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Last night a playlist ruined my life

2009-10-30 15:00
What? You thought DJ Fresh chose his own music? Forget it. Because it's simpler, cheaper and easier to control that way, someone else kindly assists him by lining up the tracks to fit his time slot. And they're allegedly helped in their decisions -  or so the industry rumours allege – by marketing managers with expense accounts. 

There's even a a famous urban legend about a band manager/promoter building  a DJ a pool – yes, digging the foundations himself – in order to get his band's song playlisted on one of the big urban radio stations locally.

It's shocking. Yet I desperately hope that the bribery and corruption of which I speak is real, because the alternative – that someone as brilliant as DJ Fresh actually likes that lame-ass Black Eyed Peas song – is simply too horrific to contemplate.

Radio didn't used to be like that. At least in the good old days, payola people bribed DJs directly. Yes, long, long ago, in an era when only porn stars knew what a Hollywood wax was and home taping was killing music, Radio DJs were experts who loved music. They were evangelists of taste and style.

I still remember the moment when coming across Dire Straits' "Telegraph Road" by accident one Saturday afternoon ignited my teenage love affair with music radio.  In those days, you never knew what song they were going to play next. It was like you'd been blindfolded,  escorted to a DJ's private lair, and allowed to listen while he played you all his favourite songs from his floor-to-ceiling vinyl collection.

I'd listen to Alex Jay in the car (terrible taste, but a clever guy) with my mom in the mornings on the way to school. Somehow, even back in those verkrampte days Alex managed to slip us the odd bit of anti-apartheid tongue. Then there was Barney Longest-surviving-dinosaur-on the-planet  Simon, who introduced me to the joys of Sex Pistols, The Cure, weird local legends like No Friends of Harry and "Nelly the Elephant" by the Toy Dolls.  Then there was the Adult contemporary guy. Neil-Something I think? I'll never hear The Eagles or Bright Blue's "Weeping" without remembering long Sunday afternoons spent procrastinating over maths homework and adding up the ways I'd like to slit my wrists. But my favourite DJ of all was Chris Prior. He was the only good thing about Monday nights, and always sounded like he smoked the best stuff. Grateful Dead, Little Feat, Doors, Cream... where would I be without you? Nowadays, most so-called "music" radio is really just talk radio with a few jingles thrown in to feed the clamouring record companies. 

Sure, the chit-chat has got better. I could listen to Fresh and Poppy banter all day, Gareth Cliff's Joburg Boytjie act is beginning to grow on me and I adore that bad-tempered spiritual woman on Metro FM. But the music is mostly now chosen by the entertainment equivalent of an accountant.  With the exception of the dance DJs, Natalie Bekker's left boob-enhancement has more personality than the average playlist. 

And the charts? How do they figure out who's at number one, if we don't have an audited chart like the UK's Billboard hot 100? Well it's based on what gets played most, which is based on what's topping the charts, which is based mainly on what listeners have been played so often that they imagine they like, which is based on what's topping the charts... which is... hey! Spot the problem yet?

That's right. Basically, somebody just makes it all up and then brainwashes  the listenership into thinking they had a choice.

Think about it: how else would musical black holes like Cobra Starship end up in the 5fm top 40? And why else would we be expected to listen to the same 100 songs over, and over and over again for months on end.

I'd love to find that little grey man responsible for marketing this drivel, tie him to a chair, and torture him to death with my iPod -  I'm old-fashioned that way.

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