Max is 2ZY’s 80s radio station, broadcasting as part of the Niocast local DAB trial to Manchester, and online via UK Radioplayer and TuneIn. We went live on 1 September 2015. A third of the way into the pilot and here’s what we know.

80s lovers at Rewind North (Pic: Noble PR)

80s lovers at Rewind North (Pic: Noble PR)

Our mission was to create a new kind of genre station. More than a stream, less than regular radio. Our starting thought was “an 80s Jack, but without the breakfast show”. So with content that engages alongside the music, but without the clutter or the ‘me-too’ stuff aping traditional live services.

We listened to loads of 80s radio. A lot of what we heard sounded like it was being presented by people who weren’t alive in the 80s. VT-ing a few links between a couple of Now albums. Popular and sharply-executed, but not as passionate, surprising or quirky as we wanted Max to be.

The Music on Max

One of the challenges with a genre service is there’s no refreshment. Clearly the 80s is finite and there’s no new music. But at Max, we think there’s still an audience desire for music discovery. So alongside the big, and medium-sized 80s hits, we play stuff from lower down the chart too. That could be follow-up singles to big debut hits, the occasional album track, or turntable hit. We credit our audience with the curiosity to enjoy the surprise and delight of a broader core. We’re currently running about 1700 songs, carefully scheduled to balance familiar and less so. A broad repertoire doesn’t seem to do Radio 2 any harm.

"Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars .."

“Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars ..”

Like the best of the Jacks, we’re genre-blind. As our website says, “more than rock and pop .. the last days of disco and the first days of house. Hair rock and electronic pioneers. Kraftwerk and Kylie.”  We’re consistent in our daytime clocks, but evenings are slightly dancier. The Quiet Storm from 2300-0300 is chilled. Saturday evening, a slightly camp dance party. And Saturday mornings, an appointment-to-listen archive American Top 40 with Casey Kasem to give us even more talk-ability.

The Science Stuff

Max has no studios. We subscribe to PSquared’s serviced Myriad, so Max is actually two tiny PCs in a 1U rack at their headquarters near Hull. Our TX in Manchester is fed from there and they also handle our streaming. My work takes me around the world, with no routine, and this way I’m able to schedule from a laptop or iPad anywhere I can get on the wifi.

I edit promos, the Casey AT40 archive show and other content in ProTools and upload on the go. A duvet in a hotel room on the other side of the road makes a great emergency studio! Max is very rarely live. Occasionally we broadcast a live set from Girls on Film, Manchester’s biggest 80s night. This is via the brilliant IPDTL. We take an hourly bulletin from the concise and no-nonsense Radio News Hub.

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Desk porn

(Actually, I say Max doesn’t have a studio. It does have this beauty. Ex Radio Poland, circa 1993, bought off eBay and currently being beautifully rebuilt by an engineer friend. So my home office will soon double as a production studio on those rare occasions I’m actually at home.)

Our imaging is key. Much has been written about our station launch. The ‘voice of Max’ Louise Jameson delivers regularly-updated liners to inject personality and connection with our 80s loving listeners. References are as wide as Noseybonk, Jan Leeming, Do It All, Snoods and Deely bobbers. I write most of these with help from Encyclopedia of 80s Pop writer, Daniel Blythe, and Keri Jones.

We have an imaging rule that Max doesn’t brag. The lack of ‘imagine’ in ‘imaging’ fashion has made room for a suplerlative-free style. I’m fed up with the ‘best variety of this’ and ‘the greatest that’ so I’m sure other 40-somethings are.

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Louise Jameson, the brilliant voice of Max

Max’s production is laid-back and non showy, mainly swept over intros to maximise the flow. Lou is easy on the ear. The lines are funny (hopefully) but I wanted an arched eyebrow rather than full-on ‘waiting for laughter-track’ delivery. You’re gonna hear her voice a LOT so I needed someone who gets it. She gets it.

Another rule is we never slag off the 80s. You won’t hear Max dissing the fashions or the hair. We’re the 80s station for the people who lived it and loved it. (And given our partner live night Girls On Film filled a 550 capacity club on Halloween, we know there are a sizeable number of 80s fans in their twenties and thirties too.)

“Love listening to this radio station !!!.. One of the finest ever on digital for 80’s music 🙂

Just want to say that I LOVE your station. I work in Manchester and as soon as I can pick it up on the M62 in to town, I do. At home – I stream it through my internet radio. 

Listening in Stockport  [Other 80s station name redacted] is predictable and you played loads of tunes I never hear.”

Listener Verbatims

So why are we doing all this? 

Fun mainly. The opportunity was there. And some important R&D. Trying ideas, seeing what works. Using technology differently. A creative showreel. All the things 2ZY offers to other clients. But also through a genuine love of the 80s genre and a sense we could do it differently.

You can read more about the birth of Max on the Earshot blog here.

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