Tech eats as it improves. MP3s replaced CDs which replaced cassettes. Online libraries replaced DVDs which replaced video cassettes. With each innovation, the old form was more or less forgotten.
Except, it could be argued, with online radio. Spotify, YouTube, Pandora, Tidal, Apple Music and a whole host of playlist-builder sites should’ve rendered online radio redundant by now. Instead, online radio is having a quiet revolution. Podcasts are back, major US media players are weighing in on online radio once again and those music stations that remain have evolved into some of the best selectors in the industry. The following isn’t a list of the biggest, the most famous or the most listened to, but in Point Blank style, just the ones we feel deserve a mention for their ongoing contribution to keeping this important medium alive.
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The electronic music arm of Radio 538 – Holland’s Radio 1 equivalent, Dance Department was one of the most popular podcasts in the world in its heyday. In the early noughties, as every brand, label and corporate in town was jumping on the new podcast medium, Dance Department was leagues ahead: razor sharp production, charismatic presenting via Dennis Ruyer (who, in true online radio spirit, presented, produced and marketed the entire operation himself) and a who’s who of major names.
It was a key player in putting Holland on the map as a major electronic music exporter, and its relentless push of the Dutch big room sound paved the way for the growth of EDM. Hardwell is among one of the major DJ names who attributes their success, in part, to early mentions on Dance Department. Whether you’re a fan of that sound or not, the station deserves recognition.
It took a surprisingly long time for online radio to gain credibility. FM was still seen as “real” radio, pirate radio was the epitome of edgy whereas online simply wasn’t. Rinse FM helped bridge that gap. A pirate radio station that made a point of continuing to illegally broadcast on FM well after it had become an established brand, Rinse FM were also early adopters of online shows and easy to access playback if you missed the live show. Their adoption of the format helped lend credibility to online radio, not to mention excellent music.
The station that pushed Sigma, High Contrast, Nu:Tone, Danny Byrd, Logistics and loads of drum ‘n’ bass names that went on to enjoy mainstream success, Hospital Records was a combination of near religious commitment to drum ‘n’ bass and charmingly amateur production. Presenter (and label boss) Tony Coleman would regularly commentate on his own patchy beatmatching, and often the music would stop all together with a “Balls, I’ve done the wrong fader again…”
Yet, it obviously worked – the podcast opened the genre up to a whole sub-generation of clubbers, whilst the name and various spin offs: Hospital Records, Med School. Sick Music and their associated artwork became regarded as case studies in how to market music.
UKF were the first channel to see the potential of YouTube as a medium for music. With their videos more often than not being the now infamous speaker logo, the millions of views UKF racked up with their head-shakingly simple business model propelled the brand to where it is today: programming bass stages at some of the biggest festivals on the planet. Their concept has since been copied to the extreme. UKF would never accept responsibility for tropical house but they can be proud of showing just what online radio, and even online music, is capable of.
NTS set the tone for online radio’s brave new world, by pointing out that the great advantage of not playing to a live audience is the pressures of beat matching or staying on genre are removed. NTS Radio leans toward electronica, but they, are above all else, massively eclectic. The station makes a point of continuously showcasing the newest, weirdest and most wonderful artists out there, and their mixes on SoundCloud and Mixcloud regularly racks up thousands of hits.
Film music is awesome. Hell, let’s be honest, it more or less carried ‘Drive’ and transformed ‘Snatch’ from a quirky b-movie to a film buff favourite. Film music is also often a bit awkward; it’s not easy to promote music that’s, strictly speaking, not intended to be danced to. Cinambientique (Just copy and paste, you’re never spelling that first time) manages it however. Winner of multiple online radio awards and the unquestioned dominant name in this niche area, Cinambientique doesn’t differentiate between official soundtracks and kooky electronica, it doesn’t matter – the whole experience is like yoga for your brain.
Wrong list? It’s not known as a music channel, but the fact that the self consciously cool Monocle Magazine – from the same people that brought you Wallpaper – have gone all in with a 24 hour radio show featuring worldwide commentators shows just how seriously the mainstream media have reverted to online radio. It may not get your shoulders rolling, but it is indicative of the development of the online radio.
Online radio’s effective rebirth makes perfect sense commercially because it’s the easiest and cheapest medium to produce en masse, but there’s more to it than that. While every new platform out there offers us playlists or the ability to handpick music, online radio goes back to the roots of what DJing truly is and showcases and exposes us to music we may never have heard before. Stay tuned.
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