Spin the dial across the AM airwaves in the UK and you could be forgiven for hearing some oddly familiar sounds, at least for readers of The Wire. Work your way past the 1970s golden oldies stations, past BBC Radio 5 Live's incessant burble of "we want your views", and past the hospital radio broadcasters, and in the unlikeliest corner of the AM band you can hear ice-cold electronics, dystopian hiphop, hauntological echoes, and oddball lo-fi rock. They are all cut-up, layered, and moving gently and untroubled through the ether, behind the vein-bulging voices that boom out on meat 'n' potatoes sports/chat station talkSPORT ("for men who like to talk sport", on 1089 and 1053 AM).
Is this perhaps evidence of a radical change of direction at talkSPORT? A station which has, in the past, stirred controversy when shock-jock James Whale told listeners which way they should vote in the London Mayoral elections, or when presenter Adrian Durham hinted Russian football player Andrey Arshavin shouldn't be allowed be allowed back in the country after helping secure Russia the Fifa World Cup for 2018? The station does seem to have been going through something of a renaissance, perhaps an age of enlightenment recently, scooping Station of the Year and Programmer of the Year titles at the annual radio awards. But the chat on talkSPORT is more or less the same as ever: why the English Premier League is the greatest in the world, is Wayne Rooney a good role model for kids, and should a foreign manager be in charge of the England football team. It's the background sounds that has changed.
So, if you'd have tuned into the [Mark] Saggers And [Mickey Quin] Quinny show before the UK/Ukraine Haye versus Klitschko fight last week, behind their competition to win a signed pair of The Hayemaker's gloves was "Nite Flights" by The Walker Brothers (Scott Walker's whose own hopes for the big fight, as an American living in London, were hard to gauge). Listening to George Galloway talking about a possible amnesty for asylum seekers you might have heard the analogue nostalgia of Ghost Box's Advisory Circle between the callers. There's more: a sick El-P beat last heard on Cannibal Ox's The Cold Vein behind Hawksbee and Jacobs, Not Not Fun Italo revivalists Umberto, Demdike Stare. Most remarkably, a summer giveaway to win 250 quids' worth of vouchers for UK DIY chain Wickes was soundtracked by Germanic-Detroit Techno fetishists Dopplereffekt. Somehow I'm finding it hard to imagine Gerald Donald of Dopplereffekt, be-sandeled on his brand new decking, flipping the sausages on a gas-powered grill.
It's an odd meeting of worlds – esoteric strains of underground sound culture filling in the gaps between soundbites of "GAME ON! and "The lads are focused and giving 110%". In truth, it's all sewn together so skilfully that you can hardly notice the joins, and the energy of these pieces of music is pretty much dissipated by the reassuring pitter-patter of seasoned sportscasters. The music perhaps just becomes a kind of pacifier – after all, the one thing you should avoid on radio is dead air, and these pieces of music are the padding that keeps things comfortable. But 4/4 techno beats, 70s Italian soundtrack fare and fourth world sampling have more juice and punch to them than drab muzak, even if it's put in the service of pumping you up for the Merseyside derby or backing advertorials for Sky. talkSPORT is a no-nonsense commercial operation, squarely the business of selling sport as pure entertainment. Yet it's also a comparative minnow struggling to defend it's patch on the radio dial, and if this means its producers and backroom staff find ad hoc ways to spice up their broadcasts, then that might be something fresh on the dial after all.
The Walker Brothers on Saggers And Quinny
Cannibal Ox on Hawksbee And Jacobs
Umberto with George Galloway
The Advisory Circle on George Galloway
Dopplereffekt on Saggers And Quinny
Demdike Stare behind George Galloway