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Shut Up and Play the Hits: The Unappreciated Genius of Coles Radio

Oh, you're a DJ? Sorry, there's already a supermarket that already makes the best mixtapes of all time.

by Katherine Gillespie
18 August 2016, 11:58pm

Coles Radio is the in-store radio station of Australian supermarket chain Coles. Its official website (yes, it has got one) calls the station "a contemporary music mix with some great favourites." It's an apt description, but not particularly evocative. Coles Radio is a feeling. Coles Radio is a lifestyle. Coles Radio is my musical religion, and I want to preach it to you.

You may not know this but you can actually livestream Coles Radio directly from the supermarket's website. I'm listening to it right now. As you might expect, VICE has a sophisticated office speaker system, which my co-workers use to play hits by A$AP Rocky and Frank Ocean. But plugging in my noise-cancelling headphones lets me to replace their bland, critically-endorsed music choices with solid gold: Boney M's "Rasputin," Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch," Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet," LeAnn Rimes' "Can't Fight the Moonlight," and pretty much every other adult contemporary jam that exists.

In recent months, my obsession with Coles Radio has become consuming—some would say unhealthy. On weekends, I will pay multiple unnecessary visits to the supermarket to get my hit. While the online stream was a revelation, for a truly authentic Coles Radio experience you need to hear an old school Kylie Minogue song as you scan your avocados through the checkout as "brown onions."

Eager to learn more about the playlist that's changed my life, I decided to get in contact with the genius behind Coles Radio. Was it just one person? A team? A robot whose only purpose is to design the perfect mix? I had to know.

The Coles call centre staff were confused and wary at first—incredibly, this may be the first journalistic investigation into the Coles Radio DJ. After being transferred to multiple departments, I was finally put in contact with a customer service representative who seemed at least reluctantly able to help me out. She asked not to be named. Suspicious? Definitely.

Never, at any point, was I allowed to communicate with the mysterious Coles Radio DJ directly. I had to send questions through this third party, who sent them through to the "radio department." Much like the KFC secret herbs and spices recipe, the Coles Radio playlist and the methods behind it are closely guarded. Eventually; however, I was able to gain some insight into the process.

According to the unnamed Coles Radio DJ, music on the Coles Radio playlist is handpicked every day, and this process can take "several hours to complete," especially on themed days. Oh, you didn't know about themed days? 70s Wednesdays, Throwback Thursdays, Soundtrack Sundays. There are shorter features too, like the Coles Radio icon "90s at 9" a segment that's played in the background of many a sad weeknight shop. It is the heart and soul of the Coles Radio experience.

Those in favour of Coles Radio

"Not gonna lie, I can vibe with it."

"Don't mind having a lil' boogie to it."

Those opposed

"Maybe they could make it less annoying if they turned it up."

"I don't know, I'm listening to a podcast right now. But yeah, it's pretty crap."

Coles, those devious genius bastards, know exactly what the people want: Back-to-back retro bangers that recall simpler, happier times. Nobody wants to be be reminded that they're living in the shitshow year that is 2016. So the playlist takes shoppers on a rollercoaster ride through musical time, from the forgotten adult contemporary hits of the 90s—Paula Cole, anyone?—through to the Australian Idol contestant anthems of the mid-2000s. With some sleazy 70s yacht rock and 80s synth thrown in, so you can boogie while you compare pasta brands.

Although I hurled some hard hitting questions their way, the Coles Radio team were cagey about revealing their top secret DJ formula. It was eventually explained to me in these vague terms: "We ease into the day with slower songs and as the day picks up we move to higher energy songs. On the weekend nights, we'll add in some party music." Inspired.

In my veiled conversations with them, I also learned that Coles Radio chooses to uses its social influence for good. The station places a heavy emphasis on progressive female artists—the vibe is essentially Kelly Clarkson's seminal hit "Miss Independent." "Kylie Minogue is one of our most played female artists," Coles DJ also told me. "Mostly because she has a lot of great songs."

"We also try to play music from emerging Aussie artists because the Coles Radio platform is great exposure for them and we're keen to do our part to support the Australian music industry," he/she/they revealed. "In the lead up to Australia Day, we ramp it right up and only play Aussie artists."

As I type these words, the Coles Radio online stream is playing Madonna's "Cherish." As always, the station understands exactly what I'm feeling. Because it's true. I do cherish the joy that this ridiculously well-curated supermarket playlist—and occasionally its inferior copycat competitor Woolworths Radio—brings to my otherwise dull, pedestrian life.

The strange nuances of supermarket radio prove that it is possible—through some magical, imprecise science that involves a lot more Backstreet Boys than you'd think—to create a playlist that will please every person from every walk of life. In its unabashed cheesiness, the Coles Radio playlist unites us.

Might I suggest that instead of drone bombing our various foreign enemies, we blast some sultry 90s singer-songwriters into war zones instead? That we all hold hands instead and rock out to the soothing sounds of The Corrs? The peace treaties would be signed before the second verse of Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like a Woman."

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