The long dark afternoon of Cool FM


I’d like to thank Phil for this idea, which IIRC he raised in some other comments box many moons ago. Many readers will be aware that Graham Linehan, of Father Ted fame, runs a blog entitled “Why, That’s Delightful!”. Graham, I’m sad to say, has a sunnier disposition than me. Not that I don’t get where he’s coming from – some mornings I open the Irish News, see Richard O’Rawe nailing Gerry’s ass to the canvas, and exclaim to myself, “Why, that’s delightful!” But oftentimes my reaction is just a tad more jaundiced. Therefore this blog is launching an occasional feature entitled “Jesus, That’s Awful!”

Let us begin with a double header. Those of you who don’t reside in the greater Belfast area will probably not be familiar with Cool FM. But you will, I trust, know that there’s such a thing as commercial radio and have some idea of what it’s like. I have no reason to suspect that Cool FM is anything more significant than the local version of a broader phenomenon. But that doesn’t stop me having the same sort of animus towards Cool FM as a proud gardener would have towards a cat that insists on using her flower beds as a latrine. It may be the nature of the beast, but it’s no less of an irritation.

The irritation comes from what are just common features of the genre, that come to grate intensely with prolonged exposure. The relentless chirpiness of the DJs – and I’ve long thought Sonya Mac sounded far too pleased with herself for somebody who comes from Ballygowan – you could take in small doses. It’s the permanent chirpiness that gets up your goat. Likewise with the ads – a cheery jingle for Sam’s Yer Man has lost something of its charm by the four thousandth listen.

But no, it’s the records that end up doing your nut. If you’ve ever thought that the Radio 1 daytime schedule had an absurdly restrictive playlist, the commercial pop sector makes Scott Mills sound like John Peel. There is a very small and very rigidly followed playlist, basically consisting of the big sellers of the moment, plus the most heavily promoted pre-releases. Moreover, the list seems to change at a glacial pace. And even in the classic requests slot, there’s a distinct element of “If it’s half past twelve, it must be ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’.” Even if I liked the records, I’d get browned off sooner rather than later.

It may be objected that this is a popular formula, which is true. Every second radio you pass is playing Cool. It may further be objected that I’m not the target audience, which is also true. But until a station is launched where agreeably morose DJs play Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, you have to take your wireless programming where you can get it.

Which leads me to the pachyderm monstrosity of The X Factor. I’m not going to discuss the programme for the moment, but, as Paul remarks, it’s a remarkably efficient vehicle for total domination of the charts. And, in commercial radio, charts mean airtime. In this case we’re discussing Cheryl Cole’s “Fight For This Love”, which has made number one this week, being the year’s fastest-selling single, but this week’s run at the charts follows a good couple of weeks of saturation airplay. On Cool FM, it appears to be being played every hour on the hour, although my mind is probably exaggerating slightly. Only slightly, though.

I don’t like this record very much. And I like it less by the day. To begin with, this solo debut from the fashion icon, reality TV star and fourth best singer in Girls Aloud was just in-one-ear-out-the-other forgettable. A thin vocal, a lyric composed entirely from relationship manual clichés, and what sounds like a Bon-Tempi backing track. Compared to Girls Aloud’s best material – that mix of stripy hair, elaborate dance routines, pounding beats, nonsensical lyrics and an overwhelming sense of fun – it’s a bit of a let down.

But then you have to reckon with the airplay factor. What at first was forgettable, after the twentieth listen is mildly annoying. After the fortieth listen it progresses from the mildly annoying to a Black Eyed Peas level of annoying. At present, I am seriously wondering whether this was the stuff they used to drive Michael Caine mad in The Ipcress File. And at the current rate of sales, it’s likely to stay on the playlist for months on end.

At which point you say frig this for a game of soldiers, stick the old earphones in and treat yourself to some sounds that you actually like. And if that smacks a little of fogeyism, well, at least you’re not being driven demented by Cheryl Cole any more.


  1. October 27, 2009 at 7:55 am

    I always reserved most of my hate for Citybeat. Incidentally, who is the fifth best singer in Girls Aloud? Always a bit of Nicola type of guy myself.

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 27, 2009 at 8:10 am

    I would put Sarah down as weaker than Cheryl. I can thole Citybeat, but if it was as ubiquitous as Cool that would be another matter.

  3. Phil said,

    October 27, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I’d like to thank Phil for this idea

    ITYM “Phli”.

  4. Liam said,

    October 27, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Radio Ulster has some (one) good late night programming but the worst part of getting a ride in a Belfast taxi is the guaranteed awful radio. But terrible local radio is one of capitalism`s global scourges.

  5. ejh said,

    October 27, 2009 at 12:46 pm

    but the worst part of getting a ride in a Belfast taxi is the guaranteed awful radio.

    Something of an improvement in historical terms, that.

  6. skidmarx said,

    October 27, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    there’s a distinct element of “If it’s half past twelve, it must be ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’
    You’re half way there.

  7. October 27, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    “I would put Sarah down as weaker than Cheryl.”

    Rubbish. The forgettable Kimberley Walsh surely trails the other four. This is incendiary stuff. It’s a wonder that the Stickies haven’t split over it by now.

    “Radio Ulster has some (one) good late night programming…”

    After Midnight with Joe Lindsay is good. Think I’m a bit too long in the tooth for ATL nowadays.

    “… the worst part of getting a ride in a Belfast taxi is the guaranteed awful radio.”

    I think the only time I ever heard a decent tune in a Belfast taxi was when ‘Hope There’s Someone’ by Antony and the Johnsons came on while I was getting a lift with Value Cabs a few years back. The driver said “fucking queer” and switched off. I try to stick to trains and buses now.

    • Harry Crake said,

      October 27, 2009 at 10:11 pm

      Where’s your bloody review of the Lost Revolution Johnny? You were begging for a book on the WP a few years ago….btw I wouldn’t have thought Sarah was the worst singer. Cheryl is pretty bad and very nervous for someone who makes their living singing in public.

  8. Garibaldy said,

    October 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Sarah easily the worst singer. Kimberly gets less forgettable the more the Girls Aloud stylists try to make her look like Nadine Coyle. No danger of a split on this issue. I can’t say the same for the Andy Reid situation 😉

    On a tangential note, I see DUP MP David Simpson complaining that the BBC is pro-republican. I think that every 12th of July and every Remembrance Day myself. Sure you can’t move on Easter Sunday walking up the Falls for the wall to wall BBC staff.

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