Conspiracy Theory Part

UK radio now provides a wide choice of listening. As well as the national stations (four or five BBC ones plus Classic FM) there is a profusion of regional stations each covering the area of a UK county or two (US = shopping mall). Some of these are local BBC stations, and so tend to a certain similarity, but many are commercially run, and fiercely regional and independent.

Or are they?

I came across the curious effect driving around Cambridge (as I try to do as infrequently as possible). My Dear Lady Wife might leave the radio tuned to Q103, the Cambridge independent radio. If they started to play a really superlative example of the death of the art of composition - "I am a moron" by Tone-Deaf Timmy for example - I would in exasperation switch to one of the other small number of stations our car radio will remember, only to find that they are playing the same damn tune. This happened too often to be a co-incidence, and so driving back from Nottingham one day in January I tested the statistics.

Starting in Leicestershire with a radio station I did not catch the name of, and then progressing to the reception areas of Northants-96, Hereward Radio, Q103 and Chiltern-FM, I found throughout the evening that every time I switched from one station to another they were either playing some local station-identifying jingle, or playing the same song.

But this was not the strange bit. You could explain them playing the same song if, for example, they all borrowed the records off each other, or had a bulk deal with the record companies. You could explian them playing them at the same time if they had a common feed from a music stream into which they dropped their own jingles. But what they did was play them in the same order, but out of synch by as much as 60 seconds. "Another juvenile song about sex" by Winnie Whiner would grind to a halt, there would be a short jingle for Northants-96, and "I have the brains of a rat" by Mike Model would come on. Exasperated I would push the button for Q103. Winnie Whiner would wail and moan for a few seconds, a cute jingle for Q103 would come on, and then Mike Model would start to demonstrate his mental accomplishments. I would hit the buttons again, and Winnie would once more say ' ....lurve yooooooo' to the sounds of synthesisers being tortured to death, Chiltern-FM would anounce itself briefly, and Mr. Model would grunt his way into his time-slot. I discovered Hereward Radio was part of this sinister conspiracy by waiting until something distinctive was on Chiltern-FM and then scanning for other stations playing the same thing.

It went on for the 45 minutes I conducted the experiment, interrupted by local news, adverts and jingles. Say 10 songs. What is the probability that four (five including the Leicester one) radio stations chose the same songs to play in the same order for all that time?$

So, either we postulate that local radio DJs are cloned from one person with the musical taste of a seagull and the imagination of a cow (a not unreasonable proposition, apart from doubts about why anyone would want to do such a thing ...) or that they have all been programmed by mysterious forces to play not merely the same records, but at the same times. At 9.15 am they all spontaneously think "I know, I will play 'Juvenile sex' by Winnie Whiner and then 'Rat' by Model and then 'A lobotomy, please, anything is better than this' by Nearly Everyone and then ..." and then go on to play them as if they were completely independent. Slight variations in the lengths of jingles, adverts etc. mean that at the end of a 60 minute programming slot they are slightly out of synch.

That leaves two unanswered questions. What is causing this, and why? The what is easy. If ever anyone is likely to be subject of powerful mind-altering rays it is someone with very little mind to start with who choses to sit directly in the beam of a microwave transmitter, and what do you see sprouting out of every radio station in the country? I rest my case. The 'Why' is more problematical. I discount the record industry on the grounds that a) they would only need their records played incessantly, not always in the same order, and b) it is too obvious.

No, I think the Estate of Carl Sagan in behind it all.

I mean, what did he do with all the money from the books, and the TV series, and now the royalties from the movie? He could not get the government to transmit messages to the stars, so he changed course and in his dying days build a complex mind control network to turn the whole UK private radio industry into a synchronised transmitter to broadcast messages to far-off planets. You could probably work out, if you knew the location of the transmitters, exactly which star he was aiming at from the delays between songs, all carefully programmed so that the fifth planet of Tau Ceti received a perfectly formed and focused wavefront of Mike Model's latest offering.

Pity Classic FM was not around when he died, really. They could have had something worth listening to.

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$ You did not seriously think I could resist, did you? More precisely, I check one station, and then check the other three to see if they are playing the same thing. If they all are, then I check the next song, and then check the other stations and so on. Assuming there is a playlist of 20 songs (rather generous given the brain-blanking repetition of pop radio), and, because they all sound the same, they are played at random, and assuming that the stations try not to play the same song in any one 45 minute interval, then the chance I get to the end of 10 songs without the series being broken is 1/3.3.1036 , - one in three hundred million billion billion billion, ie not very much.