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Rock Radio and the rest

Andy Murray hilariously spends a day listening to Manchester's new radio station then questions them all

Published on June 2nd 2008.

Rock Radio and the rest

Manchester has a new radio station to add to the stash. Its aims are clear and true. Rock Radio is ‘Manchester’s first classic rock station’, and their logo is a plectrum.

All Rock Radio’s announcements are declaimed by a Tommy Vance sound-a-like. “The Westlife isn’t the life for us!” he booms.

The declared aim is to appeal to 35-64 year old men. Me, I’m 36, and the first gigs I went to included Blue Oyster Cult, Robert Plant and Marillion. I like to think my music tastes have become pretty broad in the years since, but I still reckon I’m the target listener. I subscribe to MOJO, for heaven’s sake. How, then, can we best assess Rock Radio’s output?

Reader, I’m going in.

11am: Rock Radio’s certainly not hard to find on the dial. Some station playing Labi Siffre’s 'It Must Be Love?' That can’t be it. The new Goldfrapp single? A bit of Debussy? No. 'All Right Now' by Free? Ah, here we go. And in case of any lingering doubts, that's followed closely by Kiss’ 'Crazy Crazy Nights'.

11.07: “Hello Manchester! Welcome to 106.1 Rock Radio, Manchester’s first classic rock station!” All Rock Radio’s announcements are declaimed by a Tommy Vance sound-a-like. “The Westlife isn’t the life for us!” he booms. In his hands, as you might expect, the word “rock” becomes “RRROCK.” In fact, every word is rendered as though in capitals.

Our DJ at the moment is The Moose. He is, naturally, Canadian, and he’s given to chortling merrily and at length to his own stories in an otherwise silent studio.

11.22: The Moose reveals that listeners have been “harassing me to play Rush.” It’s quite an image. So here comes the Canadian power trio’s 'Temples of Syrinx', which gives me a curious nostalgic buzz.

11.38: Following Dire Straits’ 'Money for Nothing', the Tommy Vance manqué announcer is back. “We have a place for Atomic Kitten!” he thunders. Cue the sound of a tiny mewling cat. “The bottom of a canal!”

11.42: 'Highway to Hell' fades. Amid long gales of his own laughter, The Moose recounts an anecdote from his recent exploits in house-hunting. Apparently, right, he met an estate agent whose name was Brian Johnson, just the same as the lead singer of AC/DC. Maybe you had to be there.

12.20: There’s another news report, and it becomes clear that the Rock Radio news style is basic and chatty, like your mate reading out a text while you’re in the pub. It makes Newsround look like the work of Jon Snow. Along similar lines, there’s Rock Radio’s trademark ‘Five Word Weather Report.’ “Enjoy the sunshine, rain’s coming”. Tidy.

13.21: A station’s advertising can probably tell you a lot about its target audience. Between tunes, we’re offered free, no-obligation treatment for hair loss. Then it’s the new single from the Foo Fighters, the first current song we’ve heard for over two hours.

14.00: The next DJ kicks off. It’s our own redoubtable Mike Sweeney, aged 573, who only the hard-hearted don’t love. Though he hardly endears himself by starting his show with Metallica’s epic 'Master of Puppets'.

14.44: Sweeney acknowledges that the whole question of what actually defines classic rock is a thorny one. Songs by Blur and Franz Ferdinand have been played. Old ones, obviously. There'd been emails from listeners. But his theory, that the likes of 'Satisfaction' being classics “the day they were made” doesn’t really clear it up.

15.03pm: Sweeney’s just played The Who’s 'Baba O’Reilly', and there’s a caller on the line. “Why are you playing all the safe Who songs that are on CSI on the telly?” the caller asks. “Coz, that’s just the way we do it!” retorts Sweeney, and immediately bangs Hendrix on.

Rock FM is blunt and unsubtle by nature. It does what it says on the tin. Fine but not exactly hard to pull off. Listen too long and it's like getting trapped in one of those old late-night TV ads for a box-set of fifteen CDs of ‘classic RRROCK’. The ones where the tunes are accompanied by footage of a biker on a lonely American road. With a blonde hitch-hiker just ahead.

