A Record Label Resurrects The Radio Star : The Record Domino Records' weeklong radio station follows a tradition of renegade radio in the U.K.
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A Record Label Resurrects The Radio Star

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A Record Label Resurrects The Radio Star

A Record Label Resurrects The Radio Star

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In Britain, fans of indie music might hear the occasional new band on the BBC, but in general, critics there say broadcasters have become risk averse, and that's led to a surprising lack of variety on the air. So, one of the country's most respected independent record labels is taking matters into its own hands: it's started up its own radio station for one week.

Nik Martin has the story from London.

Unidentified Man #1: You're listening to Domino Radio.

NIK MARTIN: As in Domino Records, the label behind Animal Collective, the Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, among others. Domino promises a format-free, playlist-free radio station, hosted by musicians themselves.

Unidentified Man #2: This song finishes in a minute then we've got (unintelligible) and then we've got one more (unintelligible) after that, yeah.

MARTIN: While the bands from the independent label may not be polished broadcasters, they are experimenting with radio in a way that many feel has been sadly missing from the British airwaves.

Ms. JACQUI RICE (Program Director, Domino Radio): It was born from a sense of celebrating radio because we've all had amazing formative musical experiences listening to our radios.

MARTIN: Domino Radio's program director Jacqui Rice says many of her artists are looking forward to becoming radio announcers.

Ms. RICE: You'll see another side of the artists that you don't often see because they're not going to have to talk about their tour or their new record. They'll be playing the music that they love.

And that was another thing: the things that we like about bands when we were younger, you'd hear that band talk about a band they loved and you'd immediately investigate that band, it would just open up this whole musical world for you. And so we still think that could be really, really exciting to fans of, say, the Kills or the Dirty Projectors or Animal Collective.

MARTIN: So, Domino Radio won't just be playing music by Domino artists. For the label, it's a big experiment. It'll be on the air for just one week. But it's following in a tradition of renegade radio in the U.K.

In the 1960s, when the government refused to allow commercial radio to compete with the then staid BBC, pirate stations like Radio Caroline found a way around the law, broadcasting from ships in the middle of the freezing North Sea.

(Soundbite of music)

UNIDENTIFIED BAND #1: (Singing) Caroline, Caroline...

MARTIN: Today, there's something called Student Radio. But it's a relatively new idea. Many stations' signals don't reach much further than the edge of campus and new bands can only dream of the kind of exposure they get on college radio in the U.S., as Max Bloom, guitarist and singer with Yuck, explains.

Mr. MAX BLOOM (Guitarist/Singer, Yuck): America is just a really big place and with that comes, you know, a lot more opportunities from a music perspective. Like, there's so many college radio stations in each place you go to. I don't know, England is, like, relatively small and there's, I guess, less opportunities.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Yuck, together with the Arctic Monkeys, Robert Wyatt and other artists from the label, will be hosting shows. But it won't just be Domino acts. Bands from other independent labels will also be joining the temporary staff.

Mr. WILL ASHEN (Big Dadda Records): Evening all. This is Will Ashen from Big Dadda Records. I'm here today with Rodney Smith, Mr. Roots Manuva.

Mr. RODNEY "ROOTS MANUVA" SMITH (Rapper): That was an amazing introduction, Will.

Mr. ASHEN: It was good, wasn't it?

Mr. SMITH: You've done this before.

MARTIN: There's a lot riding on this weeklong trial broadcast. Not least the worry that by starting its own station, Domino could upset the BBC, which it relies on to give many label artists regular airplay.

Jacqui Rice thinks that's unlikely.

Ms. RICE: We've always made it absolutely clear we're on the airwaves for a week. We're certainly not your competitors. We're a record label. We sell records. We sell and market bands. We can't spend our time - it's a huge project, a huge undertaking even just doing it for a week. So, I don't think we would have the manpower to make it a regular thing. But it's a fun thing to maybe do now and then, a couple of times a year we maybe manage it.

MARTIN: The label is utilizing social media to galvanize fans already on its bands' mailing lists to tune in. But at a time when you can find pretty much anything online, it begs the question: is this just a gimmick?

Mark Story is a programming consultant with more than 30 years radio experience.

Mr. MARK STORY (Programming Consultant): When radio first started in the '20s in the States, it was largely started by people who manufactured radios and also people who had records to sell. So, you know, that model has been around for a very long time.

There certainly has been a growth of people who have decided that they find conventional radio stations - where you get the same product everywhere in the country and no variety - a rather homogeneous product. And they're looking for something different. And invariably a small station that's quite niche, like Domino, probably you have something special.

MARTIN: So, perhaps, in an era of flash mobs and viral marketing, an eclectic radio station that pops up for one or two weeks of the year could become something special that listeners look forward to.

Ms. MAYA POSTEPSKI (Austra): Hello, you're listening to Domino Radio. My name is Maya.

Ms. KATIE STELMANIS (Austra): My name is Katie.

Ms. POSTEPSKI: We're from the band Austra.

MARTIN: For NPR News, I'm Nik Martin in London.

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