If A Band Falls In The Forest . . Are They Worth It? [Extract from new book] [06July2019]

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.

Steve

 

 

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 . .


Shiprocked – New Edition launched in Dublin

The new (2014) edition of Shiprocked – Life On The Waves With Radio Caroline was launched in Dublin last night, with former Caroline and RTE 2FM broadcaster, and current-day drive time 4FM presenter Gareth O’Callaghan doing the honours.

The book is already in stock at most large retailers in Ireland, and will be on sale in the UK shortly.

Below are some pictures from the launch event, in which selected extracts from the text were presented alongside archive TV news footage and of-air audio to give a flavour of 1980s Caroline for the 100 strong crowd who turned out at The Odessa Club for the occasion.

Big thanks to Johnny Bambury for this excellent series of shots.

(left to right) Gareth O'Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O'Keefe

(left to right) Gareth O’Callaghan, Steve Conway, and Liberties Press MD Sean O’Keefe

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

Gareth told the audience how much he enjoyed reading Shiprocked (twice!) and also spoke of his own fond memories of working on board Radio Caroline

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

A number of former Caroline staffers were present for the launch, including Caroline North engineer Michael and his daughter Sue (Michael centre in shot) and former Caroline newsreader turned music journalist Stuart Clarke (right)

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

Falling under the magic spell of Caroline . .

.


157 Signs That Radio Caroline Made A Difference [28Mar2014]

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.

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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.

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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:

Article109
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.

Article110
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


Adult Education – episode 5 of An A-Z of Great Tracks [29Jan2014]

 

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.

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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.

Steve

 


Keeping The J in DJ – episode 3 of An A-Z of Great Tracks [15Jan2014]

Here is the playlist for the third episode of An A-Z of Great Tracks. It’s my aim each week as we go through this marathon, to post not only the playlist for the show itself, but also my thoughts on the music involved, the production process, or anything else that comes to mind as I am on-air.  And this week, although we are still very much at the beginning of the letter A musically, we will be thinking much of the letter J . .

Episode 3 aired on Jan 15th 2014 on 8Radio.com, in its regular weekly slot – 8-9pm Wednesday evenings  – and as from this episode we have a repeat slot on the following Saturday morning 10-11.

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So this week I want to share some thoughts on the presenting aspect of the show, as the pleasure that I get from doing that in a fairly flexible environment managed to turn  what had been a pretty ratty day for me yesterday into a very enjoyable evening. The great Caroline presenter Bob Lawrence once told me that there is nowhere on earth more fun and exciting than being behind the mic on a live radio show, and as I walked into the 8Radio.com building last night and the day’s cares melted away, I smiled and thought about just how right he is.

Presenting live can be about so much more than simply playing a set sequence of tracks, if the station you work for allows you to exercise your “J” skills.  The “J” in this case is the “jockey” part of “disc jockey“, a term that has tended to fall out of use in the radio world in favour of “presenter“, and not wholly for the obvious reason of “presenter” sounding more upmarket.  There is a subtle difference between the meaning of the words that actually underlies a lot that has changed in radio.

But let’s start with the music from the track listing above. A good diversity this week, of styles (from indie and classic rock through to pop) eras (classic Cohen through to recent albums from Bell X1 and Editors) and feels (upbeat and punchy, softly emotional, sparkly near disco).  Some weeks I have to work hard at my selection of A-Z tracks to achieve balance, and others just fall into place naturally, and this was one such week. The quirk this week was the double appearance of Procul Harum, this sort of thing will happen from time to time, but works out nicely in this case as we get to hear a lesser know (but wonderful) track first, with the more obvious one rounding off the show. My “should I or shouldn’t I?” track this week was the Duran Duran one – I thought about it, slept on it, asked a couple of friends, and then went with my gut instinct of “In”.

But if you look at the track listing above, simply as a listing of music to be played one item after another, there is still a little something missing. If you were to play these, juke-box style, on your mp3 player, you’d probably enjoy a lot of the tracks, but the switches in style and mood might be jarring.  This is where the presenting  – or I should say “jocking” – comes in.

Disc Jockeys were originally named because they would, in an aural sense, “ride” the discs they were playing, melding them together by beat or interspersing them with chat in such a way that no discernible gap was left in the “set”, and such that a collection of individual tracks were transformed into a whole. The style in which this was done would vary by context – in a disco or club building energy, keeping momentum on the dancefloor and seamless mixing of tracks are very important, whereas on radio there is a need to integrate a much wider mix of styles and speeds of track, and the necessity to give lots of information which in a club would distract or ruin the buzz.

There are really two styles of presenter on radio – ones whose show is predominantly personality driven (think Chris Evens or Chris Moyles) and those in whose programmes the music is the star, and they are the enabler of this music for the listener. (for the record, I would be in this second group).

