Festive Fifty

The BBC started broadcasting digital radio, in the DAB format, as early as 1990, although the first official service began in 1995. Early DAB radios were ridiculously expensive, and the poor technical decisions made for the broadcasts meant that sound quality was actually worse than analogue FM. (It still is.)

In 2000, the Psion electronics company released the Wavefinder, a revolutionary computer peripheral which could turn a PC into a DAB radio. In order to cut costs, the Wavefinder had neither audio circuitry nor digital decoding chips: the host PC had to do all of that. The result was a market-leading low price, a mere £299. (Probably equivalent to spending about double today.)

The Wavefinder was a huge flop. Within six months, Dixons had cut the price to £49.99 to try to shift them, and production eventually stopped about 18 months after launch.

Naturally, with my eye for a technological bargain, I bought one of the discounted Wavefinders. I can’t remember if I paid the full fifty quid or waited for further price drops, but anyway, I got one. The device was a flimsy plastic ovoid with a metal aerial protruding from each end. In the central window of it, coloured LEDs would fade up and down in an inscrutable manner.
The PC software that came with it had an idiosyncratic and complicated user interface. It crashed frequently. But fortunately someone came up with alternative software which was more reliable and had more features, such as the ability to set scheduled recordings.

That feature was of interest to me because I could use it to “time shift” John Peel’s programmes. I’d been listening for many years, but the perfidious BBC management kept cutting the broadcast hours and shifting the on-air time ever later. I think it was three week-nights, midnight until two, in the later years; totally unsuitable for someone who needs as much sleep as I do.

I’ve kept a selection of John’s latter programmes “on line” and not archived away — not intentionally, just through insufficient housekeeping — and these include the last “Festive Fifty” that John presented, from December 2003. I’m listening now. You can see a track listing here [http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/2003_Festive_Fifty] (and even, I think, access a torrent via that site. Sshhh.)

Some of the names you’ll probably recognize, and some you probably won’t (unless you’re much hipper than I am). In some sort of cosmic irony, the number one is ‘Don’t Touch That Dial’ by Cinerama, a band fronted by David Gedge, previously (and latterly) of the Wedding Present. Gedge is, in fact, the nation’s foremost archivist and statistician of Peel’s Festive Fifty. A total Festive Fifty nerd, in fact.

I don’t really have a Festive Fifty myself, but, according to last.fm, here are the 50 tracks which I’ve tagged as favourites, in the traditional reverse order of most frequently played:

50    Public Image Ltd. – This Is Not a Love Song
49    Television – Marquee Moon
48    Leatherface – Not Superstitious
47    Uber Glitterati – Tilt
46    Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control
45    The Clash – Tommy Gun
44    The House Of Love – Shine On
43    s’gottabomb – yin yang
42    Colourbox – Breakdown 12″
41    PJ Harvey – Shame
40    PJ Harvey – Dress
39    Gang of Four – At Home He’s A Tourist
38    Fun Lovin’ Criminals – Scooby Snacks
37    The Smiths – This Charming Man
36    LaFaro – Mr. Heskey
35    Republic of Loose – Comeback Girl
34    David Bowie – Suffragette City
33    Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill
32    Crystal Castles – Air War
31    Cud – Rich And Strange
30    …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – Source Tags & Codes
29    The Clash – Rock The Casbah
28    Killing Joke – Eighties
27    Duchampions – Girl Fight
26    MGMT – Kids
25    Cocteau Twins – From the Flagstones
24    John Martyn – Solid Air
23    Killing Joke – Love Like Blood
22    PJ Harvey – A Perfect Day Elise
21    Uber Glitterati – Armour
20    Tin Pot Operation – Million To One
19    John Martyn – Don’t Want To Know
18    The Ruts – Dope For Guns
17    Tortoise – Djed
16    LaFaro – Tupenny Nudger
15    Bloc Party – Helicopter
14    The Ruts – In A Rut
13    Magazine – A Song from Under the Floorboards
12    Cutaways – Lovers Are Lunatics
11    Leatherface – I Want The Moon
10    And So I Watch You From Afar – A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way
9    Jedi Jane – We Collide
8    And So I Watch You From Afar – Set Guitars to Kill
7    Magazine – Shot By Both Sides
6    Cocteau Twins – Musette and Drums
5    Pixies – Monkey Gone To Heaven
4    The Psychedelic Furs – Pretty In Pink
3    The Only Ones – Another Girl, Another Planet
2    The B-52’s – Rock Lobster
1    Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart


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