Nik Kershaw Sings “Radio Musicola”

Listen to this track by post-new wave British multi-instrumentalist and pop singer-songwriter Nik Kershaw. It’s his 1986 non-hit “Radio Musicola” as taken from the album of the same name.  This was a follow up to some very successful singles of over two years before in “Wouldn’t It Be Good” and “The Riddle”, although with far less impact on mainstream radio.

Perhaps this is of little surprise. This is not to say that the song itself isn’t as popstastic of those it followed, and not just a little funky too, pulling from Kershaw’s background as a jazz-fusion guitarist. But, this is also a classic ‘biting the hand that feeds’ tune, a song about the homogenous nature of radio that was developing at the time.

Perhaps more importantly, the song touches on the trend by the mid-80s that saw fewer and fewer political statements being made in pop songs on the radio. Additionally, other songs on the record attacked the underhanded  practices of the tabloids, expanding the themes of professional integrity (or lack thereof) in the media, yet couldn’t have won Kershaw many friends there.

The chart results of this song, and the album off of which it comes were perhaps predictable, too. The album spent a millisecond in the charts in the UK, and here in Canada, not breaking the top 40. Yet, in some ways, Kershaw’s point was proven, even if his star had fallen. Read more

Rock Radio: Let the Airwaves Flow

This month’s guest post from Calgarian, Montreal Canadiens nut, and rock music fan Geoff Moore explores the storied history and dubious future of modern rock radio …


A pub lunch last week, a particularly insipid commercial FM radio station playing over the sound system, a woman’s voice sounding like a smile promising all the hits from yesterday and today (not to be confused with the Capitol Beatles release YESTERDAY & TODAY).And then Michel Pagliaro’s gleaming 1971 gem, ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy,’ chimes through the noisy clutter of ad jingles, wretched ABBA retreads and sundry vapid and perky station breaks.

For a moment though, Chilliwack, A Foot in Coldwater, Andy Kim, Badfinger, Eddie Kendricks, Stevie Wonder, B.W. Stevenson, Creedence Clearwater Revival and all that was glorious about a transistor radio crackling out an AM broadcast back in the early seventies swamps diners in the tired joint like a wave. It wasn’t all great by any means. Payola aside, sometimes there’s no accounting for what hits the charts and sticks.

Memo to Henry Gross: Your dog Shannon is still dead. Goodbye, Terry Jacks. You had your time in the sun. It’s hard to die, but take your best shot. And you, Michael, with the nickel? Ram it.

Top 40 radio was training for the big show, FM – a strange, new world of stereo, of songs exceeding three minutes in length and a whole other slate of recording artists. “No static at all,” reiterated Becker and Fagen. Graduating to FM radio was some kind of rock ‘n’ roll bar mitzvah: “Today, I am a… serious music fan.” ‘Us and Them’ and soft drugs. But that was then. AM broadcasts in stereo now and FM has become what it was never meant to be: Top 40.

Another pub lunch last week, the day after the last one and the same particularly insipid commercial FM radio station is playing over the sound system. And Pag’s ‘Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy’ re-bops through the the bookshelf speakers mounted on the ceiling, about three minutes later than the day before. Heavy rotation for a 38-year-old A side. This same station plays either the Guess Who or a Burton Cummings solo track between 12:20 and 12:40 – guaranteed as the station has been newly renamed after a computer spreadsheet program (or maybe a t-shirt size?).

If memory serves, when this particular station was first launched in Calgary it was called The Breeze (definitely not a Lynyrd Skynyrd reference) and promised the Starbucks set the “softer sides of Phil Collins, Eric Clapton and Sting.” Zzz. The B.B.M. ratings measured something next to nothing.

The local “classic rock,” okay, middle-aged white guys’ station’s music library seems comprised exclusively of greatest hits compilations. Mysteriously, these collections apparently consist of just three songs, so ‘Forty Licks’ is actually ‘Three Licks.’ The Beatles’ double ‘blue’ album is actually an EP. The contemporary rock station, still known by its call letters (rare these days), is unlistenable, mired in the post-grunge sludge of Staind and Puddle of Mudd and other bands who can’t spell too gud.

Criticizing commercial rock radio is as easy as shooting KISS in a barrel. And, yes, these are the cranky complaints of a Methuselah in dog years, but you cannot imagine an artist like Van Morrison, a man seemingly mystically obsessed with the medium (‘Wavelength‘ and countless coda callouts – “Turn it up! A little bit higher…”), being inspired by a single one of your local commercial FM stations these days.

