I would like to speak in defence of Freddie Mercury’s “Radio Ga Ga” song. Though adored by and played often on commercial radio, it is, in fact, a scathing attack on that very institution. Everything Freddie Mercury heard on the radio when he turned it on was crap; “ga ga” (like baby noises) or, as was the original lyric, “ca ca” (or, “poo”). That’s what the song is about. And it also makes Lady Gaga’s name-inspiration a little more problematic. Of course, you will never hear “Radio Ga Ga” on Trent Radio. It may be a scathing attack on brainless commercial noise but it has itself become a mainstay of commercialism. It’s a lovely song but it’s been firmly claimed by the dark side.
Much of what I do as programme director at Trent Radio is trying to teach new programmers that the music they are familiar with from commercial radio is not Music (with a capital “M”). Commercial music adheres to scientifically-researched principles to maximize the probability of bringing listeners ever so slightly closer to an advertising dollar. Just because it’s popular does not mean it’s good – it means it had enough financial backing to put enough record weasels on the phone to bother enough programme directors to shove it into their rotations. A rotation – a giant vat of churning, commercially-approved (on railroad) tracks – is a creatively dead thing. Trent Radio does not have a rotation. All our programming is just local people, like you, coming in and doing their own shows. We don’t even influence programming – except that I don’t ever want it to sound like commercial radio.
I don’t want to sound overly critical of commercial radio. Commercial radio does what commercial radio does very well: try and catch your ear with minimal variation and minimal risk. The emphasis is on catchy, slick, inoffensive, and over-produced ambiguity. That’s great, in what it is. It’s sexy. It’s industry. But it is not all of Music. There is a lot of amazing music out there completely untouched by commercial radio. Just because it is good does not mean it is popular. The top/hot/super/billboard charts are not the best tunes; they’re the most supported by the industry, chosen for having the best hooks and wiggliest earworms, and typically devoid of artistic merit. This music is not evaluated for content beyond catchiness and its endurance to be played endlessly.
But there is music out there with entirely different goals, waiting for your ear. I encourage our programmers to explore these forms of music, music that is distinctly un-catchy. The hook isn’t everything. The beat isn’t everything. There are worlds of depth to explore in music that does not fit within commercial radio’s mantra of Music. That’s what Trent Radio is for: to explore what goes unexplored through other channels. Commercial radio does commercial radio well. You be you. We’ll be we.
The schedule for 2015-16 broadcasts is now up on the Trent Radio website and we are in full swing on the dial. If you tune in at 92.7 FM don’t expect Music. What we’re playing is harder to process, a lot less catchy, and potentially a more gratifying than any of that. Maybe you’ll think it sounds terrible, maybe it will open up new worlds. The point is, it’s risky. I would like to speak in defence of Freddie Mercury’s “Radio Ga Ga” song, but I think its sentiment has been firmly lost having beem played so many thousands of times. Let’s listen to something else.