High on Emotion
Updated: Aug 5
There’s a beautiful conviction of youth. You know what you want; and are blissfully unaware how challenging it may be to achieve. Such is that innocence that you just go for it and often succeed. I guess it’s why kids swim more easily that I’ll ever be able to.
Aged 17, I knew that radio would be my life, despite the puzzled looks on the face of the grizzled ‘careers teacher’ as she handed out smelly worksheets from the Banda duplicating machine. How can you teach careers anyway? Madness.
Fast forward a few years. I’m creeping perilously close to 60 and have been jettisoned from the radio industry after a wonderful tenure. Days become full of writing books. Podcasting. Consulting. Pottering.
You realise that this young industry is treating you like some gracious elder when you think you’re probably a lot better at some things than when you were 30. You’ve made just about every mistake you’re ever likely to. There surely cannot be many left.
And you realise that there’s still another gig in you. And that vision is as crystal clear as it was when you were a teen.
And you have a niggling thought. A thought that there’s a commercial radio format crying out to be delivered – a mainstream station for people who dare to be over 60. Commercial radio's appetite for such a station was always diminished by the high costs, the barriers to entry, and the silly low value attached to the audience by the advertisers.
But then, as BBC radio stations start to neglect their older listeners, the opportunity grows. Radio 2 moves in a thoroughly comprehensible direction and their audience remains huge, but our research confirms that some listeners are beginning to think: ‘am I still welcome at this party?’. But they’ve rarely put on their hat and coat ‘cos there was nowhere else to go.
One of the beauties about doing something at our stage of life is that you know a few folk. Cheery calls to time-served gifted presenters secured their willing involvement – not least because we planned no premises. No lengthy commutes to London – they could broadcast from their own homes. This would be a virtual radio station. Oh, how modern.
Some presenters were still working on various projects. Others suspected they may never be on the radio again; their talents and huge achievements now confined to a few paragraphs on Wikipedia. After a dry run, we said to one presenter – "that was great, we’d love you to be a part of this". They sobbed: "You don’t know how much that means to me".
Similarly, Phil Riley, another former colleague, became my trusted, focused, determined partner-in-crime as CEO. He phoned around the folk he knew who might have a few bob – and the funding was secured. Back-bedroom studios might be very affordable these days, but DAB transmission, copyright and staff costs sure add up.
In February 2021, with our great lead techie Quentin Howard and the ever helpful Peter Monnery having installed kit at presenter homes across the land in the middle of the pandemic wearing Hazmat gear, Boom was turned on.
With the BBC available on just about every platform apart from your kettle, by contrast Boom struggled with an inch of capacity on the most affordable national DAB multiplex - topped up by online. One-by-one, we offered prompt advice to puzzled listeners with battered old radios asking 'what frequency are you on?'. Mind you, they were used to suffering a wobbly Radio Luxembourg - and we're amazed how large a proportion of Boom listening is online - not on a 'radio'.
It was clear within days that we’d touched a nerve. Listeners simply felt they’d discovered a party full of old friends. In some ways they had – with many of the presenters they grew up with playing songs that had been the soundtrack to their lives. We made sure the style of our station sounded familiar to them – friendly presenters chatting away, but we quietly purposed all that familiarity, I hope, with contemporary programming skills.
We always saw Boom as not just an oldies station. There are some great ones of those already. Our brand vision is simply to help boomers live their best lives. Alongside a healthy dose of the sort of nostalgia in which people our age wallow with friends, we are a 21st century radio station reflecting daily life today.
“LOVE this Station At last hearing records that we can sing along to, and D.Js that speak our language. Have been waiting for ages for this to happen. GREAT”
Listeners have connected in the most extraordinary way. They saw themselves in us. We are semi-retired with hopes and dreams of doing more with life, just like they are – and yet often treated by society as ‘old’ because we dare to tick the 55+ box on daft forms. How bloody dare they. We still feel 21 – and we can do some things better than when we were.
The very existence of our station is a manifestation of what we and our audience believe. We old folk have created a media empire in our back bedrooms to take on the world. It’s Best Exotic Marigold Hotel all over again. Little wonder our consumer-facing slogan is ‘Feel Young again’.