The tragedy of a lot of modern radio is that it is assumed that unless you are doing a personality driven show, there is little or no need for personality, and no need for “jocking skills” in order to present a music show. And many radio stations rely on rigid presentation formats which effectively turn these shows into a simple jukebox/random mp3 player, with the presenter only allowed to make preordained “paint by numbers” interjections.  And here is the difference between the “DJ” and the “presenter” – in many cases, no matter how talented the on-air staff are, they are restricted to simply “presenting” a preset menu of items, in which each segue, each station ident, each spoken link is fixed and immutable “play song A, play ident 313, play song B, short link promoting the breakfast show, play song C  . .etc”

Radio station idents (or jingles as they used to be called) can be wonderful tools when used in the right way – the right one, at the right point, can build energy, act as a full stop after a cold ending song, block or transition between moods, and, just occasionally, help to keep the station identified, if you haven’t spoken for quite a while. But mainstream radio, more and more, has fallen into an utter fear of the listener not knowing which station they are listening to, to the point that on most stations it is mandatory for the presenter to play an ident after every single track, unless there is a spoken link (and sometimes as well as the spoken link).

This over-use serves another purpose, it helps disguise the fact that tracks are not longer (for the most part) put together to complement each other, but just random pairings from computerised rotations, and so something is needed to separate each one. The sad thing is that even tracks which would go wonderfully into each other end up being divorced by idents. And radio, far from being the friend of old, starts to sound like an insecure partner, constantly clamoring for you to notice them.

One of the most difficult transitions I ever made was when I was working for a former pirate station which then went legal, and later still got taken over by a big conglomerate. The free playlist of the pirate days gave way to something more structured in the legal era, but that was fine. the DJ still had control, could switch the running order of tracks as long as all were played, and could choose when to speak, what to say, and when and where to put idents.

But gradually, as time moved on, it became more and more locked down. Idents became mandatory between every track. Running order no longer to be changed. And, eventually, when taken over, the playlist eventually included defined points where you were allowed to speak, with instructions for the topic “promote new music” “promote next show” etc, and even duration “short link”. And the problem with these is that they were computer generated according to a predetermined format, and totally out of context with what was around them.  So when you were playing a new track from a band who might be in for interview later on another show, you couldn’t promote it there, because you had no spoken link scheduled at that point.  Where you might have spoken to break or build mood after songs A and B and before C, you now had to play A, B and C together, with idents, and then speak before D, despite the fact that if played together, C and D would actually have been wonderful partners.

Now, I have no problem with a music format. I’ve run tightly formatted music stations myself. Likewise, I’ve no problem with general guidelines for presenters – there should be a “house style” or whatever based on the audience you are addressing and the ethos of the station. But if you don’t marry that with a little bit of creative freedom for the on-air staff to “ride” the show, move stuff around, use thier best judgement to create natural breaks and changes – you are really only tapping a fraction of their talent, and only getting half of the product that you could actually be serving up to the listener.

OK, so I’m not saying that I’m some great DJ here. I’ve always regarded myself as merely “competent” and a “safe pair of hands” and have no illusions of being a superstar. I could never reach, nor aspire to, the heights of great personality presenters like Evans of Moyles, or top notch music presenters like Peel or Harris. But I’ve been around a long time, and worked with a lot of smart people (Hello Bob!) and more importantly, I’ve listened to a lot of radio, and learned what pleases me. And so I like to think that, if not a superstar, I am at least reasonably good at turning a bare bones playlist, such as the above, into something closer to a seamless whole.

And again, thanks to the enlightend leadership of Simon Maher at 8radio.com, I am allowed a free hand to structure the show as I choose. No restrictions on what I say and when I ID – he trusts to my common sense.

Given that I’m presenting an A-Z, the running order is less flexible in terms of music, though as I’m choosing only around one in six of the tracks from my library, I do have some scope to keep things balanced, and look for pairs of tracks that work together. But I probably have to work harder to make the show flow than I would if I could just drag and drop any track anywhere.

So, I start off the the list of tracks I’m intending to play (as from the image above) and first look at how they go together, and where I might want to speak.  And then sprinkle in a small number of idents, not placed everywhere as on mainstream radio, but specifically at certain points according to what I am trying to achieve. And I choose each specific ident (rather than just playing any ident) for each slot, again according to what I’m trying to do.

I walk into the studio with my playlist ready, and a plan of what’s going to be done, but that plan is subject to change – and is always changed – while on-air.

AZ3-full

So above is the end result, this is what my playout system shows after I finished the show last night. (I have my own music library and playout system which I use for this show)  This is pretty close to what I went in with, but with a couple of minor changes (I put a break (music stops) between Bell X1 and Editors as I had more to say than could fit in the intro, and I dropped an ident over the start of Nick Straker Band literally 5 seconds before the track was about to begin. It just felt right.

