Radio Rewind ’98

My on-air radio career is, let’s be honest now, a vanishingly long time in the past which is why I rarely hark back to it these days. What doesn’t help is that I have vanishingly few good examples of it, most of the tapes I have dating from a period when I was frantic about where my career was going and with a note of panic sounding in my voice.

Hence it was a nice bonus to the other day stumble across a tape from a period when I was sounding happy, confident and above all something approaching good. Havin digitised it, it seemed a shame not to share, not just for the benefit of those friends who begged to hear it but the world in general. If only as an example of how local radio sounded almost 20 years ago.

Here then is 100 minutes or so of an off-air recording of a show I presented on a Saturday afternoon in October 1998. When listening to it the following should be borne in mind:

  1. It was a football results show, so precious little room for many so-called personality links. But this does also date from a period when in my one claim to fame this was the most-listened to show in the area on a Saturday afternoon. I was literally Number One in the ratings.
  2. My style was very much of its time, and a reflection on that of the people I had worked with and learned from. The cheery and sometimes strident tone I’d adopted is far from what would work on air now, when the emphasis is on being slightly calmer and more friendly.
  3. I’ve left in one particular link that makes me cringe to hear it now, but again it was very much a part of the whole notion of “share something of yourself with each broadcast”.

You can hear the show in two versions:

First, a telescoped version featuring just the links. 17 minutes or so of non-stop me, you lucky people.

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Or alternatively, here is the full uncut tape. Music, adverts and Masterton all combined. Hope you enjoy. You’re on The Pulse.

The Great 2017 Chart Shake Up

So now it can be revealed. Rumours have swirled, talk has circulated and speculation has mounted. At least if you knew where to look. The Official UK Singles chart is to get a tweak to the rules used in its compilation. It is a change that will send certain purists into a frenzy, and have others nodding in agreement that it all makes sense. And will probably baffle many members of the general public when they need to have it explained to them.

So let me here try to explain how and perhaps most importantly of all why.

The singles chart matters. Far more than many people outside the music industry realise. It is the driver of radio programming, TV production, the promotion of albums and much, much more than I can articulate here. So when it stops working it creates enormous problems for everyone.

Those problems should be fairly obvious to most watching, even if I’ve been one of those stridently insisting that we should wait and see how things shake out. Because those with more influence and less patience than I have called for them to be fixed. They are:

  • The slowing down of the singles market. The charts ‘clogged up’ with long-running popular hits that have entered a slow burn decline as streams. Great for longevity records. Hard work for those trying to break new music.
  • The single artist dominations. Ed Sheeran’s 9 out of 10 in the Top 10 may have been a genuine freak one-off, but with artists such as Drake, The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamarr and Stormzy demonstrating that their fans will consume new product en-masse and once again clog up the singles chart, it has now become necessary to mitigate the problem.

So as of next week (for the singles chart published on Friday, July 7th) two crucial new rules will apply:

Three Is Tops

This was the one that everyone seemed to know about in advance. The three-track cap as it will be known. No more than the three most popular tracks (based on sales and streams) by any one lead artist will be permitted to feature in the Top 100. This will raise hackles, the first time in over 10 years that there has been any kind of forced removal rule in effect, disqualifying certain tracks altogether.

The logic here is straightforward. It will prevent album tracks from popular artists taking up multiple positions in the singles chart, and thus barging potential hits from other, less insanely popular acts, out of the way. It will also address a common criticism I’ve seen of the present rules, that a stream of a track will essentially be double-counted – adding both to the singles chart position of the track and contributing to the total streams attributed to an album. The streams of the two most popular tracks on an album will continue to be downplayed by the album chart compilation process and whilst this remains for the moment an imperfect mix, you can be at least reassured that streaming a random album track will only register that track for the album.

There are two important points to note here. This doesn’t restrict artists or labels from releasing more than three singles from an album. Just that they cannot have them charting all at once. And if Hit 1 has burned out and fallen away, then Hit 4 is free to join 2 and 3 in the upper reaches. Plus it does not rule out acts still managing more than 3 hits at a time. If someone does a Justin Bieber and is the featured guest on multiple singles by other people, they will all chart at once. There is still no restriction here.

Downplay The Long Tail

Prior to 2007 the ‘official’ bit of the singles chart only went down to Number 75. Below that point, there was a ‘starring-out’ rule in place. Omitting older hits which were in steep decline from the rankings to thus benefit newer releases and other upwardly mobile arrivals. We aren’t about to go back to those days, but the growing presence of the long tail of streaming, the fact that the singles chart now registers long-term engagement as much as it does discovery means there has to be an elegant way of moving ‘legacy’ hits out of the way.

So this is how it will work. A new streaming ratio will be introduced for hits that are in steep, prolonged decline.

Once a track is at least 10 weeks old, AND has registered 3 consecutive weeks of chart sales decline then its streams switch to a 300:1 ratio as opposed to the 150:1 of others. This will punish long-running hits such as One Dance or even Castle On The Hill, moving them gently out of the way following the peak of their commercial appeal but whilst some die-hards still insist on listening to them over and over again.

I’m told from test charts that this effect will be subtle but significant. We won’t see tracks vanish abruptly from the Top 20 as they did back in the “curate’s egg” days of 2006. Instead older singles should actually behave like they did in the old days when they were reliant on shops continuing to stock them. They will reach a low point and then start to sink fast. And once again clear the path for fresher, newer material. Just to keep everything vibrant.