“Thank you for your efforts you make an 80 year-man feel young again”.
But we also make no secret on-air that there a few things people our age have to cope with. Some of us have hearing aids, prostate cancer or just forget what on earth we’re supposed to be doing sometimes. Indeed, our meeting agendas have ‘ailments’ at the top, just after ‘apologies’. And if you are young reading this – rest assured that you too will talk about all these things with your best friends when you’re older – whilst still feeling 16 inside and thinking that ‘old’ refers to everyone else.
As you’d expect, we probably don’t agree that we are the generation which has ruined the World as some people allege. Believe me, we’ve coped with a host of very different challenges in life. But as a station – whilst never insufferably politically correct - we have no time for the rampant bigotry of yesteryear.
It’s for all these reasons, we feel, that people have come to us to listen in their hundreds of thousands.
“I’m addicted to this radio station”
Boom has become almost a movement as much as a radio station. Literally thousands of expansive listener comments flood in by email and on social media. I have never, ever experienced anything quite like this in terms of volume or content in my forty-plus year career in radio. There is a sense of true listener ownership and belonging. They are the radio generation; and we seek to unleash for them the true power of this most special medium once more.
“You’ve made me fall in love with radio again”
“I think Boom deserves an award. Since I started listening, Boom has enhanced my life in so many ways”
“It’s made my retirement”
“Thank you Boom for being there. You have been my constant companion since I tragically lost my wonderful husband. I don’t know what I would have done without your music full of happy memories"
There’s something too about us all working from home – it’s not quite a studio on the high seas, but listeners can picture us as we talk of the Amazon delivery bloke the way the pirate presenters would talk about the tenders pulling up alongside. With nothing to prove – and everything to enjoy - our presenters are sounding more authentic than listeners have ever heard them before.
And there’s a lack of corporate-ness. Not surprising, given that budgets are small; and just a handful of people manage the whole operation of this national radio station – fewer than might work on some single BBC programmes.
As we say on-air, we’re not part of a large media group, we’re ‘just a group of old friends with a dream’. We already knew most the presenters – and many of them knew each other. Phil Riley and I renewed our working relationship; and my other half Paul Robey took charge of the music, taking full advantage of his encyclopaedic knowledge of decades of tracks. Boom pledged to dig deeper into artists’ back catalogues and not just play the same few tracks ‘on a loop’, to quote our listeners.
I’ve never worked directly alongside Paul, despite working in the same industry for decades. Now we work not only together - but from home. We fell out again yesterday – but we’re at that stage in our relationship when we know so well how each behaves when we’re annoyed that the drama no longer seems worth the effort.
I have always shuddered when prats with lanyards assert the BBC is public service and commercial radio is not. That is untrue and downright offensive. The BBC broadcasts some thoroughly justifiable nonsense from time to time – and commercial radio plays a key role in the lives of its listeners when the occasion demands.
Alongside the hundreds of thousands of listeners still busy living, there are those who reach out to us for a helping hand – or whose parents have found us. At the end of a long day, it is humbling to read their words and makes the effort – and putting our pensions at risk - worthwhile. If that isn’t public service, I don’t know what is.
“I’m a recovering cancer listener and listen in all odd hours especially on my dark days and I can’t express how much it’s helped me but at 67 it’s introduced me to music I’ve missed in life whilst doing life things. Albums and artists have passed me by – the eclectic mix of Boom we would never find on other stations”
“I am in tears - happy ones though Islands in the stream our very special song and my lovely husband sadly struggling with Alzheimers heard it recognized and brought the radio to me, thank you for making our day. xx”
“Just to say I’m a new listener and so glad that I have found this station some of the songs have bought tears to my eyes of much happier memories than the present just laying in bed recovering from Covid hoping to start chemotherapy without Covid interfering with it”
“I have been listening since April 2021. Boom has helped me to get through a difficult time after my wife passed away last year. At last – a radio station than plays the music of our youth”
"Boom radio is like having a friend in the corner of the room...Personally speaking Boom has helped me in a bit of a mental health blip I’ve had, I’m sure radio can have a positive impact on that. Once again my friend thank you very much"
Boom is as special to me as the first station I ever worked at. And those who’ve worked in radio for some years will know just what it takes to achieve that status.
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