On radio, personality, and sharing deep cuts
|Colin Nagy||22 hr|| 1|
Colin here. Somewhere down the line, surrendering to someone else’s taste got less cool. We've disappeared so much into our hyper-personalized and curated worlds that the collective experience—and yielding to the taste of a DJ—has been somewhat lost. It wasn't long ago that disc-jockey legends like John Peel would break new artists in England and the world by virtue of their finely-tuned tastes and ravenous appetites for finding unpolished gems from stacks of promos.
In the past few weeks, instead of a perfectly polished playlist, I actually started craving someone—gasp—talking over a track: something that used to annoy me to no end. My blood pressure rose when a long time friend of WITI, Tim Sweeney, famously spoke over the first time he played a Carl Craig remix of Delia and Gavin. He got a lot of boo’s from the fans, but the talking was tactical, as the track hadn’t come out yet and it was a requirement for him to play it on the show to deter bootleggers. At this stage, I just wanted the rare goods that Tim was so great at trotting out.
So, it might be a combination of working from home, craving community, and restlessness, that I wanted to actually tune into a communal listening experience with a DJ that wasn’t just quietly choosing tunes, but was adding some personality into the interaction.
Obviously, this is nothing new, large swaths of America still tune into drive-time radio and there’s no shortage of chatty hosts. But among people playing discerning music, it was hard to find a good balance between the banter and the actual goods.
Why is this interesting?
Turns out the music nerd discernment plus charming host banter does exist and airs every weekday morning. The Face recently profiled a DJ on NTS, a streaming station in London, that is getting this very right:
I’ve spent most of my weekday mornings over the past few years in the company of Charlie Bones, NTS’ esteemed morning presenter, and possibly the only person on radio who can get away with playing Transition by Underground Resistance back to back with Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush without coming across like a cider-sodden second year student at a house party desperately pawing through Spotify in an attempt to get things going in a half-empty kitchen in deepest Sydenham.
Despite the constant dread and panic that has enveloped us all, this is one habit that I and the majority of the show’s dedicated listeners across the world won’t be giving up any time soon.
Gloriously electric without ever being painfully esoteric, The Do!! You!! Breakfast Show relies on two simple things that, more often than not, coalesce into a daily three hour dose of pure radio pleasure.
The first is Charlie himself, a veritable anti-Chris Evans. He might not be the most punctual of broadcasters – and indeed many episodes of Do!! You!!! Begin with a good 45 minutes of ambient drift that subtly inform the listeners that, yep, he’s late in again – but he’s a gloriously unguarded one.
Whether he’s talking us through the latest conspiracy theory to grab his attention or bursting with glee as he chats to the legendary Dexter Wansel about Teddy Pendergrass’ passion for topless horse riding, it is Charlie’s indomitable combination of weatherworn grouchiness and evident and almost outsized adoration of music that ties the show together. He’s Larry David with a ponytail and a penchant for Prefab Sprout.
First off, the goods were there. On Wednesday, he opened with a gorgeous Bonnie Raitt track but is unconfined by genre. And it is this eclecticism plus personality is the draw. It’s one thing to play a bunch of stuff, it is quite another to play a lot of stuff cohesively, in the vein of the late John Peel, or as Optimo, two of my favorite DJs in the world, are among the best at. The Face hit the nail on their head on why his show works, saying, “As happy playing album tracks by The Cure as he is the latest Lobster Theremin 12”, a soft-rock rollocker by Laura Allen, or an extended edit of an electro-acoustic oddity that soundtracked a film about a Canadian canoeist, he leads us — the audience — on a merry dance through a world of cutting-edge dance music and the sort of mum-bangers you’d associate more with Heart FM than NTS.”
Also, long live the radio call-in. It adds some interactivity and spice to what could be a chin-stroking exercise in being cool and playing records. Charlie does this to excellent (and non-cringey effect), and Beat in Space’s Sweeney also did this well with a cast of characters, including someone named Victor who would always dial in with thinly veiled threats, hating every single record that Tim played.
And pleasantly, it seems the charms of the show are spreading quickly around the world. According to the Face, “This week, the shout outs – which are usually doled out like confetti during the course of an average show – have been coming from around the entire globe. It would seem that each and every continent has a contingent of hardcore NTS-listeners who are easing into the uncertain waters of quarantine with the help of an old familiar friend.” (CJN)
Space of the day:
As we dream about convivial nights out, have a look at this cool, hidden restaurant called Inn Ann tucked discreetly behind the Japan House cultural center in LA. Their first year saw a very esteemed list of guest Japanese chefs coming over for residencies, and the experience was wonderful. They are on hiatus now but hopefully will return soon with a new concept. (CJN)
A good profile of Nextdoor, which is finding surges of interest right now, as communities need to stick together (CJN)
A good deep dive on bespoke suiting from friends of WITI Mark Cho and the Armoury. (CJN)
Robert Caro on Fresh Air (CJN)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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