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Radio Gaga

Radio Gaga

by Dave Durbach / 20.07.2010

If the medium is the message, then that medium has long been mediocre. The last time I cared about listening regularly to the radio was long, long ago. Anyone with a half-decent music collection would be crazy to sit through the collective hours of advertising jingles, inane banter and (more than anything) else, the American and American-inspired drivel that oozes over the airwaves.

There’ve been some exceptions over the years, usually on local community stations. But by and large, unless one found oneself road-tripping with one’s System of a Down-loving friends, there’s been very little reason to resort to radio. When I did, I’d find myself listening to Lotus or talk radio instead. As for the big guns – 5fm, Metro, Kfm, Heart 104.9 in the Cape, Jacaranda and Highveld in Gauteng – SA’s major urban English and Afrikaans stations follow the American formula to a tee, with little concern for local talent. If they can string two listenable songs together in succession, it’s a rare and special occasion.

For years, people have been talking about the need to install more comprehensive quotas to help cultivate a greater demand and appreciation of local music, following the Australian example that helped build a thriving local industry there. The call grew louder after uMsholozi took office. But not much ever happened, and local radio stations remained decidedly unlocal in their content, right down to the American accents on ads. Those local bands lucky enough to one or two songs playlisted would invariably be only the most Americanised of rocks acts – Parlotones, Dirty Skirts, Prime Circle, etc. and pop-idol R&B drivel.

The World Cup has helped to rectify the situation, if only for the time being. Since the beginning of May, and for the duration of the World Cup, the SABC Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) division’s 15 radio stations have been broadcasting 100% local music – 85% from Mzansi and 15% from the rest of the continent. Others have followed suit, including those not affiliated to the SABC.

“As the SABC, we have taken this decision to play only African music during this period, in order to further promote our home-grown music and music from our African counterparts.” said SABC’s Group Chief Executive Officer Solly Mokoetle in an official statement. “We must remember that during this time, we will be having a variety of foreign guests on our soil in the build-up and indeed during the course of the 2010 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament, and it is important that they are exposed to our culture musically and otherwise.”

It seems ironic the radio stations have finally decided to play more local music for the reason of their being more foreigners around (“as soon as they gone, we’ll go straight back to the American shit you’re used to” Mokoetle seems to be implying), but perhaps long-term changes might be effected.

Mokoetle says the policy was adopted in order to celebrate Africa’s diverse musical culture: “By having the split in the music of mostly South African and African continental music, the Public Broadcaster wants to show that this event is not only for South Africans, but it is for all Africans to enjoy and celebrate”.

The SABC’s three Commercial radio stations (5fm, Metro and Good Hope FM) will continue playing a predominantly international playlist, although they too are upping their local content. “We have decided to increase the frequency and quantity of local music on air over this period and to involve the local music industry” says Vukile Zondi, programming manager at 5fm. BUT “To go the 100% local route would not have been consistent with the tastes of our target market.”

KFM has also adapted its programming to concentrate more on the “the football vibe”, says their programming manager Ian Bredenkamp. “We’ve produced fun, tongue-in-cheek football production and we’re making sure we playlist the fun, football-themed SA music.”

Apparently this means that any local artists who want to get played on Kfm will have to write a soccer song. Those who don’t could find it even harder to get airplay. “We’ve found that a well-researched, appealing mix of pop music is what’s enjoyed most by listeners. So during the build-up to the World Cup, as well as during the month-long event, we will continue showcasing local tracks, many of which have a football or World Cup theme. Most of these songs would have found it difficult under normal circumstances to get airplay on a Top40 station, but are now getting great exposure!” Bredenkamp cites as an example Darren Whackhead Simpson playing a football-themed song by an unsigned local muso every Monday morning on Kfm and Highveld Stereo. “These artists are getting their tracks played across two major radio platforms on primetime Breakfast shows.” Good work Whackhead – one new song played once a week!

“We believe in the power of SA music, and will continue to use our platform to promote it wherever possible,” says Bredenkamp. Just where it’s possible is of course the station’s prerogative. “Playing unfamiliar, untested songs will always run the risk of not appealing to the majority of a radio station’s core audience…We won’t be able to increase it to 100% local content, but will keep with our current trend of playing a minimum of 30%.”

