Below is an extract of part of a chapter of my next book “Outside In – Everything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up”
This chapter relates to 2001/2002, when I did the breakfast show on the original, pirate-era, Phantom FM.
I’m posting it today because I happen to be playing the band in question, this morning, as part of episode 290 of An A-Z of Great Tracks on 8radio.com
This particular track, and this particular chapter, sum up so much of what I feel about music and radio, I just wanted to take the opportunity to share this chapter when the track came up in the A-Z.
24 – If A Band Falls In A Forest, Are They Worth It?
Flashback to 2001.
It is just after sunset on a weekday evening sometime in late summer. I am in the front room of a suburban house somewhere just off the Rock Road in Dublin, within a stones throw of the sea. I can’t remember exactly where, now, but I do remember the excitement of all involved, especially myself.
I was in a house I’d never been to before, facing four lads I didn’t know, who were about to give me a wonderful gift – their dreams, inspiration and perspiration, all wrapped up in that little package of hope that is called a demo CD. They gave it to me, freshly burned and unlabelled, and I was out the door promising them that yes, I would listen to it, and yes, I would give it a spin on the breakfast show on Phantom .
Phantom’s music controllers, John Caddell (International) and Paul Clarke (Irish) were always on the lookout for good new material, and Paul hosted a Wednesday night show devoted entirely to new Irish music, and was legendary on the scene for the unstinting support he gave to new bands.
Once I had settled into the breakfast show, I started to develop something of a reputation myself, not on the scale of Paul in terms of his quantity and quality, but as a breakfast DJ with willingness to put new material straight on the air, without letting my own opinions moderate, and without any vetting process other than making sure that the contents were not obscene. I really believed in what Phantom was doing, and was always willing to give a new band a play, and indeed later developed a feature or “hook” on my show whereby I would ask people to send me in their demos, and I would open the package, and put it straight on, live on air, giving a running commentary of what it looked like and anything else in the envelope. The music wasn’t always outstanding, but it sometimes showed promise, and best of all it made for wonderful live radio.
There were unintended comic interludes too, like the time that a then unknown band called Ham Sandwich left me a CD, and to pique my interest, they included a real ham sandwich in the package. Sadly I was away for a few days when it arrived, so when I did open the package on air, it was to a quite noxious smell . . .
Better still was my dumbfounded silence and quick switch to music one morning when the package I opened during a live link, expecting a musical treat, turned out not to be, as I had expected, a demo from some new band, but some photos and a rather explicit mail from Karen (see previous chapter).
But to go back to the lads in the house somewhere off the Rock Road, I did indeed play their music, and liked it so much that I still have the CD nearly twenty years later. There were two epic long tracks and one very passable 4 minute single-candidate on their demo, with a depth of lyrics that matched the passion I had seen on their faces during our brief encounter.
Nothing ever came of this band, indeed I never heard of them again, and as far as I can make out, they must have split up and gone their different ways many years ago without even the faintest glimmer of the success that I felt they deserved. I can find no trace of them now, and an internet search only reveals a new, and seemingly unrelated Dublin poprock band who have taken the same name – “Milk“.
Now, by any definition of those involved in mainstream radio, my demo tracks from the original 2001-era Milk band are unknown, unplayable, in effect worthless. But I ask myself – why?
Does it matter that these people had no rise to fame, no chart success, no record deal? If I like what I hear when I play the CD, does it matter that no one knows them? If a piece of music deserves to be heard for the passion put into it, why should it be discounted just because it is unknown?
For me, music, once committed from the soul of its creator to the medium of storage, is a valid choice forever, even if it is the tree falling in the forest that nobody is there to hear.
So many trees fall in the vast forest that is the music industry, and so few people are willing to venture far enough in from the edge of the forest to hear them . .
Radio Caroline celebrates its 50th birthday today, 28th March 2014.
For many, the very founding of the station in 1964 is a major cause for celebration. But I would argue that it is in the station’s long history of survival and independence that the real cause for celebration lies.
Today many people will be celebrating the birth of Radio Caroline in 1964, and it’s founding as the first pirate station off the UK coast by Irishman Ronan O’Rahilly, and rightly so.
Ronan broke the mold, challenged the dominance of established players in both the recording and radio business, and certainly made sure that legal commercial radio on land in the UK was (reluctantly) introduced by the British government probably a decade before they would otherwise have done so.
In the founding of an offshore pirate, Ronan was not unique however. Another station – Atlanta – was being launched at the same time, and was beaten on air by Caroline by just a matter of weeks, and many others followed, including giants such as Radio London (1960s) Radio Northsea (1970s) and Laser 558 (1980s).
No, where Ronan really stood head and shoulders over all others in the field was in his unique ability to make his station last.
To stay on the air, to fight for, and retain independence.
Radio London, and all the other 60s offshore pirates off the UK coast closed down when the 1967 Marine Offences Act became law, criminalising the supply of offshore broadcasting ships, and the buying of advertising airtime on them. But where others left the stage, Ronan fought on, and Caroline continued.
Ronan’s defiance of the Act encouraged others, but none of the offshore stations aimed at the UK in the 70s and 80s managed to last more than a few years. The biggest, and most successful, Laser 558, was only on air for 18 months (and a followup Laser Hot Hits had an even shorter duration).
It was Ronan who stayed the course, and kept Radio Caroline at sea and on air, despite every setback the government or the weather could throw at him. His ability to ressurect the station when it got into scrapes was legendary.
But did Caroline really matter? Once commercial radio had come to the UK, was there a point in Radio Caroline continuing? I would argue that there was, and very much so.
Commercial radio, when it came to the UK, was long over-regulated and tightly bound by needletime and other restrictions which prevented it from funjctioning as true music radio. And stations were often owned by powerful and well-connected people, in effect becoming just as much of an insiders club as the BBC had been in the 60s. Where could you get your music played if you were a new band? Where could you hear album tracks rather than just singles? Not, by and large, on mainstream commercial radio (though there were some honourable exceptions to this).
Caroline continued to stay outside the system, and outside the jurisdiction, right through to the end of the 1980s. And this mattered, not only to the listeners who got enjoyment from it, and the hundreds of staff who passed through it’s doors (well – ok, hatchways) but also to the governments.
