In Review: RADIO ONE. part 1 - morning.
Stupid idea, I know, but the plan is to listen to - to subject myself to - a ‘whole’ day listening to Radio 1 and reviewing the stations output for one day (Tuesday 19th November 2001).
So, from the time I wake up to when I - mercifully - fall asleep I will monitor and perhaps even try and assess the station and where it is now.
I’ll explain as I go, let’s just get on with it, eh? It’s gonna be a lo-o-o-ng day...
Scott Mills ~ 4.00am - 7.00am
5.51: My stereo flicks on. Ffffffuck, it’s early. It’s too much of an effort to even open my eyes. Scott is going on about appearing at the Blue Peter Bring and Buy sale. No idea what he is talking about.
Mills is relatively new to the station, hence the pre-dawn slot, and he irritates me. Apparently he’s been a DJ since he was 16, but his delivery is hesitant and stumbling, he consistently fluffs his dire, sneery jokes. What’s worse is he has adopted an upward inflection to his voice - a kind of cod American/Australian type of speech where the end of every sentence is made to seem as if it is posed as a question? Even when it isn’t? Like this? And it’s very irritating? To add to this he also slips into ’Buffy’/California speak: like, he’s so there, and stuff? Someone seems to have told him as his vocal ticks aren’t quite as strong today.
5.57: Alien Ant Farm ‘Smooth Criminal’
Ver Farm‘s Jacko cover has replaced ‘Heaven Is A Half Pipe‘ as R1’s most over-played song. A couple of weeks ago it seemed like the station had turned itself into ‘Your all day, all ‘Heaven is a Half Pipe’ station!’. Now AAF are the ubiquitous toddler-metal band of choice - though, strangely, it doesn’t appear on the stations playlist. Odd.
6.16: The first mention of “last nights EastEnders”. It won’t be the last.
6.17: ‘Anorak’, a quiz feature where the contestant has to answer a list of questions about the subject they claim to be an expert on. Mills, as ever, sounds bored, detached and impassive as he lazily chides the contestant for being a ‘geek’.
6.33: Another mention for ‘EastEnders’.
6.45: I’m barely listening, but Mills is now waxing lyrical about his other passion other than the ‘Enders - tacky daytime TV. In this case something called ‘Bargain Hunters’, the host of which amuses Mills enough to make him sound a little animated for once.
6.58: “On last night’s EastEnders, right... “ Jesus! He can’t stop himself! His show is about to end but he has to get one last mention in.
I don’t know if [certain] Radio 1 DJ’s are encouraged to namecheck the soap, but Mills, Sara Cox and Chris Moyles regularly fill a link by talking about the previous night’s episode. Presumably this is a way for the presenter to appear ‘chatty’ with the audience, to share some, supposed, common ground. And it’s a good plug for the show! But, I’m sure this has nothing to do with it.
I dunno,Mills is just too much like a local-radio DJ for me. He’s quite bland, but, nevertheless he seems to have his eyes on becoming the next host of the Breakfast Show - he even calls his show ‘The Early Breakfast Show’ just in case the bosses haven’t taken the hint. But he’s way too boring and his ideas are unoriginal. When Chris Moyles had this slot when he started, it was clear from the way he immediately stamped his personality all over the show that he wouldn’t be staying in the dark for long. Mills doesn‘t have a personality. Which might hamper his chances.
The Breakfast Show with Sara Cox ~ 7.00am - 10.00am
Ex-Girlie Show presenter Sara Cox was bought in to replace the very popular Zoe Ball after she left to count Norm’s money.
Breakfast shows are considered to be a radio station’s flagship show. Which means it’s the most listened to. And, despite the unsociable hours, the Brekkie show is catnip for ego-driven, media chatterboxes. In Radio terms, it‘s a slot where s/he who shouts loudest, fastest and longest, wins. After Chris Evans’ highly public falling out with the management someone quickly had to be found to fill the - suddenly empty - hot seat. The then controller, Matthew Bannister, was a big fan of Mark & Lard‘s night time show and thought they would make the ideal hosts. Of course he was wrong and the show lost a million listeners. Even in retrospect it’s hard to gauge what he was thinking, other than panicking wildly. Not that it wasn’t a bad show - though Radcliffe would disagree - but early morning listeners didn’t take to the Northern pairs’ peculiar brand of bluff surrealism.
