Excuse me while I reach for my hankie and dab at the big fat tears currently falling from my eyes, because news that people have fallen out of love with music radio has hit me hard. A new survey has found that over the past five years Radio 1 has lost almost a fifth of its listeners, and while 1Xtra, Radio 2 and 6 Music haven’t seen such a substantial drop, it turns out that they too have been haemorrhaging fans as young people turn away from radio in favour of streaming services. I adore the radio for many, many reasons, the first being sheer laziness. What’s nicer or easier than flicking on your preferred station and then being looked after for the next few hours by a kindly DJ who’ll introduce you to new things, chatter away without asking for anything in return and sprinkle a decent dose of songs you know and love throughout proceedings? It’s a simple joy.
The second is because radio is a place where eccentrics can thrive. One of my most vivid memories of being a little kid is related to the radio. I’m in the car with my mum on holiday in Cornwall. It’s dark outside and we’re driving down a winding country lane with only the warmly sardonic voice of John Peel oozing out of the speakers for company. One of Radio 1’s most iconic DJs, Peel was known for his esoteric – and sometimes utterly mad – taste in music. He loved Aphex Twin, intensely hardcore gabba techno, dub reggae and folk ballads. On that dark night in Cornwall he was playing Half Man Half Biscuit, a bizarre folk-rock band who charmed and concerned eight-year-old me in equal measure. From that moment on I became obsessed with tuning into Peel – who passed away in 2004 – whenever I could. His late-night Radio 1 slot was a magical thing. He’d play records at the wrong speed and there’d be regular bouts of dead air, but it was charming and although I sometimes didn’t like the music, deciding whether I did or not was always a thrill.
But mostly I love radio because it’s a true music lover’s paradise. For the past few years my go-to has been NTS, a London-based online station founded in 2011. With a seemingly endless run of shows by experts and highly enthusiastic amateurs, it hosts specialist shows in everything from electronica and metal to jazz and grime. You can also stream old shows, making it the perfect halfway home between old school radio and millennial streaming culture. An exceptionally tasteful armchair crate-digger’s heaven, I’m currently fond of the old school Nashville tunes played on NTS’s Country Hayride show, the heavy, heavy sounds of Black Impulse and the folk, gospel and field recordings of Death Is Not The End. They’re shows capable of transporting you to another place and another time – a sign of truly excellent radio – and a reason why you should be tuning in if you aren’t already.