A Fresh Frequency: Útvarp 101 Is Changing The Game In Icelandic Radio - The Reykjavik Grapevine

A Fresh Frequency: Útvarp 101 Is Changing The Game In Icelandic Radio

A Fresh Frequency: Útvarp 101 Is Changing The Game In Icelandic Radio

Hannah Jane Cohen
Photos by
Timothée Lambrecq

They say that video killed the radio star, but a group of young Reykjavík musicians, artists and tastemakers are determined to prove that statement untrue. On October 29th, the bunch took the cultural landscape of Iceland by storm with the reveal of their new youth-led radio station, Útvarp 101 (‘Radio 101’), on FM 94.1.

Unnsteinn Manuel Stefánsson, known for his work in Retro Stefson and record label Les Frères Stefson, is one of the founders of the station. Along with his brother Logi Pedro Stefánsson, Aron Már Ólafsson, Saga Garðarsdóttir, Svanhildur Gréta Kristjánsdóttir, and more, Unnsteinn has spent the last two years working to get the station off the ground.

The new normal

“I felt like there was this big gap in Iceland regarding music and programming,” Unnsteinn explains, when asked what sparked the idea for Útvarp 101. “In Iceland, we’ve had a couple of youth stations, but it was always the same people who had been there since they were 20 and are now 60, and they were playing music that had been popular for a few months in the states.”

“The voice of the young people needed to be heard.”
 

For Unnsteinn, the actual tastes of young people weren’t being met, and with that, many artists and genres lacked the exposure they deserved. “The voice of the young people needed to be heard,” so we made a pop music station with a new way of thinking.”

This new way of thinking involves challenging the status quo of Icelandic radio, and one of the most groundbreaking ways Útvarp 101 is doing so is through representation. “Maybe we have a Swedish song on the main list, then an African one. It’s not all American,” Unnsteinn continues. More importantly, the station is entirely balanced regarding gender, meaning that for every song by a male artist, a female artist will be played. “That was very important to us,” Unnsteinn emphasises.

Cultural curation

While many might think that radio is a dying medium, Unnsteinn explains that this is a common misconception. “Radio has had steady listener figures in Iceland,” he explains. That said, Unnsteinn does admit many young people have since turned to Spotify for new music. Changing this is one of Útvarp 101’s long-term goals. “Spotify, with their algorithm, doesn’t surprise you. It chooses songs based on what you’ve heard before so it just dives deeper into that line of music,” he says. “We need curation and that’s why we hope people tune in.”

But the station will be producing much more than just on-air content. Cross-media marketing across social platforms is the name of the game. “Maybe Páll Óskar comes in for an interview. We’d film the interview with him and put it on Youtube, post a quote with some typography on Facebook and on Instagram, do a behind-the-scenes of him at the station,” Unnsteinn explains. “So a lot of listeners will never tune in to the FM frequency, but they will see it on other platforms.”

For Unnsteinn, the station provides a voice long stifled in Icelandic language media. “The Icelandic media is a lot about politics. It can be a huge echo chamber but with often polarising views. Culture and art get very little attention,” he explains. “We can do a lot better in regards to pop culture. We will change that.”

Info: Listen to Útvarp 101 in Iceland at 94.1 FM or online at 101.live.


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