At KFM’s sister station Highveld, music compiler Zane Derbyshire says much the same thing. While calling the SABC’s decision “a great initiative” and looking forward to “spicing the playlist with ‘local football flavoured’ tracks,” Derbyshire believes that increasing local content won’t please Highveld’s clearly very discerning audience. “We do a lot of testing and research on our music and while we are very supportive of SA music, we cannot change the sound of our station, and compromise international tracks for local tracks just for the sake of doing it. We are obliged to the play the music that our listeners want to hear.”

The idea that replacing international with local is somehow a “compromise” done “just for the sake of doing it” speaks volumes of the station’s real views on local music. Do commercial radio stations play what their listeners want to hear, as they claim, or do those listeners want to hear whatever their favourite station plays? Like Leon Schuster, house music, powdered milk and Montecasino, major radio stations are responsible for the dumbing down of our nation’s public, and continue to alienate rather than inform audiences. It’s time for them to catch a wake up: playing local music is not a compromise, and it ought to be for the sake of nation-building and international cultural awareness, among other things – not window-dressing.

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  1. gorgonzola bordello says:

    No, the South African public is responsible for dumbing itself down. If enough of us truly believed in and supported quality original music then there would be a viable future for a station that promoted it. Our taste is up to sh!t because our minds are up to sh!t after decades of socio-political chicanery.

    The future lies in a niche marketing solution that can foster and grow the small number of South Africans who cherish local originality. This is where we should be looking to web radio. With mobile broadband prices coming down quickly and smartphones becoming the norm, it will soon be viable to have an internet connection in your car that streams music much closer to your specific tastes.

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  2. jess says:

    time to start up a pirate radio station anchored out at sea..

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  3. dylan says:

    Fine Music Radio on 101.something FM is excellent. The jocks are these tweedy, bespectacled, bookish men who have lovely enunciation and are a wealth of knowledge. There’s mainly classical music, but also jazz and oldies. Some nights we don’t even watch TV, we just stay at the dining room table and listen to the radio all night because it’s that good. You should really give it a try, it will change your life. Otherwise 2Oceansvibe has a radio station that plays vinyl and things you want to hear. There are options out there, you just got to dig a little deeper.

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  4. gorgonzola bordello says:

    Dylan, are you for real? Do you have Seth Rotherham’s schl*ng half-way down your throat? FMR is a station for jaded old f@rts – they play very unadventurous classical music and very commercial and coventional “jazz”. DJ’s who dare step outside of their narrow definition of “fine” get crapped on from a dizzy height, and that applies especially to presenters who try to showcase less commercial local music.

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  5. Whyno? says:


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  6. Niel Bekker says:

    Sorry GB, but I want to step up for FMR as well. I don’t see how younger people couldn’t ever migrate to progressive jazz and contemporary classical music if they don’t get to know the good shit that’s gone down before. I feel like FMR have helped educate me, without talking down (too much), and that’s a beautiful thing.

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  7. Max says:

    Dear Dave
    What would be the solution, or a hypothetical course of action to take, to amend this situation?

    And yes, Fine Music Radio is great, perhaps the only station worth listening to at the moment.

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  8. gorgonzola bordello says:

    I had no idea that so many geriatric FMR-enthusiasts also checked out Mahala.

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  9. rich says:

    there are some good shows on Bush radio as well, but i always miss them.

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  10. Niel Bekker says:

    GB, I’m 25.

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  11. gorgonzola bordello says:

    Niel, age is a state of mind. Try to enjoy your youth while you still can.

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  12. dylan says:

    I’ve just got back from a very interesting meeting with Seth, where we spoke about how shit local radio is etc. Apparently the UK is shutting down its FM signal in five years time and the future is digital; if you can’t wait until then then make like Seth who streams UK radio via his iPhone. I also flipped through his record collection: Beastie Boys License to Ill, Guns and Roses Appetite for Destruction, AC/DC Back in Black… all of which he’ll be playing on his radio show. He has a first mover advantage with his blog, he’ll have with his radio station.

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  13. BM says:

    Dylan I was really 100% behind your point until
    “Otherwise 2Oceansvibe has a radio station that plays vinyl and things you want to hear.”

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  14. hmmm seth that feels good... says:

    Gee Dylan you obviously wrote that standing up…what with Seth’s negligible manhood firmly ensconced in your ass area…go pitch somewhere else.

