Tuesday was World Radio Day—a few days ahead of when I would normally publish a column. And while I could repurpose my recent joke about every day being World Radio Day in “Ross On Radio,” it’s actually the case that I haven’t focused enough on international radio recently.
There were reasons. Having access to a world of hit music changed my life twenty years ago, but over the last decade, release dates became more coordinated internationally, meaning that there was less new music to discover. In the U.K., radio networked and consolidated, eliminating most of the truly musically aggressive stations. More stations followed the U.S. lead and geo-blocked their streams.
But I never felt I shouldn’t be listening to more international radio. Reconnecting with CKOI Montreal last summer was one of my happiest recent radio experiences. This week, I determined to listen globally, especially to some stations recommended by or connected to friends in international broadcasting. Here are five that were worth sharing.
Listening to CHR around the world, you may encounter stations that are more adult and more conservative than our own. Or you may encounter new song after new song and have a much fresher experience than listening at home. I’m happy to say I had that experience with my new favorite CHR.
It was the name that drew me in on TuneIn—what would a station called “Rock FM” sound like in Zambia? But Rock FM is actually CHR. It’s mostly rhythmic, but as I write, they’re playing “Light It Up” by Luke Bryan. That was followed by “Tip Toe” by Jason Derulo and the reggaetón-flavored “Donde Vas” by D-Rashid.
The first time I listened to Rock FM, only the stories in the local “News 360” headlines at :00 differentiated them from any good English-language CHR anywhere. The afternoon team was working two different topics, one of which was “what was the most embarrassing instance of something that you should have known?” (One host confessed to thinking the shark in “Jaws” had been real.) The other was “what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in somebody’s home?” But this afternoon, they’ve been interviewing a representative of a local children’s cancer center.
Here’s Rock FM in afternoon drive on Monday, February 12. The first song is an American act whose single hasn’t even gone to Country radio here yet. (As with the Luke Bryan song, it just sounded like another pop ballad in this particular mix.)
- Dylan Schneider, No Problem
- Charlie Puth, How Long
- Migos, Stir Fry
- Kwaye, Jasmine
- Selva & Zerky, Make Me Wanna
- Big Boi, All Night
- Alan Walker & Noah Cyrus w/Digital Farm Animals, All Falls Down
- Alok & Mathieu Koss, Big Jet Plane
- Lily Allen f/Giggs, Trigger Bang
- Stefflon Don, Hurtin’ Me
- Calvin Harris, Nuh Ready Nuh Ready
- King Combs, Love You Better
- A$AP Ferg & Nicki Minaj, Plain Jane
KILT (the Bull)/KKHH (the Spot) Houston APD/MD Chris Huff, who follows international ratings more closely than anybody, has been tweeting about Sunshine 106.8 for nearly three years, since the station switched from a Country/folk mix to Soft AC. In the most recent ratings, “Dublin’s easy place to relax” was at a 6.6 and the No. 3 music station in the market. Huff has been tracking similar stories for Australia’s Smooth FMs for several years; Americans have seen the success of KISQ (the Breeze) San Francisco and WFEZ (Easy 93.1) Miami for themselves.
In the U.S., Soft AC stations often sign on just old and soft enough to get noticed, then contemporize as quickly as possible. The music often tends to live in the ‘80s—thus evading the decision whether to play most Neil Diamond or Barbra Streisand songs. Sunshine 106.8 isn’t that. Being able to play some ‘70s disco gives them some texture/energy, but in my time listening, I heard Diamond and two Dolly Parton songs. (I did not hear Streisand or Barry Manilow, but they wouldn’t have sounded out of place.)
I can definitely say I learned something about Dublin. Irish radio has spoken word commitments even for music stations. (For some stations, that’s 20%; Sunshine is committed to 10%.) Each break has some sort of produced public affairs feature. There were two “Sixty Seconds Around Dublin” vignettes about various local landmarks; (one was an infamous eighteenth-century pub). There was also a full news package at :00. Midday host Enda Murphy’s relatable was about shoppers rifling through the Cadbury Eggs in supermarkets, in hopes of finding a lucky white chocolate egg for prizes.
Here’s Sunshine 106.8 at 10 a.m. local time.
- Dolly Parton, Jolene
- James Arthur, Say You Won’t Let Go
- Gavin James, Nervous
- Elvis Presley, The Wonder Of You
- Candi Staton, Young Hearts Run Free
- Neil Diamond, Sweet Caroline
- Carole King, It’s Too Late
- Paul Young, Every Time You Go Away (Long Version)
- Clannad, Closer To Your Heart
- James Taylor, Sweet Baby James
- Real Thing, You To Me Are Everything
The teaser for the next hour promised Air Supply, Taylor Swift, Chris De Burgh, and Leann Rimes. (The De Burgh song, by the way, was apparently not “The Lady In Red.”)
Based in Knebworth, Bob FM launched as a licensee of Jack FM in 2010, then rebranded to Bob FM in 2014. The station is about 35 minutes north of London; there are parts of North London where you can hear the station on DAB, but also pick up the FM signal as well, according to PD/breakfast host Graham Mack. (The midday segment I heard was unhosted.)
Adult Hits is a slightly different creature in the U.K. The template is familiar, but since there’s less Classic Rock and Mainstream Rock radio on the FM dial in the U.K., you’ll hear recent music from heritage rock acts, not unlike BBC Radio 2. During my stretch with Bob, there were current/recurrent singles from both Blondie and Manic Street Preachers.
I am always looking for “sense of place” in my international radio listening and wasn’t disappointed here. There are the “attitude liners” that demarcate Adult Hits in North America, but to appreciate theirs, it helps to know something about British culture, since there are references to “Strictly Come Dancing,” the Booker Prize, and OXFAM Shops. There was also a promo for the upcoming Cool Britannia festival in Knebworth, starring Happy Mondays, Ocean Colour Scene, Lightning Seeds, Cast, Toploader, Embrace, and Dodgy.
Also, there was news at :00, even on this most music-intensive of formats. That was a constant of my listening. Here’s Bob FM at 11 a.m. on Feb. 14.
- Nickelback, Rockstar
- Madness, It Must Be Love
- INXS, Baby Don’t Cry
- Steppenwolf, Born To Be Wild
- Manic Street Preachers, International Blue
- Cure, Close To Me
- Blondie, Long Time
- Billy Joel, Piano Man
- Rudimental f/Jeff Glynne, Macklemore & Dan Caplen, These Days
- Simple Minds, Don’t You (Forget About Me)
- Jack Johnson, Better Together
- Paul McCartney & Wings, Jet
I had to include Newcap’s Ocean 100 because PD Corey Tremere has been tweeting about World Radio Day for a while now. (He tagged me in the post, and I was repeatedly notified of his many likes throughout the day.) Ocean 100 has been successfully doing Adult Hits for more than a decade, although its feel is less Bob- or Jack-FM-like and more like Classic Hits, especially as those formats drift together.
Tremere wasn’t on middays when I listened on Valentine’s Day. Morning host Kirk McKinnon was filling in. There was also top-of-the-hour news at 11 a.m., plus teasers for this week’s Jack Frost Winterfest in P.E.I. (“Petting zoo for the kids.”) Also a local pancake breakfast. Also a lead news story about not leaving your kids in the car in these colder temperatures, or ever. But if it’s sense of place you want, it’s “Roll Up The Rim” time at Tim Hortons. And while Tim Hortons jokes are often the hallmark of patronizing Americans, 14 years of working with Canadian radio has proven that “Roll Up The Rim” is a big deal there.
Here’s Ocean 100 at 11 a.m., Feb. 14:
- Honeymoon Suite, Stay In The Light
- Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar On Me
- The Band, Up On Cripple Creek
- Philip Bailey & Phil Collins, Easy Lover
- Eight Seconds, Kiss You (When It’s Dangerous)
- John Waite, Missing You
- Rod Stewart, Hot Legs
- Tom Cochrane, Life Is A Highway
- Foreigner, Feels Like The First Time
- Indio, Hard Sun
- Kansas, Carry On Wayward Son
- Glass Tiger, You’re What I Look For
I’ve been meaning to listen to Rock & Pop since last year, when an Argentine radio friend asked me for feedback, but I could never find a good stretch (except overnights) to actually listen to the music. Throughout its history, Rock & Pop has apparently been a personality station all day that happens to play rock music (there wasn’t much pop in evidence here).
As with the U.K., the blend of rock is unique and has to cover a lot more turf. As with Canada, I actually encountered Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs”—my second time hearing the now-lost 1978 hit within a few hours of each other. They didn’t actually play “Hot Legs,” though, they used it as a music bed. They were also using both “Piano Man” and a more florid Spanish-language version of “Piano Man” as well.
Here’s the music Rock & Pop did play in the 2 p.m. hour on Feb. 14:
- Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Around The World”
- La Renga, “El Revelde” (part of Argentine’s “rock national” movement with a 1998 hit)
- Morrissey, “Spent the Day In Bed”
- Ramones, “Poison Heart”
- AC/DC, “Shoot To Thrill”
- Fito Paez, “La Rueda Magica” (from 1992, see if you catch the line that sounds like “Electric Boogie”)
- Arctic Monkeys, “You Look Good on the Dance Floor”
- Black Crowes, “Jealous Again” (sort of like hearing “Hot Legs” for a third time)
- Primal Scream, “Country Girl”
Meanwhile, my friend no longer works for Rock & Pop 95.9. His new recommendation is Radio Disney Argentina. So I have the beginnings of a list for the next column. And what are your recommendations? Please leave a comment.