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How a TV sitcom broke music radio

There’s a presenter in New York called “Broadway” Bill Lee. He hosts afternoon drive on WCBS-FM and he’s revered around the world as a one-of-a-kind who delivers his tunes with unmatched energy and precision. I’ve been a fan for years thanks to some airchecks of him bossing an analogue studio and delivering 20″ links that entertain, do all the bits of business required and still get neatly to the vocal.

But it’s impossible to understand his work if you cant hear it, so here are a couple of bits…

Energy, excitement and what we now call “cheese”.

Bill is unique and I don’t for a second suggest that aspiring presenters go straight out and copy him – or the other radio presenters of his generation that had similar acts.

Here in the UK we had the Radio 1 DJs, almost all of whom were influenced by the pirate DJs of the 1960s – or had started out offshore. Some were well past their sell-by date while others evolved their style over the years still sounding very much themselves but building more into their links and primarily setting out to entertain. At one extreme you would hear Steve Wright – at the other people like Gary Davies or Peter Powell.

I doubt any of those presenters would disagree that there was a dose of artifice in their work. Real people being the best “radio version” of themselves.

Then came Radio Fab.

Smashy and Nicey took on the old-school radio DJs who had never really moved with the times. I’m convinced that you have to have some aspects at the core of your gig but everything else needs to be reinvented depending on the show, the station or even just the passage of time. Cartainly that’s why I feel I’m still standing.

But in sweeping away the dinosaurs, a lot of particularly good presenters found themselves being let go. It was no longer enough to love music, keep your head down and play the hits as that was “cheesy”. Meanwhile radio became full of “storytellers”, many of whom struggled with the basics.

As always, some of the new breed have been superb and have grown strong followings on the radio.

But I fear that with many, we’ve lost the simple art of getting away the music while chatting to the listener as we get through the day together.

The launch of Boom Radio has begun to address the slide, but I fear that for many British Radio landscape wasn’t changed by shifting demographics and highly paid consultants.

It was changed by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse many years ago.

Author: johnco

Born in 1963, been involved in radio since 1977.

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