I grew up listening to a lot of (mainly BBC) radio. There was no internet, no LastFM, no Pandora, no iTunes. I remember Terry Wogan’s first incarnation as Radio 2’s Breakfast DJ, Ed Stewart’s Family Favourites on a Sunday morning, Dave Lee Travis (the hairy cornflake?!) and (Wooh!) Gary Davies on the Radio 1 Roadshow. I also remember late nights with my ear pressed hard against the radio on my pillow, listening ‘secretly’ to Radio Luxembourg, Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show, John Peel and Nicky Campbell.
I love the BBC. However, it has announced in its recent Strategic Review that it intends to close down its digital radio station 6music. It announced a whole load of other things as well, but I don’t intend to comment on them here. I am thoroughly opposed to the closure of 6music, on several grounds…
- it is a tremendous example of what the BBC does best: it caters to an audience and is filled with content that are not and will not be served by the commercial sector
- its presenters and output are a glorious exception to the general rule in media at the moment
- some of the published statements from senior BBC staff have been frankly pretty insulting
Taking those three issues in reverse order, Caroline Thompson is the Chief Operating Officer of the BBC, and recently told an audience of media professionals that 6music competes directly with commercial radio. “The average age of its listeners – 37 – is at the heart of the demographic targeted by commercial radio“.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider what she’s saying… because 6music’s listeners are a certain age, which happens to be a similar age of listeners to other stations, it’s no longer viable for the BBC to support it. If this is the calibre of thinking throughout the allegedly strategic review, God Help Us All. It completely misses the point: the relationship between me and my radio is not about demographics, it’s about how I feel about music, it’s about being surprised and adventurous rather than safe and familiar, it’s about discovering bands like Half Man, Half Biscuit late at night, struggling to stay awake, stifling laughs at their name and the humour in their lyrics, feeling the edge of the radio digging into my cheek.
6music presenters are (mainly) knowledgeable, passionate music-lovers. It feels like they have their own personal history in music, bands and experiences. They seem to care, and revel in hearing new music and live performances. They think like their audience. I used to feel the same thing about Oddbins staff; wine lovers who happened to work in a wine shop, rather than other chains where the staff were shop-assistants who just happened to sell wine.
6music is not like anything else: it has a massive selection of unique tracks and artists that barely get a look-in on commercial radio. Despite Caroline Thompson’s assertions, the lack of overlap with XFM and Absolute Radio is astonishing, as these graphics from the excellent comparemyradio.com website suggest…
In the past month, XFM has played just 619 different tracks (across over 700 hours of radio), barely 1/5 that of 6music. If I had to listen to XFM instead of 6music, I would miss out on 93% of 6music’s repertoire. A quick comparison on LastFM suggest that in the last 6 months, 6music’s playlist contains 10,554 different artists, whereas Absolute Radio’s covers just 1,021… all of which statistical geekery indicates that 6music offers something not found elsewhere, and its audience are seeking something they clearly don’t get anywhere else. If the BBC won’t provide it publicly, the commercial sector certainly won’t.
Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that everything on 6music is brilliant, or that XFM is terrible, but 6music is a gem that deserves support and IMHO must be preserved, encouraged and promoted. By all means join any number of Facebook Groups or add a Twibbon to your Twitter profile, but PLEASE feedback to the BBC on these plans through their official consultation. Thanks.