turn the dial! radio meltdown
turn the dial! radio meltdown

Why do you never hear rock music on the radio (or on TV)

It’s a curious thing.

The world’s most consistently biggest groups, the ones who will always sell out the stadiums and influence countless generations of bands have somehow been edited out of the mass media.

When was the last time you heard Metallica on the radio? Apart from an ironic play? When was the last time System Of A Down had a whole live set screened at a festival? When was the last time any of the big four metal bands were radio staples?

The BBC coverage of Glastonbury was good and in depth. They didn’t seem to miss anything. But are they going to show any of Sonisphere? Are they aware of Sonisphere or the Download festival?

Last year AC/DC headlined and not only was there no TV coverage there was no mention of the fact anywhere. Odd, when you consider that AC/DC’s Back In Black is the second best selling album of all time after Michael Jackson having sold far more copies than the Beatles.

That makes rock very popular. That means lots of people want to hear it. In market terms it’s more popular than pop and certainly more popular and important than indie but somehow it doesn’t get played apart from those token late night shows.

Why is this?

Why is it reduced to the ironic devil signs made by Fearne Cotten?

Why is there no daytime or even any evening time radio play by the BBC (who do a great job covering most styles of music).

Why is it consistently looked on as being a bit stupid when it is the only ground breaking guitar music getting made in the world right now and not mired in the past like most indie?

How come Rammstein can sell out 20,000 tickets for Manchester Arena and yet get one play over every single UK radio station for their last album?

Will rock forever be treated like a musical lepers colony? Or will it one day be acknowledged as the powerful modern cultural force that it is and without any poxy irony?

Will metal festivals get live TV treatment?

Will metal band’s get included in the Mercury awards?

Will metal bands be allowed into the endless new band sections of UK conferences?

Will metal ever get played by alternative stations like XFM or 6music?

Is XFM even alternative and of not why does it get a license?

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Interesting points, Brother John. I think it’s a testament to the rock genre that it has not only survived but flourished despite not having had much support at all from the media at large.

    There ARE rock magazines, websites, radio stations etc – all of which seem to be doing a great job. But, ironically perhaps, they do it quietly. Without bleating much about their lack of gravitas in the music globe. Perhaps they’re not bothered? Or maybe they’d rather get on with the job at hand?

    I went to Sonisphere last year and was truly surprised and entertained by the diversity of acts on offer: from Gary Numan to Alice Cooper, from Iggy and the Stooges to Europe, from Turisas to Terrorvision. I was also massively impressed by the crowd. It was wanker-free. Something you just don’t get at Glastonbury.

    So, yeah. Long live rock. Whatever they’re doing, the rockers are doing it right – and without much help from the rest of the music world.

  2. It’s strange that the gradual marginalising of rock music from any kind of above-the-parapet visibility (and, indeed, audiability) has occurred at the same time that rock’s imagery has become all-pervasive in the mainstream.

    It’s now common to see celebs in rock band T-shirts – Miley Cyrus and the like, papped in an Iron Maiden shirt: httpss://clutch.mtv.com/2011/03/28/pop-stars-pretending-to-be-metal-heads/

    Mainstream fashion retailers offer Motorhead and AC/DC shirts, as if the band names are all-purpose edgy clothing brands: httpss://www.honcho-sfx.com/Ladies-Vintage-Motorhead-T-Shirt-by-Amplified

    The brands are everywhere. The bands are nowhere. What’s that all about?

  3. The tendency for rock to deliberately ghetto-ise itself within its closed circle, thus playing up to its underground / outlaw / martyr image, doesn’t help. It’s great for the 15-year-old fans who have that need we all had as 15-year-olds to be “different” and “misunderstood”, but not so great for anyone else.

    An example of what I mean: at last year’s In The City conference there was a rock/metal based event organised by a specialist rock promotion organisation; I forget who, might have been Kerrang Radio. It was listed in the ITC guide book as an official ITC event (many of the official events were curated by specialists, eg electronica by Now Wave, hip-hop by Murkage, etc) and there was a band on which sounded like they might be interesting, so as a reviewer I decided to check them out. I’ve been keen for the website I manage to cover more rock/metal, especially the local and up-and-coming scene, even though it’s not generally my personal taste (which is why I deliberately recruited a specialist metal writer, something few of the up-and-coming-music sites have, and am sending a reviewer to Sonisphere this year).

