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Sleep Radio: New Zealand station that wants listeners to drop off

Insomniacs across the world give the nod to John Watson, who has ambient music producers queueing up to feature on his channel

Nelson: John Watson is the first to admit that his DJ skills put people to sleep. Lucky for him, that is the point.

For the past four years Watson, who lives in the tiny New Zealand township of Te Aroha, has been broadcasting to the world. But instead of seeking an engaged listenership, Watson wants those who tune into his station to literally fall asleep. And they do.

People from as far away as Afghanistan, Israel, Russia, Hungary, Taiwan and Puerto Rico log on to Watson’s station Sleep Radio. Someone in Prague has been listening for three days straight.

The idea of a radio station that sends listeners to sleep came to Watson after he had a heart attack 10 years ago. Following five coronary artery bypasses he began to suffer from chronic depression and insomnia.

“I never used to have trouble going to sleep but now I was lying awake watching the sun rise and feeling like a zombie,” he said.

Watson, 62, was treated with medication and started seeing a counsellor who suggested he try relaxing, ambient music to help him sleep. Soon he found there was not a lot out there for sleep music aficionados.

“Even on the radio you would be listening to relaxing music, trying to get to sleep and, all of a sudden, an advert would come on, yelling at you to buy something.”

Watson thought he could do better. He did his research, looking into royalty-free ambient music and taught himself how to set up a digital radio station. Sleep Radio was born.

He said the project is a “hobby and a passion”. He often gets grateful listeners emailing him with their success stories, including a mother whose newborn baby is also seemingly a fan.

However, Watson is quick to say that ambient music does not work for everyone. His wife, for example, finds it too boring. Sleep Radio has now expanded into an app that allows people to set a timer for their listening.

Meanwhile Watson has not had to source new music for over a year. There are ambient music producers lining up to have people fall asleep to their material. However there are rules — no vocals, no piano, guitar or harp solos, and absolutely no ocean sounds or birdsong.

“I’m amazed at how many artists happily contribute,” says Watson. “The ambient music genre isn’t that popular so any airplay they can get is good for them.”

— Guardian News & Media Ltd

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