You can see that, apart from the standard Top Of The Hour ID for our sponsors, I’ve only used 4 station idents in the whole hour. Ah, the joy of being able to let two pieces of music play into each other without having to have an intrusion between them!

The red “BREAK” sections are where I am talking dry, between tracks, with nothing playing.  At other points I talk over intros (at The Cure, Duran Duran, and Bat for Lashes).  For my own convenience, I’ve colour-coded my idents. Yellow idents have music or effects and play on their own to separate tracks from each other, while green ones are “dry” and play over the intro of the next track.

The Procul Harum “A Salty Dog” track and the Richard Ashcroft “A Song For The Lovers” work beautifully together, and segue nicely, to break them apart with either an ident or a spoken link would have been a travesty.  Those two could also have led into The Cure track, but I wanted to speak here because I was delineating it, and the two that followed into a group of three which all featured “A Thousand” – one of the fun parts of the A-Z being the way that tracks will group themselves together thematically in this way.

Speaking after the end of the “Three Thousand Tracks” (!)  breaks us up from Editors, which is very different, but the Genesis track that follows that is much slower, and so a yellow ident is needed to keep them apart. And so on.  Duran Duran is more poppy than the other tracks in the show, but luckily the slightly disco-esque Nick Straker track is there to pair with it. I hadn’t planned on putting a dry ident over Nick, but when it got to 5 seconds counting down, it just felt overwhelmingly right.

That’s the fun of live radio when you are allowed to have control over what you do. You press play at the start of the show, and suddenly you are at the wheel of a mighty juggernaut roaring down the freeway at top speed, you can’t stop, you can’t get off, you have to keep control of it, and make all the little adjustments neccessary to keep it moving forwards in the centre of the lane . .

It’s really addictive stuff, and no matter how you are feeling when you arrive at the station, once that red light goes on, nothing else matters.

By contrast, a live radio show where every little detail is pre-scripted, immutable, and not really designed to flow feels like flying a plane . . on autopilot.

I can’t stress highly enough how many really good people there are out there in radio, the majority of them way better than I can ever hope to be, but who are sitting, with their hands tied, behind a microphone, and being told to “sound excited”.

Isn’t it better to be excited?

It’s time we put the J back into DJ don’t you think?

Steve


An Epic Journey Begins – A-Z of Great Tracks episode 1 [01Jan2014]

January 1st 2014 marked the start of a major new project for me in association with 8Radio.com,

8pm Wednesdays on 8Radio.com

8pm Wednesdays on 8Radio.com

The A-Z of Great Tracks, a trawl through the music I have played and collected over my nearly 30 years on radio, will be deeper and broader than a simple quick flick through greatest hits, and includes album tracks and unreleased material from artists as diverse in style and time as Leadbelly and Greenday, as well as unreleased or unsigned music I’ve played on the radio in the past.

Neither is it a simple alphabetical regurgitation of everything in my library – I’m selecting on average about one in six of the tracks I possess, based on how good I feel they are, their musical and emotional impact, notability, and their contribution to the overall feel of each episode and the series as a whole.

Tracklist for episode 1 - 1st Jan 2014

Tracklist for episode 1 – 1st Jan 2014

Above is the tracklist for the first episode, which broadcast on 1st January 2014 – it represents, in my mind, a nice mix of styles, decades, and levels of recognition.

The A-Z of Great Tracks is on 8Radio.com every Wednesday evening from 8-9pm.  I will usually be presenting live in studio, with occasional pre-records when I have conflicting commitments.

And speaking of commitments, this is a big one. So far I have selected all the “A” tracks due to be played, and it will take 16 hours (thus 16 weeks) to get through the first letter of the alphabet alone. My rough estimate for the series duration is 5 years – and a lot can happen in that time!

New artists / albums are featured as well as old, so the size of the library I am selecting from will continue to grow as the months pass by.

 

Join me next Wednesday for episode 2.


Early Summer 2013 Schedule [09June2013]

8fm

I’ve been pretty quiet on here recently due to pressure of outside work commitments, but I’m still keeping up my regular schedule of radio presenting on both 8Radio.com in Dublin, and Radio Caroline internationally.

Mondays 6-9pm Radio Caroline, via www.radiocaroline.co.uk

Saturdays 11pm-2am on 8Radio.com, online and via FM 94.3 (Dublin), 106.7 (Cork) and 105.5 (Limerick)

I’m also still a regular reader at the Last Wednesday writers open-mic in Dublin, 7pm at The Twisted Pepper in Abbey Street on the last Wednesday of every month, where you can hear me read new short stories as well as extracts from my forthcoming book Running Away From The Circus – Eeverything I Know About Radio I Learned By Screwing It Up.

I’m insanely busy due to other commitments at the moment, but hope to get back to a more regular update schedule here soon!

Steve


Late Night Studio

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!

