Are you listening, 1FM?

Time was when builders had Radio 1 blaring and black-cab drivers tuned into LBC. Now that one station is no more and the other has a new name, have things changed? Robert Butler listened to the listeners
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The Independent Culture
THEY ARE the ones who tune in and out all day, measuring their lives in jingles, signature tunes and news bulletins. Builders, painters, drivers, decorators, cooks, factory workers, cleaners, shop-keepers, hairdressers: they only have half a mind to listen. The other half is on the job. The radio is on and it is on all through the working day. As a target audience, they couldn't have a higher frequency. There are surfers and searchers, flickers and diallers and ones that never change stations at all. But

how much of what they listen to, do they actually listen to? Ask them to name the title of a programme they hear every day or the disc-jockey that drives them nuts. And what happens?


53, chauffeur

I'm actually driving eight hours, but it's a 14 to 16 hour day and I skip around the dial. Radio 2 tends to be my main talk station. Things like Jimmy Young and Gloria Hunniford. I like programmes where they have a discussion and people phone-in and give their views. And there's another younger lady in the afternoon who's name escapes me [Debbie Thrower]. She's excellent. She does seem to ask searching questions, as opposed to Terry Wogan, who doesn't probe the answer he's given. I can only take him in small doses. Some of these people prattle on too long. Like Chris Tarrant. It's just your verbal dirge. Tony Blackburn's the same. I listen to 95.8 [Capital] if I want some current pop music. Don't ask me what station that is, I go by the numbers. I've got buttons programmed and I just flick along them. I've then got 97.3 [London News], whatever that is. Sports and news. On the hour, I might flick over to there to get the results. What's the last one? 105.4 [Melody]. That's easy listening. They're all FM. On medium wave, I like Capital Gold; it has Fifties, Sixties music. My only regret is that it's on medium wave and not FM. The reception varies enormously round London. Occasionally I just press the search button and it skips along until I find something nice. I don't know what programme I'm listening to.


32, hairdresser

In a salon it is so important to try and create the right ambience. If a radio station can help you do that it's very valuable. Obviously clients come to have their hair done, but that isn't the only reason. The music is like having an extra member of staff. I've worked at salons where we've actually fought over the music. The spectrum of clients means there has to be a balance. But it has to be trendy enough and progressive enough to reflect the salon. JFM [formerly Jazz FM] is mellow, with more music, less chat. It's light and backgroundish. It's nice because you're obviously talking to clients, so you don't want a DJ talking over you. Once it's on, the salon is so busy that no one gets round to changing it. It's not blasting out. It's not offensive to anyone. We tried Kiss FM and a lot of older clients would say, this is not relaxing, this is too demanding. On JFM, the mid-morning show with Jonny Haywood tends to be jazz and bluesy. In the afternoon, as you're getting busier, the music's getting busier. It's either Greg Edwards or Peter Young and it tends to be dance-orientated. If you're in this industry, you're trying to keep up with a tempo and keep up with appointments. So it's nice to have a faster pace to work to.


23, care assistant, residential centre

There's a hi-fi unit in the lounge which is nearly always on. We have 1017 on [Essex Radio] most of the time. The residents like it. It plays pop and has local news. We've got a resident who hates it when the music stops. If the DJ talks, she gets a bit grizzly and moany. We've also got one guy who seems to go through phases of liking opera or classical music. He can't speak, he's wheelchair-bound, so you have to guess what he wants. He has a continuous yell if he's not happy. I go through the frequency and find something and he quietens down. The home is run by a Catholic charity, and some of them like to listen to the Christian radio, which has just come on. I'm not a Christian, so if I'm there it normally gets switched back to 1017. It's poppy during the day, then it chills out a bit, and later at night, ten onwards, it's mellower, soul music, not Nineties. I'd prefer to listen to some mainstream jazz, but on 1017, it's Take That, Take That and Take That. I have to be careful because a couple of the carers like Take That. The residents like that kind of rhythm, that kind of beat, it's easy to grasp hold of. They sing along to it. Dance to it.


34, ceramicist

I'm listening to quite a lot of Virgin because they play music from the Seventies and Eighties. It's geared to my age-group. Also, they play the records back to back. But Virgin's a fairly recent discovery - since it came to FM. If I'm in a serious mood, I have Radio 4 on. When you're on your own, it's a bit like having a watch. It tells you what time you should be having lunch. I like the Friday Classic serials. The slushy romantic ones. One thing I find really frustrating about Radio 4 is the crackle and interference. The reception can just get lost when you're in the middle of something good. If you've got your hands covered in clay it's very hard to retune. When you've done something like mixing glazes, which requires a lot of washing up, music helps, it's not as if you have to strain to listen. When pop music is on, it does increase your adrenalin, so if you're trying to paint delicate lines, it's not on. Saturday afternoons I listen to Radio Five Live. I support West Bromwich Albion. I'm in the studio on my own so I don't have to annoy anyone with the commentary. It's a passion which none of the other crafts people share.


