Why politicians telling radio stations what to play is a good thing

Scotland’s most listened to commercial radio station, Clyde 1, has a list of artists which they call their “Top 50”. It is an exclusive club that contains only the rich and famous, from which their daily playlist is chosen, and it reads like Q magazine’s contents page:

Amy Macdonald, Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, Bryan Adams, Coldplay, David Gray, Duffy, The Feeling, Franz FerdinandThe Fratellis, Girls Aloud, James Morrison, Kaiser Chiefs, Katy Perry, Keane, Kelly Clarkson, The Killers, Kings of Leon, The Kooks, KT Tunstall, Kylie, Lily Allen, Madonna, Maroon 5, Mika, Natalie Imbruglia, Nickleback, Oasis, Orson, Paolo Nutini, Paul Weller, Pink, Pussycat Dolls, Razorlight, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rihanna, Robbie Williams, Scissor Sisters, Scouting For Girls, The Script, Sharleen Spiteri / Texas,Simple MindsSnow Patrol, Stereophonics, Sugababes, Take That, The ProclaimersTravis, U2, The Verve.

As you can see, 10 of the 50 acts are from Scotland (and we’re generously including Snow Patrol – three parts Northern Irish to two parts Scottish), but if one man gets his way things could soon change.

Culture Minister Mike Russell wants to force radio stations to play a quota of Scottish music – much higher than the 20% currently wheeled out by the likes of Clyde 1 – to increase exposure to native musicians and boost the country’s music industry. The difficulties standing in his way are twofold:

1. Since broadcasting powers are not devolved to Scotland, Russell would not have the authority to legislate a quota regime, so the best he can hope for is to introduce it as a voluntary code.

2. Opposition MSPs will do anything and everything to ensure the scheme (voluntary or otherwise) never becomes a reality – not because they think it is bad for the Scottish music industry, but because they represent opposition parties and, as such, have to be seen to be hindering the SNP at every turn. This is one of the many reasons why the pettiness of politics leaves most people feeling disaffected or, at best, indifferent.

Russell got the idea from a recent visit to Canada, where the system is in operation under an agreement known as Cancon (‘Canadian content’), which guarantees that 35% of music played on commercial radio is Canadian, so the likelihood is that a similar figure will be sought here.

Predictably, Radio Clyde, which attracts 600,000 listeners in and around the Glasgow area, are far from happy at the prospect of their precious Top 50 list being tampered with. In response to the proposal, programme director Paul Saunders said: “If Scottish artists are good enough they will get support from radio stations here anyway. Playing them just because they are Scottish would not be fair to them and would also be a disservice to listeners.”

They key phrase to take from his statement is “good enough”. What Saunders meant to say was “famous enough”. Commercial radio stations such as Clyde 1 will refuse to touch any song (Scottish or otherwise) if it doesn’t already have a high profile or, at the very least, a London-based PR company plugging it. The best an unestablished artist can hope for is to get a cursory play on one of the graveyard shows.

The reason this has got us so worked up is because we come across dozens of fantastic new Scottish bands and musicians, but they don’t get the support they need and deserve because people in influential positions aren’t willing to give them a shot. Why? Because they fear that playing songs made by non-household names will make their audience switch off.

We couldn’t disagree more, and we’re offering up four mp3s to prove it. Two of the artists, DOTJR and RODDY HART, are unsigned, while MALCOLM MIDDLETON and CAMERA OBSCURA are probably familiar to most readers of The Pop Cop yet still ignored by commercial radio in their own country, the latter having just played the 1,900-capacity Barrowlands venue and reached a very respectable No.32 in the UK charts with their new album My Maudlin Career.

4 Dotjr – This Is My Life
4 Roddy Hart – Dead Of The Night
4 Malcolm Middleton – Red Travellin’ Socks
4 Camera Obscura – French Navy

The four tracks have one thing in common – they’re all bona fide pop songs made by Scottish artists that wouldn’t sound out of place next to any other artist in that hallowed Top 50.

Speaking of which, one of that list, Razorlight, stepped back in time last weekend by playing to just 300 punters at King Tut’s in Glasgow in what could only be described as a frenzied atmosphere.

A friend of ours who knows the band well once told us that, yes, Johnny Burrell is every bit the egotistical, big-headed control freak he comes across as, but apparently that’s no bad thing when your primary goal in life is to be a rock star.

And judging by the way his fans hung on his every word (and to each other in a gross display of sweat-soaked manpanionship) at King Tut’s, he’s clearly a hero to some, although not the kind we can readily identify with.

Then again, if it wasn’t for hearing the Razorlight song America, this post wouldn’t have been half as interesting. Perhaps Johnny was on to something when he wrote “there’s nothing on the radio that means that much to me”.

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