x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Radio stations torture us with an endless 1980s soundtrack

This is 2011. So why are our radio airwaves still incessantly giving us the greatest hits of the 1980s?

The alarm clock strikes 6am. The local radio station blares out I Got You Babe by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde. Bleary eyed, I drag myself from bed and look out of my bedroom window, resigned to reliving this hellish ordeal day after day, for eternity and beyond.

I drive to work; the radio plays Kool and the Gang. Again. "Conversation is going round, people talk about the girl who's come to town ..."

I change stations, more in desperation than anticipation. But I know what awaits me, and once again, I am right: Whitney Houston belts out How Will I Know. Inevitably it is followed by Wham who are, yet again, insisting that they don't want our Freedom.

As I reach to change the station again, I am already lip-synching to Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel. The new station does not disappoint.

I'm almost at work, but there will be no quick end to this never-ending nightmare: Billy Ocean launches into Caribbean Queen. The final nail.

No, not a 1980s reworking of Groundhog Day; just your everyday experience listening to local radio stations across the Emirates.

For reasons that remain unclear, the powers-that-be at local broadcasters seem to be under the impression that popular music ceased to exist sometime around 1987.

Despite the picture I'm painting, I actually like some of those songs, but talk about too much of a good thing. It's not that the 1980s were all that bad musically, but being stuck in a single-decade soundtrack feels, like, I'm totally being suffocated in feathered hair and pastel blazers. More than one daily dose of Europe's Final Countdown is just inhumane and, I'm certain, in contravention of the Geneva Convention.

But don't just blame the DJs. Whether for copyright reasons, royalty issues or censorship, stations have ended up with anaemic playlists. Some have had their lists slashed in the last few years. One major station in Dubai now has a choice of barely over 2,000 songs, and another has just 1,000. Your average 14-year-old kid's iPod would put them to shame.

So what can the DJs do in the face of such restrictions?

Like tying a chef's hands behind his back and asking him to cook a five-course meal using nothing but onions, it's bound to end in tears. And so we end up with shows massively skewed in favour of older, established songs, simply because there are no other options.

Some broadcasters clearly promote themselves as '80s or '90s stations, which is fair enough. Others throw the occasional "new" release by Adele, the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Coldplay into the mix, but that hardly makes them groundbreaking. Contemporary stations should play predominantly new music, with dedicated slots for older tunes, not the other way around.

The local DJs I know have better, and edgier, taste in music than the selections that they are forced to play. You have to wonder if staid, safe tunes don't miss the fundamental point of rock 'n roll.

Of course it's not all bad, or old, in radioland. The Friday Footy Show on Coast FM is a breath of fresh air, thanks to its knowledgeable, engaging presenters and interesting guests; Nathalie on Dubai 92 plays just the right mix of new and old; Catboy and Geordiebird rule the breakfast shows; and Fadi on Radio2 is an Abu Dhabi legend, and not just because we were classmates all those years ago (and you're welcome for the plug, Fadi).

But for now, our airwaves continue to be cluttered with '80s tunes. In fact, advanced extraterrestrial beings listening in on our radio waves light years away would be forgiven for thinking we are in the year 1984: established stars such as Lionel Richie and Genesis looking over their shoulders at the promising young acts of Madonna and U2.

And if, after the millionth repeat of Easy Lover by Phil Collins and Philip Bailey, the little green men finally decide to pay us a visit, I guarantee they will not come in peace.

Radio station managers: the fate of the world is in your hands.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae