When COVID-19 forced clubs and gig venues to close their doors earlier this year, radio became a balm for those who were left with a live music-shaped void in their day-to-day. With most operating online and for free, community radio stations offer a more accessible alternative to the ticketed events we’re used to; one that thrives in a social distancing context too. Though they lack the multi-sensory experience of live events– no sweaty shoving here– radio is also incredibly intimate, to be listened to from home as a soundtrack to your daily errands, or to substitute your casual chit-chat with friends, family and colleagues. When off-screen company and voices in real time are scarce, radio steps up.
Independent radio stations have been operating for decades now, from the pirate approach popularised by Rinse FM in the nineties to the regional set-ups that have been popping up in venues and arts centres in recent years. However, the platforms took on a whole new importance in lockdown; one which still resonates in the altered reality we now occupy.
NTS and Rinse FM, now licensed, lead the scene in the UK, with 7-day week schedules and major artist residencies, whilst smaller stations such as Manchester’s Reform Radio and Bristol’s Noods follow suit and explore the nooks and crannies of their respective music scenes. DIY and led by people with their ears to the ground, the shows favour content that leans far further towards the left-field than the commercial radio your parents listen to in the car. It’s a nice break from the often crap sounds of heart and Capital FM, who play Jess Glynne and ad breaks like nobody’s business.
Closer to home, Sable Radio champions people of colour in Leeds and further afield with a range of music, mixes, spoken word, recipes and live scrabble tournaments. Whilst broadcasting from the Mabgate studio took a hiatus in March, Sable ran a ‘Live at Home’ series; a warming comfort when the sound of friends’ voices echoing round your living room seemed a little more distant. After a long few months, Sable reopen their doors on corona-friendly terms this September.
The future of the music scene is uncertain, but the past few months have made one thing clear: independent radio is crucial, now more than ever.
Header Image via Hypebeast