Rock was meant to be rebellious music, but here it’s decayed, and in isolation, with nothing to react against and providing no surprises. The new station's owners are the mighty Guardian Media Group, who also hold local stations Smooth and Century - as well as the MEN and Channel M. And possibly the rights to me breathing.

The radio channels are listenable enough, with an emphasis on soul, low-key presenters and sober news reports. Smooth is, as expected, easier on the ear, offering as it does the likes of 'The Girl from Ipanema' in the mid-afternoon: Century meanwhile is not unlike a day-long version of that eighties radio staple, The Quiet Storm. Elsewhere on local airwaves, there’s Key 103, almost stiflingly slick, all chart R&B and jolly phone-ins. Galaxy is less manic, but cooked to the same basic recipe. Xfm offers a more rough and ready, indie-fied alternative, but gets lost in its own narrow-mindedness.

What Manchester currently lacks – and what it could sorely do with – is a local station that hits all the bases, rather than just one. Oh, for a station with an engaging sense of purpose, centred on a strong identity rather than simply a genre, one that doesn’t have its playlist devised by a focus group and then selected by computer.

Perhaps a station with a broad range of presenters (maybe new ones, bless you Mike Sweeney) who exude a genuine love and knowledge of music, and of Manchester. Presenters who are clever and prepared to criticise and debate. Too many of our radio presenters are dull clones, ciphers for clichés.

To be fair, that type of station isn't what Rock Radio’s about, but listening to it makes you wish someone round here would try something more...well challenging, risky. Isn't pioneering what Manchester's about?

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26 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GezzabelleJune 2nd 2008.

"Though he hardly endears himself by starting his show with Metallica’s epic 'Master of Puppets'." Maybe I have misread the meaning behind this sentence but I can't believe you call yourself the target audience and moan when they play Master of Puppets. I feel like moaning because they didn't play the entire album! I LOVE 1061 Rock Radio and I am a 25 blonde girl that you would think would listen to Galaxy rather than Rock radio. I agree that the djs are a bit ****e, but the music speaks for itself. I think XFM is a case in point that a 'radio station for Manchester' can't really work. There is only so many times you can play Step On by the Happy Mondays after all.

Gary MooreJune 2nd 2008.

Rock on Gezzabelle... the stations music does rock most of the time! I also like Planet Rock on Digital sadly it is going off the Air soon :(

AnonymousJune 2nd 2008.

We once had pioneering stations with the likes of Soul Nation, Love NRG, Frontline etc. Sadly there's never been a commercial station locally that's prepared to try anything different.

WE LOVE 96.2 THE REVOLTIONJune 2nd 2008.

We have the fantatice local staion your craving... 96.2 The Revolution, Run by a fantastic, deadicated hardworkin teams of Local people with a genuine interest in music.... CHECK IT OUT !

alJune 2nd 2008.

Are you really the target audience for this radio station Andy? You don't really seem to like rock music! They don't play much current music because apart from the Foo Fighters, Killers and one or two others (who are played), the current output of the record labels is hardly what you'd call "classic rock". Ok, the adverts for hair loss and motorbike related paraphenalia are infuriating and the dj's might be a little long in the tooth but the playlist, whether you like it or not, is filling a gap in the market. Unfortunately, adverts are a necessary evil in commercial media (see mancon for example) and unless you want to tune into national radio, with their playlists written by twelve year old girls and their super ego dj's then you have to put up with it. As for the news, again it's something that a station is obliged to do. In fact, rock radio has a trailer that states that they'll "go and get a cold beer" during the news. I don't think anyone is tuning in to Rock radio for cutting edge current affairs. My radio comes with a special dial that means when I've had enough listening to rock music i can adjust it and miraculously something else comes out of the speakers.

ReplytograhamJune 2nd 2008.

Graham, can you substantiate what you say about the MEN and focus groups? You seem very well informed about journalism and quite certain in your views of what works and what doesn't, so already know the difference, presumably, between statements backed by facts and statements backed by nothing. Which is what your opinion counts for without any substantiation.

GeliJune 2nd 2008.

I have a regular world music show on ALL FM 96.9 between 10am and 12 noon on Sunday mornings. We are all volunteer presenters who have undergone professional training and we produce and present our own programme content. We do need more advertisers and sponsors though to keep the station going. We have presenters from all over the world and from all walks of life including a show presented by Paul Heaton of the Beautiful South and one by the Bridgewater Hall. Come on and help keep the radio station going. We have the one of the first five year licences awarded to community radio stations - it would be a shame it closed down through lack of resources!By the way, I have interviewed such great musicians as Hugh Masekela, Terry Callier, Steve Howe and Andy Palacio on my show, so don't think that community just means local!