Nor even, God bless us all, a one hit wonder like Autograph (‘Turn Up the Radio’). And songs of praise to disc jockeys like the jubilant ‘Saint Jake’ by the Del-Lords or the Kinks’ concerned ‘Around the Dial’ speak to another time, one when Lou Reed could write: “Then one fine mornin’ she puts on a New York station/She don’t believe what she heard at all/She started dancin’ to that fine fine music/You know her life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll.”

Something happened to rock radio sometime between the disintegration of Led Zeppelin and the advent of Nickelback and it sure as hell wasn’t punk (two Clash songs and that Green Day ballad used in the Seinfeld finale to programmers). Corporate chain ownership, the rise and fall of A.O.R. into even more rigid and fragmented formats, staff cuts, boss jocks more concerned with their wacky on-air personae patter rather than the platters that matter? All of the above and whatever else besides.

All traditional media are hurting in this digital age which provides consumers a myriad of narrowcast, almost individually tailored, alternatives. Yet FM radio remains a proven and economical buy for advertisers (its raison d’etre after all). Improving its content by simply literally and figuratively turning the record over, as in the old days, might a good way to re-engage music fans and maybe, just maybe, create some new ones.


Geoff Moore is a writer and advertising guy who lives in Calgary. He can’t appreciate ABBA, even ironically…


The sound was tinny and coming from the bathroom through a black, transistor radio about the size of an ice cream sandwich. From it, flowed forth so many types of music, all of it sort of murky, but the soundtrack to my early life nonetheless. I remember thinking that the radio stations must have had huge waiting rooms, while each band took their turns to play. I didn’t really have a steady grasp of the recording process, needless to say. But the sound was everywhere around our house, mostly in the mornings when my parents were readying themselves for work. I would wake up with the sun streaming through the filmy curtain to my bedroom window and cast spots of daylight on the motorcycle wallpaper. The sound of the shower, the hair dryer, the voices of my parents, the DJ telling me what had just been played – it was all the music of getting ready, of starting a new day. Sometimes when I am engrossed in a memory of my childhood, it is much like a musical dream sequence featuring the Guess Who, Queen, Elton John, ELO, The Average White Band, and so many others playing in the background, there to hold up the backdrop of the time. Music is a two edged sword that way – it ties you to a time, but it can often date easily too. When you get old enough, the dating can be another source of amusement – you remember where you were and what you thought of it all. Like so many things, in its small way, it adds a sense of continuity to things, a sense of personal history even as those songs raise a smile when you hear them years later. I complain a lot about radio these days and there is a lot to complain about. The same songs get played over and over again only unlike in years past there are fewer of them, and they are all of the same style. There are no songs played which risk breaking the format, the uninterrupted flow of advertising time. The people who play the records have no relationship to them, either. As for listeners, I hope the songs on the radio today still have the power to tie this generation of radio listeners to their times the way that Gary Numan’s “Cars” reminds me of the time I first met my childhood sweetheart on a rare occasion outside of school. As disposable as pop music is thought to be, I wonder how things will advance given that everything has become disposable, and that everything is meant only for one red hot moment before something else replaces it.

I can only hope that the spirit of what can be found in simple things, like a tinny radio playing a song which ties a listener to the track of their lives in some way, both then and years later when the song is heard again, will never be lost. That out of a world where everything changes so quickly, something will remain for everyone which will make them realize that there is treasure to be found there. There is something which isn’t meant to burn out and be forgotten, and that the best part of it is that it can’t be named, or put into a category. This sense of transcendence, this meaning in our experiences embodied in something as simple as a song heard one morning when you were a child points to something beyond the surface, which we can only glimpse at. It reaches beyond the world and yet is rooted in the most humbling elements that make it up. This is not mere history, or fashion. It is our experience. It can’t be sold like airtime.

I hate Emo and other ramblings

I sometimes listen to the modern rock station, but I’m good for about two songs in a row before I am swamped by all of the earnest, angst-ridden roaring in the same minor key ( no doubt, d minor -the saddest of all keys).

It’s hard to argue with someone who likes that kind of stuff, when one of my favourite eras, the post-punk period, had it’s share of idiosyncratic singers too. And yet, it least it was an era which wasn’t so self-important, in a “what I’m saying is the most significant thing anyone has ever said” sort of way”. It least it was fun. Listening to Chad what’s-his-name from Nickelback, or any of the other bands of this ilk is not fun. Even if you’re a fan, I don’t think “fun” is a word you can use. It’s just one dirge after another to my ears, with no sonic higlights or contrast or signs of any kind of influence you don’t expect.

I suppose this falls under the “kids today have no sense of history” rant which often rears it’s head among musical curmudgeons. The old fart speaks again…