The wonderful expanding universe of radio

We are 15 years into the 21st century and radio might seem old-fashioned in an age of smartphones, tablets and apps but fear not – radio is adapting and, in some ways, I believe, getting better.

I love listening to the radio, and I’ve written blogs on the subject three times before. In 2011 I complained about the programme content from Orkney’s Super Station (it has subsequently closed down); in 2012 I wrote about my childhood radio memories and some current favourites; and in 2014 I wrote about my changing listening habits in the age of the smartphone.

Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)
Kenny Everett (image: PA Photos)

In the second of those blogs I quoted the late DJ Kenny Everett who once said: “Stay loose, keep cool, keep on trucking, and remember – telly may be too much, but wireless is wonderful.” Quite.

I am returning to the subject again because radio just keeps expanding and, in my opinion, becoming more wonderful. You have to dig around though – too many radio stations available today on FM radio in the UK, and the USA, are heavily formatted, playing the same few songs, and not allowing the presenters the freedom to be themselves.

There are some exceptions and, if you move into the internet and the world of smartphone apps, there are many good choices for your ears.

The station I most listen to is Radio Caroline. I continue to meet folk who think this one-time pirate radio, or offshore radio, station was long ago sunk. But broadcasts continue over the internet and smartphone apps thanks to a dedicated team of volunteers.

These days the station uses a land-based studio in Kent but on special occasions the last Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, is still used.

As I wrote in my most recent blog (A Remarkable 24 Hours), the Ross Revenge is now moored on the River Blackwater and last month a day’s broadcasting came from the ship thanks to some very clever new technology.

To repeat what Radio Caroline said on their website: “Friday’s experimental live broadcast from the Ross Revenge was a great success. We were trialling a high tech means of getting the signal ashore and into our web streams – a 4G Wi-Fi router fitted with a small outdoor omni-directional aerial to ensure a constant mobile data signal as the ship moves through 180 degrees with the tide.” That’s pretty neat, I would say.

Radio Caroline's Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)
Radio Caroline’s Ross Revenge on the River Blackwater (image: Steve Anthony)

The presenters – Kevin Turner, Barry James and Steve Anthony – were clearly having great fun and the sound quality on my internet radios was excellent. I hope they are able to do more of this in the future.

But this is not the only development from Radio Caroline. A new station, or stream to use the modern parlance, was launched earlier this year, Caroline Flashback.

As you might imagine from the name, the music on Caroline Flashback is geared more to the Sixties and Seventies. Gradually – remember this is all voluntary – the schedule is moving from non-stop music to one with regular programmes. These include Caroline favourite Roger Day and a chance to hear again the station’s specialist music programmes such as the brilliant Good Rocking Tonight, presented by Dell Richardson. A schedule appears at the bottom of this blog.

Alongside the main Radio Caroline service – which features largely album music, broadly in the rock category, with knowledgeable, engaged presenters – Caroline Flashback provides a useful alternative, depending on what mood I am in.

Radio Caroline has a fascinating, and still developing, history, much more detailed than I can explain properly here. But, briefly, Radio Caroline began in 1964 with broadcasts from a ship off the south-east coast of England. Shortly afterwards Radio Atlanta began broadcasting nearby but within two months the stations merged to form Radio Caroline North and Radio Caroline South.

This archive film of the briefly-lived Radio Atlanta is fascinating – look at the jackets and ties the “pirate” presenters are wearing:

As I said, Radio Caroline is available through its website, its own smartphone app and through other apps such as TuneIn.

TuneIn is well worth exploring – it streams, onto my phone, stations from all around the world. And, the pro version, which is not expensive, gives me the ability to record programmes.

So my online favourites – such as Steve Conway’s A To Z Of Great Tracks on 8Radio.com, or the archive 1970s Dutch top 20 on RNI – can if necessary be recorded and saved for a convenient time.

New discoveries available from TuneIn and/or my internet radios are made all the time. Recent ones include WGHT 1500 AM, an oldies station in New Jersey (it is fun hearing the adverts and the weather reports); Serenade Radio, an online easy listening station based in England; and KJZZ 91.5 FM, a public radio station in Arizona (where my in-laws now live).

There has also been a significant recent development from the BBC – its excellent BBC iPlayer Radio app now offers the ability to download programmes to my smartphone for listening (without the need for wi-fi, 3G or 4G) at a later date. The sound quality is really good.

It should be noted that most of the programmes are time-limited and, after a certain date, will delete themselves, though hopefully not in the style of the Mission Impossible tapes in the late 1960s US TV series.

But there is also a huge archive of older BBC Radio programmes, for example more than 1,500 editions of Desert Island Discs, which are not time limited.

Incidentally, the FM Radio on my smartphone – in itself an app – was upgraded recently and that now offers me the ability to record programmes.

All of which means that, finally, after more than 40 years, my use of cassette tapes for recording from the radio is diminishing quickly.

Well, I could go on but I must reach for the off switch. Before I go, a quick mention for some of the super programmes I have featured in previous blogs and still love – Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies on Frome FM, Alan Waring at breakfast on Biggles FM, and my old chum Graham Lovatt who presents the Eclectic Eel Radio Show via the Mixcloud platform (49 wonderful back episodes are available) and Radio Vera.

Yes, like the actual universe, the radio universe is expanding. What will be next?

Graham Brown

PS Currently listening to Ray Clark on Radio Caroline

My previous radio blogs

Where is the Super Station in Orkney? –
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/super-station/

Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out –
https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/radio_90/

Radio diamonds in a digital age – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/radio-diamonds/

To find out more

Radio Caroline website: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Wikipedia on Radio Atlanta: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Atlanta

Alan Beech’s website on MV Ross Revenge: http://www.rossrevenge.co.uk/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

WGHT 1500 AM: http://www.wghtradio.com/

Serenade Radio: http://www.serenade-radio.com/

KJZZ: http://kjzz.org/

Desert Island Discs archive: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qnmr

Homely Remedies on Frome FM: http://frome.fm/programmes/music/homely-remedies/

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: https://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Caroline Flashback schedule (as of 24 August 2015, UK times)

Monday
14.00-16.00 Ray Collins (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
22.00-23.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show (repeat)

Tuesday
14.00-16.00 Tony Christian (repeat)
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Stafford’s World
21.00-00.00 60s & 70s Request Show (simulcast with Radio Caroline)

Wednesday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Anthony (repeat)
19.00-21.00 Archive Roots Americana Show (repeat from Radio Caroline)

Thursday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-19.00 Steve Scott
20.00-21.00 The Elvis Hour (repeat from Radio Caroline)
22.00-00.00 Barry James

Friday
16.00-18.00 Roger Day
18.00-21.00 Good Rocking Tonight (repeat from Radio Caroline)

Saturday
10.00-12.00 Tony Christian
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Ray Collins
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall
19.00-21.00 Barry James (repeat)

Sunday
10.00-11.00 Gary Ziepe: Mellow Show
12.00-13.00 Dave Foster: Retro Chart Show (repeat)
13.00-14.00 Steve Anthony
14.00-16.00 Brian Cullen
16.00-18.00 Graham L Hall (repeat)

Thank you to the guys on the Radio Caroline Fan Mailing List on Yahoo! for the Caroline Flashback scheduling information: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/RadioCarolineMailinglist/info

Radio Caroline schedules are on the main station website: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Radio diamonds in a digital age

 

A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)
A microphone? In fact, this is a radio (image: Graham Brown)

Back in November 2012 I wrote a blog about my love of radio – “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”. The blog was loosely connected to the 90th anniversary of BBC Radio and my scary realisation that I had been listening for about half of those years. I made a reference to “apps available for those of you with smart phones”, a gadget which I didn’t have at the time. But now I do and I realise that as a result my listening habits are evolving. More of that shortly.

Yes, I still love my two internet radios which have opened up a world, literally, of possibilities of listening pleasure. And still my favourite station is Radio Caroline, this year celebrating its, I should say her, 50th birthday.

I still listen to FM radio, particularly for BBC Radio Orkney’s daily broadcast, and for BBC Radios 2, 3 and 4. Sometimes I listen to DAB digital radio and just occasionally good old AM. Remember AM? Or, as it was called years ago, medium wave? Medium wave. It sounds like an unenthusiastic greeting from a distance. “I saw Jim in the high street, can’t stand that man, I just gave him a medium wave.”

Truth be told, there’s not much on AM here in Orkney: we can receive BBC Radio 5 Live, just about, but not Talksport, otherwise there are a few Scandinavian stations and, at night in the winter, you would once have heard the mighty Radio Luxembourg on 208 metres. Remember that? If so, you are older than you are letting on. The last time I was able to check the transmitter is now hired out to China Radio International at night.

But now my smart phone is opening up an even bigger world of listening possibilities. Or perhaps a solar system of possibilities. Or perhaps I’m stretching this simile a little far. Snap, yes, there it goes.

Through my smart phone I’ve discovered the joys of TuneIn Radio, SoundCloud, MixCloud and a renewed interest in BBCiPlayer Radio. In fact, these clever little apps are also available on traditional computers.

TuneIn Radio allows me to listen, broadly, to the same radio stations as on my internet radio. But here is the really clever bit. Pay a small one-off fee – just £2.49 – and you get TuneIn Radio Pro which allows you to record programmes to listen at your convenience, or to keep for repeated listening.

Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)
Steve Conway at the microphone (image: Steve Conway)

One show I like to catch is Steve Conway on 8 Radio, an Irish radio station. He was one of the final DJs on the offshore Radio Caroline and had to leave the ship, Ross Revenge, in a frightening storm after she ran aground on the Goodwin Sands.