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8Radio.com On Air [30Mar2013]

Tonight sees my first show with 8Radio.com, and my return to the Irish airwaves

8fm

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.

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Some Pics from the 8Radio.com Launch Party [27Mar2013]

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.

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Who “eight” all the cake?  8Radio.com founder Simon Maher, that’s who!

Pearl and Steve enjoying the evening.

Presenters Pearl and Steve enjoying the evening.

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Presenters Amber & Steve meet Aisling Maher

Musician turned broadcaster Neil singing for his supper.

Musician turned broadcaster Neil Murray singing for his supper.

A wide range of ages and background on the station, old hands and fresh faces. Steve with Emer.

A wide range of ages and background on the station, old hands and fresh faces. Steve with Emer.

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


Steve Conway Joins 8Radio.com As It Launches On FM In Dublin, Cork, Limerick

Delighted to return to the Irish Airwaves – Steve Conway “thrilled” to be joining “interesting and passionate team at 8Radio.com

IMG_6879

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

Simon Maher (left) 8Radio.com founder, with Steve Conway (file photo)

Simon Maher (left) 8Radio.com founder, with Steve Conway (file photo)

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.


Not Pregnant, Just Expecting

big-steve-docks

It’s funny the little ( or not so little ) things that crop up from time to time and suddenly remind you of differences you rarely notice.

I know lots of people who share my passion for radio and who either work in the industry, or used to, or want to.

Some of them are women and some of them are men and I generally tend to be pretty blind as to which is which. My awkward early adult years, when I was fresh from an all- boys school and woefully unprepared for the real world which had two genders rather than one are thankfully far, far behind me now.

I’d like to think that the people I work with in all my different fields of endeavor would say that I treat everyone just the same regardless of gender, race, orientation, or any other divider you care to dream up.

Actually, the above is not strictly true – in roles where I manage people I tend to treat everyone equally, but with slightly different styles of approach for each person, the difference in treatment being based on their needs as an individual, rather than their “group” identity.

So: radio. My radio friends tend to post on Facebook just like everyone else, and the sort of stuff they post is similar in tone to my own online doodlings;  They talk about their passion for what they are doing, their excitement at new bands or brands encountered, and there are exhortations to listen/attend/spread the word, and of course veiled hints at new projects or opportunities soon to be launched or grasped.

Oh, we all love the thinly veiled “somethings going on but I can’t tell you yet” messages, both as poster and reader.

FBS

Indeed I posted something in that vein myself only a week or two ago “things are happening . . . developments in the future” that sort of stuff. The responses ranged from the “please tell me” and the “that sounds exciting” through the oft-asked “is it to do with offshore radio?” (the answer to which, I can reveal is No. or . . well, not quite. I was actually hinting at three different things coming to the boil, and one of them is not offshore radio, but does involve it in a twisted kind of way.

Anyway, I was perusing the Facebook page of a fellow broadcaster last night, and was amused to notice that the responses to her “don’t you hate it when you have good news but can’t share it till a certain date” update were much the same as the responses to mine.

Except . . she had included the extra information that no, she was not pregnant. And despite this, people in the replies were still speculating that she might be. And they way she included it in her status update told me that this kind of misinterpretation was something that she was used to dealing with.

Given that I have spent a goodly portion of the non-radio related half of my working life involved in services management for large multinationals, I had almost, and don’t laugh here, forgotten that women get pregnant.

What I mean is that, in modern, enlightened working environments (and they are the only kind I will deign to make my management expertise available to) women’s reproductive choices should never be factored into the kind of hiring/promoting/career streaming decisions that I get called upon to advise on. It is so much the norm just to evaluate people as people that gender becomes almost invisible. Of course, not all employers are ethical, which is why legislation protects, or, should I say, protected people, until recently, making it clear that hiring decisions could not be based on questions about personal issues which should stay personal..

But Facebook, and other online services, threaten to be a game-changer here.

It used to be the case that your life could be compartmentalized pretty effectively, and that the only things that your employer, or your work colleagues found out about you, were those things that you were willing to share with them, but that is changing rapidly.

I’ve seen this myself: I used to keep the creative/media  half of my life very isolated from the IT management side, and few people from either world crossed over with friends in the other. But Facebook has made all of the various parts of my existence, and the people I know in them, increasingly entwined.

It’s common to read now of employers pre-screening potential hires by searching social media, though it is not a practice I use myself, nor much approve of.  Call me old fashioned, but I believe that, criminal convictions aside, people’s private lives are no legitimate interest of the corporations that employ them.

When it comes to the age old question of female job applicants facing discrimination based on fertility status or assumed family plans, legislation had worked to curb this, and a “don’t ask, don’t speculate” culture has been successfully inculcated into management in most good employers. (there are still some bad ones out there of course, but I don’t work for  them on principal).

