/ 12 December 2003

A loophole in the airwaves

For one brief month there was a radio station in Cape Town worth listening to. But by the time you read this article it is nothing more than the cackle and hiss of static over dead air.

Spectrum 91.3 was Cape Town’s newest and most short-lived radio station. A month long skop of pure content broadcast to the Mother City masses. If it had an epitaph it would read: lived fast, rocked hard and died young (in accordance with its licence).

Spectrum 91.3 was a special event broadcaster set up to cover the Red Bull Music Academy and granted a licence to broadcast to the larger Cape Town metropole for one month only.

To get the licence a voluntary association was established and ran a petition of more than 1 800 signatures to prove that the granting of a radio licence to cover the music academy fell within the public interest and more importantly the special events broadcast application criteria of the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa).

Then the impossible happened and Icasa granted the licence. Globecom rolled in and set up the transmitter, Red Bull bankrolled the studio equipment and the academy provided the content.

It was like a loophole in the airwaves. No risk radio. And more importantly there was no advertising, with no commercial agenda driving the playlists.

For a month the station’s mandate was simply to play music, interview celebrity lecturers (like Prince Paul, Bob Moog, Hugh Masekela) and broadcast edited selections from their lecture sessions to keep Cape Town in the loop with what music academy participants were learning from these stalwarts of the global music industry.

To top all this, add live feeds from the city’s clubs, installed to broadcast the participants’ and lecturers’ gigs as they were taking place.

Cape Town was tuned into the sounds of Metro Area’s Darshan Jesrani, United Kingdom drum’n’bass legends Marcus Intalex and Tony Coleman, J Da Flex, Anthony “Shake” Shakir from Detroit, Erlend Oye of Royksopp fame, German reggae artist Patrice singing over African Dope rhythms, Amp Fiddler from Parliament and P-Funk fame, our own Ready D and Mira Calix among others.

These artists were surrounded by the precocious talents of 54 international participants from 38 countries and four South African boys, keeping it locked down on a mid-tempo African house and kwaito flavour.

While these broadcasts were beaming direct from the clubs to your radio, yours truly was sent in with a mic and radio transmitter to interview the punters and gauge the mayhem live on air.

There were many expletives; loads of deep cranium drawl about the use of “logic and reason” as platforms for creating music; a lot of spontaneous gushing about how amazing the academy is and, of course, a fair bit of obnoxious, drunken babble and amped-up, dance-floor whooping.

Throughout the radio’s short-lived existence, one thing was blatantly clear: South Africa, in general, and Cape Town especially, needs better radio than is currently being offered.

For a month Spectrum 91.3 otherwise known as “RESPECTrum” stepped up to the plate and gave it a crack.

Gauging from the glowing response monitored via sms and telephone calls during the three hour call-in session on the last day, the station and it’s 100% pure content approach scored highly amongst a quality radio starved audience.

Now when I drive I flip ceaselessly between stations, from the non-descript commercial American hip-pop and advertising blitzes on 5fm and Good Hope to the whine and moan of commercial American R&B on Metro and P4; from the overload of South African accented complaints on SAfm to the gospel, kwaito and weirdness of misunderstood Xhosa news broadcasts and discussions on Umhlobo, which is where my dial spends most of its time nowadays.

Andy Davis was the media liaison for the Red Bull Music Academy and the live gig reporter for Spectrum 91.3