“My name is Northern Male and I’m a PopMaster addict”. Every weekday morning at 10.30am I turn off my phone and join the 8 million others in the UK hooked on Ken Bruce’s phenomenally successful music competition on BBC Radio 2.
The contestants invariably say the same phrases on this quiz. They usually start by telling Ken they’re nervous, often admit it’s “much harder on the radio”, sign off by saying hello to “anyone else that knows me” and ask for a signed photograph. You can even download a bingo card on the R2 Popmaster website and tick off the stock phrases folk come out with. Quite a few of them also thank him for keeping them cheerful through 2020 – and that’s the most interesting thing.
The wireless has always been a personal thing. Have you noticed you generally listen to it alone?
As a budding trainee at the United Biscuits Network I was taught to forget about the number of listeners and concentrate on having a one way conversation with just one person – as that was what you were doing. I remember hosting an 5-6am show on Radio Aire in Leeds in the early eighties. Because it was on so early, I was allowed to play any music I liked and say what came into my head. So I did and in a personal way. The reaction was amazing.
Grace recently wrote that she’d discovered one of my favourite R4 shows It’s A Fair Cop by Alfie Moore and loved it. Alfie spent 20 years as an officer with Humberside Police and is now a Yorkshire born comedian who’s fast becoming a legend with his frank and funny tales of life as a policeman.
I have radios everywhere in my home. There is an old transistor on my kitchen windowsill that only gets R4 on long wave. If you try to interfere with the tuning it stops as if it knows you shouldn’t be listening to anything else. So I sometimes cook to the shipping forecast.
But as I admitted to being hooked to Popmaster, I may as well fess up to being a knob-twiddler too. Most folk find a station they like and stick to it. This is not the case if you’ve worked in it as I did so I’d recommend you tune around the dial too as there is a great deal to discover.
DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) has taken some time to settle in and as a result FM (Frequency Modulation) remains. As does MW (Medium Wave) and LW (Long Wave). A handful of specially crafted glass valves each measuring one metre high are all that is stopping the historic home of Test Match Special, Yesterday in Parliament and the Daily Service going suddenly and permanently off air in the UK. The valves are so rare that engineers say there are fewer than 10 in the world. So Auntie has been forced to buy up the entire global supply. Each lasts anywhere between one and 10 years – and when the last two blow the LW service will go quiet.
The other interesting fact I discovered is submariners use frequencies below 50kHz (long wave) to communicate under water. If the British commander of a UK nuclear submarine receives the order to attack, they check if they can hear BBC R4. If it has stopped, they launch.
Time was when I was a nightmare to drive long distances with. I was constantly re-tuning to listen to stations I couldn’t normally receive at home. Today I don’t bother as cutbacks to BBC local radio and buyouts by media giants of independent stations has meant the local has gone out of radio in the UK.
But I’ve been knob-twiddling so you don’t have to and here are a few recommendations:
BOOM RADIO launched on DAB+ on 14 February 2021 and is aimed at people born between 1946 and 1964. Their DJ’s include David Hamilton, David “Kid” Jenson, Graham Dene and the wonderful Diana Luke. Her late night voice is wonderful. If you’re bored with R2, this will do the trick. LISTEN LIVE
ABC CLASSIC 2 Love classical music but hate the interruptions? If you’ve internet access, try this Australian station which plays ad/jock/news free Aussie played music on-line 24/7. Bliss. LISTEN LIVE
RADIO CAROLINE Remarkably, the world’s most famous pirate radio station is still going and today is fully legal. They are on DAB in some areas in the UK but most listen online and enjoy music from the 1960’s to today. They major in AOR (Adult Oriented Rock) but you could hear anything the DJ fancies. LISTEN LIVE
YOUR LOCAL COMMUNITY RADIO STATION Across the UK there are folk beavering away for nothing producing the kind of local radio that ILR and the BBC used to do in the 1970’s and 80’s before bean counters pulled the rug from under them. Mine is BCB 106.6FM but you can find your own and even volunteer for them here.
I’d recommend the Radioplayer app on your phone. Listen to anything, anywhere. Amazing.
Grace asked me to mention her new favourite – GREATEST HITS RADIO. “I can’t sing or dance but you’ll find me doing both enthusiastically when listening to this station! These classic hits from the 60s, 70s and 80s bring back so many happy memories.” LISTEN NOW
One of my favourite stations recently ceased broadcasting. United DJ’s launched by Radio Luxembourg’s Tony Prince failed to pull in enough advertising despite its unique premise of giving top name jocks shows where they chose the music. It failed because no-one knew it was there – and it was such a shame. Today we have a host of ways to listen and a world to listen to. I’d recommend you twiddle that knob and share the station you discover with “anyone else that knows me”. That way they survive.
Like to read more from Northern Male?