Friday, 22 August 2008

[37] 106.1 Rock Radio Manchester

While tuning in the radio in my parents' new car the other week, I stumbled across a new station, 106.1 Rock Radio. This has only recently started broadcasting, and takes great pride in being Manchester's First Classic Rock station. Its image is carefully managed (check the billboard advertisement below), with a strong focus on uncompromising, balls-to-the-wall irreverence (which often jars with its more confusing song choices). Some of its continuity soundbites, custom ads and jingles come off as incredibly forced and over-the-top. Nevertheless, its DJs (fronted by Salford/Manchester radio legend Mike Sweeney) mostly manage to keep it together - and their musical aims are well-intentioned.

[Photograph courtesy of Aidan O'Rourke]

For years now I've lobbied for a good Rock station in the UK (or the North West). I feel that there is a great chunk of classic music that is left out by the too-simplistic programming found on the airwaves in this country (mostly neophilic , or otherwise safe easy listening or crass nostalgia). 106.1 Rock Radio works well when it sticks to the 1960s and 1970s 'pub-rock' staples in the Classic Rock canon, bringing a fair amount of music from under-represented household names (Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple). It even goes so far to include unorthodox programming procedures to push its rock ideology, and to keep things fresh, at one point playing Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker', followed by its subsequent album track 'Living Loving Maid', or indeed, playing the first, 13 minute, movement of Pink Floyd's 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond'.

This adds up to about half of 106.1's output; the other half is where its programming falters. Once the 1980s begins, and the previously solid foundations of rock music start to shift and develop in different directions, the choices become scattershot. With this, the happy surprises disappear, to be replaced by an unfortunate amount of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi (two of the most-represented bands in my sampling). Equally, when venturing towards the present, too much of the music is tame and mainstream, and barely 'rock', with many boozy stadium anthems by the likes of Simple Minds, Oasis and EMF, or neutered coma-songs by Chad Kroeger or U2. At these points, you could be listening to any station - what radio station in Manchester DOESN'T play 'Roll With It'? Unfortunately, and surprisingly, various styles of rock - such as metal, underground and alternative - are quite rare in the playlist . Certain bands do crop up, like REM or Nirvana, although the choices are predictable (the hits for the latter, anything off Green or Document for the former). This is an interesting inversion of my reaction to the other rock station with which I'm familiar - Radio Rock in Finland. That station is perfect for the post-NWOBHM and alternative, yet abysmal for anything pre-1979.

It's a shame to nitpick, as no radio station can be perfect. If you want perfect, there are MP3 playlists for that purpose. 106.1 works well as it fills a void left by the rest of AM/FM radio. No doubt it is still finding its feet, and in time it will develop and improve. Nevertheless, I'm glad it exists.

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