Viewpoint: Kerrang’s James Walshe

"Whilst mooching the aisles of a well-known electrical superstore recently, I happened upon a large display of items that distressed me. Amid the sparkle of humming laptops, tasty gadgets and a stylish new generation of TV, the display in question stood out like a shelf of dusty junk.

With all the allure of a donkey in a stable of stallions, the DAB radio looks a bit crap, doesn’t it? I scanned the aisle and browsed a heap of old fashioned looking boxes – some made of wood and some with handles – all of them with the style and modernity of a coal shovel.

We've been here before, of course. Remember when BMW bought Rover? They stuck planks of walnut on the dashboard and strips of gleaming chrome on already tired looking old Japanese heaps, expecting us all to go wild with misty eyed nostalgia. We didn't. We bought shiny modern Audis instead. People didn't want wood. They wanted brushed aluminium. So an embarrassed BMW scuttled away and Rover went pop, leaving a big factory shaped hole in the Midlands.

Same applies today. I have a sincere dislike of my iPhone but there's no denying its appeal. As a phone, it is useless. The battery lasts 20 minutes and everyone I speak to on it sounds like they're shouting down a drainpipe at me. But as a tool for the 21st century it is brilliant. And most importantly for most, it looks good. It's sexy. A must-have item. Svelte lines and beautiful to use. What exactly was the design brief for the DAB radio?

I think the content to be found on DAB is excellent. The rich variety of music you don’t get on your local Heart for instance. And despite it being one of the clear rivals of our own Kerrang! service, I'm glad 6 Music is still with us. I'm comforted that my licence fee pays for another purveyor of new music in the UK, with presenters who are trusted enough to speak freely. Rather that, than see my money go to overstaffed newsrooms broadcasting stories about knitting competitions for an audience that passed away in a nursing home fifteen years ago.

The broadcast quality of some DAB services make some stations sound like a fart through a straw but I love the idea that somebody might be thinking about the future. Creating new ways of reaching an audience tempted by iPods and the internet, taking the brilliance of the radio concept and moving forward, eschewing the tired formulas of the past: The male presenter patronizing his dimwitted giggly girl sidekick; the rigid rules imposed on speech and innovation; timid Buble-infested playlists.

The lack of smart thinking when it comes to the design of the DAB set is an example of how we need to leave the past behind and take what we’ve learned to invent new ways of engaging with the listener. Yes, there are some decent looking DAB boxes out there but they’re few and far between. I for one don’t want a radio that looks like a shopping basket.

What teenagers want, the parents want. And teenagers wouldn't be seen dead with a wooden radio.

Posted on Wednesday, August 11th, 2010 at 6:26 pm by RadioToday UK

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