The Currency of John Peel

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John Peel, music, culture, media, The Current, Alex Veeneman, Kettle Mag
Image: Albert Bridge/Geograph.ie/Creative Commons licence
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The record is not your traditional indie rock record. It begins simply with a piano and a vocal with a soft echo. Synthesizers are added to balance the echo, but then the drums and bassline kick in over the synthesizers, and the expectations you have of this record evolve.

The record is Jaws of Love, by the artist of the same name, a solo project of Los Angeles based musician Kelcey Ayer – and as the track culminates from its hauntingly beautiful sound it leaves the listener in a reflective mood.

“Ain’t it the life?” Ayer sings at the track’s climax. “Ain’t it what you wanted?”

Ayer and Jaws of Love have come to prominence on a Thursday morning on the FM airwaves of the Twin Cities in Minnesota, as the song of the day at The Current.

Peel's theory

On the tin, The Current is a station part of Minnesota Public Radio, the local public radio outlet. It is a music service, and while music is a core part of their identity, they have taken the conventional idea of an American music radio station purely obsessed by format and tossed it into the rubbish bin.

The Current’s role is two-fold. Jade, Andrea Swensson, Mark Wheat, Oake and Riley, and the other DJs, bloggers and personalities that work on the station live and breathe music. They are passionate about it. They’re like your best mate who adores and knows everything about music. Need a recommendation for a new act to listen to? There they are. Want to know who the best up and coming bands are in Minnesota? They have an answer (and some tunes) for you.

Yet, it encompasses more than just providing a soundtrack or convincing you to listen to something you’ve never heard before. They are curators. They celebrate the music that was historic and champion the underdogs. They take pride in showcasing acts from up and down the state – acts that send music in the hundreds of thousands by email and by post eager to get their tracks on their coveted airwaves.

They subscribe to the idea and philosophy of authenticity that was embraced by John Peel during his 37 years of making programmes for Radio 1 and the World Service. They get an excitement from playing records – be they obscure, local or legendary - an excitement that was shared by Peel.

The desire to share these records is cathartic – it was something that was at the centre of Peel’s programmes and is shared by a station over 4,000 miles away from London. (For the record, Minnesota Public Radio’s parent organisation, American Public Media, distributes content from the BBC to public radio stations in the United States.)

Unabashed ambassadors

Over the course of its nearly 13 years of existence, the people that make up The Current have become some of the most unabashed ambassadors of music and media itself – as well as ambassadors of an area usually overlooked by the bright lights of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago.

They are so integral to life in the Twin Cities, that when Prince, one of the area’s most prominent global cultural icons, died in 2016, it was The Current that led the core of tributes that spread for the star that got his start here, and never forgot where he came from.

The philosophy that Peel and The Current share has provided an important lesson for those who are looking for a viable career in journalism and media – it may take a while to get there, but passion and perseverance can go a long way, and the ability to do authentic and meaningful work is out there. It is a reminder that in the changing media landscape is one that is often hard to come across.

One thing is clear from the get go. The people at The Current take pride in what they do and, like most Minnesotans, care about what they do. Those in front of the mic and those behind it have no desire to do this for the money. They do it because they believe in what they do – a fine way to show the Twin Cities area to the world as it prepares to host the thousands of guests and others for the NFL Super Bowl early in the New Year.

The Current is more than just a music service. It embodies the spirit of Minnesota and serves as a reminder to those aspiring to work in journalism and the media that the ability to do authentic work is out there. It has also upheld the legacy of Peel, in the nation where he got his start, and has kept his spirit alive – one record at a time.

Whoever said teenage dreams were hard to beat?

The Current streams online at www.thecurrent.org.

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I'm one of Kettle's Managing Editors, as well as a contributing writer for the site.

I write about British media and journalism, as well as on current affairs and culture. I am also interested in the future of radio in the UK, particularly the role of the BBC and public service broadcasting.

I have been contributing and editing for Kettle since April 2012.

I'd love to hear from you. You can email me or reach me via Twitter at the username below.