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Radioactive Sundays: Never Overcooked, Rarely Underdone

Radioactive Sundays: Never Overcooked, Rarely Underdone

Howard Davis

Tucked away in a pocket-sized studio on Guzhnee St., Radioactive FM transmits a steady stream of adventurous, alternative, and always intriguing sounds. Like all cultural institutions in Wellington, it's sadly underfunded, but compensates for this with a highly knowledgeable and dedicated crew of over seventy contributing DJs. Navigating the shoals of media disruption is no easy task in these days of dwindling advertising revenue, but a raw, subversive, and anarchic spirit pervades the Radioactive universe, infecting staff and listeners alike.

Founded almost forty years ago, Radioactive FM originally broadcast as a student radio station on the Victoria University campus. Current station manager and co-owner Dave Gibbons works hard to retain the volatile energy of the schoolyard, without compromising either professionalism or integrity. He grew up in the UK in the 70s and 80s, drawing inspiration from legendary DJs John Peel and Charlie Gillett and the semi-pirate station Kiss FM. Dave manages to balance challenging content and discussion with largely uninterrupted swathes of music so that ads don’t stick out like sore thumbs.

During the week, Radioactive FM's programming mostly consists of a melange of electronic and indie sounds. Drive-time listening is consistently sparky and upbeat. Whatever some DJs may lack in experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm. Dave is dedicated to assembling a dynamic, multi-dimensional crew who, like pebbles thrown into a pond, emit sonic ripples across the airwaves that are amplified as they expand ever outward. It's an oblique strategy that pays dividends way beyond the cash nexus. Radioactive's on-line streaming service has even penetrated the admiring ear holes of Brian Eno.

Tom Schnabel first pioneered the adventurous approach of mixing progressive, jazz, classical, and world music on LA public radio station KCRW's signature show Morning Becomes Eclectic. This kind of euphonic diversity reaches its zenith here in New Zealand or over twelve hours on Sundays, when Radioactive FM offers a moveable feast of unmatchable music.

Global Pulse kicks off the breakfast proceedings at 8 AM with a diaspora of international and world beats that whets the tribal aficionado's appetite for WOMAD. Lunch is best accompanied by an aperitivo from the Jazz Show, which rotates several soft-spoken and well-informed DJs. Prof EZ, Andre, Sam Uatia, and the dulcet Irish tones of Jonathan O'Riordan all lay down a variety of rare and classic dishes for our delectation.

Afternoons are capably covered by the Americana show, alternately hosted by Miss Juliette, Golden, and the inimitable Shady, who sounds like he's just dragged his snakeskin boots and dry drawl straight off the front porch and into the studio. They invariably manage to dish up a steady diet of US roots music that's as spicy and nutritious as the best gumbo.

Roots & Culture tides us through tea-time with some wicked and vital sides of ska, dub, and dance-hall vibrations. These sweet and tasty treats are impeccably presented by Topknot, Ras Stone, Ras Twig, Duke Willis, Acro, and Steve the Hat. Soul Affair furnishes a similarly scintillating and eminently therapeutic soundtrack of RnB selections. The smooth grooves singled out by Don Luchito, Pet, Kenese Lautusi, and Omega B underscore the fact that all the funkiest shellac originally emerged from small Stateside record labels.

If you're feeling a bit liverish after a hard Saturday night and in dire need of a dose of remedial vinyl, then tune in to Radioactive next Sunday. There's simply no more edifying or delicious way to spend the day.


Full disclosure - Alastair Thompson, Scoop's Publisher and Editor, participates in a live political discussion with Paul 'Redbird' Shelley on Radioactive early on Thursday mornings.


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