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Top ten

Keep faith

in fab DAB

Ignore the naysayers, digital

radio has the most exciting

shows aro und, says Ed Potton

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"It's not fair to have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads,~ Jarvis Cocker said recently of his 6 Music colleagues. The Pulp fro nt man, a Sony award-winner for his wry Sunday show at t he brilliant but beleaguered d igital station. could have been talking about d igital radio In general. Stations under threal online message boards dripping with listener vitriol. insipid support from the new Government; digital audio broadcastlng (DAB) has had a right battering of late_ While digital television has been embraced after a few teething problems, Its audio sibling is a more d ivisive beast - some n aysayers cite patchy coverage. variable sound quality and the difficulties of in-car listening; others see the BBC's digital stations as a waste of their licence fee_ Plans to swi tch off the analogue signal by 2015 suddenly look shaky. Only 32 per cent of us own digital sets, and the Minister for Culture, Ed Valzey, says that he Is unwilling to foist digital on an unwilling public: "Listeners need to be persuaded that the content on offer is compelling _.. and that digital radios, at home or in the car, are affordable and have listening quality that Is at least as good as FM." Much of this criticism is fair. Many people still can't receive digital radio 颅 Northern Ireland is a notable black spot. And even some who live in range of national "multiplexes". such as Digital One - which provides commercial digital stations to about 90 per cent of the UK population - are bedevilled by strange. "bubbling mud" sound effects. But for those of us who are still convinced that DAB is fab are spotting signs of hope. The most obvious is the (likely) salvation of 6 Music after a vigorous grassroots campaign by listeners, OJs and musicians Including David Bowie and Lily Allen. That stay of execution reminded us that the anti路digltal brigade is overlooking the most important consideration of aU. We're not talking about the more superficial benefits of DAB - that it banishes the old crackle and hiss, and allows you to flip between stations, TV-style, Instead of groping for them in th e ether. Nor are we talking about that smaU. but deliciously helpful. feature that tells you the name of the track that's playing and, occasionally. Introduces you to a magical artist of whom you have never heard before. No, we're talking about the first item on Valzey'sllsl content The reason for 6 MusiCbeing defended so zealously is that It provides Its monthly reach of more than one million ~ with, as Cocker puts il "somethlng that can't be found ~ elsewhere". The station may have its forerunners in XFM and the more adventurous reaches of Radio 1, 2 and 3, but never 搂 before has such a range of wonderful. non-{;ommercial fare lif been so consistently championed by such passionate,

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6 I Playllst I July 17-23. 2010

(j(j Demographics dismissed as niche are now sustaining entire stations

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charismatic presenters. From avant-garde indie to vintage funk to cosmic weirdness. the music Is diverse and stimulating. So are the OJs, a mix of respected musicians (Cocker. Guy Garvey), clued-up veterans <steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie), effusive wildcards (Adam Buxton, Craig Charles) and wry cult heroes (Gideon Cae. Shaun Keaveny). And. as our pick of the top ten digital stations (right> shows.lt路s not only about the joy of 6. Following the cue of the internet. digital radio in general has taught us that. in a nation of millions, minorities can become something to be reckoned with. Demographics that wou ld once have been dismissed as niche, worthy of only graveyard slots or local radio coverage, are suddenly sustaining entire national stations_ Planet Rock has Identified another neglected minority - guitar gluttons - and provides 700,000 of them a month with regular fixes of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Muse. Small people. as well as hairy ones, are also benefiting from the digital revolution. Now that Radio 4 has abandoned Go 4 It, its last remaJning children's slot, the fl ag for national children's radio is being flown by Kids Fun, Planet Rock's successor as Digital Station of the Yea r. And who, in the pre-digital era, would have imagined a dedicated gay radio station pulling In an audience of 340,000 people. as the hugely successful Gaydar does? There's still a long way to go, both In improving the digital network and In convincing listeners of its benefits. But the bottom line is that digital radio has enriched the airwaves for millions. Everything else is merely white noise.


GMusic Fast becoming

Planet Rock like a respectable station hijacked by grizzled rock legends, this superb mix of wry DJs, famous guests, wailing classic rock and documentaries comes with a warm, good-humoured sense of community, too. Must-hear Alice Cooper hosting the breakfast show - what's more rock than that?

a natiOnal treasure and the sort of thing for which digital radios were invented, from Jarvis Cocker's random Sunday shows to Craig Charles's funk-fuelled Saturday nights and lauren laverne (right) on weekday mornings. Must-hear Collins and Herring: ace tunes and musings on Saturday AM.

BBC RadJo 7

JazzFM Bebop and far beyond: purists should make a beeline for Bob Sinfield, while Mike Vitti embraces Roy Ayers and Funkadellc. Must路hear Peter Young on Saturdays (3-6pm) - the music of black America, from Fifties gospel to exotic covers of John Coltrane and Stevie Wonder.

The speech-radio station that will soon be renamed Radio 4 Extra. Delving into every fathom of the BBC archive - not only the likes of The Goon Show - It also does fine original comedy, such as The Comedy Club with Alex Riley. Must-hear Priceless reruns of Hancocks Half Hour

Fun Kids For an Infectiously bright station aimed at the lOs and under, this Is surprisingly music-led - anything from Kelly Clarkson to Rolf Harris and Disney tunes. Don't expect Listen with Mother, but the likes of Thomas and Friends and Robot the OJ do pop up. Must-hear After 8pm things chili out for frazzled parents.

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Absolute 80s A hot-tub time machine at hits from the decade that music and fashion refuse to forget Will bring inordinate pleasure - guilty or otherwise - to reluctant adults everywhere. Must路hear No OJ shows, rather a constant Proustlan rush of Duran Duran, Eurythmics, etc.

BBC Radio SUve Sports Extra

Colourful launched by two of london's canniest radio heads, the Kiss FM founder Gordon Mac (Jeft) and Henry Bonsu, of BBC london, Colourful offers a punchy mix of black music. chat and current affairs. Must-hear Gordon Mac, firing out soul and dance classics on Monday and Friday afternoons

1 Extra Radio 1's digital kid brother has established Itself as the chief pulse-taker of urban music. tram drum 'n' bass and dubstep to grime and hlp-hop (including Tlnle Tempah, right). Must-hear Mista Jam. surfing the cutting edge, from 7pm Monday to Thursday.

OK, so It's an oversplll (and part-time) station for the sports on Radio 5 Uve., but nowhere else do you get entirely uninterrupted ball-by-ball coverage of the cricket (with pre and post颅 match discussions). That and football, rugby, Formula One,lennis and golf. Gaydar A landmark success, broadcasting a 2417 blitzkrieg of arch chat. club anthems and pop (such as Lady Gaga, right) to gay men, lesbians and gay颅 friendly straights. Must-hear The Simon le Vans afternoon show, featuring his "Who the hell Is that. dear?" competition.


Top Ten - Keep faith in fab DAB