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  15. gorgonzola bordello says:

    Dylan, 2OV is the antithesis of what Mahala and its readership embraces. You’re wasting your time trying to punt Rotherham’s latest self-serving foray here.

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  16. Notinmyworld says:

    Fuck off you materialistic, uber-consumerist cunt..and take that poes gutterham with you

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  17. Andy says:

    Come now relax on the 2OV hate. As independent publishers we actually have quite a lot in common. I have on occasion emailed Seth and given him a heads up on some of our content – like the Parlotones supporting Germany thing (which they actually broke on 2OV) – and he’s been very cool about linking his audience to our stories. Yes 2OV panders to a very commercial, consumerist “party” crowd – Jocks – which we prefer to diss and dissect, while they probably think we’re a bunch of Art Fags. It’s a blog and we’re a magazine. Now they have a radio station. I think a Mahala radio station would be rad, but I’m more interested in TV… so there you have it. Play nicely now.

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  18. Katoey says:

    We write what we like Andy….

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  19. Andy says:

    yes yes and I respect that… just chucking in my own two cents. Sorry to interrupt. Let the 2OV hate rage on…

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  20. Notinmyworld says:

    ah dude, such a loss of respect

    never will i ease up the hate of 2ov…because that is the only thing it deserves…the mere mention of it on your site gets roundly lambasted by commentators..that should tell you something

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  21. grim says:

    Ken leave seth alone he is a kiddie fidler. play with the big boys leave the puppies to play with themselves. and fuckit start a radio station. live stream, shouldnt be too hard for you to organise.
    partner with mweb they doin some cool shit in the digital tv area.

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  22. gorgonzola bordello says:

    Andy’s trying to keep some bridges intact in the close-knit and tenuous world of SA internet media. He may need a favour or two from the likes of Seth one day. Sometimes diplomatic remarks are little more than insurance, no?

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  23. Notinmyworld says:

    Mahala and 2ov are both online…I’ll give you that similarity…albeit at polar opposites regarding content.
    The funny thing about you mentioning the 2ov and the Parlatones story is that your story highlighted their corporate whoring…Will Mellor/Siff Underarm/2ov is the biggest corporate whore there is…he’ll punt anything if there’s a freebie involved.

    just what I was thinking. given the content of the articles that Andy mahala publishes , it isn’t hard to work out what andy probably thinks of 2ov….but then again, Nike does rear it’s ugly head

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  24. Johnny says:

    Heartily agree with this, I’ve turned to last.fm completely, when i’m subject to FM radio it has got to be Radio 2000 that plays the most local, good music.

    The UK has the same problem though, BBC 1 is the biggest crock of shit in the world. BBC4 and BBC6 are incredible, but have big cuts in funding.

    As you say the Aussies do have it right, Triple J is one of the most progressive stations out there.

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  25. snapper says:

    I miss Michelle Constsant on Radio2000

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  26. Zaz Thunder says:

    Great article, highlighting the sad and bitter truths.

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  27. lizzy says:

    yay for radio 2000!

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  28. gorgonzola bordello says:

    My life-partner, Greg, told me that he actually likes FMR, so my humble apologies for my queen-esque rants. Im just really passionate about certain topics and go overboard at times.


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  29. the real gd says:

    imposter – get a life, and a decent imagination

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  30. Moose says:

    The reason stations play internAtional music is because it’s cheaper. The major labels punt the same shit everywhere in the world. They pay radio stations (usually through middlemen) to get songs on rotation. Without a change in the law like in Australia mandating local content, they will never invest in local artists. Which means no local artists on rotation. Period.

    All the crap about their audience is just that. Crap. Follow the money.

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  31. mary says:

    yes I also miss Michelle Constant on Radio 2000, and in Knysna- we cant pick up FMR etc. Radio 2000 was really crap after she left. I only listen to car radio occasionally now, but I loved the sa and african music played during WC, and dread the return to the americanised shit they play usually. Definitely time for a rebel station out at sea. Thank you for great article.

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  32. Ramble Jamble says:

    Radio is no longer about the music. We live in an era where exactly the music you want to hear is available, for free, at the click of a buttin (see Spotify for example).

    Radio, be it the horse with the bolt gun to its head IFM radio) or the new young colt (digital radio), will keep a listener tuned in by means of an engaging, relevant, interesting, eloquent and informed presenter.