Steve is now working through a mammoth task. He presents The A-Z of Great Tracks each Wednesday at 8.00pm, and Saturday at 10.00am (all times UK). Last night he was eight weeks into songs beginning with B (they included Best Of My Love and Bette Davis Eyes), and Steve reckons he has another 13 or 14 weeks of B to go. He must have spent hours pulling this personal A-Z together. Wonderful.

Another show I recorded on TuneIn until recently was Radio Seagull’s Graham Lovatt but Graham has moved – and his show is available on-demand through something new to me, Mixcloud.

How do I explain Mixcloud? Their website proclaims: “Re-think Radio” and “Listen to the best DJs and radio presenters in the world”. It is a streaming service but instead of non-stop music it hosts shows presented by DJs.

Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)
Graham Lovatt, a shy guy (image: Graham Lovatt)

Actually, that was fairly easy to explain but how about Graham’s show? Words are not enough, you need to hear it… It is called The Eclectic Eel Radio Show and I suppose you might say it is somewhat in the spirit of John Peel shows but more wide-ranging, and featuring old, sometimes very old, material along with the new.

Earlier in the year Graham described one of his shows with these words on Twitter: “”Hip-hop, Electronica, Musique Concrete, Rocksteady, Haitian jazz, R&B, Bossa Nova, Hindi Disco & Catherine Deneuve!” What more can I say? Fantastic.

Of course, once you start exploring these less well-known radio shows, who knows where you might end up? I think it was a recommendation of Graham to tune in to Alex Holmes who presents two programmes on Frome FM, in Somerset, England – Open Studio and Homely Remedies.

Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)
Alex Holmes (image: Alex Holmes)

Alex’s shows are warm and relaxed, there is usually a live guest, the music is sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, very often there is nothing you have heard before. On a recent show I particularly enjoyed Blind River Scare and Keith Christmas, and will be purchasing their music as a result.

And, to declare an interest, Alex’s Frome FM programmes have featured two tracks by Mrs Brown, better known as Kathie Touin, Season Of The Raven and Adam’s Kiss.

But I also mentioned SoundCloud. Well, you could spend all day listening to this. For a start, it is where BBC Radio Orkney programmes are posted in case you miss them. And BBC Radio Shetland does the same – so I was able to listen to the RSPB’s Helen Moncrieff present the station’s latest request show at the end of Shetland Nature Festival.

Among the many contributors to SoundCloud are The Economist magazine, Motor Sport magazine, National Public Radio from the USA, Penguin books, Orcadian musician Fiona Driver, and RTE, the Irish broadcaster.

RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo
RTE Radio 1 Documentary On One logo

Earlier this year RTE posted a magical programme from their Documentary On One strand – Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places. It followed a 65-year-old nun, Sister Brid, who had lost her sight, taking part in a charity challenge to climb Mount Brandon in Kerry. As she walked and climbed, those around her described the scenery but it was Sister Brid’s insights into life that gave the programme its vision. Beautiful.

 

I could go on – as you may have noticed – it’s worth another plug for my friend Alan Waring, mentioned in my previous radio blog, who presents a splendid weekday community breakfast show on Biggles FM; a shout for Rory Auskerry, an Orcadian working for the BBC in Salford, who also hosts some pretty loud rock shows, such as Route 66, Sundays at 7.00pm on Pure 107.8FM; hello, from me in Orkney, to islands on the other side of the Earth, and to the Falkland Islands Radio Service; and we cannot forget the seemingly endless great programmes from the BBC available on BBC iPlayer.

These shows are diamonds, some polished, some engagingly raw, but truly diamonds shining in a mass of digital communications. Please go explore.

Graham Brown

To find out more

My previous blog about radio, “Turn on, tune in, but don’t drop out”: https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/radio_90/

TuneIn: http://tunein.com/

Mixcloud: http://www.mixcloud.com/

SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/

BBC iPlayer Radio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/

Radio Caroline: http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

8 Radio: http://8radio.com/

Steve Conway on Twitter: https://twitter.com/steveconway

Graham Lovatt’s The Eclectic Eel Radio Show: http://www.mixcloud.com/GrahamLovatt/

Graham Lovatt on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheGrahamLovatt

Frome FM: http://frome.fm/

Alex Hawkins’ Homely Remedies: http://www.homelyremedies.com/

BBC Radio Orkney on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/radio-orkney

BBC Radio Shetland on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/bbcradioshetland

Biggles FM: http://www.bigglesfm.com/

Rory Auskerry: http://www.roryauskerry.com/

Fiona Driver: http://www.fionadriver.com/

Falkland Islands Radio Service on TuneIn: http://tunein.com/radio/Falkland-Islands-Radio-Service-883-s111551/

RTE documentary Sister Brid Is Heading For High Places: https://soundcloud.com/doc-on-one/sr-brid-is-heading-for-high