    At this point I’ll add for those who don’t know me, that when I am privileged with press accreditation for an event I work hard for it, never treating it as a freebie blag like some professional employees (which I am not) of some media organisations do, who are already getting paid to be there anyway: for six of the past seven years I’ve personally held the record for greatest number of live acts reviewed at ITC by any individual journalist (my co-editor trumped me in 2009).

    Anyway arriving at the venue just in time for the band (having made a mad dash from another venue just as another band’s set ended) I went to the door and was told there was no more press/delegate access available (I could join the long queue of punters if I wanted to, but would have no chance of seeing the band that way). I expressed surprise (rock/metal, as you say, not being that popular among the music press) and was told that Kerrang had a full team inside so they didn’t need any more reviewers in.

    Net result: the metal bands would get reviews in the rock press and nowhere else, and the only music industry professionals (and passionate amateurs) who would have the chance to check them out would be those predetermined by the promoters. Which would add weight to this idea that nobody else will touch them. I wonder if the bands themselves were aware that their opportunities at this industry-wide event were being limited by those supposed to be promoting them?

    I get the impression that Sister JC’s comment above – “There ARE rock magazines, websites, radio stations etc – all of which seem to be doing a great job. But, ironically perhaps, they do it quietly. Without bleating much about their lack of gravitas in the music globe. Perhaps they\’re not bothered?” could be on to something.

    PS: I don’t see much in the way of independent music featured on TV nor on XFM either. I do see mainstream guitar music. As well you know, it’s not the same thing. Coldplay is to indie what Bon Jovi is to metal – there may once have been some common ground but it was a little and a long, long time ago.

    • Good point cath, and the people running the gig sound like fools but I think it’s the case that if a rock or metal act went to XFM or the BBC they would be knocked back unless they were being ironic. Indie is all over the radio and TV…glastonbury is nearly all indie and is reported though an indie lense with an indie mentality, that’s ok but what about al the other music?

      • What TV channel do I tune into to watch Half Man Half Biscuit, British Sea Power, The Lovely Eggs, I Like Trains, anyone on Sonic Cathedral records, Puressence, The Phantom Band…? I could go on. Glastonbury is not an indie event. It is a general entertainment event and the BBC covers it as such: I didn’t watch any of it but I saw trailers for U2, Beyonce, Coldplay, Big Boi, Elbow, Paolo Nutini and I forget who else, don’t remember a great deal of indie or indeed underground music of any flavour being touted. And I don’t see any more proposed TV coverage of ATP than I do Sonsiphere.

        What you mean is that mainstream guitar music is all over the TV and radio. This I do not deny. (Although mainstream non-guitar music is also there a lot). The many-headed beast that is the word “indie” these days is the reason I can’t even try and explain to my workmates what music I like in case they think I mean the fucking Kaiser Chiefs. We are surrounded by mainstream pop – whether it’s mainstream pop with a rapper (Tinchy Stryder) or with guitars (Razorlight) or silly clothes (Lady Gaga); for kids (Jessie J) or for adults (Coldplay) it’s all mainstream pop. Some of it’s OK, most of it’s rubbish.

        There are, I believe, rock / metal channels. I wouldn’t know, don’t have satellite. They may not play the rock and metal you like any more than NME TV plays the independent music I like, but these things do exist. To say that metal gets less media coverage than indie – isn’t that just that martyr mentality again? Kerrang has a bigger circulation than NME. Kerrang Radio sits alongside 6 Music on the DAB (nether of them have a national FM broadcast).

        Yeah, so it’s all specialist…. pretty much all music media is these days, and this is, in my opinion, a really bad thing.

        We oldies remember when NME – along with Sounds, Record Mirror and Melody Maker – carried a wider spread of music, and when Radio 1 had a Rock Show alongside Peel and even a reggae strand. Mancunians of a certain age will recall Monday nights at the Ritz – think hard enough and you might even remember even what order the segments went in, but there’d be punk, goth, rock, psychobilly (always quite early on), contemporary local and international indie, and plenty of crossover. But this has not been the way of things in years – the media wants us all to sit on our little boxes because it’s easier to advertise to us that way. Everything is about focus and demographics. What has been lost is the expanding of horizons which would happen when, say, Motorhead went on Top Of The Pops or John Peel played an African band or The Chart Show was forced to air Slowdive’s blurry visuals because it was indie (in the proper sense) week. You’ll no more see quality metal coverage in 2011’s NME than you will country music in Mixmag – that’s not how it is any more. It’s getting like America where everything is “stranded” to within an inch of its life, and I find this very sad.

