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Easy listening station deserts lounge lizards

THIS IS A sad week for lounge lizards. On Thursday, easy listening will be silenced when the radio station whose velvety tones have caressed Londoners' ears for nearly a decade croons its last.

On Friday morning Melody Radio, purveyors of Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert and Nat King Cole since 1990, becomes Magic 105.4. The new station, created after Emap Radio's takeover of Melody last year, will provide yet another home in the capital for the music of George Michael, Celine Dion and Simply Red.

However, faced by accusations that Magic will simply act as an outlet for artists already served by Virgin, Heart FM and Capital, executives insist the new station will be different from its commercial rivals. Francis Currie, the station's director of programmes, admits that Magic will have no monopoly on artists but counters that it will have a sound all its own. "Every tune has to be melodic and soft. It has to pass the old grey whistle test, you know, can you whistle it or hum along," he said. "Inevitably there will be some overlap with other operators, but from a competitive point of view, we have to be different."

When Melody launched in 1990 it quickly gained a reputation as the aural equivalent of a flotation tank, as its blend of Bacharach standards, Astrud Gilberto and instrumentals from the Boston Pops Orchestra invited listeners to turn on, tune in and drop off.

But when easy listening flirted with fashionability in the mid-Nineties, Melody found itself at the forefront of popular culture. The station rode the wave as its audience briefly passed one million but, in the end, there was only so much Julio Iglesias a well-developed sense of irony could take.

Critics see the rebranding of Melody as a further erosion of choice in the capital, as yet another station is turned over to bland, adult- orientated rock (AOR) artists whose works can be heard elsewhere.

"I guess this means `Hasta La Vista' to the lounge lizards," said Richard Cook, the radio critic with the London listings magazine Time Out.

"Once again music is being subsumed into that primordial pap that is AOR."