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So what’s the oldest song you’ve heard on the radio recently?
Tune in to any local radio station, and chances are you’ll hear music made after the turn of the century. You might get some 90s tunes, 80s classics or the odd 70s song, but that’s about as old as the music gets on the air.
Most music broadcast today is aimed at younger people — catchy pop ditties intermingle with indie hits and whatever’s trending on TikTok.
And it’s an intentional choice. Most listeners these days like to control what they listen to, and as streaming edges radio out of the market, appealing to a more youthful audience seems to be the way to go for radio.
Yet in the process, the music that our parents and grandparents listen to has disappeared — at least on the air.
For most seniors, this does not bode well. Most lack the tech savvy to move to digital streaming platforms, and as radio shifts away from their demographic, they’re left without a place to turn to for music.
“If you do a quick scan of the frequencies in Singapore,” says Aloysius Tan, “you’ll notice that there’s no radio for our older generation.”
Which is why the 55-year-old co-founded Vintage Radio with two others as a “service to provide relief to our seniors.”
What is Vintage Radio?
Vintage Radio is a not-for-profit social enterprise that aims to bridge the digital divide for seniors through music and nostalgia.
The recent entrant to Singapore’s music broadcasting scene (it was founded in June 2020) came about after Mark Richmond, 50, realised that there was a strong disconnect between the elderly in Singapore and the digital world.
After a chance meeting with Aloysius, an old friend from the radio industry, the two came up with the idea for a streaming service for seniors that played music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s in the four national languages.
With a third co-founder, Kevin Tan, and financial backing from some generous donors, along with grants from the ACI-Trampoline Fund, and the oscar@sg Fund, they were able to bring Vintage Radio to life.
Since then, it has blossomed into more than just a music channel.
“It’s a way for us to encourage seniors to go digital in an environment that is easy and safe (for them),” explains Aloysius, “(the app) is designed to be easy to use for seniors, with large icons and colourful pictures… so what they want, they just tap.”
The voices of vintage
It’s not just the app that is designed with seniors in mind, everything — from content, to music, to even the deejays hosting the shows — is aimed to encourage seniors to explore the app.
Music is streamed 24/7, allowing listeners to tune in whenever they want. From Mondays to Fridays, veteran deejays Brian Richmond and Guo Xian Hua (Patrick Kwek) each host a four-hour segment — from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm respectively.
Mondays to Sundays, PN Bala, another veteran radio host, hosts his show from 8pm to 10pm, followed by renowned local singer Rahimah Rahim, who rounds off the roster with her show, from 10pm to midnight.
On Saturdays, listeners are invited to host a show of their own, from 10am to 11am, called The Weekend Warrior. The show repeats on Sundays, from 4 pm to 5 pm.
The four presenters typically record their weekly segments alone from their homes, using mics and laptops.
Says Aloysius: “Isn’t it wonderful that (they are doing this, even as) all four of them are considered seniors and not at all tech-savvy?”
Thanks to his experience in the radio industry, he was able to bring in these veterans, whom he describes as “legends in their own right”, adding with a laugh that in their typical humility, “they might not like being called that”!
He notes that it was a learning curve for the presenters, who not only had to adjust to modern technology, but also learn how to use VPNs (virtual private networks) to access the cloud to upload their recordings.
Nevertheless, all four of them took up the challenge, and are now adept at recording their radio segments from the comfort of their own home.
For Aloysius, their enthusiasm in embracing the digital world represents what Vintage Radio wants for seniors in Singapore.
“They have a spirit of wanting to continue being connected (to the rest of the world), so they jump headlong into it.”
Getting youths to help out
At the Vintage Radio’s office premises, a small team is hard at work. The three co-founders do this in their spare time, so only Aloysius is present in the office on a daily basis.
The other team members are Temasek Polytechnic interns, who handle everything from media production and management, to social media and marketing.
It’s an extremely busy but fulfilling job.
“I get to learn about the industry and better myself, and I also get to serve a social mission and make a difference within the communities of Singapore,” shares one of the interns, Danial.
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He has firsthand experience working with seniors on digital literacy, and that made him more aware of the difficulties that they face navigating the online world.
Fellow interns Nathania and Gizane have similar stories — they both discovered Vintage Radio while browsing for internship opportunities and wanted to gain exposure in the media industry while giving back to the community.
They exemplify one of the main goals of Vintage Radio: Getting youths to help bridge the digital divide with seniors.
“The youths (are) full of vibrancy, full of energy, full of ideas,” explains Aloysius, “If every youth in Singapore takes the time to slow down, to talk to the seniors in their midst, and help guide them through the digital world, then we’ll be very successful.”
To the youths in Singapore, think of your grandparents, he says. Just as our grandparents helped us stand on our own as children, we should help them to stand up in this new digital world.
Adds Danial: “As youths, it’s very important for us to be there for our seniors… to help them to live comfortably in the digital world.”
Engaging their audience
In the past two years, Vintage Radio has continued to grow. It has regular listeners tuning in from as far away as Australia, and over 11,000 downloads on IOS and Android. On average, listeners spend slightly over an hour each time tuning in.
However, it is still aiming to engage with more listeners.
One way is through its Weekend Warrior segment, where listeners are invited to share their life stories, together with their top ten favourite songs.
Popular songs include To Love Somebody (1967) by The Bee Gees, Jailhouse Rock (1957) by Elvis Presley, and Chinese oldies, such as “Alishan Girl (阿里山的姑娘)”, a song first released in 1947, but has since been covered by many singers, including Teresa Teng.
This segment features former band members, childhood sweethearts, and dancers who talk about their life experiences and impart nuggets of wisdom for the younger generation.
It also runs a podcast (currently on hiatus) hosted by Reeta Sabnani, called Rewire.Rewind.Reeta. The programme invites famous Singaporeans to share their stories with listeners. Guests include composer Dick Lee, politician Baey Yam Keng, and the Singapore Kindness Movement’s Dr William Wan.
Another interesting segment is called Music & Me. Presented by Brian Richmond, Music & Me invites local personalities to come and share their life stories and favourite songs.
“I’ve had an array of guests, from Brigadier-General Winston Choo, to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan Jin,” shares Brian, “a nice mix of well-known personalities and outstanding personalities in Singapore.”
He has had sports stars, members of local bands active in the past, and even a former WWII fighter pilot. One common trait that his guests share, he notes, is their eagerness to share their stories on the show.
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“Even for those that I’ve not met before… three-quarters of the time, they jump at the chance (to come on the show),” laughs Brian.
When The Pride met him, Brian had just finished a recording of a Music & Me segment in front of a live audience at Temasek Shophouse, featuring Max Surin, the lead singer of the band Tokyo Square
Watching the show, it’s easy to understand the appeal of Vintage Radio to seniors.
The audience, mostly seniors, was engaged with the music, the trivia and games, as well as the memories shared by Max Surin.
Vintage Radio aims to continue to reach out to seniors through similar live events, such as an upcoming get-together session on Apr 16, aptly-named “Vintage Sessions” at Laguna Park. Hosted by Brian and Patrick, it’s a chance for elderly residents to get together and listen to music.
These outreach efforts are important but it needs community support to bear fruit. Without volunteers to engage with them, seniors will remain disconnected from the online world, and that’s a shame, as they still have so much to give.
Says Aloysius: “If we want to make Singapore a place where our seniors want to age in, it has to be an environment that supports them… seniors are not just old folks, they’re a repository of information and experience that we can learn from.”
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