Should a government tell a radio station what records to play and when?

Radio Si

I don’t usually write about music radio even though it was the foundation of my broadcasting career. And while I haven’t worked in music radio for quite a few years, I am still professionally and personally interested in it.

So when Slovenia’s English language radio station Radio Si contacted me to ask what I thought about the new rules from the Slovenian parliament telling radio stations to increase the amount of Slovenian music on all radio stations, I had a bit of a think.

This is what Radio Slovenia told me.

The Slovenian Parliament has decreed that radio stations need to play more Slovenian music during the day.
Under these new regulations, commercial radio stations will have to play about 2-3 songs per hour between 6:00 and 19:00.
Radio Si, as part of public RTV SLO, and as a station designed to serve a foreign audience, will have to play at least 7 Slovenian songs per hour.
What do you think of that?
Will you listen to Radio Si even if it has significantly more Slovenian music?

Governments have the right to direct radio stations that use publicly owned airwaves on behalf of the public that the stations serve. By co-incidence this is the time in the ten year renewal cycle that the BBC is arguing for its charter and the UK government is negotiating with them to set out the terms of service for radio, TV and internet. So the question from RSi was timely.

After a long walk and a good think this is what I had to say.

——————————————————————————-

Thank for inviting me to contribute.

Short answer? Great. I will listen more.

But there are several other questions that arise the first being “Should a government arbitrarily direct a radio station to broadcast more of the country’s music?” I believe, no it shouldn’t outside the renegotiation of the broadcaster’s licence. Also the radio station should not get itself into the position of being directed. It is a dangerous precedent. The representation of indigenous music should be a negotiation. It is not unusual. I believe there was a rule in Ireland (30 odd years ago) that RTE had to play a proportion of Irish music. I suspect that is long gone, now [as Irish music improved, became more confident and was worth playing because it was better than most of what was available.]

Should a government direct a radio station to play a number of records per hour? No. What’s next? In rotation the music should be from: Pomursk, Podravska, Koroška, Savinjska, Zasavska, Posavska, Jugovzhodna Slovenija and so on. You get my drift. In fact is the directive is for a number of “records”, then a massive opportunity has been lost. I shall explain later.

Is it the role of a national radio station broadcasting to a foreign audience to expose that audience to the country’s arts and culture? Absolutely.

Should that radio station play music just because it is Slovenian? Absolutely not. The radio station should help raise the bar on quality of performance, composition, production, uniqueness. Get ready to say “No” to bad musicians and bad songs. Raise the standards and encourage good music. That is the role of the radio station.

I mentioned that directive about the number of “records” it is a missed opportunity. And it is. A radio station can really come into its own with sessions (live and recorded), concerts (live and recorded), interviews, special recordings, outside broadcasts with musicians. That is the job of a radio station, not playing bland music that everyone else is playing back to back. It is also a mistake for the parliament to put restrictions such as time of day. Much of the best performances will be more suited to evenings; concerts, experimental music, very new raw musicians. The balance of Slovene and other music should be measured over a day at least and week at best. Think of the fantastic opportunities for weekend specials for all audiences. These measures may be difficult for some commercial stations, but a national broadcaster should grab this opportunity.

Incidentally, does the same rule exist for Radio Ars? [Slovenia’s classical music radio station] The proportion of Slovenian composers and performers? If not, why not?

Who benefits? Everyone. The radio station has the opportunity to distinguish itself in the market place (and become a market leader). The music industry benefits from exposure and a new leadership, new and emerging musicians are given opportunities. The listener finds new music and a much better listening experience.

It should also mean there is more speech – in Slovenian, Italian, German and English and others. The radio station gets the opportunity to really connect with the audience by telling them about this music, the musicians and so on. The listener can connect directly with the radio station through social media and become part of the programming.

I’m sitting in (Northern) Ireland and the Cranberries are on Radio Si. What’s the point of that? To be frank in the 2 x 6 month periods I lived in Slovenia (I hope to return this year too), I was very disappointed with the radio. High rotation of US and UK records, some very interesting oldies (unexpectedly hearing Teenage Kicks on the bus in Bled!) and samey radio stations. Yet I was delighted with the music and standard of playing, from the young people in the Bled Festival (http://festivalbleddiary.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/festival-bled-slojazz.html) through to the Balkan Boys through to any number of other musicians I saw. I’ve always liked Laibach. And yes, Godba Gorje are brilliant. And yes, even Slavko Avsenik’s style of country music (at the right time in the right place …)

In short, what I know about this ruling is what you have said in your mail out. From that, I think the government is wrong in its approach and I think RSi, the musicians of Slovenia and the listeners have a wonderful opportunity.

I switched on RSi at the beginning of this letter. It is now off, not because of Slovene music, but some terrible American diva. Unbearable.
—————————————————————————-
A national radio station should never have got itself in that position. Ignoring indigenous music is wrong. Failing to promote and raise standards is wrong. The Slovenian Parliament’s approach is wrong. It is not the job of government to become involved with programming music. It is the job of government – when radio stations are using a national resource, i.e. Radio waves – to set the parameters.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *