When an American comedian wants to make an easy and widely understandable joke about the British Isles, all he has to do is go for either one of two targets — bad food or bad weather. I hate to add onto any kind of stereotype (especially as somebody that enjoys rain thinks fish and chips is one of the greatest meals known to mankind), but I would add something else to that list — bad radio.
Of course, “bad” is my own definition and is much broader when I am trying to find stations that fit within my pretty tight stipulations for making it onto my Radio page. Overall, there is certainly nothing “bad” about the BBC but I want to avoid network stations as well as those that do not feature mostly music programming. The United Kingdom has a small handful of college and “community” stations, but many do not stream or broadcast 24/7. There are also a lot of stations there with no websites or no way for me to find them since there is no standard by which I can look them up (such as by the call letters used in other countries).
As for the commercial stations there…wow…and I thought that American radio was bad! Almost all of what I heard in my second go-around in trying to find more good stations to add to my list had no heart, no soul, and no imagination in either the “presenters” as disk jockeys are called there or in their playlists. Even in the highly populated and greatly important City of London, I could not find one decent non-BBC radio station that was streaming on the Net. I can only suppose that this is why so many people use public transportation in London as trying to listen to the radio while driving there would make people want to slit their wrists.
All of that being said, I did find two stations over there that are absolutely magnificent. Both are surprising not only for being an oasis in a desert of radio mediocrity but also for what they play and how the deviate from their standard formats.
The first new addition to my list is a “community” station located in Glasgow, Scotland called Celtic Music Radio. Most of the time, this station plays music appropriate to its name — folk music from Scotland and Ireland along with high quality modern interpretations of the genre. However, there is also specialty programming where they explore other “roots” music including reggae, blues, general folk music, Americana, and several others. Despite my disparaging remarks about UK radio overall, most American “community” stations would give their left nut to be this good.
The other great station I found in the UK is in Sheffield, England and is also a “community” outlet. I am a bit angry at them because they stole an idea that I had way back in the early 1980′s — to have a station that focuses on new rock music but that does not totally forget its long and rich history. That’s exactly what radio2XS does. They even tag themselves as being the home of “60 Years of Rock & Roll.” Best of all is that they don’t just mash everything together like a bunch of mp3s they slapped onto an iPod. Somehow, they get a Marianne Faithfull song to blend well after just having played Rage Against the Machine. This station does not seem to ignore anything rock no matter how old, obscure, or — unlike many American rock stations — how non-white. Thus, I suggest to all of my readers that like rock in multiple forms not to ignore this station.
After having dredged these two gems out of the putrid sea of UK radio, I had hoped to find more in the Caribbean to fulfill those requests for more reggae and other “world” music. Sadly, I found the same thing this time around as I did the first — good stations that were no longer on the air, good stations that had awful sounding streams, and a whole lot of hip-hop trying to pass itself off as reggae. Thus, the remainder of the next round of station additions as I try to get everything I missed the first time around due to my computer glitch are going to come from Canada and the good ol’ U S of A. Yes, I was hoping for more diversity but I can only play the cards that I am dealt…and say again to my readers that, if anybody knows of a good station that I missed that mostly sticks to music programming, has a good sounding stream, and broadcasts 24/7, please pass it along.