japan tracks in there. Considering the 1980s are generally seen as something of a conservative period for the higher-profile Radio One djs, this was quite a brave feature, putting the commitment to music and discovery ahead of the audience's comfort factor. Does any show on today's Radio 1 - or even 6Music, come to that - schedule such a large chunk of records that listeners will be hearing for the first time, back-to-back, today?

Of course, new music has always played an important role in the programming - the Breakfast Show's Record of the Week which seemed to survive most changes of presenters for the first couple of decades, where a new single would be given the honour of a daily play.

And there were review programmes: Roundtable - grudgingly listened to by Norman Fletcher at the insistence of Lenny Godber - which (aptly) took the 5.45 slot on Fridays for ages, most famously under Emperor Rosko's command; Singled Out; Collins and Maconie's Hit Parade, which took the basic Roundtable format and poked into gaps between David Quantick dismissing something he'd read in the Melody Maker as "arrant wasp toss". But even these shows soothed the shock of the new by inviting the likes of Debbie Harry, David Grant and Steve Wright (Roundtable) or the drummer from Kenickie, the news editor from Select and, oh, David Quantick's here anyway (Hit Parade) to contextualise the new singles.

Even if you tried to do something similar these days, the format of "here are five records you won't have heard before, listen to them and decide if you like them" would be bastardised by the inclusion of instant texts from Spandau Ballet fans. It's almost as if the more seriously Radio One management took music, they less they trusted their audience to cope with it.

[Radio One More Time]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Simon, this one article alone is more incisive than any single one entire issue of NME has been in the past year.

Plus, mention of Hollywood Beyond made me laugh... xx

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