The best London-based online radio stations, from NTS to foundation.fm – Evening Standard
he lockdown is still here but the airwaves are buzzing.
Over the past decade or so, London has seen something of a revolution in the world of online radio, with a new breed of stations popping up all over the city and rewriting the rules of broadcasting.
And while their shows are heard far beyond the boundaries of the M25, their place in the capital’s cultural scene has become ever more important — especially in 2020, when we’re all deprived of live music and club nights, and have tuned in to these stations to get our musical fix.
Here, we’ve picked out the London-based stations you need to know about. Tune in, and turn it up.
No station does all-out eclecticism better than NTS. Whether it’s Afghan folk, Czech shoegaze, pre-revolution Iranian pop or American rare groove, chances are you can find it on the Hackney-based station. Crucially, the sounds are always presented by people who really know their stuff, making an NTS show an education in the most exciting way.
In 2013, DJ and label boss Gilles Peterson appeared in the game Grand Theft Auto V as host of an imaginary radio station. Three years later, it became a reality with the launch of Worldwide FM. Although it’s based in London, the station matches the promise of its name with a truly global outlook, broadcasting from various outposts around the world, with an equally wide-ranging programme of music, covering jazz, funk, dance and joining most of the dots in between.
What started as an app playing DJ mixes recorded in London’s clubs is now a fully-fledged radio station, operating in a custom-built studio just off Peckham’s Rye Lane. The mix of sounds here is pretty decent, but Balamii is the place to go if you want to dig deeply into the worlds of underground dance and rap, led by tastemakers of the respective scenes.
One of the major lockdown success stories, No Signal started life as an online replacement to the Recess club nights curtailed by the pandemic. In the months since, it’s become a worldwide sensation, buoyed by the social media frenzy that swells during the station’s signature NS10v10 shows — a soundclash-style broadcast in which DJs spar using tracks from two different artists to determine the ultimate victor. The station, which is self-described as #blackradio, celebrates the best music from across the African diaspora, taking in everything from drill and reggae to Afro-jazz and soca.
Operating out of its streetside booth in the heart of Soho, this station has been doing its thing since 2014. Again, it broadcasts a colourful selection of music, not tied to any one genre, and plucks its DJs from across the musical spectrum, whether that’s a journalist or an artist. The live sessions, where a performance is recorded and immediately pressed onto vinyl, are a highlight, and the second channel, Culture, offers an excellent chat-based alternative to all the music.
If you want to hear the sounds reverberating through London right now, then head to Reprezent. Broadcasting live from shipping containers in Brixton, it’s a youth-focused station with its finger on the pulse, securing big-name interviews with the most hyped artists, and playing all the sounds making the city move right now, whether that’s drill, jazz or something else entirely.
A relative newbie on the scene, the Tottenham station first hit the airwaves in January 2019, joined by a Berlin-based sister studio called Thread*. It’s got a strong community ethic, often partnering with local charities and organisations, and aims to celebrate and support the bubbling culture scene in that part of north London. Expect a mix of genre-spanning sounds and socially focused discussions.
This station is dedicated to empowering underground talent, and is “led by a diverse group of women, LGTBQI+ persons and talented creatives who support our values – with women at the forefront”. Based in Peckham, tune in for a mix of enlightening chat and cutting-edge tunes, covering the artists you already love and the emerging names you need to know about.
Starting out life with a tiny booth in the corner of an London Fields cafe, this station has since moved out of those cosy surroundings and into a new spot, but still within a stone’s throw of the green space from which it takes its name. Fields, like many of its contemporaries, operates with something of an anything-goes attitude, hosting specials on dad-friendly AOR, French rap or psychedelic prog rock. Dive in and see what you get.
Running for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Resonance FM is a treasure trove for discerning lovers of the arts. There’s a lot of music, which often gleefully dips into the left-field, but much else beside, whether that’s a discussion of the latest film and TV or a deep dive into the cultural issues of the day.