Get with the Programme - Into the Red-Zone
Have you ever wondered what goes on in the studio of radio shows? I know I have. So when the opportunity to join radio DJ Tim Red, 37, in the studio as he broadcast his weekly show on House FM, Redzone, I jumped at the chance.
As a boy, listening to smuggled tapes of radio shows by Colin Dale and Mr C (from acid house pioneers, The Shamen) under his duvet were the only thing propelling Tim through the stark school life. Little did he know that one day he would have both as guests on his own show. An IT architect by day, he is living his childhood dream by night.
I meet Tim at his Mile End flat and before I know it, backstreets zoom past me as I ride through East London on the back of his Vespa to Homerton. We meet this week’s guest, London DJ Paul Louth, at the train station and head, via the off licence, down a back alley to the studio. After being scrutinised through a camera at an anonymous door we pass the test and are let in.
A wall of heat hits us and I am instantly covered in sweat. Think sauna, but fully clothed. “Oh yeah” says the guy who let us in, who by the way is also the DJ currently on air, “the aircon is broken.”
The studio is a small, windowless room with one end covered by broadcasting paraphernalia, pulsing out waves of heat. There is a small leather sofa in the corner. Despite the prison cell format, the atmosphere is comfortable. Much like being at your mate’s house, playing some tunes and having a few beers.
Tim is visibly excited and gets a boing in his step the minute he sets eyes on the equipment. As far as I am concerned, I might as well be looking at the controls of the star ship enterprise. His urge to start twiddling with the knobs and slides is tangible.
House FM is a small radio station with minimal ads and no frills. There is no producer or sound engineer – the DJ runs the entire show. Screens along the wall display various stuff: one is the radio chat room with comments by listeners, another has a multitude of icons, each representing a jingle to be layered over the music at the DJs whim. Tim confesses that he loves just the one: “Deep Male”. The others, like one called “soulful sounds” are just not his style and he point-blank refuses my dare of an on-air demonstration.
A third screen lists who is listening on the internet from around the world. Right now there are about 100, mostly from Europe and South America. This may not sound like much, but as Tim explains, the biggest audience downloads the podcast - around 400 each week. It is not a game for the megalomaniac DJ, but for Tim it is small and perfectly formed, allowing him to play the music he loves and to hang out with like-minded DJs.
We discuss live broadcast versus pre-recorded shows and Tim and Paul enthusiastically agree that live is by far the best. Grinning, Tim confides: “I love the potential crapness of it all – it’s much more exciting.”
And sure enough, this very point is illustrated in splendid audio technicolour when Tim announces his guest, messing up his name. Passionately heckled from the studio couch by Paul, Tim corrects himself: “oh yeah sorry, get it right –spaz”. Politically correct it is not - but that is evidently not the angle of this show.
Tim skillfully builds up a chugging mood of tech house for the first half hour and I take the chance to chat to Paul about his life and DJing. His passion for music shines through as he talks about a radio show he used to do himself, Groovetech, visibly missing it. Paul is Tim’s age and both have done the rounds on both the underground and slightly more mainstream electronic dance music circuit of London.
The never ending debate of vinyl versus digital recordings inevitably creeps in, with Tim choosing to use a software programme called Traktor to mix, while Paul sticks to his old love, vinyl. Both agree vinyl has the better sound, but the advantages of not having to lug your body weight in records around are also palpable. This point is unswervingly driven home by the fact the wheels of Paul’s record bag almost came off on the way to the studio. Whatever the medium, they both live and breathe music and when the times comes for Paul to do his bit, he jumps up to take the controls, quickly sliding into a techy, infectious and funky groove.
In between mixes, Paul expresses his distaste of the descent of the London dance music scene into “trendy” house. I laugh; what does that mean? He smiles, with just a hint of disillusion: “It just seems to be all about haircuts and flip flops.” I get what he means – in my world, dance music is definitely more about the party than the pose.
Tim occasionally gets on the mic, responding to comments from the chatroom and giving out the studio telephone number. I’m curious – who actually calls the number and what do they say? “Well, it could be anything from asking for shout-outs or maybe just ‘John is a twat’” Tim says, as he just can’t help but groove out to a particularly good bit in the music. No swearing ban then? “Fuck no”, Tim answers: “I just mark the show ‘explicit’ and that sorts that out.” Easy peasy. Oh the joys of internet broadcasting.
Before I know it, the show is nearly over and the next DJ, the very perky and chatty JD Jodie arrives. Realising that she will be on her own in the studio till gone midnight, the strict security and camera suddenly makes total sense.
Still reeling from the music, the beer and the heat, we go to a local pub and the chat flows easily. About the people, the relationships, the music and the feelings evoked by it all. Good and bad. Putting your love of music on the line as a DJ seems to inevitably lead to peaks and troughs. What goes up must come down