Irk The Purists

Any rule changes of this nature, particularly ones which change the very fundamentals of singles qualification tend to attract an instantly negative response from a small core of music fans. It is meddling, they say. Messing with what used to be the simple purity of a chart which tracked what people bought without favour or bias.

Yet the UK charts have for decades been beholden to rules, and ones which are revised and updated as circumstances require. It seems to jar now because we spent over seven years from 2007 with precious little change and only minor tweaks to admit songs that might have fallen down the cracks. But behind it all is a strict structure of rules, regulations, strictures and eligibility criteria. Most of which arrived into being with the aim of fixing a problem which was threatening to undermine the credibility of the survey.

Really what has been announced today is no different. And on the face of it the impact will be less radical than it might at first appear. The second half of the year should, however, start to see a singles chart that becomes just that bit more vibrant, just a shade more interesting week in week out and in the process the perfect platform for the next exciting new trend in British music to emerge.

You cannot innovate or contend by standing still. The Billboard Hot 100, the gold standard of music charts and one of the most powerful brands in the world, has since 1958 been an odd hybrid of sales metrics, data sources and ever-changing rules. It adapts, evolves and adjusts according to trends in the market and to embrace new formats and technology. To suggest the Official UK Charts should not follow suit would be to invite Britain to stagnate in comparison.

I see the stats for myself. When major chart news breaks the interest in goes through the roof. When little happens only the hardcore come along to take a look. And as a lover of pop music, a passionate fan of the pop charts and as writer who loves a story no matter what the source, I want as many people as possible to come along for the ride.

When You Touch Me Like This

Bat Out Of Hell - The MusicalTo the always magnificent surroundings of the London Coliseum to see what has (with good reason) been hailed as one of the theatrical events of the summer. The traditional home of the English National Opera, it presently plays host to the ultimate in rock operas – the West End premiere of Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical.

Now I stress I’m no theatre critic, and I have friends who run their own theatre blogs who are far better at this than I, so I cannot sit here and offer an expert critique of the staging, plotting or set design. And what I’m about to write will show that I’m far from impartial where the subject matter is concerned. So I cannot offer an expert review.

Every music fan has their core act. The one whose work you know backwards. The one whose work you will collect obsessively, knowing that life will be incomplete without the complete set. And you’ve probably purchased it several times over on multiple formats. Well for me that act is the writer/producer and sometime reluctant performer Jim Steinman. I can recite lyrics, know the release dates of the songs and even to a certain extent name the musicians playing on the records he produces and just who is singing backing vocals where. I can get lost for hours in the poetry of his lyrics and like no other songwriter he speaks to the depths of my soul and peels back emotions I never knew I had buried. These are songs, productions, performances that are guaranteed to make my heart fly and to transport me in an instant into the near-mythical world they inhabit.

So I struggle to begin to explain how it felt to sit in a theatre to watch a musical production of all of his most famous songs bundled together for the very first time. Finally telling a coherent tale of everlasting teenage passion in a dystopian future. These were songs I fell in love with at the age of 16 and then spent the rest of my life falling in love to. In my head they had always played out on a grand stage, one filled with performers and chorus lines. And now it was all happening for real. I was transfixed from the very first bars. Because this was something that was at once very special to me.

By the end of Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire) I realised I was crying. I’ve never sat in a theatre with tears of joy running down my face before. But that is what happened to me.  I was in the middle of what was surely a deep and everlasting emotional experience.

In countless interviews, Jim Steinman had long spoken of how songs from Bat Out Of Hell and associated projects were always parts of a musical story he was never able to stage. So they became mini-concept albums instead. Peter Pan on motorcycles, all set in an age where you are 18 forever and love and lust never grow old. And finally, this has happened. A large part of the joy was hearing songs that had always seemed like fragments of a story you never heard the start of, suddenly slot into place and become a core part of the plot. Never before had it been explained who the protagonist in the song Bat Out Of Hell was with and just who they were running from. And we finally get to find out.

The Peter Pan references are writ large across the plot. The Lost (boys), we are told, never grow up. Lacking a mother to look after them. There’s even a jealous and ultimately tragic character called Tink.

There were other lovely subtle touches too. The constant tease as the lead character Strat is constantly frustrated that nobody knows the correct response to “on a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses”, the fun thrill when Raven finally does so, only for the pair to be interrupted, leading the audience on the night I was there to erupt into laughter. But when You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth is finally delivered it is inevitably a treat. The casting of Andrew Polec as Strat is also an inspired choice, the singer and actor has perfected the exact New York drawl that Jim Steinman himself uses. So he gets to deliver the famous Love And Death And An American Guitar monologue which opens the show in the exact same voice as used on the records, and throughout the show, you find yourself almost believing the writer and composer is there on the stage himself.

In a summer where my life seems to be filled with emotionally transformative and moving experiences, this was up there with the greatest one of them all. And of course, modern technology means that on the train home you can connect with the cast directly and tell them just what it meant to you.


The musical is on for a strictly limited run before it moves abroad. But if you happen to be in London before July, trade a body part for a ticket. I truly can offer it no greater praise.