Radio Caroline was outside government control, and if there is one thing governments really, really don’t like, it is something outside their control. Especially when that something involves free speech, and the ability to be heard by the masses. The fact that Caroline never said anything seditious, and just quietly got on with sharing great music with its listeners was not the point. There were people out there, on a ship, with a transmitter, capable of being heard, and immune from both government control, and it’s lapdog, big business influence. This had to be stopped.
Did governments really worry that much about Radio Caroline? Oh yes they did . .
Witness the ratification of UNCLOS (United Nations Convention of Laws Of the Sea) by 157 countries around the world, a treaty that ranks offshore broadcasting alongside real piracy (seizure/hijacking/hostage-taking) as well as the slave trade (human trafficking) in terms of a menace that uniquely allows a country to board a foreign registered vessel in international waters.
Extract from UNCLOS:
Unauthorized broadcasting from the high seas
1. All States shall cooperate in the suppression of unauthorized broadcasting from the high seas.
2. For the purposes of this Convention, “unauthorized broadcasting” means the transmission of sound radio or television broadcasts from a ship or installation on the high seas intended for reception by the general public contrary to international regulations, but excluding the transmission of distress calls.
3. Any person engaged in unauthorized broadcasting may be prosecuted before the court of:
(a) the flag State of the ship;
(b) the State of registry of the installation;
(c) the State of which the person is a national;
(d) any State where the transmissions can be received; or
(e) any State where authorized radio communication is suffering interference.
4. On the high seas, a State having jurisdiction in accordance with paragraph 3 may, in conformity with article 110, arrest any person or ship engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and seize the broadcasting apparatus.
Right of visit
1. Except where acts of interference derive from powers conferred by treaty, a warship which encounters on the high seas a foreign ship, other than a ship entitled to complete immunity in accordance with articles 95 and 96, is not justified in boarding it unless there is reasonable ground for suspecting that:
(a) the ship is engaged in piracy;
(b) the ship is engaged in the slave trade;
(c) the ship is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting and the flag State of the warship has jurisdiction under article 109;
(d) the ship is without nationality; or
(e) though flying a foreign flag or refusing to show its flag, the ship is, in reality, of the same nationality as the warship.
2. In the cases provided for in paragraph 1, the warship may proceed to verify the ship’s right to fly its flag. To this end, it may send a boat under the command of an officer to the suspected ship. If suspicion remains after the documents have been checked, it may proceed to a further examination on board the ship, which must be carried out with all possible consideration.
3. If the suspicions prove to be unfounded, and provided that the ship boarded has not committed any act justifying them, it shall be compensated for any loss or damage that may have been sustained.
4. These provisions apply mutatis mutandis to military aircraft.
5. These provisions also apply to any other duly authorized ships or aircraft clearly marked and identifiable as being on government service.
(end of extract)
The ranking of stations such as Radio Caroline alongside the slave trade and ships hijacked by real pirates illustrates just how seriously governments regard the ability of individuals to have access to broadcasting – radio or TV.
Think of this: Forget terrorism or drug trafficking (neither of which are grounds for search and seizure of ships in this convention). The one thing that 157 different government agree is the really, really dangerous menace of the high seas, the force that causes most harm to society, is to have a bunch of hippies on a ship sharing their love of the latest Nick Cave album.
In some countries, this fear takes the form of keeping most media state owned. The UK and Ireland, as more liberal democracies, don’t do this any more, though in point of fact they had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the era of commercial radio by the offshore pirates in the case of the UK, and landbased ones in Ireland. But the instinct to control runs deep, and where hard power cannot be used, soft power is always an alternative.
If you can’t restrict access to broadcasting to directly state-owned operations, you can at least operate your licencing system in such a way that those who have control of most of the licences are known, and safe, and establishment.
And safeness breeds sameness and lack of diversity, which is one of the reasons why it is so very important to have alternatives who are outside the cosy circles of the industry, even if to be such an outsider feels, at times, like being a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
Since Radio Caroline came ashore in 1991, there have been many, many opportunities to sell out, and let the brand or the station take investment from big groups or big business.
All of these, while seemingly friendly and from corporations who doubtless would have promised to respect the station’sethos, would certainly have led to the destruction of Caroline in pretty short order – sanitised, corporatised and probably eventually discarded too. This has happened to so many great independent radio stations, so many idealistic groups of individuals. That Caroline stayed away from this temptation is a minor miracle, and here all credit is due to Ronan O’Rahilly and in latter years Peter Moore for refusing to take the easy option and sell out.
Caroline has ploughed a lonely furrow over the years, surviving on the margins, but it has stayed independent, and for that, we can truly give thanks, and wish the station a very Happy 50th Birthday.
Radio Caroline is still alive and can be heard today via the new frontier of independent, uncontrolled speech – online. Tune in at www.radiocaroline.co.uk or download the smartphone app.
Steve Conway – a proud member of the Caroline family
Here is the tracklisting for episode 5 of An A-Z of Great Tracks, broadcast January 29th on 8Radio.com and due for repeat on Saturday 1st February 2014 from 10-11am.
Week 5 of the show, and I continue to rediscover gems, great and small, that I had all but forgotten.
This week’s surprise for me in my own library was “Adult Education” from Hall & Oates, a track much played on Caroline back in the mid-80s, but which I would swear I have never heard on the radio since. I’ve never been able to quite decide if the lyrics of this little piece represent wordplay of the best kind, or simple frat boy humour: “teachers don’t know how to deal with the student body” but either way, this is a slice of pure 80s, a throwback to a more innocent age, and a gem at that.
JJ Cale “After Midnight” another little piece of audio bliss for me too.
Next week, we come to a word that takes us into rich musical territory.
I’m taking a break from my break (!) to fill in on 8Radio.com this morning, 11am to 2pm Sat 14th September 2013.
Join me at 8radio.com if you fancy some great tunes.
I’ll be making a more fulltime return to radio shortly – stay tuned!
I’m currently on-air at 8Radio.com till 2am.
That lovely heady vibe of a late night radio studio, lights down low, music up loud.
There really is nothing like it!
Tonight sees my first show with 8Radio.com, and my return to the Irish airwaves
Simon Maher’s new Irish station 8Radio.com launched at midnight Friday, and is live online, as well as on FM in three cities – Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).
It’s been great today to hear it blasting out as I’ve driven around the capital, listening to voices old and new go through the excitement of first shows.