Enter Zoe Ball (and, at the start to hold her hand, Kevin Greening). Around about this time, under the new controller Andy Parfitt, R1 were aiming for a strictly 15-24 audience and Ball’s high-profile ‘ladette-lite’ image was felt to be perfect for the station‘s target audience. The show brings in a further 230.000 listeners - famously beating Evans’ Virgin Radio breakfast show. Exit Zoe Ball. Moyles and Johnny Vaughn were early contenders, but the bosses obviously felt it would be a safer bet to continue in the boozy ladette vein. Enter, in April 2000 then, Sara Cox, essentially a rougher version of Zoe Ball and, like her predecessor, had never been a DJ before. Radio 1 were thinking personality rather than radio experience.
7.00: Sara Cox speaks at 5,000 miles an hour, I can barely translate her garbled chatter into understandable English.
7.25: “Did you see last night’s EastEnders... ?” It’s started. ‘Coxy’ also mentions a proposed visit by the Queen to the set of Albert Square. Jokes about how Prince Philip will be grumpy.
7.40: ‘Mate or Break’, a quiz where the contestant has to answer some questions. if they get them right they win a prize, if they lose a friend has to reveal some tawdry personal information about them - this usually involves stories about the caller being naked and/or being sick somewhere inappropriate. I couldn’t hear today's edition very well as I was walking to work and the traffic was particularly heavy and noisy.
8.00: I miss precious few minutes as I am required to look busy when I start work.
8.10: Coxy complains that her hair is a mess “I look like Garth form Wayne’s World” she moans.
8.15: ‘Birthday Pigs’, listeners have their birthdays announced to the sound of pig’s squealing.
8.35: They are flicking through Heat magazine as they often do. Now, while I have sympathy for Cox’s anger over the recent paparazzi photographs of her on holiday that appeared in the Sunday People, it does sound a mite rich when she herself is the first to crow over other micro-celeb’s appearances in the tabloids which are scrutinised on the show each day. The Breakfast Show team feast on Heat magazine and the ‘red-top’ showbiz columns and the stories and photos of their daily targets are picked out for ridicule, and this doesn‘t seem to have abated now that Sara Cox herself has been a victim of tabloid intrusion. Strange behaviour.
9.05: They play that bizarre Sophie Ellis-Bextor song, the one where she sounds as if she is reciting the lyrics to the chorus from an idiot board held up in front of her. I quite like it.
9.25: Last night’s EastEnders and Dr Terrible’s House of Horrible are discussed.
9.40: We are given a list of what to watch on TV tonight. Recommended programmes are: ‘EastEnders‘, ‘Linda Green’ - “girls TV!” - and ‘Banzai’ on E4.
9.52: A caller apparently called Paul Heaton (not, I’m guessing, the Beautiful South front man) takes part in the Gabrielle competition. He is asked a question about ‘EastEnders’ but he gets the answer wrong. He wins anyway.
The funny thing about Sara Cox is that she often plays the ‘I’m a down-to-Earth Northern Lass’ card, often referring to her childhood in Bolton. This is at odds with her current actual standing of Met Bar/celeb hangout regular and well-heeled West Londoner. So instead of all the mentions of black peas and Bolton factories, her anecdotes should now really be along the lines of: ’isn’t it all terribly amusing when the Help points to your Aga oven and says [adopts stereotypical Working Class voice] ’Eee, that’s an old thing, int it about time you got a new coo-ker?’ Really, aren’t the non-famous, lower orders just a scream?’
The show is a typically Chris Evans style ‘zoo format’: resolutely low-brow and noisy [or, in BBC speak, ‘anarchic’]. Coxy’s chucklesome, puerile banter dominates, her co-horts - ‘Sazzle,’, a quiet, giggling posh girl, and ‘Chappers‘, the show’s doltish stooge - are kept firmly in the background. Musically it, of course, sticks to the playlist but Cox favoured Hip-Hop gets a look in. On the whole the show is likeable but strangely unremarkable
Jo Whiley ~ 10.00am - 12.30pm
Before becoming, along with Steve Lamacq, one of the joint hosts of the Evening Session in the early 90s, Jo booked the bands on the archetypal post-pub music and chat show, The Word. Nirvana, Faith No More, Huggy Bear, L7 and others all played hugely memorable moments all thanks to her hair-trigger response in quickly booking the latest hot grunge/indie rock act appearing on the covers of the inkies. In this sense then, Jo Whiley was, apart from Mark Lamarr‘s disdainful contributions, the best thing about the show. Radio 1, therefore, sees her as a champion of all things indie, which she would be if she got the chance. She doesn’t really get that chance though, instead, in her late morning slot, she has no choice other than to sit back whilst pre-selected tracks from the playlist are pumped out. As recompense she regularly has bands in for a live session - mostly trad indie bands like the Charlatans, but today it’s Roger Sanchez - and she gets to squeeze in a couple of her favourite new tracks in amongst the stations usual output.