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  33. mike Miller (USA) says:

    You have a gem of a non-commercial radio station emanating from Cape Town. I pick it up clearly from Providence RI (USA), but my buddy in Simonstown can’t pick it up – the mountain’s in the way!

    In the US we have literally scores of non commercial radio stations originating from universitites, various cities etc. They pump out the best in jazz, classics, rock, whatever and run for 24 hours a day. Some require a computer, others don’t.

    The airwaves are alive with the sound of music.

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  34. Old And Very Minor FMR 101.3 Presenter! says:

    All of us at 101.3 are heartened at the above comments commending Fine Music Radio (FMR)

    FMR is a very special station that celebrated its 15th birthday on July 1st.

    FMR is a predominantly classical and jazz station with all the multifaceted genres that these entail. We attempt to be relevant to our loyal listeners whilst continually enticing a new audience to our wave length by way of steady evolution, not revolution!

    On the subject of local music and musicians, we are obliged, by stint of our broadcasting mandate, to include at least 40% South African content in our playlist and this is scrupulously monitored internally and through SAMRA.

    There is indeed a signal struggle on the Atlantic seaboard and down the Peninsula. A booster has been on the cards for a long while and it’s now agreed but difficult to pin down a switch-on date. Hopefully this year but we can’t be sure!

    Otherwise, there is a live streaming facility via the web site – fmr.co.za – for the FM signally challenged in the Mother City and around the world!

    Thanks for the great article and replies.

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  35. mike Miller (USA) says:

    I discovered FMR a while ago. Its absolutely super and I’ve been in touch with several of the announcers as well as promoting the station here in the USA where I pick it up clear as a bell.

    As a former South African who has a great love for the country, I say that FMR is fresh and original and should be heard by many more people around the world.

    More strength to you

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  36. classical music lover says:

    Seth is trying something new – radio that is unfettered by government restrictions in a very restricted radio environment. There are very few radio stations in the world that MUST, by way of their acceptance of a broadcasting license, broadcast 40% of ‘local content.’ As far as FMR is concerned, this can be very restrictive, unless they get creative and live on the boundaries of the legislation, which they do, and ICASA readily accept. Some of the FMR programmes are presented by script-reading coffin-dodgers who are still mentally existing in the 1950’s, but others are pushing the boundaries and reaching out to a bigger audience who enjoy classical music, like me. Take the Two Nicks – Ciro and Plummer. Ciro is ex-Five fm, but pulling them in every afternoon drive time. The other Nic is doing a great Saturday Breakfast Show that starts with esoteric classics for the insomniac fiddle-huggers at 6 am, but by the time he finishes at 9 he’s playing movie soundtracks and playing anything from Sting thru Sergio Mendes to Spike Jones. Then he goes and has a 10 minute high-octane banter about sports at 8-15. It’s outrageously radical but works so well – try it, it really starts my weekend!

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  37. Shiloh says:

    I was at Seth’s opening evening, a massive media launch bustling with socialite wanna be models and very few serious media decision makers. and Solly philandering in the back , hoping they might make him an offer . Myself an FMR presenter and on the board of directors, all eyes will be on how Seth sells advertising through audio streaming?? Sooner or later no matter how financially strong you are , that will have to kick in…Hardiman leaving a good job with a pregnant wife ?? I doubt, but nevertheless time will be the judge of all things. Radio is not just playing your private record collection, the only internet radio stations abroad that have survived have been specialist stations Folk music Prog Rock ,Metal rock, Psychedelia etc, never mainstream and judging by his play list , nothing special, Radio 2000 play that as does Mid Rand etc ,so where is the niche; after the fad fades.

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  38. Tom Purcell says:

    Re the signal, there are still tests being done but for those on the Atlantic seaboard and down from Hout Bay and around the Peninsula, tune to 94.7 for a loud and proud Fine Music Radio. Mike in the US…tell your mate in Simon’s Town!

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  39. Tom Purcell says:

    Hey Shiloh,

    2OVR must have another financial model…difficult to see a ‘normal’ advertiser being comfortable with some of the language…which is regularly fruity and ‘vibey’ – in the music and the chat!!

    I have no problem with it personally although I wouldn’t want my young daughter or her friends tuning in. Daddy would need to be providing constant interpretation of words, phrases and nuances!!

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