Late night airwave driftnets
(or, DIY music discovery from the 80s)
Way back in the early 80s music discovery was a bit of a problem for me.
Being under 10 years old rather restricted my options. I hadn’t yet
discovered the music press and even if I did I wouldn’t have been able
to afford it. Radio 1 was all about the top 40 chart show on a Sunday
Also I lived in rural Scotland. Interesting record shops, local radio,
television were so completely unavailable to me. Again, I was <10 years
old and I don’t remember the situation improving until half way through
high school. By which point others passion for music at school was more
easily shared, via the medium that was the senior pupils common room but
that was nearly 10 years later...
It’s amazing thinking about it now, but the top 40 on a Sunday used to be
an actual event, I remember the whole family listening to the radio while
it was on. Granted my parents would be going about the business of dinner
but until the late 80s it was always a thing in our house. I’d sit poised
near one of the speakers in the living room with my tape recorder ready
to capture anything that caught my interest and I wanted to hear again.
There was no internet in the early 80s, and being a youngster all I had
to sustain me was rewinding that tape and listening again and again,
gleaning whatever I could figure out about who had made that music.
Outside the Top 40 on a Sunday, I don’t recall Radio 1 being of much
use to me in terms of music discovery. I had no idea the John Peel show
existed, this probably would have helped, but my appetite for new music
My life changed when my parents bought me a new cassette recorder with a
radio. Suddenly I had access to radio outside the confines of parental
supervision. I spent many a night under the covers listening to Radio
Luxembourg, but patterns of playlists emerged and soon that too wasn’t enough.
I can’t remember when I stumbled on the idea that in the small hours of the
morning radio station content changed dramatically. I started setting an alarm
clock for 2/3am, and leaving a C90 cassette tape left on record. In the morning
I’d rewind it and see what I’d found.
The phrase the music industry was using at this point was “Home taping is
Oh what a time to be alive.