Is Radio Ageist?
I love listening to the radio. Like many people I have my favourite channels. This is partly limited by my old car stereo but I might listen to Classic FM for their breakfast show and Steve Wright in the Afternoon on radio 2 on the way home from work. In recent weeks however I have been listening to the radio more and more. I have loved listening to Radio 2 on a Friday night – Gary Davies ‘Sounds of the 80’s’. I have revisited music from my youth, listening to songs I remember and evoke memories, but also discovering music from the decade that I don’t remember. It has also been a delight watching my young daughter singing along with these 80s classics that actually transcend the decades, because at the end of the day good music is just that – good. When you think of the great songs and artists from across the decades you realise just how multi-generational they are. My daughter happily sings along with ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO, ‘Take On Me’ by A-Ha, songs from Midge Ure/Ultravox, The Beatles and Abba’s back catalogue and so many other great tunes from the 60s onwards.
But where have these amazing artists gone? Some groups we know have split up and some have retired, but many of these amazing musicians from decades ago are still making great music, touring and releasing new material – that’s what they do. Music is in their bones – it’s just you don’t always get to hear it!
Why don’t we hear it? In some ways it is a peculiarly British thing. When you look at these older artists they often continue to have a very successful career within mainland Europe. American artists continue to get airplay in the States. It certainly happens less here. It is almost that artists reach a certain age, and then are considered too old for the charts. Music is for the young, but is that right?
Classical music’s back catalogue is predominately made up of composers who are dead. The performer of the music is purely judged based on their talent, and you can hear recordings by such amazing artists as Vladimir Ashkenazy, who is 83 but also younger musicians like Lang Lang and Sheku Kanneh-Mason. On Scala Radio their playlist features 70% popular classics and 30% new and ‘surprising’ music. I’m not saying that classical music stations have it right, but they are trying.
The UK Singles Chart in contrast seems to have become narrower and more limited in the past 20 years. That may just be my perception, and I accept that, but the diversity of musical styles from the 80s and 90s seems to be lacking. I was told a few years ago by a DJ on local radio that they have no real say over the playlists they are presented with each show. Popular music is controlled by ‘men in suits’ who decide which songs should be pushed. This is not necessarily based on the merits of the song, but on what the record companies want you to listen to and this brings me back to where I started.
Is radio ageist?
Recently I discovered two new radio stations. I can only listen to them at home, but I have thoroughly enjoyed their Sunday evening shows.
The Heritage Chart began life on United DJs Radio but as of 15th November moved to Nation Radio. It is a chart of music by ‘Heritage’ older artists from the 60s, 70s and 80s who are still making great music but you don’t hear them on mainstream radio. I have been amazed by the diversity and talent on show. This may make me sound old, and if you think that you may be right, but personally I believe the majority of the music there is better than 70% of the songs in the UK Singles chart. So why aren’t the main radio stations playing it?
The United Top 30 on United Djs Radio, which took over the Heritage Chart slot when it moved stations is very similar although you will find the occasional track by artists who would still be considered ‘of the moment’ like Gary Barlow. I have no issue with this. I think he is an amazing song writer.
My question is: Why do we need these charts? Why are our ears being controlled by the mainstream radio stations? Why is age a barrier? If Chesney Hawkes and Nik Kershaw are still writing amazing songs why aren’t we all getting to hear them? It doesn’t mean that we can’t listen to the new single by Ariana Grande or Little Mix, but give us the choice.
We are living in a time when we are fighting so many prejudices, and rightfully so.
Surely ageism is one of those injustices.