Putting the broad into broadcasting

Here's the only radio station that really keeps the John Peel spirit alive

<strong>Resonance FM</

Somewhere in a far-away galaxy, there is a tiny pink planet. On that tiny pink planet, there are millions of eggs, and when they hatch, they will hatch millions of mute blind magnetic love monkeys. I know this because I've been listening to a half-hour programme of bizarre sci-fi prose-poetry called Hooting Yard (Wednesdays, 4pm) on Resonance FM. Since 2002, Resonance has been broadcasting from basement studios in central and south London, billing itself as the capital's "first radio art station". What this means in practice is a unique mix of avant-garde music and spoken-word programmes that has attracted upwards of 100,000 listeners and a raft of celebrity fans that includes Vic Reeves, Janet Street-Porter and Hari Kunzru.

Run by a non-profit organisation called the London Musicians Collective, Resonance embodies John Peel's unpolished yet all-embracing approach to broadcasting. There are the embarrassing moments of dead air and malfunctioning equipment that would bring producers at commercial stations out in cold sweats, but as a listener, you get the thrill of never quite knowing what to expect: tune in one day and you might find a French fashion expert explaining how to retain "manly elegance" while cycling (Bike, Mondays, 6.30pm); other times you might be lucky enough to find 45 minutes of white noise, or archival recordings of British folk musicians (The Traditional Music Hour, Thursdays, 2pm).

Music makes up a large proportion of the station's output. The choice is wide-ranging, to say the least. Among the highlights of last week were shows devoted to 1960s surf guitar tunes (Cowabunga! Surf's Up, Wednesdays, 3pm) and experimental soundscapes (The Sound Projector Radio Show, Fridays, 5.30pm). Best of all was Nostalgie Ya Mboka (Saturdays, 1.30pm), an hour of music from the belle époque of Congolese rumba - the fusion of Cuban, jazz and African styles that emerged in the 1950s. Presented in Lingala, French and English, there were potted histories of each song to guide the uninitiated listener. As a Saturday lunchtime alternative to the reheated topical jokes of Radio 4's News Quiz (or its substitute, The Now Show), the crackly electric guitars and horn sections oozing from my radio speakers were a rare treat.

Resonance even has its own star presenter in the form of Harry Haward, a septuagenarian former bank robber from Deptford whose programme, Calling All Pensioners (Fridays, 3pm and Sundays, 2pm), is one of the station's most popular. It's a show that encourages pensioners to stand up for their rights, but Harry is cheeky and foul-mouthed enough to delight misanthropes of any age. His best moment came a couple of months ago, at the climax of a long rant about the treatment dished out to Britain's elderly. "You know why so many men die when they're 65?" asked Harry, seething with rage. "It's because they want to. Being a pensioner in this country is fucking crap." Last week, he was "taking a well-deserved break", according to his co-presenter, Tim Hamilton, but there were pre-recorded messages reminding listeners to "aggravate" their MPs and councillors, accompanied by a list of the names of politicians who had supported the attempt to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act.

London's pensioners aren't the only group ignored by mainstream radio to find a voice on Resonance - the station features programmes devoted to the city's Somali, Jewish and Iranian communities. But my current favourite is Street Stories (Sundays, 6pm), which themes itself around a different London neighbourhood every week. The presenter, Becky Grisedale-Sherry, compiles anecdotes told by local people and a playlist of music that reminds her of the area. Last week it was Brixton, so we were treated to a selection of punk, reggae and calypso records. As with any big city, perhaps, it sometimes feels that London's diverse communities get on so peacefully because their worlds barely intersect. Resonance FM is a living rebuttal to that argument. Even better, you don't have to be in London to enjoy it - the website features a live stream and podcasts of selected shows, so you can listen in wherever you are in the world.

Andrew Billen is away

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, The Brown revolution begins