WORDS: NICK GORDON BROWN
As Glitterbox radio reaches the 200 show landmark, we chat to host Melvo Baptiste about his influences, the non-stop planning for the show, interacting with listeners – and his love for the unique format of radio.
How did you get involved in broadcasting and what was your radio story before Glitterbox?
The first time I ever got behind a mic and tried to present a radio show was on a station in West London, it was called Platinum FM, I was horrendous and had no idea what I was doing or even what I was trying to achieve, however, I just knew that I wanted to broadcast.
At that time, my uncle, Norman Jay MBE, had a Sunday night show on BBC Radio London, I would go along each week and sit with him for the duration. I was wide eyed, completely inspired and blown away by radio in general. I just loved the feeling of the studio. There’s nothing that can match it. I still get that feeling today, it has always stayed with me.
So, I did my first radio show maybe 10 years ago, then, thanks to Gordon Mac [founder of the original Kiss FM], I went on to join Mi-Soul in South London. I was around so many guys that I had spent my life looking up to, Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson, Ronnie Herel, Ross Allen, Patrick Forge, I could go on. This was such a beautiful time for me and it felt like my apprenticeship in radio. I did six or seven years there and then I joined Defected and we created the Glitterbox Radio Show.
So do you think if Norman hadn’t been your uncle, you still would have found that attraction to radio as something special?
Who knows? I can only say today how radio makes me feel. There’s this moment when you’re in the studio, the fader goes up, everything goes silent, then it’s just you and the listeners, even talking about it now, that passion just intensifies in me. Radio’s beautiful.
How do you find the most effective way to engage with the audience? Obviously, these days with social media it’s a lot easier than it was for DJs back in the day…
Yeah, I agree. I think back in the day the DJs had very little interaction with their listeners. They may have had a phone line for live calls or have received letters from listeners but that’s it. I guess there must have been a beauty in that, you could just do your show without worrying if people are interested or not! Nowadays it’s immediate, I’ll have instant interaction during and after a show. I actually love it and really do try to answer as many people as I can. Unless they’re rude!
This seems like a good moment to ask you about the 200th show – where listener feedback and requests play a big part.
Absolutely! We seem to be blessed with a listener base who really know their stuff. I put a post out on social media and asked people what tracks they want to hear on the 200th episode, we had hundreds of responses, so the show is entirely made up of listener requests.
The track selections in this article are just a taster of what’s on the show…
What does the weekly process of putting the show together involve? How many hoops do you have to jump through?
The prep is endless when you have a weekly show. You’re never off, you’re constantly on. It’s hard to just enjoy music for what it is, I’m constantly compartmentalising it. I’ll spend most of the week throwing songs into a playlist as I think of them, then usually finalise my tracklist for a Glitterbox show a few days before we go live. There’s always hoops to jump through, usually me ordering music from Discogs and hoping it arrives in time so I can play it. I really wish the major record labels would get their catalogues online and make my life easier.
With Glitterbox I guess there’s the added factor of trying to get the balance between the old and new material?
Absolutely, and that’s something that has always made the Glitterbox show a tricky one to put together. For our scene to keep evolving and move forward we can’t just rely on old music. Therefore, I will always support new releases and work them around some classic house and disco. I tend to build mini radio sets within my show. So, I’ll do a three or four track set, then change it completely. It’s always good to know your best transition records! Every single week I am battling with myself to find the right music.
If there’s a club DJ reading this thinking “I fancy a crack at radio,” what would you say are the additional skills or different skills that you have to master that they might not initially think about, beyond having the confidence to sit in front of a mic and talk?
Initially, and the most important thing I can ever say about radio, is consistency. Become part of people’s lives. Don’t be a one-off thing where people think “Right, I’m going to try and get a couple of hours to listen to that.” Just like they’re going to do their washing, or they’re going to do their food shop, be that solid part of their week. Be consistent and commit to it.
Be intelligent, be creative, be informative, and do things that iTunes, Spotify and Apple Music can’t do, which is give records narrative, give them context. “We’re going from this record to this record because of this reason”, and you can really lay it out for people and build a story every single week for them.
You’ve mentioned Norman Jay, and also some of the Mi-Soul team. Which other radio DJs have particularly inspired you, and continue to do so - both in terms of their musical selection, and their presentation style?
My uncle was a heavy inspiration for me, the way that he used to put records together, how he would talk about records passionately. He had a way of doing radio that felt so personal. I used to think, “Wow, it feels like he’s talking to me.” So I took a lot from Norman, and I still take a lot from Gilles [Peterson]. There are guys that I listen to today, shows that I love like Jamz Supernova on BBC Radio 1Xtra, she plays a lot of modern RnB, I also still listen to Benji B, love Ross Allen on NTS as well, there’s quite a few.
Let’s have a quick talk about the ‘House of’ series. That must be a lot of fun to put together?
We were knocking ideas around for a while about a possible new feature for the radio show, and we spoke about ‘The House Of’. What was great about that was we didn’t just have to pick a DJ, or a producer, or a singer. We could then start looking at an important city, an important club, it could be in the world of fashion, it could be anything, and we get to celebrate it.
What that also means is I get to talk to some right characters on the phone as well. We can offer a platform to people who may not get an awful lot of light in our game. Guys like Patrick Adams, who produced so many amazing records that we play week in week out that don’t usually get the love, we can say, “Hold on a second guys, here’s all the music that you love, but also you need to know about this.” And then we get to speak to guys that lived it with him.
And for the 200th show, you’ve selected some ‘House of’ highlights?
I have indeed, of the hundreds of guests we have had on the show there are so many stand outs. I won’t give it all away for those who haven’t listened yet, but you will be hearing from the likes of Jazzy Jeff, Folamour, Dimitri from Paris and David Morales.
Some final words about why radio is still so important?
We touched on streaming services earlier, and I think I’ve even tweeted myself that Spotify knows me better than myself, because they suggest records and it’s like, “How did you even know that I would like this?” However, there is still such an important job for radio DJs out there, and for me it’s creating context, offering some narrative around records and tying things together. It’s important for our scene, it’s important for our genre.
Spotify can build a model where it thinks it knows you, but it doesn’t. And you really connect with these radio guys, they show you music that you will live with forever, and it may even be a funny story they tell you around the record or something interesting about the artist or the year it came out, and it just sticks with you. So for me it’s still important.
Listen to all episodes of the Glitterbox radio show here: https://Glbx.lnk.to/GBRS