Inside the radio station which only plays music by dead artists

Prince is the most recent artist to join the Dead Radio playlist.
Prince is the most recent artist to join the Dead Radio playlist.
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Feel left behind by the music played on the radio? Don’t panic writes Jane Clinton and Grace Hammond just wind back the clock and switch to the station where all the artists are dead.

Along with policeman looking younger, switching on the radio to discover you know not only none of the songs, but don’t even recognise the name of the bands is a sure sign you’re getting old.

There’s not much you can do about the former, but thanks to Steve Penk it is now possible to drown out the rapid passage of time while you’re having your breakfast. Until recently, Penk was best known for prank calling Tony Blair on his Capital FM morning show, but now he has another claim to fame as the founder of a radio station which only plays music from deceased artists.

Appropriately - and perhaps a little bluntly - called Radio Dead it broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers wall to wall music from the likes of Frank Sinatra and Elvis to Amy Winehouse and Prince.

“It was something I had been thinking about for a while,” says Penk. “But like the best simple ideas I thought someone else must already be doing it. They weren’t and then at the start of the year when we lost so many popular artists in such a short space of time I thought now was the time to do it. That’s when the cogs really started to turn.”

Ten years ago setting up a new radio station would have been a time consuming - and prohibitively expensive - business, but thanks to the internet, Penk’s Radio Dead was up and running in a matter of weeks with David Bowie and Glenn Frey from the Eagles among the early artists honoured.

“I’d stepped away from radio because I’d fallen out of love with it a little bit,” says Penk. “Speech radio like Radio 4 does some wonderful things, but a lot of the music stations are incredibly bland because they all seem to use pretty much the same playlist,

“It’s a shame because there are so many artists who are sadly no longer with us who never get a look in. Dead Radio is a way of keeping their music alive and reminding people how great they are. It’s the world’s only music radio station where you can only get on the playlist if you are dead.”

If Penk needed any reassurance that he was onto something it came with the death of Prince on April 21, aged just 57.

“I picked up my phone and there were about 50 tweets saying, ‘I think you have just got a new artist on your playlist’. They weren’t being disrespectful, but I thought it was interesting that the first place they thought to contact was us.

“Initially I did think about calling it Radio Tribute, but I decided that was too twee. Radio Dead is exactly what it says on the tin. In a crowded market place you need something which catches people’s attention, but anyone who listens to it will know that far from being macabre it’s a joyous celebration of the artists we have lost.”

Niche radio certainly seems to be growing. Radio Dead follows in the footprints of uncensored talk, comedy, current affairs and sports station Fubar and Union JACK. Its remit? Only ever to play music by British artists dating from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s.

“When I was starting out in radio, you either had local stations or national ones and listeners still used to write to you by post. Now you can reach anyone in the world. I had a guy the other day who was listening to Radio Dead from 38,000ft while he was flying from Los Angeles to Chicago,

“I suppose music is the universal language everyone understand and the format appears to have particularly connected with the Spanish-speaking world. In the digital age it’s proof that people are looking for something a little different. These artists may have gone, but their music lives on... on Radio Dead.”

Radio Dead, which can be accessed through live streaming on the internet via www.stevepenk.co.uk or by downloading the free app.

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