When commercial radio and streaming service playlists can feel more like you’re being advertised to by record labels than the communal sharing of music they promise, where do you go to find new sounds?
Some of us are lucky enough to have found guru-like figures lurking in our local record shops, but what happens after hours? And isn’t it nice to sometimes be the one who recommends an unheard tune to your mates, basking afterwards in the self-satisfaction of being like some low-rent John Peel?
Though their prevalence makes it difficult to find the few that work for you, internet radio stations can hold the key. It isn’t always the case, but when a DJ is afforded autonomy from playlists and the pressure of advertisers, a utopia can be found where music is broadcast purely for the love of its sounds.
These are ten of our favourite such stations, most of them offering an eclectic and genre-spanning roster of guests and regular DJs, with most past shows also archived for your perusal. We’d strongly recommend bookmarking this page and keeping it safe as you journey through their wares over the next few weeks.
We hate to shift blame, but if you can’t find a show for you on the NTS schedule (opens in new tab) or in its archives, you really haven’t looked hard enough. Founded by Femi Adeyemi in 2011, NTS now broadcasts from cities around the globe on its two main channels – though the main studio is based in Hackney – playing all from disco to classical, techno to experimental and field recordings. Every morning in the What Hi-Fi? office begins with Charlie Bones’s Do!! You!!! Breakfast Show.
Eclecticism is not purely the preserve of East London, of course, as proven by Los Angeles-based station Dublab (opens in new tab). Funded by member donations, its five-day-a-week broadcasts allow DJs to play freely the music they’re passionate about, with special focus on supporting emerging creative artists, especially those testing the boundaries in more obscure and micro-genres.
French readers will likely know FIP (or France Inter Paris) (opens in new tab) well, its having broadcast since 1971 following much the same rules of largely uninterrupted and carefully curated music. For those of us based elsewhere, though, it is an internet station, dealt out of Paris with regional locales in Bordeaux, Nantes and Strasbourg. You’ll be treated to chanson followed by afrobeat, and then perhaps a little baroque or blues, with the day’s shows repeated between 11pm and 7am.
Though still based mostly in Peckham, South East London, Balamii (opens in new tab) has just begun broadcasting from New York on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings as well, taking its community radio to share with the US as well. It’s another station with a varied output in terms of genre, but focus here is more toward electronic, dance and hip-hop than the more sprawling gaze of NTS.
Set up by famed crate digger and sonic explorer Giles Peterson alongside Boiler Room co-founder Thris Tian, Worldwide FM (opens in new tab) isn’t a particularly difficult one to figure out. As the name suggests, it troubles itself with bringing together sounds from across the globe, providing a fine entry level for those interested in world music and a haven for connoisseurs alike.
Few genres are so divisive as jazz: you’ll find few who think it’s just okay. But you’ll be hard pushed to find a more achingly cool station as Paris’s TSF Jazz (opens in new tab). You’ll find a mix of those classics you’ve grown either to love or despise, and almost more importantly a finger on the pulse of the newest and most exciting beat-muddlers currently plying their trade.
The definition of a community radio station, Netil Radio (opens in new tab) broadcasts from Netil Market and is run by the population of creative space Netil House. Don’t worry if that sounds overly pretentious, in practice it tends to succeed in its attempts to reflect the vibrant and diverse culture of its East London surroundings. This is another where you can expect to hear South American boogie running into African jazz.
Soho Radio (opens in new tab) is another that prides itself on having no playlists and no adverts, allowing its DJs – a number that has included guest slots from dub icon Denis Bovell, Primal Scream bassist Simone Marie and Haçienda legend Mike Pickering – to play whatever it might be they feel. Transmitting from the centre of London’s Soho, you’ll not lack diversity here, either.
We’ve said before that our opinion on the greatest film scores is that the story would be more fundamentally changed by their removal than any other alteration in the script. But what about if you take the picture away and just play the music? Cinemix (opens in new tab) is a station, funded by its listeners, doing exactly that. You may come away from this one with a list of new films to watch as much as anything else.
The influence of Seattle-based KEXP (opens in new tab) has become so gargantuan that securing a slot on one of its live sessions has become something of a right of passage, especially for indie and alternative musicians. Its services, it says, are designed to benefit three distinct groups: music lovers, artists and the arts. Tick, tick, tick.