It’s just over an hour to 11pm when I myself will take the helm for the 11pm-2am slot, my first time on FM in Ireland since I left Phantom 105.2 two years ago.
During the intervening time I’ve been a regular presenter on Radio Caroline (and still am) but nothing quite beats the thrill of being live in your own market.
A great crowd turned out for the 8Radio.com launch party at Whelans of Wexford Street last night.
8Radio.com goes live on FM in Dublin (94.3fm) Cork (106.7fm) and Limerick (105.5fm) from midnight on Friday night 22nd march 2013, broadcasting every weekend for 15 weeks, and ful-ltime online.
All pictures taken by Claude Lamothe.
Who “eight” all the cake? 8Radio.com founder Simon Maher, that’s who!
Presenters Amber & Steve meet Aisling Maher
Of those pictured above:
Steve will be on air every Saturday night 11pm to 2am.
Pearl can be heard Sunday mornings 9am-midday.
Neil is Sunday 3-6pm.
Amber is on late Friday night/Saturday morning midnight to 2am.
For details on this new station including full schedule, webstreams, apps, visit 8Radio.com
Delighted to return to the Irish Airwaves – Steve Conway “thrilled” to be joining “interesting and passionate team at 8Radio.com“
Steve Conway is to join the team at 8Radio.com, Ireland’s brand new online radio station, which will also operate on FM in Dublin, Cork and Limerick for 15 weekends starting this Saturday.
8Radio.com is the brainchild of Simon Maher who was previously a founder presenter and General Manager of Phantom 105.2 from its early days as a pirate station through to its days as a fully licenced operation.
Following his departure from Phantom in early 2011, Simon has been working on putting together a group of like-minded individuals with a love of music and radio. “I’ve been asking people what they listen to for a year now and so many people have deserted traditional radio altogether which is a great shame” Simon comments.
“People still love music though so they have replaced their terrestrial radio listening with online radio/spotify/deezer and their own playlists which are by their nature a bit less structured than traditional radio. So, when we started putting the music for 8Radio together, we have gone for a much more random selection. Think Tom Waits followed by Dutch Uncles followed by The Blades at lunchtime!”
From studios in Dublin, 8Radio.com will broadcast live online through its website http://8radio.com, as well as stylish apps for Android and iPhone.
From March 30th though to July 7th 2013 8Radio.com can also be heard on FM every weekend in Dublin (94.3), Cork (106.7) and Limerick (105.5).
Steve, who will be be heard every Saturday night / Sunday morning from 11pm to 2am says:
“I am really thrilled to be joining this exciting project, and to be working with such a passionate and dedicated team to bring this new station to life. In particular it is great to be working with Simon Maher again, a man for whom I have huge respect. I worked for him at Phantom for 11 years, and his drive and enthusiasm never failed to inspire me“
Steve continues “Over the years I have worked for some wonderful radio stations, including Caroline and Phantom, and not forgetting South East Sound the rock pirate in South London where I started my career 28 years ago. I’ve always been very picky about the places I choose to broadcast, as I feel that I do my best work in environments where I feel really enthused and inspired by the team around me. So I’ve leapt at the the chance to work for 8Radio.com, because here is a station that is born out of genuine enthusiasm for music and radio, with a brilliant team made up of a mixture of all ages and backgrounds, but all believers in how great radio can be if it is made with passion“
For more information on the station visit 8Radio.com.
Steve will be on air every Saturday from 11pm through to 2am Sunday morning.
Tranny memories . . and a new toy to play with.
I remember when I got my first radio. It was a little thing, not unlike the one pictured above, but with a big speaker grille occupying most of the front space (unlike the one pictured, which is designed to be used with headphones, but which is the nearest distant relative I still possess).
It was cheap, plastic, and could be held easily in one hand. The sound from it was a little tinny, but it was mine – finally I could choose my own listening, my own place, time, and station. The controls were simple – one wheel for volume (which also controlled on/off) and another for tuning. The radio being small, and the wheel sticky, tuning in stations, especially on FM, was almost an art form. And with cheap components it whistled and whined on AM, and would frequently de-tune from whatever station you were listening to.
Back in those days, you still referred to these things as a “transistor radio” – hence the nickname “tranny“, which at that time either had not acquired any more adult meanings, or perhaps such things were beyond my innocent world. The “transistor” radio was one of those phases we go through linguistically, where we specifically incorporate the name of some new component into the name of a thing, even though most of the users would have little knowledge of what a transistor actually is, or how it differed from a non transistor radio. These technical names attach themselves to things for a period, and then eventually fade away, the transistor radio just becoming the plain old radio again.
Another good example of that is the “Microcomputer“, which, if you took it’s name as a literal meaning, would have been a computer so tiny that you would need a magnifying glass to find it on your desk. In fact, “Micro” computers were great big hulking beasts, taking up most of your desktop, and took their name from the then relatively new to mass market micro-processor at their heart. For a while in the early 80s, computer stores were always “Bill’s Micros” or “Sutton Micros” or “First Micro” etc, until the name gradually faded away to be replaced by the more prosaic “computer” of the desktop or laptop variety. Though of course, the biggest tech giant, which was born in those early PC days, does still carry the name – Microsoft.
Another example of such nomaculture, which has now almost faded away is the cellphone, which is what most mobile phones were initially called by users in the 80s and early 90s (and still are, to an extent, in the USA). This was again a case where the technical aspect of a product’s operation was included in the name – possibly by the designing engineers – and eventually being lost as generations of users, to whom the product is no longer a novelty, use them without any knowledge of the “transmission cell” technology which enables them to function.
Cellphones became mobiles, and just phones in many cases, and have now gained the title “smartphone” as they have started adding functionality not traditionally found on phones, such as mail, web-browsing, application support, and radio. How long will it be, I wonder, before the “smarts” of the smartphone are so taken for granted by users that they cease to have to be defined as smart, and become again, simply “the phone” ?
The arrival of radio onto mobile phones predated the smartphone era, and saved my bacon on one memorable occasion in 2009 when I was doing an outside broadcast for Phantom, and we suddenly lost the off-air monitor function on the desk. As I was not playing the music locally, but remote-controlling the playout system back at base through a laptop hookup, it was vital that I could hear what was going out on air, and i suddenly found myself adrift. Cue a few moments of panic before I realised that my trusty Nokia mobile could be pressed into service as an off-air monitor, though I’m sure it did our image no good at a very public location for me to be seen wearing, not the usual “big DJ headphones” but a tiny mobile with Walkman type personal earphones.