10.03: Alien Ant Farm ‘Smooth Criminal‘! I must have missed the Breakfast show playing!
10.10: Afroman ‘Cos I Got High‘. The novelty single that Whiley was an early champion of, thus allowing her into that sacred, hallowed club of R1 DJ‘s who have been responsible for foisting one hit wonders on us that quickly become annoying. Past roll call includes: ‘Your Woman‘ ~ White Town (Mark Radcliffe), ‘Everyone‘s Free To Wear Sunscreen‘ ~ Baz Lurhurman (Chris Moyles) and ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers’ ~ Andy Stewart (Simon Mayo). Thanks guys
10.40: Whiley‘s contribution to the show so far has been microscopic, she’s barely spoken a word. It appears she is thinking up questions to ask Friday’s guest, Lady Madonna of Ritchie. Meanwhile the computer has been churning out the hits. Can she be happy with this state of affairs? Listeners have phoned in with their ‘Ultimate Air-Drum’ track. I never knew there was such a thing, but after dismissing the likes of the Foo Fighters and Led Zeppelin (which at least would be interesting to hear on daytime R1), Jo decides to not frighten the horses (i.e. The Management) and plays ’Basket Case’ by Green Day - something the kids will know.
Thing is, the listener who requested Led Zep was a 16 year old who informed the show that young people don’t necessarily only know about ’young’, i.e. current, music. Which of course is true, teenagers are inquisitive and knowledgeable about past music, but R1 never address this on any level. Sure, the station should and does concentrate on constantly bringing new music to the airwaves, and this, more than any other national music station, it does (though that isn’t exactly saying a lot. A cursory listen to any other radio station quickly reveals how suffocatingly safe they all are), but still the fact remains that R1 has adopted an almost Stalinistic whitewashing of the past where songs from, even, the mid 90s are effectively ’banned’, even mentioning an artist or band that might be before the time of the 15 year olds listening is frowned upon. Evidence of this comes when, after mentioning anyone who was famous more than five years ago, the DJ’s - Sara Cox and Scott Mills especially - will, self-consciously either appropriate Lard’s catchphrase of “WhoooOOO???“, or the ironic shout of ‘target reference!’ as if they are always aware of not daring to talk over the heads of anyone listening. I wish this rule would be relaxed, it’s just annoying and not a little patronising.
11.00: It is announced that Scotland will temporarily lose transmission.
11.03: The Sugarbabes sound fantastic. Best thing on the show so far.
11.10: Roger Sanchez is in the Live Lounge today. He plays one gorgeous track, has a 30 second ’interview’ with Jo then leaves.
11.43: Radio 1 is back on air in Scotland. They haven’t missed much.
11.45: ’Entertainment News’, top story is the cancellation of a show by R1 and NME sponsored violent misogynists, So Solid Crew. Other news: Fred Durst is, apparently, going to feature in a ’WWF Slapdown’ console game. Talk about finding your spiritual home.
11.50: ’Teenage Dirtbag’
12.20: ’I Want Your Text’, yet another quiz. This one is, basically, a mystery voice competition - the mainstay of every local radio station in Britain, I’m sure.
12.45: “here’s a single by a band called P.O.D, listen to it and see what you think“ Jo gushes. The song is full of hackneyed, boyband style lyrics: “I feel so alive / for the very first time / I feel I can fly“ warbles the singer. After the song, she reads out an e-mail from a listener slagging off the track. She sounds crestfallen.
12.35: Jo rounds off the show by playing new songs by two of her favourite acts, Macy Gray and a monotonous Faithless.
I actually quite like Jo Whiley, her laidback, sensible elder sister cool is a welcome contrast to the hyper-babble of Coxy. And she had adopted the role of barefoot, Earth Mother [of two] in a cowboy hat who still buys new music before the weeks big guest had even hung up her conical bra. If only, however, she was allowed more of a free rein on the show, after all her tastes are hardly avant garde or difficult. Today she didn’t have anything to do other than to say ’and that was... and this is...’ which any fule could do. As Scott Mills would testify.
- coming in part 2: Afternoon with Mark Radcliffe, Chris Moyles and Dave Pearce