Enter the DJ:
In the late 70s it was claimed that a new invention video, would kill the radio star. Popular band The Buggles sang a song all about this, which went to number 1.
Although the Buggles thought that video would kill the radio star, they were actually quite wrong. The videos that the bands were singing about needed the DJ and without him there wouldn’t be any videos. In-fact video helped the radio star. #Fail #Buggles
Back then, The Buggles remained steadfast that that this new fangled VCR machine invention, would somehow make the DJ redundant. Suggesting that perhaps we would all stop listening to the radio or going to nightclubs, and all sit round a table hold hands and watch music videos.
Here is a picture of the people who wrote this futuristic song. One of them might be a girl but it is not clear. What is clear however is that the one with the glasses would most definitely walk into stationery objects without them.
No one really knew much about that song and took it at face value, but there may have been a hidden message within it back then. An idea, that the DJ’s time might soon comes to an end.
But the DJ grew and became even stronger amid countless new fangled inventions like Roller Skates, Poll Tax and Football Violence. It continued strongly and in-fact in the late 80s and early 90s the DJ was quite a long way from being killed by anything, in fact they became more popular to women than footballers.
Millions of radio stations were purchased and put to air. Trillions of nightclubs were making millions of pounds and at the helm the centerpiece was the DJ.
The video didn’t kill the radio star either. Nor did DVD players, the Game-boy or even the Breville. Or Napster.
Whilst Shaun and John Fanning, the inventors of Napster didn’t kill the Radio Star. They did almost kill the DJ and the whole world at the same time. Well, truthfully it was actually a culmination of things.
Around the same time as Napster, the government passed a law, which allowed licensed bars to open later. So not only were music fans able to “download” and listen to music free of charge at home but they no longer had to pay to enter a venue for it to be played to them by a superstar.
These two factors contributed toward an unconscious paradigm shift on how we view the DJ. Both on the radio and in our leisure time.
Radio stations became less heroic when listeners could hear the very latest Michael Jackson exclusive themselves by downloading it. Here, DJs were not the only ones who could source and break new music. The listeners could now do it themselves. And listeners or audiences became more demanding. Once they were able to get any song they like NOW, they became instantly harder to please.
But this was only the early digital revolution and it was only those with a degree in computer science that were able to really make use of consuming music in these new ways; so that didn’t really affect radio. And whilst this certainly had an impact on the traditional DJ he was still saved by the leisure giant’s brainchild. Cheap drinks! Cheap Drinks make any DJ very palatable.
This was good news for a while. Nightclubs gave away ethanol, which made them rich, and commercial radio told DJs to shut the hell up, which made Chris Evans rich. And this seemed to work quite well. Then Steve Jobs created the IPOD.
At this point many futurologists were screaming at radio bosses saying things like
“Look this is not really everyone’s “best music mix” because the IPOD is, are you deluded?”
It was ignored. Oops.
It is only recently that radio has started to do things in a smarter way, meanwhile sadly the nightclub DJ is all but pretty much dead and buried.
- Did the IPOD kill the DJ on its own? No.
- Did Leisure giants do enough to protect their investments on a changing playing field? No.
- Is radio about to curl up and die? No.
But, there is a but. And it is this “but” that keeps radio giants and people like radio futurologist James Cridland awake for hours.
James Cridland is a controversial blogger, radio inventor and in many ways a kind of market economist in the world of radio. James is just one of the people who champion how radio needs to up its game, and, no doubt armed with the latest Spotify figures, he will be shouting louder than ever at his next radio seminar.
Spotify, like the IPOD, is just another way for people to consume music and thus yet another attack on the whole concept of the DJ. It allows music fans to listen to the music they want to hear, when they want it and to have adverts playing in-between. Hm hang on, that’s radio isn’t it, only without DJs?
Yes but, iff they don’t want adverts, people just pay a subscription and can listen to more of what they want, when they want it. Cleverly they can vote with one press of a button which types of songs they like and a magic computer will learn their likes and dislikes until the perfect playlist is created.
For some, Spotify is perceived an annoying parasite, for others it’s a godsend. In-fact 24 million others. 6 million of those 24 million pay £10 a month!
Yes people actually pay money to listen to music that they don’t own.
Well, there is one argument that all 24 million Spotify users are geeks. That is fair enough. Geeks are hard to please. They know everything, they are hideously negative to be around and they biologically hate DJs.
But there is another argument too. And that is that Spotify actually provides something to people that they simply cannot get anywhere else. This is the argument that the DJ needs to contemplate seriously. Without careful consideration, the DJ might wake up one morning and find that the Buggles might have been on to something after all.
So what is the answer? Well, if there is one advantage of fewer operators in the world of radio, it’s that its easier for these few to send Spotify, Napster, the IPOD, Last FM and anything else invented in Switzerland packing.
Just as Marconi changed the world with radio and Jobs changed the world with the IPOD, radio can reinvent itself to compete. The question is, will the DJ be included?
Certainly right now at breakfast time, the answer is unequivocally yes. Whilst people can invent new ways of consuming music until the Swiss cows come home, they can’t make you almost crash the car laughing. They can’t create stadiums full of delighting fans, they cannot add texture to music like radio can, they can’t manifest and create content in the same way. They just can’t reach out and touch you. ( like Diana Ross )
Somehow consuming music you have chosen yourself feels synthetic, dead and a bit lifeless. Whilst we will always love IPODs as part of our lives and we will always welcome new inventions that make our listening experience richer, we are all still made of human cells. Listening to a song we are streaming can still be enjoyed, but it’s a bit like looking at a photograph, there is missing something. A sense of life. We can look at a photograph of something and have good feelings, sure, but none as powerful as the moment we took it. We were there!
We will all still want to feel entertained, that someone has gone to the trouble to think about us and gone out of their way to do so. We like the notion that we are sharing an experience as it happens. That someone is sitting in a magic room and talking to only us. Radio will always have that edge. That essence of now, that feeling of aliveness. A relationship. A connection.
But, rules have changed, the stakes are now higher. And, soon, playing “just great songs” won’t be enough… Enter the DJ. Radio presenters Wanted.
Author: Walking on Air – How to be a Radio Presenter