That was an FM radio facility, but mobile phones have moved on smartly since then, to the point where a variety of apps allow you to listen to online stations, or online feeds of terrestrial stations, from pretty much anywhere in the world, restricted only by occasional copyright issues. Most radio stations have their own app for ease of listening, and those that don’t are usually possible to get via specialised apps such as Tunein or Fstream (pictured above).
So a couple of days ago, I was lying in bed, enjoying what was, for me, a very rare lie-in. And I was listening to an online station through my smartphone. Nothing unusual in that . I use the phone for a lot of online listening: to get Radio 4 in good quality for example, or to listen to stations not available locally. But usually when listening, I am using headphones. In fact, I would virtually never listen to radio, podcast, or music on the phone any other way.
But lying in bed earphones are a drag, and I was feeling too lazy to get out of bed and go fire up the laptop to listen through the speakers. So I did something i rarely do, which was listen to the phone without headphones, through it’s own little speaker. And that’s when it hit me.
There I was, holding in my hand a device that was roughly the same size and shape as my first ever radio, though possibly a bit lighter. And I was listening to the radio on it, with that same slightly tinny sound that you get from small speakers, except that this was probably slightly better in that there was no whistles and de-tuning.
What I held in my hand at that moment was, to all intents and purposes, a “tranny”.
I know many radio purists of the old school who will disagree, and talk about receiving terrestrial signals. But to me that is not the point.
When I was a kid, I had a little box, and I could use it to listen to RTE, or BBC, or some other station I wanted to hear. Now, today, I can hold in my hand a box that allows me to do exactly the same. And more – If I want to, I can just as easily listen to Caroline or Radio Jackie or a station in Australia, all in the same quality, and without having to be in their specific area.
Just like the tranny of old, the battery will run down after a number of hours of listening. But instead of having to buy new ones, I simply plug in and recharge. And the phone allows me to do lots of other stuff too (though that is not the point of this piece).
The problem with internet radio always used to be it’s lack of mobility, as well as the fact that in pre-broadband days it could be clunky and intermittent to listen to. Better connection speeds solved the reliability issue, while the smartphone has essentially liberated online radio from the home, and allowed it to go with you. Wifi is nice, but not essential – as long as there is 3G coverage, most radio station apps will work just fine.
I remember doing online broadcasts 10 years ago, and at times it could be a pretty lonely show. The emails came in, but they could not be described as thick and fast. These days, working with Caroline, my response from online listeners vastly outnumbers satellite ones, and it seems to be almost as easy for people to tune in as it used to be.
It’s funny that I never made the connection between the smartphone and those old, little portable radios before. It took the removal of my headphones, and a sudden reversion to that lower sound quality of yesteryear, for me to make the emotional connection.
Broadcasting is not necessarily about aerials and signals, any more than good radio is about vinyl rather than CD.
Radio is about the content, the connection, the passion.
The old transistor radio was just a tool to deliver that content to me, just as the new age tranny in my shirt pocket does in 2013.
Some shots of the 252Khz Longwave transmission tower in Co. Meath, Republic of Ireland, currently broadcasting RTE but originally erected for Atlantic 252. Pictures taken Sunday 17th March 2013.
I don’t normally go out of my way to photograph broadcast sites – I usually prefer to think and talk about the content rather than the technology – but a friend in the UK asked me for some pictures, and as I was walking in a forest only about 20km away today I thought “why not?”.
So there you have it, 252 site on a typically misty St. Patricks Day.
Australian station Triple J and one listener with a passion show how radio can still inspire
(all images on this post used with the permission of Annette Paradies)
Yesterday was Australia Day. As I passed through Facebook there was perhaps a smattering more than usual of Aussie inspired material amongst the endless pictures of flowers and kittens, the exhortations to be one of the 7% to repost some piece of chain-letter guff, and Youtube clips of 70s disco hits.
But then something caught my eye.
Pure unadulterated passion, by the bucketload, and for two subjects very close to my heart – radio and music.
An Aussie girl Annette Paradies who friended me a couple of years ago after stumbling across Shiprocked and enjoying it (so, in other words, a rock chick of impeccable taste) was giving a blow by blow account of one of the high points of her radio year – station Triple J’s annual Hottest 100 countdown.
It was impossible not to be sucked in by the sheer enthusiasm and enjoyment she was displaying as she posted every entry on the Hot 100 with her own commentary – on the band, on her own selections, on the radio station – the sort of passion that radio needs to inspire if it is to stay ahead of the game in a world full of mp3 players, video streaming, and limitless TV channels.
I had only intended being online for a few minutes, but Annette had me hooked, and I was soon visiting the Triple J website and finding out all about the station for myself.
This is the sort of advocacy that money can’t buy, and I can only hope that other stations sit up and take notice.
Your listeners are your strongest asset. Feed them safe pap and they’ll stay tranquilized.
Excite them, and they’ll be selling you station for you, on every street corner.
By the way, the image at the top of the post, is how I imagine Australia is, always, and the Hottest 100 certainly took place against such a sunny backdrop inside my head.
But below is what this weekend actually looked like on the Gold Coast . .
Thanks Annette for a vivid slice of Australian life and music, and I hope you all stay safe in those storms.
Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.
I often tell people that many of the ideas for my stories and posts come to me in the small hours of the morning, but this one is very literally so – I’m writing this fresh out of bed, having just woken from one of those dreams . . you know, the ones radio presenters seem to have.
This one was a modern variation on the age-old basic theme, so before I recount my latest fevered imaginings, let’s have a look at the theme.
We all have a vast array of dreams, from the wild and wonderful to the mundane, and of those we can remember amongst the many unique and sometimes inexplicable ones there are also those that come from time to time that fit into certain basic themes that many people share: dreams of childhood, encounters with partners long estranged and parents and other relatives who have passed away. There are the erotic or romantic dreams, repetitive and unfinished dreams, and of course the classic dreams of anxiety.
Many people seem to dream of finding themselves naked in strange places, but I don’t seem to suffer from those.
