After listening to 95bFM for the first time in a while, albeit as an on-demand podcast of the top ten, this morning I am listening live – to the end of the top ten show, and now to Freak the Sheep (the NZ music show). Haven’t listened live to 95bFM in so long.

95bFM is an Auckland-based student radio station, one of a nationwide network. They play great music, from ambient chillout and hip-hop to rock and metal. I’ve been listening to bFM for the best part of two decades* (their website and online streaming has always been quite ahead of global trends for radio stations, particularly of their size).

* The first mention in my diary of bFM is from November 2004, by which time I apparently felt cosy enough with listening online to text the overnight DJ and request a song, which they kindly played for me.

It also has that ‘I keep getting older, they stay the same age’ vibe that all good student radio stations can have – bFM seems simultaneously not to have changed in the time I’ve been listening to it, and yet they still seem fresh and cool, and they engage in fresh talent in their DJs and the songs they play, as well as not forgetting to look back.

Like all good radio, listening live to a station like this is where it’s at: brief mentions of local news and affairs, plus ads for local events and businesses, it all makes it feel very local and takes you right there.

An ad for a camera rental firm in Newmarket, sent me straight to Google Maps trying to see where it fits into my very patchy mental map of Parnell and Newmarket, where I was based for a few months in late 2008. This was initially very confusing, but it was quite a nice sensation feeling the bits slip into place as my brain wrapped itself around the physical map/streetview.

I’m also struck by something I know I’ve felt before, but perhaps never written down, which is that I tend to find myself gravitating towards checking out 95bFM as the seasons change – rarely in deep winter or the height of summer (though I’ve always enjoyed the mental juxtaposition of hearing about surf conditions out at Piha in mid-December or ski conditions at Cardrona while I’m experiencing a heat wave).

Rather, it’s more when there’s a noticeable change in the weather and my mind seems to wander to the other side of the world where a similar change is happening, albeit in reverse. Can’t put my finger on the cause of this, but it’s something that I’ve always been half aware of.

On a related note, I’ve often likened music from the early 1980s by Dunedin and Christchurch bands – early Flying Nun releases, the so-called Dunedin Sound – with what I imagine were drafty, damp student digs in the winter term.

Inevitably there’s a lot of poetic licence and leaps of imagination in this: the truth is probably far less ‘neat’, but I do find myself conjuring images of a frosty morning in Christchurch, or emerging from a foggy, cold street into a pub in Dunedin when I listen to the Chills (hah!), the Clean or the Verlaines. Woolly jumpers and smoking a fag in the cold night air, or trying to get the car started first thing in the morning with steamy breath visible.

I got the Roger Shepherd book about Flying Nun Records for Christmas a couple of years ago and haven’t read it yet. Haven’t found myself in the right mood to really dig in. Want to give it my full attention and wallow in a book that, a few years ago, I’d have lapped up. Perhaps that’s part of it: I listen to 1980s NZ music far less nowadays than I used to. But it’s still in my bones.

And so I want to crank that up a little bit more, get it more into the foreground, and get into the right headspace to read the book, my mind all the more receptive to every morsel and anecdote. And as the nights draw in (we haven’t done the clocks yet, but with gloomier weather, the evenings do feel that bit darker suddenly), perhaps it’s becoming a good time to get back into that mood.

Back to the original thread, and that’s one other thing I love about occasionally dipping into 95bFM (and the other bnet stations): I can hear brand new and even unreleased demos by up and coming NZ bands played alongside the kind of stuff I hear daily on BBC 6 Music, and then occasional plays of proper NZ alternative classics – legendary tracks by some of the bands I mentioned earlier – just dropped into the playlist because they’re part of the fabric of NZ radio and popular culture (or at least alternative pop culture, perhaps not quite the mainstream). Hearing a track by someone like the Chills on 6 Music is almost unheard of – almost, because every few years they seem to play some of their Peel Session recordings at an obscure hour. But that’s pretty much it.

Oh – one more thing while I’m at it: a thing I want someone to invent, which feels like it should exist, but I haven’t even Googled yet to see if it does:

I want to have a database of loads of global radio stations (ideally with good streaming), and an input form where I drop in a few bands I’m digging lately. The database holds all these stations’ playlists. It then returns stations which have played those bands I love recently. Some sort of background algorithm so that it doesn’t just find a station that played one Deftones track yesterday, but nothing else for months, but actually ‘weights’ the results by stations that more consistently play tracks by artists I’m into.

Better yet: let me plug my last.fm or Spotify library into the database: scrape my favourite artists and show me which radio station – anywhere in the world – aligns most closely to my taste in music.

This feels like it could exist, but would necessarily depend on radio stations accurately logging their playlists in a common format. Which seems… unlikely. Unless there was an over-arching authority like PRS that did a better job of this. But still. Seems as unlikely as it does a cool concept. I can dream.


Beggars Arkive

In a former life, I attended a one day seminar at the British Library on the subject of the archival of sound recordings. It ran the gamut from wax cylinders to re-releasing seminal records from recent decades to the automatic digital archival of a national broadcaster.

One of the guests was a representative of Beggars Group, who talked excitedly about the value of their own archive, and their blossoming attempts to sort it all out, preserve it, and, ultimately, better monetise it.

So it was nice to recently stumble across the Beggars online store and have a look at some of the releases they’ve made available. It’s mostly back catalogue stuff, but there are a few hidden gems and some releases I didn’t realise would still be available on vinyl. (Hello Biffy b-sides collections and 1-disc version of mcluskyism. Will I ever find you, Effloresce?)

There doesn’t seem to be the option to buy downloads, but perhaps they’re focussing on physical releases that collectors will want, while making the digital stuff available via streaming services. I’m not sure how many people still really collect CDs – although a nicely packaged collection of previously unavailable stuff accompanied with well-done liner notes and artwork  remains a worthwhile object in my view.

Overall though, it’s the approach that I like. The Beggars Arkive Instagram account has regular juicy updates, like shots of master tapes of important sessions, as well as highlights from the store.

It all strikes the right balance between the commercial potential and the cultural importance of the label’s output over the years via various indie labels. As Beggars’ Lesley Bleakley said at the British Library seminar: “It’s music… It’s culture… It’s not ‘ours’… We do need to look after our copyright though!”

A similar project is Flying Out, the online store of New Zealand indie labels including Flying Nun and Arch Hill. They sell a mix of digital and physical music, as well as books, t-shirts and other merchandise. They also have a focus on re-issuing classic albums on various formats. There are probably a number of other similar projects from indie labels around the world. I’d hope so, anyway.

Anyway. It’s all heartening stuff. And it reminded me of that day spent at the British Library, scribbling pages of notes like I was at university again. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for similar opportunities because they’re great fun and very stimulating. I want another one.