But now, even if a woman is not asked directly about her plans or potential pregnancies, all that has to happen is for her to have a few friends in the office who are also friends on Facebook, and gradually it gets to the point where nothing is private any more. Which can be OK, with an ethical employer. But it leaves doors open for others.

People tend to forget that the sole purpose of social media sites is really to data-mine, and that apart from being mined by the service provider, the info is also there for others to see. And even your sister and cousin speculating on your timeline about your possible baby plans is data, of a sort, and capable of use, for good or ill.

So happening to read through this woman’s post and seeing how easily people could make assumptions, and how she had to be  proactive in avoiding them, even if an offhand and humorous way, was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Equally, sexual orientation can not be questioned in a job interview, but could be very easily mined from social media, by those who don’t embrace diversity.

We may be all the same in capabilities, in passion for the job, and in skill, but still there are differences and different challenges to be faced by some, and it is so easy sometimes to simply fail to see them.

We can’t undo social media, but we can redouble our efforts to spread empathy and openness in corporate culture, and to speak out when we see wrong treatment. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance etc.

Food for thought for me, as a manager, as a communicator, and as a human being.

Steve


Me And My Tranny

Tranny memories . . and a new toy to play with.

Roberts

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.

Fstream

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.

Caroline

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.

Steve


LW 252 Tower (Ireland) – Pics

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.

You can click on any picture for the high-res version. This is the tower as seen in the landscape of Co. Meath. It is actually a better shot than the close-up ones, as there are so many obstructions of the view from the roadway closest to the site.

You can click on any picture for the high-res version. This is the tower as seen in the landscape of Co. Meath. It is actually a better shot than the close-up ones, as there are so many obstructions of the view from the roadway closest to the site.

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?”.

The base of the tower. Thiswas taken through a wire mesh fence, and a small gap in the trees, so only possible to get one part of the tower at a time in shot.

The base of the tower. This was taken through a wire mesh fence, and a small gap in the trees, so only possible to get one part of the tower at a time in shot.

The upper sections vanishing into the mist. It is planned to paint the top 84m of this tower red and white, and to replace the current warning lights with ones of lower intensity.

The upper sections vanishing into the mist. It is planned to paint the top 84m of this tower red and white, and to replace the current warning lights with ones of lower intensity.

Planning application notice on site for retention of modifications, also revised colour scheme and lighting.

Planning application notice on site for retention of modifications, also revised colour scheme and lighting.

If you are a motorist . . or a terrorist . . be warned!

If you are a motorist . . or a terrorist . . be warned!

When I last passed here about 15 years ago, it was very easy to see into the site, but the boundary trees planted around the tower have all grown up now.

When I last passed here about 15 years ago, it was very easy to see into the site, but the boundary trees planted around the tower have all grown up now.

So there you have it, 252 site on a typically misty St. Patricks Day.

Steve

 

 


What Do DJs Dream About?

Steam-punk style radio ships, terrible choices, but above all: dead air.

dr2

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.

dr5

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.

IF

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 . . .

dr3

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.

dr6a

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 . .

Steve


Busy

I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve let this site grow fallow in recent months, and I’ll do my best to rectify that.

Life has been incredibly busy, both at home and at work, but all continues to be well in my world.

You can still catch me every Saturday 6-8am and 6-8pm on Radio Seagull, and also Mondays 2-4pm on Radio Caroline (all times quoted here are GMT).

I’m still working on completing my second and third books, one of which will be out this year, and have been writing a goodly number of short stories, one of which I will post up here by way of apology for leaving you alone so long . .

Steve


A New Way To Cover Your Market

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?

Steve


The Day I Realised I Was One Of THEM

I was always on the rebel side.

It was Us versus Them, the forces of rock and roll and musical freedom struggling against the older generation, those in power, the corporate and musical estblishment whose music was of a bygone age. I was always on the side of “Us” and would never change. Or so I thought . .

Of course, my friend and onetime Caroline colleague Christopher England would tell me differently. Chris has many hobby horses, and one of them is a dislike of “oldie music” and a disdain for how quickly the new young thrusting generation become oldies themselves, despising newer music from a younger generation, and believing that theirs was the only true generation of revolution.  Chris talks about this a lot, but it was not Chris who brought me to see the error of my ways, though funnily enough my moment of realisation did come when I was in his company, sitting beside him in a darkened theatre in central London, waiting for a tech launch.

Chris is my tech mentor in life you see. Even though I have been involved in IT for more than 30 years, and have worked either directly or on projects for the biggest names in the business – Microsoft, Apple, Dell, Compaq, HP – Chris has always been at least two steps ahead of me when it comes to living in the future.

My first ever mobile phone? Reccomended and procured for me by Chris (who had earlier got me into that great yuppie trend of the late 80s, the pager).