For me it is usually a different terror – I find myself back on the day of my first Leaving Cert exam, conscious that the results will affect my life and job prospects, but somehow aware at the same time that it has been 30 years since my last class, I’ve forgotten almost everything of the course, and the exam is about to start NOW. (there is also another one I have occasionally, where I have to choose between going back out to sea with Caroline and losing my home and financial stability, or going on shore and being stable, but missing out on wonderful times)
These are all dreams or types of dreams that most, if not all people share
But there is another dream, which comes maybe once or twice a year, which I call the DJs dream.
The details vary slightly from time to time, but the basic formula is always the same (hey, that sounds like a description of commercial radio formats!)
I’m in a radio studio, on air. It’s a really important show. This is make or break for me. I’ve (unaccountably) been asked to fill in for someone on a huge station, BBC Radio 1 or RTE 2FM or some such. It’s a one-off, but if I perform well I will be invited back.
The track is coming to an end and I can’t find my next one. (In years gone by the dream would having me desperately trying to cue a vinyl record but unable to find the right groove on the album for the track, these days it is more often flicking through a set of CDs or playout system and unable to find anything that will play). or perhaps, as the song run out, and the dreaded silence starts, I really want to press play on the next track, but my arms just won’t move . .
Minute follows minute of agonising dead air, and I desperately struggle to hit something that will put audio back onto the airwaves again. I know everyone is listening, judging. My opportunity is slipping away and I am helpless . . .
I thought that was my dream alone, but over the years I’ve heard it back from many other people in the industry, all of whom, like myself, are (or seem to be) normal, well-adjusted presenters, with no particular anxieties, content with their careers etc. I guess it comes from the horror of dead air that fills the radio presenter, and fact that we are so keyed up during our shows to be ready to put something – anything – on that will fill the gap left by a misfiring computer or a suddenly defunct CD.
Speaking of misfiring computers, I had a dream around 8 months ago that I was totally alone on a radio ship miles out at sea (I think it was Radio Seagull) and about to go live on air. I had my laptop with playout system and tens of thousands of tracks with me, and an outstanding playlist prepared. The studio was ready to go, except that no where on board could I find a cable to connect the laptop to the mixing desk, and there was no one else on board to help me, and no other music, only what was on my laptop . .
As I’ve been a newsreader as well as a presenter, I sometimes have a different style of the dream. This comes about once a year also, and in it I am back out at sea with Radio Caroline, which is for some reason broadcasting again on high power AM, and expecting at any moment to see a government tug coming over the horizon to take us away. We’ll only be here for a few days before the powers that be silence us, so it’s really important for us to make those few days count. And day after day after day in this dream I wake up at around 9am to find that I have overslept and missed my morning news shift. That’s bad, but at least I have an evening show. But I fall asleep again and miss that too. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after . . .
The Radio Caroline of my dreams (I’m talking actual dreams here rather than aspirations) is a very strange place.
The ship. seeming perfectly normal above the waterline is yet enormously bigger underneath, with vast Lord-Of-The-Rings style underworld caverns full of clanking machinery, unguarded pits, and hissing steam pipes.
Hissing steam pipes? Yes, for in these dreams the radio ship is steam powered, and down in the very darkest depths our engineer can be found stoking an enormous furnace . .
Above the waterline it is different too, with extra corridors of lavishly furnished cabins, which we discover during the dream, and wonder how we could have been unaware of them all the years that we were previously out at sea.
The dream I’ve just woken from this morning though, was biased in the other direction – modern, clean, but equally frustrating.
Along with Simon Maher, Richie McCormack and other former Phantom 105.2 heads, I am in a makeshift radio studio in London. We’ve decided to bring the goodness of old-style pirate Phantom to London, and are launching a temporary licenced station to bring Irish indie and unsigned music to the UK, convinced that we will take the market by storm.
Richie is presenting the breakfast show, and I’m the news guy.
It’s just touching 8am, and time for the first news bulletin. I have, for some reason, typed it into my iPhone, and will be reading it from that.
As the news jingle tails away I have lost my place on the phone, and am swiping through the various home screens desperately trying to find the notepad app. The dead air is beginning, and Richie starts ad-libbing to fill it, looking at me anxiously. I find the app, but am then confronted with a seemingly endless set of pages of other text i have to swipe aside to get to the news bulletin I have prepared.
This is so unfair – I’ve slaved over this bulletin, I’ve bought stories from AP and reuters, I’ve chased down stories myself, this was going to be the perfect, pithy yet punchy two minutes of news, But i can’t find it and I’m swiping and swiping and swiping . . . time stretches on, it’s five past 8, then ten past, and poor Richie is still ad-libbing, while managing to stay remarkably patient. He should be killing me by now.
I have an idea. We’re an Irish rooted station. Why don’t I go to the RTE news site and give our public some Irish news? I quickly find RTE news on the phone, prepared at this point just to read out their stories verbatim, but all that comes up is a series of ads for an Irish Garden Festival due to be held in five years time . .
As with all these dreams, there is never any resolution, and poor Richie is probably waiting still. It does dawn on me that that it might come as a surprise to the poor guy to find himself starring in my nightmare, but hey, my subconscious was obviously going to go with the top-flight A-list presenters for this important venture, so who else could I possibly have chosen? The guy was a legend on breakfast.
Well, from vinyl to CDs to playout systems to apps, my dreams of radio are adapting to modern technology, but the underlying theme is staying the same.
Well, at least that’s it done for the moment. There won’t be another radio-based nightmare for six to nine months or so, and goodness knows what technology I’ll be using in that one . .
to view the wholly perfect horizon around you in full 360 degrees, nothing but water as far as you can see, with your own self at the perfect centre of it
This set of photos comes to you by request – your request.
Every week, sometimes as often as every day, a particular phrase pop up in my search referrer logs (the bit in my stats which tells me what people were searching for on Google or other search engines which led them to click through to this site).
“pictures of empty sea” or sometimes just “empty sea”
Several people a week, over the last three years, a steady stream from around the world, adds up to quite a few views over the years, and all looking for empty sea.
This blog is actually the first result presented on Google for “images of empty sea” and the second for the text phrase “empty sea”.
This all stems from a post I wrote almost five years ago, talking about a particular scene in a book I had just completed writing, then known as “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” but since published as “Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline”.
