You’d be forgiven for thinking that there had been a revival of classic kitchen-sink drama ‘Look Back in Anger’ when you see John Osborne’s name appearing in ‘What’s On’ guides at theatre near you. However, the talk I went to last night at a snow covered Lowry in Salford couldn’t have been more different. His namesake has an awesome vinyl record collection and speaks passionately about a subject close to my heart – radio! All presented enthusiastically in an enjoyable one-hour monologue called “John Peel’s Shed.”
The book Radio Head is what the show is based on. This was the first book that I read about radio back when I was starting out. In the summer of 2009, I had already been bitten by the radio bug and had just been promoted to Head of Marketing at my student radio station Fuse FM. With such a rich landscape and history to this medium I was eager to learn all about it. I headed off to Borders book store (remember those?) in Stockport’s appropriately named ‘Peel Centre’ to find out more. Among an array of television literature in the media section there was just one radio book available for me to devour: Radio Head. I must have been fate. I bought it, trying to convince myself that they were going to help with my dissertation research at university, which it did actually, so that was an added bonus!
The tagline is “Up and down the dial of British Radio”. It’s such a brilliant concept for a book; each day John listened to a radio station for the entire day and notes down his findings. As radio is such a fast moving medium this is now slightly dated but the stories are timeless. All types of stations are given the radio head treatment, from Virgin Radio (now Absolute) and Classic FM to the acclaimed community arts station Resonance FM. The foundations of radio are built on stories and each chapter is a fascinating culmination of the stories that happen on-air at each station the day that John was listening. As well as including special chapters devoted especially to topics like the ‘Test Match Special’ and an interview with Tommy Boyd speaking frankly about ‘Human Zoo’. As John recalled: all the best presenters speak to ‘you’ (singular) through the radio but Tommy actually was speaking to me!
John’s monologue delivered in ‘John Peel’s Shed’ contains nuances of his book as well as expanding on certain points too. He speaks about how he always wanted to be part of the community of listeners that tuned in to John Peel’s shows but initially found it all “too loud”. He preserved and it was only when he has an “epiphany” and connected with the lyrics in The Smiths’ song How Soon is Now? that he became hooked. Who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t have won the competition to win a box of records from John Peel’s shed, that form the soundtrack and backdrop to this trip down memory lane. A special mention must go out to Oi-Zone – a punk rock cover band inspired by Boyzone!
If you haven’t heard of Resonance FM then you must tune for the experience. It is an arts based project broadcasting to the South Bank and Bankside of London on 104.4 FM and online at www.resonancefm.com This station shows the depth of what community radio can do. While researching for his book John speaks of how on the day he listened to Resonance they broadcasted a show called ‘Me and My Floor’ which did exactly what it says on the tin, each week featuring a different floor. Yes, the whole show consisted of the sounds made up from a microphone placed on the floor in the presenter’s house! Remember, this is an award winning arts station and they are incredibly good at what they do. I’ve said it before and I don’t mind saying it again, this shows the real depth of what community radio really can explore. I know some community and student stations can be a little rough around the edges but because they are not restricted by having to deliver RAJAR listener figures, TSA reach and the like then this allows for innovation and creativity, if done well. This is why community radio is so important as part of the radio landscape.
Speaking about BBC Radio 1, John recalled the dismissive comments he made about the station at the time his book was published. (See Here) I personally think that something so subjective as taste can never be criticised; if it is different to our own then this doesn’t mean it’s wrong. The Radio 1 faithful also had much to say about this. Having been ‘forced’ to listen to the station everyday while working in a warehouse John now understands their way of thinking… as well as being there during the rise of Justin Beiber.
Delivered with passion and gusto, what makes John’s stories so fascinating is how life, radio and music are all seamlessly entwined. This is not just engrossing for anoraks like me but it can be appreciated by anyone who has ever listened to the radio. Whether you realise it or not, radio is part of all our lives. It’s with you when you wake up in the morning, it’s there as you drive home from work, part of your routine as you tune in to a specific show each night. Do you notice when your favourite presenter is off? When you miss a show must you catch up on the podcast? If any of that sounds familiar then you are a radio head too.
John Osborne’s own blog about the show is available HERE
If you want to go up and down the dial of British radio yourself then check-out John’s brilliantly witty and informative book Radio Head.