Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Radio Songs #25: Music Mix

In 1989, when I started my full-time (unpaid) job in radio, the music business was going through a period of great change. Compact discs had been around for a few years but they had ceased to be a novelty or a fad. The record industry was doing its level best to sell music fans their old record collections back to them on shiny silver discs, and for the most part we were going along with them.

My first experience of driving the on-air desk in Studio A came when I was offered the chance to do Music Mix - a one hour "no talk" segue between the mid-morning / lunchtime show, which ended at 2, and the drive-time show, which began at three. It was back-to-back music, with ads, but it was good practice for a wannabe-DJ to learn the desk without also having to worry about talking and making a fool of himself. I can clearly remember that shift - the anxiety of being alone in the studio with the power of the desk at my command. The awesome responsibility of it. The terrifying fear of dead air, of pressing the wrong button, of cueing up a record with the fader open...

Yeah, I did that one a few times. If you've never been near a radio desk, you won't know about pre-fade, the button that allows you to listen to a channel that isn't live off-air, and prepare the audio on that channel for broadcast with the fader down. Leave the fader up, though... and wikky-wikky-wikky.

Wikky wikky wikky. The sound of a vinyl disc being cued. When I started, the majority of the music played on that station was still on vinyl. But CD was taking over. The playlist box in the studio contained (in most cases) both the 7" and the CD single of the latest chart hits. It was the presenter's choice which they played. As time went on, the number of 7 inches in that box quickly depleted. Eventually it was just full of CDs.

The migration from vinyl to CD, however, gave me my first job. The record library, when I arrived, was in chaos. There had been sporadic attempts to catalogue it in the past, but now the shelves were full of hundreds of old vinyl records and an increasing number of those funky new CDs... and nobody could find anything. This was still in the days of presenter choice when it came to the music played (with a few little rules to guide the jocks), but the lazy ones had taken to just grabbing a handful of Now albums and making do with those each day. Organisation was required to liberate all that glorious, forgotten old music..., and that was my task.

Every day then, when I wasn't given anything else to do, I settled down at the desk in that poky, dusty, dingy, magical old record library...  with just a stack of index cards and a biro... numbering and stickering the albums and CDs, giving anyone who cared to look clear instructions where to find even the most obscure old pop song... by writing down long lists of song titles.

If you ever wondered why I write this blog... why I compile obscure Top Tens featuring the most eclectic and muso-irking selection of music... why I'm sat here hunched over a computer at 10pm on a Tuesday evening after a hard day at work when I could be relaxing in from of the TV... I think you just found your answer.

You never forget your first love, and for me, mine was that old record library.


  1. Organizing the record library would have been something I would have enjoyed too. Love your radio stories.

  2. Like Brian, that would have been right up my alley too BUT can't believe you didn't get paid for all of this hard work. Hope there is a monthly pay cheque on the horizon in this series?

  3. "The record industry was doing its level best to sell music fans their old record collections back to them on shiny silver discs, and for the most part we were going along with them."

    I did buy loads of CDs nut thankfully, the hoarder in me kept the vinyl. None of us could really have predicted its eventual revival nor all of this blogging malarkey.

    I would have loved that job Rol. But it's a nonsense you weren't being paid.....



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