The post contained a shot of the view from the Caroline ship – nothing but the horizon and empty sea. And it’s that picture which has brought people here. But since so many people come to look for it, and the sea is, and always has been, my lover, I’ve decided to share a few more of the intimate pictures taken during our many trysts.
As always, you can click on any picture for a bigger version. All pictures taken of the North Sea (or its daughter the Waddenzzee ) off the English and Dutch coasts, unless otherwise specified, during my stints on Radio Caroline and Radio Seagull.
When I went to work on the offshore radio ships, people kept asking if life was boring. After all, the sea was the sea, and was always the same they reasoned.
Boring? When the view through the porthole is never the same two days in a row? The sea is a mistress of infinite moods.
So, those are the “empty sea photos.
Below I include a couple more, where the sea is not quite empty, but which I feel are similarly beautiful.
Wonderful experiences and a great life. The radio was exciting, but the sea was always breathtaking.
Always my lover, I’m not sure if I possess her soul, or she mine.
I hope you enjoyed these as much as I did.
I was waking down Camden Street in Dublin today when I came across this colourful and rather unique form of promotion for 4fm’s Gareth O’Callaghan.
This is not a billboard or a poster, but a branded tarpaulin, attached to the front of a derelict building, seemingly with the permission of the property owner, to hide the very ugly vandalised shell of a ground floor shop. The tarp has a notation on the bottom explaining that it is a temporary fixture.
Great way to get your message across, and perform a community service by masking a ruined structure at the same time . .
I wonder if we’ll see more of these?
Wishing you a very Happy Christmas & a peaceful New year.
I’m on-air at my usual times, with some extra hours over Christmas:
Christmas Eve on Radio Seagull: Instead of the normal show on Radio Seagull from 7-9am CET (6-8GMT) repeated in the evening, I will be presenting two individual shows at thos times, so twice the music:
24th Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 0600-0800 GMT (0700-0900 CET)
24th Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 1800-2000 GMT (1900-2100 CET)
Then on Boxing Day / St Stephens Day my show on Caroline has an extra hour:
26th Dec Radio Caroline www.radiocaroline.co.uk 1300-1600 GMT
On New Years Eve my Seagull show is a special featuring the best of the new music I’ve played throughout 2011
31st Dec Radio Seagull www.radioseagull.com 0600-0800 GMT repeated 1800-2000 (0700-0900 CET repeated 1900-2100)
Then normal show on Bank Holiday Monday Jan 2nd on Caroline:
2nd Jan 2012 Radio Caroline www.radiocaroline.co.uk 1400-1600
I hope you get the chance to join me at some stage over Christmas, if not, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year now.
I’ll be back in the New Year with details of my forthcoming book . .
The past is indeed another country, but the future is a map that we can draw for ourselves if we dare.
It was 20 years ago this morning, (20th November 1991) that I came to the end of the roughest night I had ever known in all my years at sea with Radio Caroline, and faced what I came to believe would be my last ever dawn.
Aground on the infamous Goodwin Sands, which have claimed hundreds of ships and thousands of lives, we were gradually rolling over, each wave pushing us a little closer to the tipping point where the ship would capsize. Ironically, although there was not enough water to float her, there was more than enough to flood into her and fill her up if we went sideways . . more than enough to drown in.
The waves were towering in the North Easterly Force 11 winds, the seas icy – we wouldn’t have lasted more than a few minutes if we went over.
The brave men of Ramsgate Lifeboat had already tried to rescue us and failed, running aground themselves, losing a man overboard in the process (happily quickly recovered by safety line). Now we were waiting for the helicopter, but it seemed we would be in the water before it arrived . .
Certain that we would be drowning in minutes, the floor beneath us already at a 45 degree angle, we hugged each other, shook hands, and said goodbye. We knew we were going to our doom . .
The story of that morning, and our eventual rescue by the RAF helicopter R166 is described in detail in my book Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline, but even the printed word cannot do justice to the memories which are still vividly seared onto my brain, even all these years later.
I absolutely believed that I was about to die, and that morning, and in particular that moment, has changed my life since then.
The 20 years I have lived since that morning on the Goodwins is a bonus, and the older I have got, the more I have appreciated this, and the more I have lived my life with zeast and purpose. The sudden seeming end of Caroline in 1991 (though not the final end, as it has bounced back and is adpating to a new age) instilled in me a knowledge of the impermanance of states of being, and ensured that when I got involved with Phantom FM in later years I treasured each moment, and drove myself to both give and take the maximum from every day that I worked there.
In life too, I reach out with lust for living to take the most from each day, and push myself to do and experience more and newer things.
Life is a bonus, and I am determined to spend that bonus to the full.
Many people around me comment on my seemingly unflappable calm when faced with difficult situations. This too comes from that morning on the Goodwins, for as I see it, I have been minutes from an icy drowning death, so why should anything that happens in a more normal work or life based situation cause me to panic?
Time has been kind to Radio Caroline too, and that morning, seemingly a point of closure for the station was to be in fact the first step in forcing it to adapt to a new path, which though seemingly bleak for much of the 1990s, has blossomed in latter years into an unprecedented period of stable broadcasts, with new technology enabling the station to be heard in undreamed of quality in previously unreachable countries.
20 years on I have spent the night of the 19th/20th November sipping wine with close friends, and thanking my lucky stars for all the richness of life and the benefits of new technology that both I and Radio Caroline have enjoyed in the last 20 years.
It’s right to raise a glass and look back, but the biggest gift of all is to be able to raise my gaze and look forwards.
Bare naked men (and women)? Yes – tastefully. Lunchtime shoes? – only by mistake. But the ones asking if I’m dead yet are mildly disturbing, and I’ve never been able to fathom my contribution to historical feminism.
But I must be the expert – Google says so!
It’s strange the things you see in your Google search referral logs – the daily/weekly/monthly stats you get with WordPress telling you what search terms people had entered on Google that brought them to your site. There used to be a great site called “Disturbing Search Requests” where bloggers shared these, but it seems to have closed recently. Which is a pity, as I have more than my fair share . .
So, I can accept that I frequently get searches for “men’s bare bottoms” and “naked arse” due to the story I published back in 2009 about the taking of a certain photo by Hotpress Magazine’s talented rock photographer Ruth Medjber. (and you should check out her cool photo blog at http://ruthlessimagery.wordpress.com/ for really cool and iconic backstage and onstage concert shots).