JoanJune 2nd 2008.

I echo the support for Allfm - surely the most diverse station anywhere - and Revolution. The best Revolution programme used to be presented by Cottee. Does anyone know what's happened to him? I like many styles, including Rock music, but I like DJs who recognise that it didn't just drop onto the planet ready-formed and self-enclosed.

Ben CookeJune 2nd 2008.

I'd like to big up Revolution too - for a small station they have a large set of balls. I like to be played songs that I wouldn't usually get the chance to listen to alongside tracks I already know and rate . . . and that's where Rev cleans up. I don't think I know of another radio broadcaster in the country that plays the Shaggs, Keith Hudson, Lard and Stockhausen in a year never mind in one show. Maybe Manchester isn't doing so bad after all in the radio content stakes regardless of XFM et al. The Rev goes to show you don't have to play MoR to stay in the black.

Milo WhizzbangJune 2nd 2008.

The general sound balance of the station is all wrong.It sounds weak, beef up the E. Q's'Get a sound that represents rock and not a watered down no balls sound balance!!

DJune 2nd 2008.

Couldn't agree more about the Revolution - the evening and weekend shows are great -Couldn't agree more about the Revolution - the evening and weekend shows are great. Also how about ALL FM in Levenshulme – its run by volunteers so the presenters aren’t always the most professional but you can’t accuse it of following a playlist – music and talk from all over the world.. I’d suggest to Graham (‘it's still the 1930s in Aunties' Empire’) that if he wants the BBC to deal seriously with culture he should listen to radio 3 – ok it isn’t local so I’m a drifting off the topic - but it does broadcast a lot of concerts from Manchester (from the Bridgewater, the RNCM etc) and generally it isn’t patronising.

IanBJune 2nd 2008.

Who cares about the commercial driving force behind the station. Its a welcome change from some stations in the area with jocks who are up wedged up their own backside. Sweeney and Berry in particular have a great knowledge of the music they are playing and have a real human touch. I love the music and although there is a limited degree of modern rock, is this not a sad reflection of the charts today with manufactured ****e dominating things?

AnonymousJune 2nd 2008.

I listen to the station going to work and coming home from work. On the way home, instead of hearing MUSIC - which is what the station should be about - all I get is Sweeney's neo-nazi diatribes on what's wrong with the world. Can't someone tell him to shut the **** up and just play music!!

jimbowensspeedboatJune 2nd 2008.

"What Manchester currently lacks – and what it could sorely do with – is a local station that hits all the bases, rather than just one. Oh, for a station with an engaging sense of purpose, centred on a strong identity rather than simply a genre, one that doesn’t have its playlist devised by a focus group and then selected by computer."What about Revolution 96.2? Fantastic little independent radio station based in Oldham which plays some cracking Indie tunes, and, unlike XFM and its ilk doesn't feel the need to play exactly the same playlist all over again fifteen minutes later. There are some blinding little locally run radio stations out there within Greater Manchester. You just need to know where to look!

Ron MaidenJune 2nd 2008.

Gary Moore (Really?), you oughta look at Planet Rock's website for updates: it seems that they've been saved (a cosortium of Ritchie Blackmore, Angus Young and Alex Lifeson. No, not really).I should've read the responses before I'd posted my earlier bit. It seems like The Rev has a good following.And i only listen to XFM really when one of the others goes onto advert mode; they're all in easy reach on the dial...

JemJune 2nd 2008.

All of this nonsense about Manchester lacking a local station that knows what it's doing is crazy talk!THE REVOLUTION - 96.2FM.Why don't you tune in as part of your 'research' next time!

Brian DowneyJune 2nd 2008.

I've been lisenig to Planet Rock and 97.4 Rock FM for years now...how is this new Rock radio different then?

AnonymousJune 2nd 2008.