It was Chris who told me about the Orange network, which had this unique new geeky feature not available on any other network, the facility to send short SMS text messages. My first messages were to and from Chris.

Christopher England, in hiding.

When, at a technology exhibition in Earls Court in 1992 I tried out a very early video-phone on the BT stand, it was Chris who was the blocky, pixellated face at the other end, jerking around at a rate of about 2 or 3 frames per second (or that’s what it seemed like anyway).  Skype was far, far in the future in those days.

It was Chris who first mentioned some weird tech start up called Twitter, long before it was anything other than a curiosity, and at least two years before it became mainstream.

Not all of his playthings went on to success however. I vividly remember a huge, multi-caller, interactive premium-rate phoneline called “The Villa” which he was an administrator of, into which you could dial if you wanted to meet and interact with people. By pressing commands on the phone you could go into different areas of the villa, meet different people in different rooms, play games, chat etc. It was woefully clunky and terribly expensive, but I can’t help thinking back to it when I see some of the interactions on Facebook.

And so it was that when Microsoft were launching their huge step forward that was Windows 95, it was Chris that I was sitting beside in a large theatre or other such place somewhere in central London. I can’t remember the exact date, but a look back at the launch schedule for Windows 95 tells me that this must have been sometime around, or just before, August 1995.

As we sat waiting for the show to begin, I was very pleased to hear a Rolling Stones track “Start Me Up” being played. (of course, prior to the launch we would not have known that this was a planned part of the whole Win95 theme, in reference to the “Start” menu).

I remember thinking that, after years of big corporate giants being very conservative and oldies focussed in their music for events like this, that it was great that finally they were moving forward, and recognising the value of “our” generation’s music, being young and rebellious, rather than middle aged. Maybe we were winning our battles after all!

And then it hit me, and that one single moment changed my whole worldview on music. This was not big business recognising the value of youthful rebellious music. This was my generation, and our music having been around for long enough that people of my age were now moving up into positions of corporate and government responsibility. This was my generation’s music, in effect, becoming the new “safe” choice, favoured by people drifting towards middle age. This was the moment that I realised that, without so much as a whisper of warning, time had played the cruellest trick of all, and now “we” were becoming “them”.

And sure enough, the signs were there. A new generation of music bubbling under that was not really listened to by my generation, the fact that our music was now increasingly playlisted on mainstream radio . .

From that day on, I could see the truth in Christopher England’s polemic about how closed people’s minds became to everything new over time, and I resolved to think and act differently myself.  And this was a good time to do it, as around about the same time as Microsoft was launching Windows 95 another giant was rethinking its strategy, as the BBC started a revemp of Radio 1, to howls of protest from established presenters and audience, that would see a new generation of presenters coming on board, bringing with them the new wave of dance, rock and alternative sounds that had been there, but ignored for quite some time.

Later I was to end up at Phantom FM in Dublin, where for 11 years I was constantly fed a diet of new bands and live gigs. That really helped me to stay up to date, and I couldn’t help but smile when, on the station’s message board in the mid noughties, I saw listeners complaining about how the new music it was playing now was not the same as the new music it had been playing five years earlier.

“They are playing crap aimed at 16 year olds” these 21 year olds would complain, “not like when we were 16, the music was much better then”.

Having recently left Phantom to strike out on my own, I’m working harder than ever to keep up to date on new music, and try to feature a minimum of 50% new material on my shows each week on Radio Seagull. I don’t have the dislike of oldies that Chris has, but on the other hand I don’t have the dislike of modern music that so many of my contemporaries seem to have grown into.

And, though it is itself an “oldie” now in computing terms,  that’s as good a reason to be thankful for Windows 95 as any.

Steve


Slaving Over A Hot Computer

So that’s it – Christmas over, and nose back to the grindstone.

I have a lot to do in my various different worlds this month – a complex global IT project to manage, a ream of radio shows to put together and present, and a second draft of my second bookRunning Away From The Circus – to complete.

In times past, these would all be involve very different locations and equipment – transmitter rooms on salt-enrusted radioships, bright office buildings and meeting rooms, and quiet book-lined rooms.

These days though, all my efforts in all the different fields end up as gigabytes of data passing through routers and stored in giant data centres.

Ireland is actually becoming a location of chice for many of these vast temples of computing, as our temperate climate makes cooling less expensive.

Pictured above is a so called “hot corridor” between the backs of several hundred racked servers at a location in the west of Ireland.

Warmer than a drafty hold in a rusty radio ship, and cleaner too, but not quite so much fun!

Steve


Facing Death At Dawn . . And Life Afterwards

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 . .

ITV teletext reports on our rescue - photo Geoff Rogers

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.

Steve


Women’s Silent Voices, Lunchtime Shoes, and Men’s Bare Bottoms

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 . .