I can accept the typos that occasionally result in wonderful mental imagery – “RTE shoes at lunchtime in the 1960s”
But “the silent voices of women in the middle-ages” ? I’ve never written or published anything even remotely like that!
Except, of course, now I have, so I will doubtless become a genuine target for people looking for silent historical women, lunchtime shoes, and more bare arses.
More disturbing is the search I saw in my logs last month “Is Steve Conway dead yet?”
Some other gems that recently led frustrated Google searchers to stumble upon my site:
“pictures of seagulls” – yes, I see why they came here, but I’m sure this post was not quite what they were looking for.
“dartford big balloons” – no idea how this brought someone here.
“empty seas” – I get this a lot, almost every day, and am amazed that I seem to be one of the few sources for this!
“cheap girls + music of the special years” – because the music is less special if they are classy.
“what man did in frog on ferry” – I suspect it was actually fog and brought them to this post, or at least I hope so . . .
“Tasty Breakfasts” – ah yes, but not this kind I’ll wager.
And finally, I love this one, because although it is not wrong, it is wonderfully specific:
“steve conway’s excellent pics of the ross taken on saturday” – so not the ones on any other day or the week . .
OK, this one is for the more technically minded radio enthusiasts.
Out here on board the former lightship Jenni Baynton, our engineer Walter Gralle has been building a copy of one of the old-fashioned high-power AM transmitters as used on the offshore stations of the past. This is similar, apparently, to a transmitter used on the Caroline ship Mi Amigo in the 60s.
Below are some photos of this magnificent piece of valve- driven transmitting equipment, which is nearing completion.
Click on any picture for a bigger version.
If you’re wondering where the studio, tx and people shots are . . . they’re coming later in the week.
Today saw the debut of Classic Hits 4FM‘s new lineup, and the move of Gareth O’Callaghan to a new afternoon/drive slot, running from 3-7pm.
I’m not normally near a radio mid-afternoon, but I made a special effort to tune in today, as I really wanted to hear how Gareth sounded on the new show. He did a superb job on breakfast for the last two years, but freed from some of the more serious morning gloom (the last two years has seen Ireland waking up to ever more depressing morning news bulletins) he is really free to shine, and that he does.
Afternoons is Gareth’s old home from his RTE 2FM days, and he certainly sounded comfortable as well as hugely energised on the new show. And I’m pleased to see that his fellow ex-Sunshine newsreader Cathy Creegan has moved with him – they blend well together.
I’m not usually a music listener at drivetime – the news programmes on RTE Radio 1 or BBC Radio 4 usually have a hold on me – but listening to Gareth coming stomping out of the 5pm bulletin with Prince’s Raspberry Beret reminded me just how good a good drivetime show can be, and made me think that I might be tempted away from the speech stations more often in future.
Gareth O’Callaghan can be heard on Classic Hits 4fm each weekday from 3-7pm in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, and via www.4fm.ie
That time of year has come around again – the annual excursion by the Dutch broadcaster Radio Seagull when it puts out to sea for a month on the former lightship which acts as a studio and transmission base for both Seagull and its sister station Radio Waddenzee.
The Jenni Baynton will be anchored 8 miles offshore from the coastal town of Harlingen and transmitting on 1602Khz AM, with the usual internet feeds.
I will be living on board from June 2nd to 13th, a longer period than last year, and I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to indulge in my love of all things maritime, and rubbing shoulders and exchanging musical ideas with the other Seagull and Waddenzee staff, which will hopefully result in some fine programmes. The ship itself will be offshore until the end of the month, including some time spent located at the island of Terschelling for a local festival.
For the duration of my stay on the ship, I will be on air nightly at 7-10pm local time (6-9pm Irish/UK time), every day except Friday 3rd.
I’ll blog regularly from the ship when mobile reception permits, and I’m also hoping the peaceful atmosphere on board will lend itself to some quality writing time also, as I’m way behind on my second book.
Further details next week.
News this week from Radio Caroline which has confirmed today that it will be leaving the Sky EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) in a calculated move to focus its media spend on the forms of distribution which are most productive in terms of audience. The station will continue to broadcast on a satellite channel, which will be available by manual tuning, details of which are to be announced later.
The Radio Caroline statement:
Our recent survey into the listening habits of our audience has shown that only a small percentage are listening using SKY 0199.
The findings duplicated the results of a similar survey we carried out 2008 but showed satellite listening had fallen by a further 9%. At the same time on-line listening has increased by around 40% and continues to grow. This information came as we were considering whether to also obtain an EPG on FreeSat.
As a result of this we have tried, but without success, to renegotiate prices with both providers. Therefore we have decided not to proceed with FreeSat and to give up our SKY 0199 Electronic Programme Guide. This change may happen either soon, or in the medium term.
We will still have a presence on satellite but this will require manual tuning. It is hoped there will be no interruption to the service, but there may be a brief period of satellite silence while the changes are made. We will then explain how to tune Caroline in manually via SKY, FreeSat and any UK standard satellite receiver.
When the required information is provided to us, we aim to set up a dedicated telephone help line to assist listeners affected by the change. Information will also be on the web site.
There is a substantial cost saving that will result from this decision and we hope that this can be used for future expansion and to improve our current facilities.
As a presenter with Radio Caroline in both its offshore days and the current day operation, and as one of the people involved in the start-up of the satellite service in 1999, I can tell you that, despite a little apprehension at first, I can embrace this move as a positive step for the station.
When Caroline started its regular and ongoing satellite transmissions in early 1999 (taking in its own right a channel vacated by EKR, from whom it had been leasing airtime for the previous six months) satellite was pretty much the only game in town for moving forward on a legal footing, unless you wanted to sell out to corporate investors. Internet broadcasting, while technically an option, was in the most embryonic of states, with pretty dreadful quality, very limited numbers of streams, and dial-up connections making the listening experience one of limited bursts of music followed by “buffering” for most people.
In recent years, ever-increasing access speeds and technological advances in consumer hardware has changed the game profoundly, to the point where even TV (with its much greater bandwidth demand) is watched online frequently. (One example of this is that, according to official figures, 1 million people watched the latest episode of Doctor Who online via the BBC’s iPlayer within a week of broadcast).