"What Manchester currently lacks – and what it could sorely do with – is a local station that hits all the bases, rather than just one"The issue is not Guardiam Media group or focus groups as another respondee claims but the Radio Authority itself. With the lack of available space on FM, when granting a licence the radio authorities will give the licence to someone who can among many factors (mainly financial) can show that their station hits a significant niche that isnt presently covered. Hence why you will never get anyone covering a broad range as the authorities will be able to point at a cpl of stations that have that market. You want something that captures ur need, or fed up of being put in a socio-ecomonic box (ABC 1 etc) - give up on FM and go digital there are countless stations worldwide that with a little work will meet ur needs.

LesleyJune 2nd 2008.

I must admit as adie hard rock fan who is always up for a bit of nostalgia I was really looking forward to Rock Radio - the build up of continuous songs was much played in my car and then......... the talking started. After hearing one DJ slip 3 very unfunny, unrelated sexual innuendo's into one sentance, I just had to switch to another station - since then I HAVE tried, I mean REALLY tried but, the music sounds like they are playing a 'best of' cd on a loop and the DJ's are unfunny and unentertaining at the best of times. It's a shame - could have been so, so much more.

Graham @media DeaconJune 2nd 2008.

The mainstream media is now run by focus groups. Loads of these have taken place at the MEN, run by marketeers to tell them who their audience is and who they are writing for. The simple truth is that if the editors don't know these things then they're already slipping behind and have lost their instinct for the job. Editorship is about leadership. Interest sufficient people and they'll respond. Simple. Talk down to them, treat them like thickos and they'll leave. The MEN's obssession with crime has done it no favours – thank God for the very good sport and business sections. Most local radio is the same, BBC Manchester in particular. It talks to its audience as though they're 12 year olds in very simple terms. And they hate big issues. Talk up to us and then amuse us that should be their duty. Again sport is the model, they expect a degree of sophistication in that area but not in politics, social issues and culture. In those areas we're all stupid and they are the authorities. It's still the 1930s in Aunties' Empire. That's why nobody but pensioners listen and the programme doesn't even satisfy them - or at least not my gran.

Andrew FowlerJune 2nd 2008.

Andy hits upon a few good points, but the main one, I'm afraid, to risk the ire of some Manchester Confidential readers, is the fact that the MEN are now over-dominant in the local market, and is that really what the Radio Authority had in mind as the airwaves have been progressively opened up? They award licences on the basis of their operators' proposals, but then find, like many regulatory quangoes, that they are largely ineffective as stations are traded between radio operators likes spices in a Moroccan souk. So much for plurality of ownership! And are the area's local town stations (Imagine in Stockport, Revolution in Oldham, Silk FM in Macc, Tower FM in Bolton and Bury, Wire FM in Warrington, etc), any better? Jim and Gezzabelle are right about XFM, too. They play that much New Order, influential and timeless as they are, that Hooky and Bernard will probably never need to work again! And they, too, are owned by a faceless corporation.

Ron MaidenJune 2nd 2008.

You could also have put in a word for The Rev (96.2FM) but I guess Oldham Confidential will feature them.For me, with me new Pure Highway (it's DAB on the move, did you know?), it's Planet Rock and 6 Music, mostly. Then The Rev and XFM.It doesn't matter so long as the presenters keep the chat to a minimum (exceptions are Mark Radcliff. oh, and Marc riley, of course) 'cos if you don't like what's playing at the moment, in a moment or 2, it'll be some thing good by Yes. No, really...

StevieJune 2nd 2008.

REVOLUTION!!!!!! Do your research andy!!!!!

Gary MooreJune 2nd 2008.

Yeah, I had big expectations for the rock station, they gave it good hype before the launch, sadly the announcers lack drive and enthusiasm, rock is suppost to have balls... sadly the stations output is rather limp most of the time, the programme director must gig deeper for more classic album tracks, or risk losing listeners. Also a few sexier advertisers might help rather than hair loss and drug trail companies? Rock on Manchester! surly we deserve better?

Max the briefJune 2nd 2008.

and if any friends of mike sweeney are reading, my legal opinion is that 'neo nazi diatribes' is an actionable libel, as would lower his reputation among right thinking people, so if he fancies some pocket money courtesy of manc conf, give me a call...

johnJune 2nd 2008.

What is "classic rock", The Revolution 96.2 knocks spots of the competition, and you will hear the Stones, Who, Motorhead mixed with a great deal more, also big up's to ALL fm 96.9

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