        With the internet, people today have access to more music than we could have dreamed of when we were young, so you’d expect people’s taste to be more, not less, eclectic. But that’s the difference between real people and what advertising executives think people are like. So yeah, it’d be great to hear Rammstein on breakfast TV, and Half Man Half Biscuit, but it’ll probably be Coldplay again…

  4. Great article, John, as ever – and interesting comments too.

    I think the comments demonstrate the axis that Rock seems to pivot on eternally – the Devil\’s Dichotomy:
    On the one hand, Rock represents freedom, spirit, underground, rebellion, a soundtrack for the disaffected, something the disenfranchised can all rally to, get behind.

    Yet on the other, it\’s immensely popular, taking in a broad demographic and with so many quality bands – of considerable longevity in some cases – deserves to be so.

    I find myself agreeing with both comments before me, and yet also conflicted. As Michael Johnson implies, there\’s too many people wearing Ramones t-shirts only at weekends! It irks me enormously that someone as tepid as Miley Cyrus would co-opt the Iron Maiden iconography, presumably in ignorance or origin, and that the band logo and image have been reduced, trivialised as a result to the level of “borrowed balls”.

    Then again, I have no argument with Sister JC either. Rock is marginalised, but that\’s often where it thrives. That\’s also where it came from, and once in a while, sometimes – if it\’s any good! – that\’s where it should remain, lest it become watered down and turned into a t-shirt for Miley to wear. I do appreciate though that public consciousness of these things is important – and little or no coverage is indeed a reflection of the parlous state we live in where Rock is concerned.

    I sound a bit divided, I know — but I have great faith that these things run in cycles and circles. If the state of popular music is currently feeble or misguided, it won\’t stay like that for long. Punk killed Prog, Prog lay low, Prog came back. Both genres sit happily on my shelves — and I bet yours too, if we even give a damn about sub-genres any more, at all.

    We live in an age like never before where music from the last 60 years or so can be retrieved instantly, and there\’s a lot of young people who dig the Beatles as much as anything new not because they heard it from their Dad\’s record collection, but because it\’s all up for equal consideration online. Imagine: we could be living in the early years of a truly phenomenal musical revolution. Or it could be regarded in decades to come as a time when things got messy. But underneath it all, in some form or another, Rock will never wither and die. I truly believe that!

  5. I think there’s a problem of terminology. Like Cath, I often find it impossible to describe what music I like or stuff I’d recommend listening to because of the lexicon Metal, Indie, Punk … etc
    Would you categorise Monster Magnet & Slipknot in the same category ? No, but they’re still Metal.
    The bit about Kerrang monopolising showcases is a bit alarming.
    All we can do is watch this space, I guess.

  6. The reason why the conformist media radio and TV stations of America and Britain play very little rock, metal, goth and alternative biased music is because the governments and the shareholders of these controlling media outlet giants have discovered something about the people who are attracted to such music.

    They have discovered that on average, rock, metal and goth music fans are more intelligent than people who are attracted to pop, soul, hip hop, R & B and country music. They have also discovered that people who listen to alternative music are more likely to be “free spirits”, inner directed people who are far more likely to become government activists.

    The powers have discovered this by using government employed psychologists (since the end of world war two) to help the governments of the west find out which types of people in society are more likely to be a threat to government systems and controls. The psychologists have discovered that not only are rock fans more intelligent than pop fans but they are also more likely to start society uprisings and revolutions. This is because most people who love rock, metal and goth music sit further along the autistic spectrum than most pop fans who are predominantly more neuro-typically wired in their brains. People who have more autistic genes in their DNA are more intelligent and these “inner directed intelligent people” are feared by governments so governments try to control what the masses listen to because losing control of the people is every governments worse nightmare. Punk Rock was a shining example. The powers don’t want anything like that to break out again in society so they purposely suppress alternative music to avoid the uprising of such society changing groups.

  7. I don’t listen to the radio no more since mostly all stations play all the crap of so called today’s music. I think the radio stations want to keep feeding the now junk making money machine.
    I truly believe rock and roll will come back on top again just like in the late 70’s when disco took over.


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