There is now no real barrier to being able to serve listeners professionally online, and the advent of wifi radios and smart phones has made things even easier. I now routinely listen to Radio Caroline in the car in Dublin via an iPhone hookup, in a close to FM quality that is better than anything we could have wished for in our offshore days. And it’s not just Caroline that I listen to this way – BBC Radio 4 can now be listened to in areas outside its longwave coverage, and I use the iPhone to listen to the evening news on RTE Radio if I am travelling by public transport.
Broadcasting live from the Ross Revenge recently, I was delighted to see how many people were listening from all around the world – the USA, South America, Tokyo, Australia – where there is the net, now there is Radio Caroline. By far the vast majority of emails were from people listening online. Here in Dublin, many people I know listen to radio online via apps or wifi radios, but none use the Sky option (or are even aware that it is there – I’m talking “normal”, non-radio people here).
With such a growing and international audience for radio online, it now makes real business sense for Caroline to stop paying a huge five-figure sum just for the benefit of a few inches of screen space on the EPG, and concentrate that money on maintaining and improving the service in more productive ways. And, of course, the satellite will be there too, as a manually tuned option – just as it was for most of the early 2000s.
It’s very easy to cling to the familiar, but to survive in any business you have to not only become good at doing what you do, but also to know when changing what you do is the right thing to do.
Stay tuned to Radio Caroline for details of upcoming changes – via www.radiocaroline.co.uk – and keep enjoying the great album tracks from the last 47 years.
A great post from Christopher England today on his England’s England blog – http://www.christopherengland.com/2011/05/background-radio-v-foreground-radio.html
Chris talks about music radio audience, and why niche market stations can sometimes drive their listener figures in the wrong direction when they try to apply “accepted wisdom” to their programming philosophy. I won’t quote him here – you should head over and read the full thing – but I will say that there is more than one station in my own market, Dublin, that could do with following his advice.
You may not have come across Christopher England before, but you may well have listened to stations that used him behind the scenes.
Chris has always been a bright kid, ahead of the pack, and with a special interest in talk radio he always has something to say, and it’s usually worth listening to. From the landbased pirates in London in the early 80s, through Caroline offshore and on to stations such as TalkSport, Chris has worked at the sharp end long enough to know what’s what, and his career includes launching and running his own satellite radio station – Euronet – with a mixture of speech and music programming that was a little ahead of its time in 1992.
People sometimes talk about their “fantasy radio lineup” and if I ever win the lottery and buy my own radio station, Chris will be on mine twice – once with his unique brand of talk show, and again as creative director for evening/overnight 7pm-7am output.
Chris’s daily updates will have you laughing, thinking, and occasionally spitting, but they are always worth reading, even those that I disagree with.
His columns on mass-market radio should be printed out and pinned up on the programme directors wallboard.
The latest results from the Ipsos MRBI JNLR survey covering the period April 2010 – March 2011 were released today (Thursday 5th May 2011) by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI)
The survey results indicated that 85% (same) of the adult population was listening daily to a mix of national, regional, multi-city and local radio throughout the country.
For the purposes of comparison, figures for this survey period are compared with the January 2010 – December 2010 figures.
The main changes and highlights are as follows:
National Reach and Market Share
Listenership of 58% (+1) was recorded to any multi city/regional/local/Dublin commuter radio service.
The weekday reach figures remained unchanged for RTÉ Radio 1 (25%), Today FM (13%), Newstalk (8%) and RTÉ Lyric FM (3%) while RTÉ 2FM recorded a figure of 12% (-1).
With regards to market share, a figure of 53.2% (-0.4) was recorded for any multi city/regional/local/dublin commuter radio service in the 07:00hrs-19:00hrs period
RTÉ Radio 1, Today FM and Newstalk recorded increased in market share at 23.2% (+0.5), 9.5% (+0.2) and 4.1% (+0.1) respectively. RTÉ Lyric FM retained a market share figure of 1.7% while RTÉ 2FM recorded figure of 7.8% (-0.4).
National (excluding Dublin and Cork) local stations
Changes in both reach and market share were recorded for almost all local stations in the current survey period. The top five placed local radio stations for this survey period were as follows:
Local Station Listenership (Reach)
Local Station Market Share
Highland Radio 66% (-1)
Highland Radio 61.7% (-0.6)
Radio Kerry 58.0% (+1.0)
Midwest Radio 51% (+2)
Radio Kerry 51% (same)
Tipp FM 51.2% (-4.5)
WLR FM 49% (+1)
Midwest Radio 49.2% (+0.3)
Limerick’s Live 95FM 48% (-2)
Shannonside 48.7% (-0.3)
4FM, the multi-city service, maintained a weekday reach figure of 3% (same) and recorded a market share figure of 1.8% (same).
In terms of regional services, in the north-east/midlands region, i105-107FM retained its reach figure of 9% and increased its market share to 7.3% (+0.3). In the south-west, Spin South West retained its weekday reach figure of 21% and recorded a market share figure of 10.9% (-0.1). In the north-west region, i102-104FM retained is weekday reach figure of 20% and increased its market share to 14.3% (+0.3). In the south-east region, Beat 102-103FM retained a weekday reach figure of 19% and recorded a market share figure of 12.2% (-0.9).
Listening data for Radio Nova is included in a supplementary volume based on the period since launch (September 2010-March 2011). Radio Nova recorded a reach figure of 5% while the station recorded a market share figure of 2.9%.
Dublin local stations
In Dublin, increases in reach figures were recorded for Spin 1038 at 15% (+1) and Q102 at 14% (+1).
FM 104, Sunshine 106.8 and Phantom 105.2 retained weekday reach figures of 20%, 3% and 2% respectively. 98FM recorded a reach figure of 13% (-1).
In terms of market share FM 104 increased its figure to 11.4% (+0.2). Q102 retained its share figure of 11.1% while the remaining stations recorded figures as follows: 98FM 9.0% (-2.6), Spin 1038 6.5% (-0.1), Sunshine 106.8 2.9% (-0.3) and Phantom 105.2 0.7% (-0.1).
Cork local stations
The combined reach of Cork’s 96FM/C103 increased to 49% (+3.0) while a share figure of 45.0% (+3.3) was recorded.
Cork’s Red FM achieved a reach figure of 18% (-1.0) and a market share figure of 10.3% (-0.3).
Full details of the reach and market share figures together with the weekly reach figures for all stations are available in the JNLR report available on the BAI website.