Hip Tip: BBC radio-on-demand

To be a deejay in the U.S., you seemingly need to be a loud, blabbering moron who shills for advertisers and dutifully plays the same lame tunes on the play list day in and day out, knowing nothing, really, about music.

In Britain, on the other hand, you've got to be bright. You've got to be witty. You've got to know music, all sorts, intimately. And you've got to be a tastemaker.

Really, it's true. And if you wanna get a real sense of how badly Britain is kicking our butts in the deejay stakes, check out the BBC's superb radio-on-demand service.

Doesn't cost a thing. All you need is a reasonably fast Web connection and time to listen. The service allows you to selectively listen to any number of shows from across the Beeb's many different radio stations.

Sadly, the great John Peel--possibly the best deejay to ever sit behind a mic--is gone, but several talented folks are following in his traditional. Each has a unique style and plays his or her own blend of tunes. The common thread is a deep love of music, open ears and willingness to take chances playing music that isn't necessarily well-known or popular.

A few recommendations:

Andy Kershaw - A Peel comrade whose show emphasizes African and Arabic pop along with roots-oriented modern and vintage rock, blues, soul and country.

Mark Lamaar - who hosts a weekly, three-hour marathon blend of old-and-new rock, pop, gospel, reggae and deep soul and an alternative 60s show featuring stuff you'll never hear on a lame, U.S. oldies station: Loads of tasty soul, garage and psych tracks you've never, ever heard before but want to go out and buy immediately.

Late Junction - a nightly show that defines free-form. You'll hear pretty much anything: Classical chamber music followed by avant garde electronic pieces followed by 30s jazz and who knows what's next. Most of it's in a mellow mode, so it's good for listening to while working or drifting off to sleep (or both of the above).

Stuart Maconie - His Freak Zone is a must for those of us with eclectic record collections. Mostly he plays rock and pop, but also sometimes jazz, funk, what have you. The show also regularly explores niche areas such as French girl pop, exotica, early electronica, whatever.

Jazz File and Jazz Legends - Two shows provide info, and play music of, various jazz folks we all should know about.

Jazz on 3 - Which presents fresh jazz tracks and live performances.

I also regularly check out the on-demand site's roundup of music documentaries, comedy and entertainment shows. Lots of good stuff here, including "Doctor Who" radio dramas, "Goon Show" reruns and much, much more.

Give it a listen. I'm sure you'll find your own favorites.