Steve


1395 tests reach Ireland in final week

Have a listen to the tests of the custom-built AM valve transmitter on board the Radio Seagull ship in Harlingen, Netherlands, as picked up more than 300 miles away in Co. Kildare, Ireland

1395-in-Kildare (mp3 file)

I reported during the summer on the construction of a custom built, old-style valve transmitter for high-power AM on board the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton, located near Harlingen, in the northern Holland.   For the last 6 weeks this transmitter has been in use, performing authorised tests on the 1395AM frequency, which is licenced to a different operator. During these tests Radio Seagull has been relayed, and they come to a close after this weekend (14th November 2011) after which Seagull will continue to be heard on its own frequency 1602Khz and online worldwide.

For the last week, the transmitter has been operating on a higher power setting, and in addition to providing coverage throughout The Netherlands (the intended coverage area) it has been possible to listen much further afield, the signal reaching many parts of the UK, and latterly Ireland.

Click on the link below to hear a short (1 minute) sample of reception on an ordinary car radio, at Monestrevin, Co. Kildare, at around 5.45pm on Monday 7th November.  This recording was made simply by using to “voice memo” function on my mobile phone to record the sound inside the car, so the original reception quality is even better.

1395-in-Kildare (mp3 file)

Not a bad reach for a hand-built rig on a little lightship.  Kudos to Walter, Colin, Sietse and the the onboard engineering staff on the Jenni Baynton.

Steve


So Who Are Radio Seagull?

Radio Seagull, from the lightship Jenni Baynton

The recent test-transmissions on 1395Khz by Radio Seagull have driven quite a few Google search requests to this blog, so I’ve decided to give a quick run-down on the station for any new visitors, as well as for those who follow me for my other content and might be curious.

Please note my disclaimer: I am a Radio Seagull presenter myself (Saturdays 7-9am and pm CET, 6-8am and pm UK/Irish time) so you are reading an insider rather than an outsiders point of view. Having said that, I also have to point out that all views are my own, and not neccessarily endorsed by the station.

Hey, these are just some guys I was close to when I took this picture. Pretty supportive too.

So, what is Radio Seagull?

Radio Seagull is a full-time, permanent, licenced terrestrial, English-language radio station based in The Netherlands, specifically the town of Harlingen, in the northern coastal area. As well as AM coverage emenating from Harlingen, the station can be heard worldwide via its online stream, accessible from the station website – www.radioseagull.com

 

How can I hear Radio Seagull?

In The Netherlands the station shares its AM frequency (1602Khz) with Radio Waddenzee, a regional station servicing the north of The Netherlands in the Dutch language. Waddenzee is heard from 7am-7pm and Seagull from 7pm to 7am on mediumwave, however Seagull is available 24 hours a day online.

(Radio Waddenzee takes its name from The Wadden Zee, a large area of sea on the fringe of the North Sea, but partly protected by a chain of islands 20km or so from the coast.)

As well as terrestrial and online outlets, Radio Seagull is sometimes carried as a sustaining service on other stations around the world. Currently the station is being relayed as the content of a series of test transmissions on 1395Khz on AM, which are being made from the Radio Seagull ship, the Jenni Baynton. These are scheduled to continue until mid-November (but Seagull will continue to be available on its permanent frequency of 1602Khz, at all times).

 

What type of programmes does Radio Seagull have?

Radio Seagull features both modern alternative and classic rock, as well as a wide variety of specialist music shows.  Some presenters specialise in new and alternative music, others present more general shows. Details can be found at the website www.radioseagull.com.

In order to cater for international listeners in different time-zones, the schedule is organised into groups of programmes in 12-hour blocks,  repeated once the same day – so that, for example, a show aired at 3-5pm will also be aired at 3-5am, giving people in different parts of the world the chance to hear each show in their “daytime”.

Seagull presenters (left to right) Steve Conway, Chris Kennedy, Mandy, Dave Foster

How is Radio Seagull different from other stations I can hear on the internet, or local stations on FM?

Radio Seagull’s programming philosophy is to gather together experienced and professional presenters from around the world, people who are passionate about the music they play, or very knowledgeable in their specialist area, and to give them complete creative freedom to produce the best shows that they can.  Unlike larger commercial radio stations, there is no restriction on playlist size, and as a result the music you hear on air is incredibly diverse and wide-ranging.

Radio Seagull's Martin Smith samples life at sea

Presenters come from all across Europe and further afield to work on Seagull, and many are people who have been involved in radio for a long time.

Radioship Jenni Baynton, home of Radio Seagull

So what’s all this about a ship?

Radio Seagull (and its sister station Radio Waddenzee) are housed on board a former British Lightship (LV8), the Jenni Baynton, which is normally berthed in the harbour at Harlingen. The ship itself is an attraction, bursting full of history, and much restored since its acquisition by Seagull in the early 2000s, and it makes a wonderful base for the radio station – lots of room for studios, engineering facilities, radio mast, and cabins where crew and visiting DJs can be accomodated during special offshore broadcasts. The station also has landbased transmission facilities.

