There’s no turning back. The place of jazz radio in today’s listening has changed irrevocably.
The radio was once the only way to hear records that you didn’t own yourself. TV, then and now, hardly ever played the music you were after so radio programmes, national and local, were what mattered.That isn’t the case now. We as listeners are our own DJs: we can filter and select the music we want to hear without the need of a DJ presenter to guide us on our way. We can hear records much more readily than even the most knowledgeable DJ can provide via the web and our online purchases.
Why waste time listening to shows that are playing music that was around a month or two ago as is the case with a lot of BBC local and national radio programmes? Even the national programmes struggle to keep up, trying to improve their offering by padding them out with interviews which are often scarcely more than plugs and live broadcasts some of which have as much atmosphere as a game of billiards taking place on the moon.
Local jazz radio now needs a huge shake-up. It needs to be more web-led with a better social media profile so we know it is there. Most BBC local jazz programmes have none or hardly any profile, and more relevance locally and certainly less puffery by DJ/presenters who are musicians promoting their own mates and gigs which is sometimes embarrassingly the case. Having musicians as presenters is a bad idea anyway: the presenter needs to be just like the listener, a fan and enthusiast, a Bob Harris, a John Peel, who between them would have found it hard to muster more than a couple of chords but still produced great programmes.
Some stations are catering for niches within niches (eg trad jazz only, mainstream only) and that is just too indulgent given how big the jazz community is and how little airtime in a station is devoted to it and this only results in salami slicing the audience still further.
Radio needs more imagination than ever. In an age when a few clicks of a computer mouse brings up the vast majority of listening needs radio may be fighting against the tide and may in the end just have to give in and become web only, with text and visuals part of the package within a bespoke website. But even then sites like Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Spotify where the content actually arrives first will still be ahead. It is a sad story for those who really love radio but it is what’s happening out there. Gone are the days when you wait for a week to tune in to your favourite programme because you had nothing else to turn to and actually when you think of it that isn’t a bad thing at all. Jazz record requests via the wireless – simply a quaint notion now.