Music, music, music, music – the train rumbles on twenty-four hours a day. Rag’n’Bone Man, Manfred Mann, Duran Duran, Fischer-Z, Eefje de Visser, Graham Nash, Kate Nash. An average of eighteen tracks per hour, 432 per day. Avril Lavigne, Sara Bareilles, Blondie, Billie Eilish, Chef’Special, WIES, Chainsmokers, Inhaler, Froukje, Snelle, Harry Nilson.
“Harry Stylessssssss. A very, very, very, very good afternoon. ” I boarded at Timur on 3FM Monday to Thursday between noon and 2pm. “Cool track by Harry Styles, ‘Treat People With Kindness’. Yes I think it’s a good idea, let’s do that. Hey, I have some dick news about Harry Styles. ”
“What, dick news?” The female sidekick gasps for air. “For real? You are kidding me.” “Yes, penis news.” Timur puts on a newscaster voice, “Harry Styles is going to play in the movie My Policeman. He’s going to have sex on the screen. Everything should look as real as possible. Woo. And, there are nude scenes in the film. So much for this penis news, good afternoon. ”
He starts the next track. A narcissistic singer squeaks and groans. She sounds like she really enjoys the dick news.
Friends had already warned me about 3FM. “It’s nothing more,” they said. “It used to be, then it was something, when it was still called Hilversum 3. The Evening Rush, Soot killers, Orphanage of the hits, Manneken Pop, those were programs. ” Yes, I added, “and The Musical Fruit Basket, that was the hottest hour of the week! And NCRV Saturday Sports, with top footballers such as DOVO-Kozak Boys, who always ended in 2-2. ”
Let them, I thought, the old-was-everything-better people, they sail blindly on their memory, which merely remembers highlights and lets the penis news, which was already heard on the transmitter at that time, down through the sieve of oblivion.
Hilversum 3, founded in 1965, was supposed to be an answer to the sea stations and Radio Luxembourg, which brought pop music into Dutch homes and bedrooms. The channel became a mixed bag, the victim of the eternal Hilversum broadcasting policy. Ministers alternated with Rock ‘n’ Roll, James Last with Hardrock, Gert and Hermiens ‘Duiven op de Dam’, ‘Shalalalie, shalalala’, with Led Zeppelin.
When I listen, I long back to those days when I could still be faint without worry
After most sea stations were silenced by politicians in 1974, listening figures rose. Each broadcaster got its fixed broadcasting day. Mondays the AVRO, Tuesdays the VARA, Wednesdays the KRO, Thursdays the TROS and Fridays for the smaller broadcasters. That Friday, I remember, was always very adventurous. If they did not turn off the radio in time, EO members ran the risk of being cursed by the VPRO.
Changing radio landscape
In 1985 Hilversum 3 became Radio 3 and in 1992 the station was programmed horizontally. The same program could now be heard at the same time every working day. The radio thus became a kind of companion, a trusted friend who stayed close to you all day long. In the meantime, the radio landscape had changed, commercial broadcasters had made their appearance. People also started to think in terms of market shares. That required profiling and defining target groups.
Radio 3 became the ‘The Youngest Zender of the Netherlands’. As far as listeners are concerned, the station held its own against the commercial pop violence, partly by entering into collaborations with pop festivals such as Pinkpop, Lowlands and Noorderslag and by playing more alternative music.
But the party was not to last. From 2015, when the channel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a four-day party – still on Fortress Island Pampus – the drop in listening figures slowly but surely started.
A number of deejays that carried the station moved to other stations. I mention a Paul Rabbering, a Coen and Sander, a Gerard Ekdom, a Giel Beelen and a Michiel Veenstra. In the meantime, they had forgotten, as is often the case with national football teams, to ensure sufficient innovation. The station’s course began to drift. The programming was sometimes changed several times a year, slogans and logos changed.
For a while they used the slogan ‘Serious Radio’, which changed into ‘The Music Starts Here’ and now it is ‘LET YOU HEAR’.
The market share has never been as low as it is now, only 2.2 percent of Dutch listeners tune in to 3FM; four years ago this was still around 6 percent. There are voices to cancel the station. Young people no longer listen to the radio, they say. Give the FM frequencies to Radio 5, the deejays will find their way to other stations. Is that criticism justified? Does 3FM no longer fulfill a public task?
It does. Listen for a week to the fresh, cheerful and socially involved tone. Hear the female deejays, there are no channels as many as on 3FM. Hear the beginning Dutch musicians, who have ample time to promote their music in live performances on a channel.
The items that alternate the music are sometimes a bit brave, I like to hear a bit more guts and impertinence. The games and quizzes are occasionally very bland, but they used to be, on that now so acclaimed old Hilversum 3. Maybe a certain amount of blandness is part of a pop station. Young people can be very bland, I myself used to be much blander than now.
In fact, when I listen to 3FM I even long back to those days when I could be carefree faint. That I could laugh at jokes like those deejays Mark and Ramon, in their program FREE heard making. “I heard two fleas talking to each other. One person says to the other: Go with the flea! ” And then laugh hard and hard, and then start Douwe Bob’s ‘Slow Down’. That’s pop radio.
3FM is a station that runs like a train through the day. When you get in, you belong to the club, you are addressed, you are a participant. You can dial in. You can put a coin in the ‘Karaokemachien’ and enjoy your favorite music. Fortunately, that cannot be heard on the transmitter. It is a platform for young, self-confident people with a taste in music that falls just outside that of the commercial channels.
As far as I am concerned, it could be even more alternative. I only hear English and Dutch in quadruple time, there are more languages and time signatures in the world. That channel manager Sharid should know everything. Before she started working at 3FM, she led FunX, the channel for the so-called urban youth, where you heard a much more diverse repertoire.
3FM is certainly not for pampus, let them reinvent the radio there, the medium is worth it.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of May 4, 2021