Listening to rock music on the radio is about to get interesting in the UK. Particularly for those born and raised on the genre who respect the new music but still hark back to sweaty nights in the Odeon or Playhouse doused in patchouli oil, denim, leather and wearing their bodyweight in patches bought mail order from ads in Sounds newspaper.
Why the fuss? Well rock music has always been there, but not there. Scheduled at the fringes of the schedule I have fond teenage memories of the Friday night Tommy Vance show on Radio 1, my weekly essential listening. Those who listened were in a private club. Wearing a small but discreet metal badge worshipping our favourite groups we talked about the music at school, swapped UFO albums and moaned about gig tickets costing £4.50. It was easy.
It led to a life long love of rock. My first gig was Rainbow on the Down to Earth Tour at Ingliston in Edinburgh in 1980 fronted by the train crash in waiting Graham Bonnet with a very bored Ritchie Blackmore by his side (but far enough away not to have to talk). Oh yes, and Cozy was on drums. Four of us travelled there in a small Mini. All spotty and stinking of cheap after shave. It changed all our lives.
Fast forward and where are we now? Changing demographics mean rock fans from the late Seventies and early Eighties are now in their late forties (I’m 49 next month) and big business to advertisers. This is our moment. We also want to hear music we like.
Sure, I subscribe to Spotify so can create my own playlist every day of the week but after a while you know which track is coming next. There are no surprises. But do I want surprises?
Planet Rock, now owned by Bauer, has had the DAB dial to itself for so long its hard to remember life before it. Lavished with awards its cornered the market in classic rock. It does what it says on the tin. Rarely do you hear a song you don’t know. It’s comforting. Safe.
Now the gobby young upstart Team Rock Radio is about to go live this weekend. It will be different. There will be no ads for a start. Is that good? More on that in a moment.
Judging by the test transmissions (I have DAB in car and house) they are clearly going for a younger demographic as around one in six tracks is of a more metal/thrash genre. Noisy, loud, relentless. Hard to listen to. Veteran Nicky Horne, bought up from yes, Planet Rock, promises lots of new music as well.
Rock music is a broad church. While Planet Rock will stick with classic rock the new lot clearly want to offer more than that to bring in younger listeners. So can a diet of new and old rock, no ads and a fresh attitude work?
I’m not sure. Like any radio station you need listeners. There’s no point doing it for the love of it. You won’t last a year.
The reason why Planet Rock has lasted so long in our house is that despite my wife’s occasional moaning about ‘that shouty music’ it’ll only be a few minutes before less urgent songs from The Eagles, Queen, Free or Rainbow calm her down. It’s a classic mix of leather and lace which doubles the listenership in this house. Now multiply that across the nation. It adds up. Appeal to women and you’ve got a winner.
I’m not convinced Team Rock Radio will do that if they persist with the ‘one in six thrash’ policy. They may not have ads but every six songs a huge number of curious rock enthusiasts, and mostly females, will have an excuse to switch over or away and return to what they know best.
I’m sure they have done their research. They have wise radio heads overseeing the station and funding it. But rock is not pop. The audience is deeply knowledgeable and are notoriously picky about new music. Planet Rock may be predictable but that in a way is its strength. Team Rock Radio, by introducing thrash to the daytime mainstream may be spreading themselves too thin. And those tracks will be Team Rock’s ad breaks….so unlistenable that many will use them as chances to switch over to Planet Rock and others. And they may not return.