The guilty delights of poodle rock

Digital listeners love big hair, tight jeans and epic solos

The Rajar figures - the radio ratings - make for ever more interesting reading. That 15.3 per cent of the adult population now own a digital radio (and that 54.3 per cent of people have listened to digital audio broadcasting via radio, the internet or TV) has had a huge impact on commercial radio: although it suffers in comparison to the BBC's old analogue stations, when it comes to DAB, it is doing well. This is especially the case with music. Emap owns five of the top ten digital stations, including The Hits, which has more than a million listeners - nearly double the audience of the BBC's biggest digital-only station, BBC7.

People sometimes ask me which digital stations I listen to regularly. "Be honest," they say. "Don't you mostly listen to Radio 4?" I do listen to a lot of R4 because, in spite of all its annoyances, it is the best spoken-radio station in the world. But during the day, when I'm alone, I often turn the dial on my Evoke-1 in search of guilty pleasures. I mean poodle rock - of which there is plenty on digital radio.

I am not alone in this desperately sad activity: Planet Rock is Britain's fifth most popular digital station, with 417,000 listeners. If you don't find this worrying, consider this: one of its DJs is Rick Wakeman of Yes, who once staged a huge concert based on his album The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This took place on ice. Wakeman, a Tory who wears silvery capes, thinks drug pushers should get the death penalty. He has also appeared on Countdown a record number of times.

I sometimes dip into Planet Rock, but it isn't my poodle station of choice because it is seriously hard core: it's for people who like Wishbone Ash, which I don't. I favour Virgin's Classic Rock, which is softer and more middle of the road, a station whose guitar heroes use conditioner on their manes and who favour silky Lycra over greasy denim. Should it suddenly become imperative that you put your books in alphabetical order or investigate the darker recesses of your fridge, this is the music to listen to while you do it. In the moments before I began writing this, for instance, I allowed myself three tracks (I say "allowed", but really three tracks is my limit; any more, and disgust sets in): Eddie and the Hot Rods followed by Van Halen followed by Don Henley. The effect was surprisingly energising.

I use poodle rock the way other people use coffee. So what? And now, to other matters. It must be good news that Fi Glover is to present whatever show eventually replaces Home Truths on Radio 4. Glover is a proper radio person; she loves the medium, and does not think it second-best. More importantly, she is not a celebrity wheeled in to try to entice new listeners to the station - a grisly trend on Radio 4. I have just listened to the first part of a series called Kitchen Connections (Thursdays, 9.30am), in which the TV chef Ainsley Harriott cooks with immigrants. Why was he given this gig? On TV, Harriott relies on grimaces to get his point across. On radio, he must rely on words. In other words, he is pretty much a dead loss as a presenter. "Was that your first time on a camel?" he asked, as an Eritrean refugee described her terrifying exit from her homeland. He might as well have been talking about easyJet; his unbearably joshing tone trivialised everything she said. Horrible.

Pick of the week

Prom 49
20 August, 6.30pm, Radio 3Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District – an opera so bloody, even Stalin walked out in disgust.

The Silent Terrorist
22 August, 8pm, Radio 4
Rather than stick to urban targets, will al-Qaeda next turn its attention to our food supply?

Don’t miss . . .

Muse at the Eden Project

Hipsters take note: there's more to the West Country music scene than cider-fuelled surf rock. This year's Eden Sessions, hosted by the Eden Project, kicked off on 12 August with those Mojo Award-winning indie darlings, the Magic Numbers, supported by rising star José González (he of coloured-balls-bouncing-down-suburban-street-in-advert fame).

The illuminated biodomes and tropical plants of the Eden Project, voted the UK's best rock venue, will provide an idyllic backdrop to Muse's guitar antics on stage on 22 August.

Until 27 August at the Eden Project, near St Austell, Cornwall. More info from:

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 21 August 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Al-Qaeda: Britain in its sights