The Radio Jocks Who Have Changed From On-Air To Online
May 12, 2015
Last week, in Toronto, Canada, I was lucky enough to be at the Canadian premiere of I Am What I Play, a radio DJ movie following four great radio presenters' lives. Roger King, the director, spent some considerable time with a number of great radio presenters, and the movie is a treat for both radio fans and for fans of human stories.
Interestingly, the movie isn't a eulogy to the "good old days" of radio. It could so easily have fallen into that trip. But in the Q&A afterwards, the filmmaker was clear. "That kind of radio still exists", he said, "but you need to look for it. It's on the internet, there are lots of indie stations still around, and it's on podcasts, too."
David Marsden was one of the DJs featured in the film, and was also present for the premiere. From the audience reception, he's clearly a Big Deal: though I'd never heard of him before. What's he doing now? Why, running his own internet radio station, nythespirit.com.
Running your own internet radio station, or podcasting, appears to be where many radio jocks of a 'certain generation' are going.
UK radio presenter Steve Penk - formerly on London's Capital FM and Manchester's Key 103 - is now running two channels on TuneIn. The Steve Penk Windup Channel, running archive clips of his wind-up calls, and the Steve Penk Music Channel, with a freeform yet hit-driven mix of music (and occasionally live links).
"I have always spent my professional life being creative, and just because I haven't [currently] got a job on the radio, that process doesn't stop. You can't just turn off your creative brain, especially if that's what you've done every day for the past 30 odd years," he told me. His music channel flits between Frank Sinatra, Prince, Candi Staton, Ram Jam and Johnny Mathis. He says it's just a hobby, keeping him busy. It costs him little to run.
Jon Gaunt is a former "shock jock" for the UK's talkSPORT, and national newspaper columnist. He was fired from talkSPORT a few years ago apparently for comparing a local councilor to a nazi; and recently launched his own podcast - recording from his spare room, with a commendably budget operation. Nevertheless, he's reached the top five in iTunes, and appears - against all odds - to be connecting with his audience. A talkback jock doing a show on a podcast, and therefore with no live reaction from audiences, is an interesting balancing act, but it's one he appears to succeed in. He claims he's now being offered money from various sources to continue his podcast; his costs are even lower than Penk's.
Gareth Cliff is a South African radio personality most recently heard on the national youth station 5FM. After being suspended twice, the second time for "interviewing Jesus," he launched CliffCentral in May 2014, an online radio station with a number of high-profile personalities. Cliff does breakfast (a show which is repeated 12 hours later), and his station - marketing itself as "uncensored, unscripted, unradio" is, by all accounts, doing well: he was certainly the talk of the radio industry when I saw him speak last year in Johannesburg.
David "the Mars Bar" Marsden's radio station? He's been doing it since September last year. It demands CA$5.99 (US$4.99, AU$6.25) a month; there's no trial period, and a short test stream without any music. Subscription-based radio is something alien to people in the UK, and attempts for subscription-based radio haven't historically done well in my country; yet the concept is a little less unusual for North America.
Running your own online station - with few costs but correspondingly few listeners - is a great way to keep your creative juices flowing. It'll be interesting to follow these stations to see whether there really is a way to 'stick it to the man' and do it yourself online.
In the meantime, check out the trailer for I Am What I Play. The movie's even better.