It’s a sad day but one which I’ve thought was in the post for a while. The radio show that I contribute to with my Film Club is being axed. In fact, it has been already, we’re not even getting an opportunity for a swansong. It is the latest in a systematic diluting of everything that was good about the radio station I was involved with, Original 106FM. Over the last few months, the best DJs have left, the playlist has become more mainstream and bit by bit the little touches that made the station different have gone. As one of the DJs said to me a few months back, “This place should be done under the Trades Description Act. It is not Original. It is the same as all the other guff out there”.
But standing as a beacon of originality despite the station's otherwise slide into mediocrity, was Andrew Learmonth’s Sunday Showcase. Playing new music, classic music and having live sessions and interviews from bands, singers, authors, actors, comedians, critics and a whole host of people with something to say about a broad spectrum of cultural happenings, it stood out from the mid-Atlantic sounding blandness that is local radio in my area. for four hours every week, the station was what it claimed to be; original.
It became a regular stop for touring bands, like Glasvegas to Oasis, both of whom gave interviews recently, as well as local bands who would have found it hard to get a look in any of the mainstream media.
People like the popular. Course they do. But how do things become popular? U2 were once a group of wee guys looking for a break playing pubs in Dublin they couldn’t afford (or weren’t the legal age) to drink in. Stephen King was once a struggling author writing in his spare time and trying to get a short story published in between day jobs. Duffy, as all the blurb said after her winning the Brits, was singing to elderly audiences in Old Folks’ homes this time last year trying to keep her dream alive. Kate Winslet was a wee lassie working in a delicatessen waiting for the phone to ring and tell her she’d got a part. Somebody took a chance on all these people and gave them exposure.
These days...especially these days, no one wants to take a gamble. Better to invest in the next book by Patricia Cornwell over the maverick new writer who has no credentials but a great first book. Far better to have radio stations playing exclusively artists that everyone can name and recognise instantly over the fresh new sound from a band that might just be the next big thing, with a little luck on their part, and a little faith and risk taking on someone else's.
Popular culture needs the Sunday Showcases, the Friday Projects, the John Peels, the Rough Trades, and all the other ventures that celebrated the new, the exciting, the risky, the not yet popular. Without them popular culture dies.
So here's to the raw, the undiscovered, the maverick, the exciting, the risky, the next big thing. You won't find it here, though. Not in my neck of the woods.
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