Every radio station in the UK has music lined up for when disaster strikes

In hot water.
In hot water.
Image: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett
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If you’re ever listening to British radio and the music suddenly turns calm—very calm, soothingly calm, eerily bland and inoffensive calm—it may be time to worry.

In the event of a national disaster like a terrorist attack or (you know, Britain) a death in the royal family, UK radio stations have a coordinated plan to transition the public to bad news. When a special blue light flashes in the office, producers know it’s time to switch the music to something somber and inoffensive before the big announcement is made.

Every station in the country has playlists for this contingency—as the Guardian reported in a fascinating read on the plans for Queen Elizabeth II’s death—with “prepared music lists made up of “Mood 2” (sad) or “Mood 1” (saddest) songs to reach for in times of sudden mourning.” Instrumental songs work best, to avoid any inadvertently tasteless lyrics. …When disaster strikes, there will be a lot of smooth, wordless jams.

“If you ever hear Haunted Dancehall (Nursery Remix) by Sabres of Paradise on daytime Radio 1, turn the TV on,” BBC producer Chris Price wrote in 2011. “Something terrible has just happened.”