But the ship is more than just a static base.

Once a year, for the last several years, the station has put to sea for periods of about a month each summer, with crew and DJs living on board, a great opportunity for friendships to be rekindled and knowledge to be swapped, as well as recreating some of the excitement of the old offshore radio days (a number of the Seagull presenters, myself included,  are veterans of the former offshore pirate stations such as Radio Caroline).

Sietse Brouwer, founder and owner of Radio Seagull & Waddenzee.

Who is behind Radio Seagull?

Seagull is the brainchild of Sietse Brouwer, a Dutch businessman and radio presenter who also spent some time working with Radio Caroline in the 1990s. Sietse has a passion for good radio, and a great love of ships, and putting the two together in his home town of Harlingen has occupied a great part of his time for the last 10 years.

 

Where can I get more info / how can I listen?

The best place to start for both is the website – www.radioseagull.com

 

You can also see more of my pictures from Radio Seagull’s offshore adventures at the following pages:

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/the-jenni-baynton-at-sea/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/inside-the-jenni-baynton/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/seagull/jenni-baynton-crew/

https://steveconway.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/dreamy-seagull-pics/

If you are a new visitor, I hope this has answered your questions, and made you curious enough to listen.

I can be heard every Saturday 7-9am and pm CET, (6-8am and pm UK/Irish time).

But don’t just listen to me – the rest of the presenters are superb!

Steve


Music Variety – Sample Seagull playlist – 1st October 2011

Every Saturday I present on Radio Seagull, from 6-8am UK/Irish time, repeated later the same day 6-8pm. (or 7-9 European time)

If you enjoy indie and alternative music, you’ll get lots of it, with the occasional folk or country and the odd piece of classic rock. I aim each week to have a minimum of 50% of the show made up of brand new material – mostly tracks from forthcoming or just released albums, EPs and the odd single, along with demos and unsigned bands.

Below is my running order from yesterday, to give you a flavour of the kind and variety of music played.

You can pick up Radio Seagull on AM in The Netherlands and eastern UK  (1602khz and currently testing for a limited period on 1395khz) and online everywhere else via www.radioseagull.com

Artist Name
HOUR 1
Von Shakes Happy Song
Chris Rea Never Tie Me Down
Arcade Fire Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
Juliana Hatfield Sex and Drugs
Liz Phair Ride
The Retrospective Soundtrack Players Send Me the Hell Back Home [20″ fade]
Ham Sandwich Floors
Grateful Dead Touch Of Grey
Ida Maria 10,000 Lovers
CSS Rhythm to the Rebels
Wolventrix Wanderlust – Single
Joe Bonamassa The Meaning of the Blues
Cheap Girls Cored to Empty (Demo Version)
Rush Red Barchetta
Dinosaur Pile Up Birds & Planes
HOUR 2
The Presidents Of The United States Of America Truckstop Butterfly
Sum 41 Crash
The Waterboys White Birds
Rocket from the Tombs Romeo & Juliet
The Rapture Children
Sleeper Click…Off…Gone
Big Audio Dynamite E=Mc²
*** RS Jingle *** xxsj-DRY-Seagull ID only ACP
Warpaint Undertow
Howling Bells Gold Suns, White Guns
Lanterns On The Lake A Kingdom
Samiam Happy for You
Chris Rea Dance With Me All Night Long
Lace Weeper Parhelion
Michael Schenker Group Armed And Ready

Seagull to test on 1395khz

Jenni Baynton's second AM transmitter

Hi all,

A little while back I wrote about the lovingly handcrafted AM transmitter being built onboard the Radio Seagull ship Jenni Baynton during the summer. Now I am pleased to report that you will be able to hear it in action.

Starting tomorrow, 1st October 2011, the ship will be used for test transmissions on 1395Khz AM at various power levels, for a number of weeks. During this time, the programmes of Radio Seagull (already available on 1602Khz AM) will form the content of the test transmissions.

These tests will run 21 hours a day, as due to international agreements the frequency 1395Khz cannot be operated in The Netherlands from 2000-2300 CET (1900-2200 UK/Irish time).

Radioship Jenni Baynton, home of Radio Seagull

As these tests will be at times on higher power than the existing 1602 service, you may find that you are able to pick us up further afield than usual.

Reception reports will be appreciated – full details and regular news at the Radio Seagull website.

And don’t forget, you can catch my Saturday show on Seagull every week,  from 7-9am and 7-9pm CET (that’s 6-8 am and pm in UK/Ireland) featuring the best in indie and alternative rock, with at least 50% of the show devoted to brand new releases, including unsigned bands.

Steve Conway on Radio Seagull

As well as the two AM frequencies, you can listen online anywhere through www.radioseagull.com

Steve