Anyone who ever presented a few late night shows on a radio station in Dublin knew Jimmy or someone like him. He was the guy who got in touch asking you about tracks, tipping you off to new music and reminding you about old favourites.
People like Jimmy were a reminder that there were actual flesh and blood people listening out there. Real folks, real folks with ears, real folks with discerning tastes.
You may not have thought there was anyone out there – your station management certainly didn’t think there was anyone listening at that hour – but Jimmy and his tribe were proof that there were people out there. They were tuned in, they were taking notes, they were listening.
I got to know Jimmy in real life and he became more than just a name on a text or email. I’m glad I had that opportunity because Jimmy was one of the good ones. I don’t think I ever heard a bad word or a criticism from him. A gentleman from tip to toe, that bastard cancer took him from us a few months back. It’s always the good ones, isn’t it?
I’ve been doing a lot of driving of late after dark has fallen and I find myself thinking of Jimmy as I roam the dial. He’d be delighted that John Kelly is back on the Mystery Train and he’d be happy to hear that John Creedon is still having some wild adventures on the airwaves.
They’re not the only sweethearts of the airwaves creating magic. Every station on the dial has a show or two for those of us who mooch towards the radio in search of after-dark salvation. It may not be a radio as your parents knew it, but rather a phone or laptop or whatever can be tuned in to catch those rays.
It’s not just the local stations either. If a trip takes me north-ish and the car radio manages to lock onto a decent signal from Broadcasting House in London, it’s Annie Mac and Huw Stephens, and their various stand-ins, such as Philly Taggart, who keep her lit for the journey on BBC Radio One. If you want more names to reckon with, we can go down the KCRW or Triple J rabbitholes.
Some tracks from these night-time crews often end up creating compelling pictures. I remember hearing Creedon playing The War on Drugs’ Thinking Of A Place on a perfect late spring evening as the sun went down on the distant horizon. It was the perfect match of music and vista. I think I must have played that track a hundred times the following week just to get that high again. That image has stuck in my mind longer than anything else from the band’s most recent album.
Of course, it’s at this point that someone will come along and say no-one listens to music radio anymore. There’s a part of me that wants to say "you said that about vinyl, too" and leave it at that with the €30 price sticker attached, but I’ll tease it out.
What’s interesting is that we’ve never been surrounded by so much music coming from so many different avenues and platforms. Music is used to sell, flog, brand, hawk, barter and push every class of gizmo and tchotchke imaginable. We’ve reached peak music and we probably don’t need the radio and its wham-bam-bang stations anymore.
And yet, and yet, and yet… We still need our guides. We still need to trust someone who can take us along these rivers and seas of sound. We still need that personal touch.
At night, we seem more willing to take these chances with the wireless. Maybe it’s because daytime radio maintains a meat-and-two-veg approach with its playlists and structures. At night, it’s the radio republic of loose. Night time is the right time and all of that palaver.
There’s something about listening to music on a radio at night that takes you to another dimension. The day’s distractions are largely done and we’ve regained some of our attention from those mundane tasks and trials. We listen with more intensity, more awareness, more openness. We’re willing to go on a trip and let the DJ away with a dud track because we reckon there’s a good one due within the next 15 minutes. We know their track record and we (kind of) trust them.
This one, then, is for those of us who still tune in and who may well have penalty points because of zealous Shazaming (not guilty, your honour). This one is for those who still know the power and pizzazz of a brilliantly selected 15 minutes of tracks. This one is for those late night radio presenters who probably don’t realise how lucky they are to do this for a living. This one is for those of us who’ve sat in the car outside our gaffs because we daren’t turn the radio off while that tune is playing. This one is for those of us who can remember the radio schedules from stations long departed from the dials. This one is for the dreamers, And, most of all, this one is for Jimmy.