Rolling Stones Save Radio...but What's the way Forward for the UK's Airwaves?

06/09/2011 00:02 BST | Updated 05/11/2011 09:12 GMT

So Keith Richards has saved 'oldies' station Angel Radio from going to the wall. Meanwhile, Ronnie Wood is the saviour of Absolute Radio with his new show that is raking in record listeners. Bob Dylan's on Radio 2 - what next, Weird Al Yankovich's all-hit breakfast show on Radio Lollipop?!

Seriously though, it's great that our elderly statesmen of rock are taking to the airwaves - well, I suppose if your new album's no longer deemed worthy of airplay on our national stations, why not take over a show, so you can play whatever you want?

But I'd like to see a bit of a shake-up in the way the music we hear on our national stations is chosen. I'm specifically thinking about Radio 1 here.

Radio 2 is a brilliant station these days with an eclectic playlist, whose transformation was masterminded by former controller Lesley Douglas and continues to develop through inventive programming, excellent documentaries and superb live sessions and shows.

Other national stations, Magic, Heart and the bigger commercial stations are followers rather than leaders when it comes to choosing the music they play.

Radio 1 however seems to have got caught in a self-obsessive spiral in much the same way as it did in the 90s, when its output turned the station into a pirate radio-sounding wind tunnel of repetitive and faceless dance music that was almost unlistenable (and I say that as fan of the genre, having grown up with house music as my teenage soundtrack).

Radio 1 has once again become too cool for school and ghettoized, caught in a rut where the playlist is dominated by same-sounding dubstep pop, which barring one or two exceptions such as the superb Chase & Status and Nero, is back to its mid-nineties low point.

What I think we need are more representative and varied playlists at radio, where there's a chance for all of these genres to shine and share the airwaves. As it stands at Radio 1 - or so I'm informed by the leading radio pluggers in the industry - everything has to be championed by a tastemaker or come from a particular scene (currently dubstep) to stand a chance of airplay support.

Consequently, daytime output is deluged with one generic sound and all the other genres are locked out until a chink in the armour appears wide enough for a band (or a singer or a duo etc) who've mustered enough support to break through.

For the last two years the talk in the industry has been about how things are going to shift back towards guitar bands. But so far, this has not materialised, because labels can't get the support from producers because all they want to play is dubstep because they think that's what the kids want and are listening to.

If they only went out to gigs and festivals as much as I do and saw the range of acts and types of music that young 16-24 year olds are really into, then our national airwaves would sound drastically different. Young people out there love folk, they love acoustic singer-songwriters, they love reggae, pop, guitar bands, female singers, duos, boy bands and girl bands and they love them all the time.

What do you think happens to all the fans of guitar bands or singer songwriters or soul singers when that genre of music isn't given national airplay, during times of mono-sonic doldrums? They don't just cease to exist. They're still out there, but they don't have any exposure to the acts that satisfy their tastes, which is a massive missed opportunity for radio stations eager to improve their reach.

You may argue that that's where 6 Music shines, but I think that all radio stations should have open minds rather than limited focus. BBC's Introducing is an excellent and well-executed conduit for music, but in this digital age where it could be easier to make and distribute music, the problem is still exposure.

One ray of light nationally is the superb Amazing Radio, which is innovatively taking the BBC's Introducing format one step further and featuring music from their site. Fans choosing the music effectively, moderated by a team of established music industry presenters such as the effervescent Gill Mills, with her new music show and Jim Gellately up in Scotland, as well as the Guardian's music man Paul Lester.

Another excellent platform that has emerged is the British Council's Selector Radio show. Recently nominated for a BT Digital Music Award for Best Show and fronted by Goldierocks, the show promotes British music globally.

The show currently goes out on FM in more than 30 countries worldwide to an audience of more than three million. Bands such as Dinosaur Pile Up and artist Jamie Woon, whose music has been played on the non-playlist constrained show, have found new audiences in countries as far apart as Mexico and Kazakhstan.

Dinosaur Pile Up received so much interest in Mexico City that they ended up going out there and playing to a sell out crowd of more than 3,000 people in a country they'd never previously been to.

We need more platforms like this. Open minded, anything-goes radio for all.