BBC Radio Merseyside’s alternative show PMS celebrates its 40th birthday

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Roger Hill

Roger Hill has presented the Popular Music Show for the last 35 years

As the Roger Hill-presented PMS radio show celebrates its 40th birthday, Getintothis’ Paul Higham reports on a series of special commissions by Merseyside-based artists.

What began as Rockaround on June 10, 1977 alongside the nascent punk movement will this year celebrate its 40th birthday, marking it with a series of special commissions by Merseyside-based musicians and sound artists.

Presented since 1982 by Roger Hill and now known as the Popular Music Show or PMS, the programme has cemented its reputation as a vanguard of alternative culture by becoming the nation’s longest running radio programme dedicated to alternative music.

The first of PMS‘ special anniversary commissions was a piece For 40 pianos by composer and pianist Neil Campbell. Its initial dip into the programme’s extensive archive unearthed a wide-ranging and often hilarious interview with Mark E Smith of The Fall, who this Sunday celebrated his own 60th birthday.

Future commissions will include works by Liverpool band Rongorongo, sound artist Germanger and composers Philip Jeck and Jospeh Livingstone as well as many more that are yet to be announced.

Equally PMS has invited contributions from its listeners, encouraging people to share their own favourite moments and memories of the programme over its 40 year history. Particularly welcomed are features on how alternative music has changed over the course of the last four decades.

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While the programme has endured, its history has not necessarily been as straightforward as the constancy of Hill‘s stewardship. Initially occupying a prime Friday early evening slot it was adopted at the outset of the 1990s as BBC North West‘s regional rock programme and was renamed World Noise Incorporated. This experiment was short-lived and the programme found its old slot Radio Merseyside slot had disappeared.

Its return to the station saw it move to the Friday night midnight slot under another new name, Late World Noise, before becoming Late World Countdown, focusing on retrospective music features from its extensive history in advance of its millennial rebranding and relaunch.

Its new title – PMS – was initially conceived as Post-Millennial Sounds but has been variously said to represent Pure Musical Sensations and Pretty Much Sorted (as well as the more derogatory Pop Music Sucks reflecting its defiantly alternative editorial standpoint).

Now settled in its late night Sunday slot the programme remains as committed to embracing Merseyside’s ever-fruitful experimental and avant-garde musical underground. The depth of listener loyalty and evidence of the programme’s continued relevance was demonstrated in 2011 when budget cuts at the BBC threatened specialist and niche programming. A major campaign of support from ardent listeners and industry professionals helped the programme survive the cuts.

Bill Drummond eloquently summed up the influence and importance of PMS, “If there were only ten people listening to Roger Hill‘s programme, you could bet your dole money they would be making the most interesting music on Merseyside in the next five years.

Indeed the importance of PMS stems as much from Hill himself, who has been its guiding hand for the last 35 years. Awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the first Liverpool Music Award, Hill‘s impact on the city’s broader cultural landscape is difficult to overstate.

His early career saw him as Associate Director of Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre with particular interest in youth theatre. That interest has endured. Hill is currently President of the National Association of Youth Theatres. He has lectured at Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts for seven years, has worked for the Arts Council as a consultant and currently works as a Live Artist having had residencies at Liverpool’s Bluecoat Arts Centre as well as Helsinki’s Cable Factory.

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