28, chef

I work from nine to five or from three thirty till 12. There are three of us in the kitchen and during the day the preparing is quite easy till the last half hour. We listen to Radio 4 and we chuckle about what's on. We turn it down when the news comes on too often. When you hear the beeps of the 12 o'clock news you know that you better move pretty quickly. You've got half an hour before you have to pull everything together. That's when you stop listening and concentrate. In the evening there'll be these moments - 8.30 or 9.30 - where you'll be very busy and songs will come on GLR and they'll be perfect. There's a sweet man who used to do the Old Grey Whistle Test [Bob Harris]. He's very gentle and the music's good quality. You'll click into a jazzy fast-paced song and it'll dictate the pace of the cooking. Sometimes ravey music comes on and you're absolutely manic, dancing round the kitchen. If it's a really appalling song you surf the wavelengths to get the perfect track. There's so much choice now - Kiss, Melody, Virgin, GLR - it's quite easy to get the best out of your radio. But you have to be quite brutal. There's this girl on Virgin who comes on at about 10 [Janey Lee Grace]. She's playing classic rock albums. You're starting to wind down, cleaning up, wiping down surfaces, having a glass of wine.


43, builder

I listen to Radio 4 from half past six in the morning till half past seven in the evening. It's on quietly in the background most of the time and you don't take any notice of it half the time. I listen for the news, the travel news - the M25 is quite important to us round here - and the weather forecast. The weather counts, particularly in our game. Today is quite informative. I always like to know what the pound is doing. It does affect us a bit. I miss Robin Day. I used to quite enjoy his interviews. I don't listen to the plays. With my job I have to go out and travel about from site to site and I have it on then. But very rarely do I listen to anything from start to finish. I wouldn't say I'm ever late for a meeting, but if you've got five minutes to go, you say, bugger it, I will wait for that to finish. The lads at work say, "Why do you listen to that rubbish?" But every other station you listen to, it goes in one ear and comes out the other. A lot of my boys have Kiss FM on inside the houses. It's for the younger lads. I do listen to The Archers. It happens to be on when I'm travelling home. It's the only soap I do listen to. I certainly don't watch any on television. If you've listened to something all your working life, you get used to it.


20, car cleaner

It's a big workshop here with one radio and two speakers, and the radio's fixed on Capital. If I could change it, I definitely would. I'd choose Kiss. But everyone else likes Capital. There are six of us in the workshops - three technicians, a parts driver and two valeters - and it's been on ever since I started, three years ago. The problem with Capital is that they play the same songs every hour so you hear one song 10 times a day. It's a never-ending circle. Later in the afternoon, it's rubbish. The others DJs whack on the songs and that's it. That's why I like Chris Tarrant. It's the chat. We have a good laugh with the radio. We all sing along to the jingles. Whatever they say about sport, they usually get it first - "Schumacher signs for Ferrari" - or whatever. The Grand Prix stuff, all the lads are into. The music on Kiss is more my age, it's more housey, more clubby. They might play the same song as Capital but they play a better version. When I'm in and out of a car, taking it out to the front to put some fuel in it or whatever, I'll put the radio on Kiss.


49, painter of coal-mining landscapes

I work in a studio built on at the back of the house. I listen to Radio 4 all day till tea-time. I sometimes turn off in the afternoon, I must admit. The Afternoon Shift is full of trivia. The other day they went to Andrew Neil's grammar school in Paisley and spoke to his geography teacher. That sort of thing. I switch on usually about half nine when I've done the washing up and tidying up. I don't find that it stops my concentration really. I absorb it without being awfully conscious of it. I never get so involved I have to stop working. I'm not very good with the dials, I wouldn't know where to find anything else. I've got my radio tuned to Radio 4. I like to turn it on and leave it on. If you looked in the Radio Times you'd think, oh gosh, that sounds boring, but if you heard it, it's interesting. It's the randomness I like. If I chose something to listen to, I don't think I could work at the same time. You would listen to it in a different sort of way. I'd find it much more difficult to work to music than to speech. Speech gives you something to think about. Maybe it's the companionship. I am on my own. !