It has been a rumor for sometime now that the BBC was going to make budget cuts in the future, these cuts have alway linked themselves to the developing digital radio stations. The Times newspaper has reported “The BBC will close two radio stations, shut half its website and cut spending heavily on imported American programmes in an overhaul of services to be announced next month.”
“In a wideranging strategic review, he will announce the closure of the digital radio stations 6 Music and Asian Network and introduce a cap on spending on broadcast rights for sports events of 8.5 per cent of the licence fee, or about £300 million.”
To me and many hundreds of thousands of people stations like 6Music provide the alternative service that we want in a radio station, and not the constant repeated and regurgitated output of the FM broadcasts of Radio 1 & 2. This maybe a pointless and unorgainised petition (if you want to help just ask) that will never get anywhere but I would like to think that there are people out there that want quality and choice in what the BBC broadcast. Who knows maybe we can make a difference. http://bit.ly/9ByaLY Petition to #save6music and #saveasiannetwork
BBC 6 music caters for people who have grown disheartened with the state of radio – both commercial and mainstream BBC. Whilst it may only have a small audience, it is an audience that appreciates the varied and exploratory nature of its output; an audience that will only continue to grow as digital radio becomes more widely adopted. We, the undersigned, believe that to close the station would be a travesty – and that depriving many hundreds of thousands of people of (often) their only radio station is a frightening example of the BBC neglecting to fulfill its public service remit, especially after (for example) the BBC Trust spent £3m on a new headquarters.
The BBC‘s web output could be cut in half, with online staff numbers and budgets to be slashed by 25% following director general Mark Thompson’s strategic review of the corporation’s scope and activities.
Other cuts being given serious consideration as part of the review include axing digital radio stations BBC 6Music and the Asian Network, putting a cap on spending on sports rights at 8.5% of the licence fee, or about £300m a year, cutting the £100m foreign film and TV show acquisitions budget by 25%, and selling off BBC Magazines, according to today’s Times. Other proposals include the closure of cross media brands BBC Switch and BBC Blast, which are aimed at teenagers.
The proposed cuts would save £600m which would be reinvested in UK-originated content and are based on the assumption that the licence fee would be frozen in 2013, the Times reported. This suggests that the BBC is preparing for a Tory government after this year’s general election, as the Conservatives have threatened to freeze the licence fee
As I listen to 6 Music today, I keep hearing tracks and thinking, where else would I hear this kind of radio during the day? The tragic answer to that question is nowhere. The end of 6 Music at this moment in the BBC’s history is not only an act of cultural vandalism, it’s also an affront to the memory of John Peel and a slap in the face to thousands of licence-payers.
Being a deejay was never really in my game plan, but when I was asked to launch BBC 6 Music and present the breakfast show, I thought I’d give it a go. The intention was to provide radio for the discerning music fan. There would be a more alternative playlist, an element of free choice for presenters, as well as access to the BBC’s extraordinary archive of live and session performances recorded over the previous five decades.
I had the unique opportunity to play an eclectic range of artists, both new and old, unfettered by the formulaic constraints of a strictly chart-based playlist. It was like being let loose in a sweet shop. Having grown up listening to the gloriously slipshod and innovative John Peel, the idea of having that kind of show on during the day was what I had been waiting for as a listener. Now I was getting the chance to present one!
One of the beauties of 6 Music from my point of view was how casual the approach to putting a show together was. The playlist would be culled from an assortment of contemporary indie and alternative artists, as well as a wide selection of classic tracks. At home the night before a show I would scan my CD racks and see where the mood took me.
I was allowed a generous three free choices per hour of the show. These could be artists as diverse as Jimmy Smith, Serious Drinking, Pete Yorn, Billy Stewart, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Pharcyde, the Merseybeats, They Might Be Giants and Morgan Heritage. But I’d always fill my BBC programme box with enough music to fill up three shows just in case I changed my mind. With the advent of new technology I could eventually choose anything from two weeks of stored music when I started taking my PowerBook in to work.
We also played two brand new artists on the show every day. Even three years after leaving 6 Music, bands still come up and thank me for giving them their first national airplay. I once bumped into one of my main competitors from commercial breakfast radio on a train. As we chatted, I bemoaned the fact that we only got nine free choices per show. He looked at me somewhat crestfallen and said “I get one … a week.”
It was almost like until 6 Music came along the BBC were saying. “I’m terribly sorry but if you like alternative music then you’ll just have to wait until 7pm. We’ve got Westlife and Girls Aloud singles to play!”
The station provided unique daytime programming for a huge section of licence payers who had previously been disenfranchised. I loved the variety. I loved hearing new stuff and old stuff that was new to me. It was one of the best jobs I ever had, playing new sounds for a bright and interested audience. My attitude to the job was always: “If they don’t like what’s on now, there’s something good on in a minute.”
The listeners were a vociferous bunch and were always venting their feelings or asking for willfully obscure tracks via email and text. One particularly bilious section would always moan whenever we played hip-hop, saying that they “didn’t want to listen to 1xtra”. So we’d always come out of the track and dedicate it to them and their “homies”.
One morning we were chatting about really long album tracks, which led to a text vote for whether or not to play Curtain Call by the Damned, in its full 18 minutes of overwrought, gothic glory. Hundreds of people voted yes. Of course, by the tenth minute of the song, most of them had changed their mind and were literally begging me to take it off, but there you go, democracy sucks.
One of the most positive and surprising reactions we got from the listeners was when one morning we had been told to play the new U2 single at 8pm. When we asked why we had to do this, our beaming controller said: “Because every radio station is!” Which wasn’t really a reason. We started to play it and it was pretty much business as usual with the lads. Chiming electric guitars and Bono upset about something.
After a minute I took it off, saying: “Right, I imagine it carries on like that, but if you want to hear the rest of it tune in to Terry Wogan. I work for you lot, not U2’s record company, and I’m sure that Bono would fully support me in my stance against external oppression … these are the Futureheads.”
I braced myself for the deluge of emails. After just two pissy emails from U2 fans, dozens said well done, because in their words “that’s what 6 Music is supposed to be about.”
Twitter was bombarded by an avalanche of #saveBBC6music hash tags this morning, after the Times reported that the BBC is to announce the closure of two digital radio stations: 6 Music and Asian Network.
The news will come as a surprise to anyone who read the recent report by the BBC Trust, which recognised that 6 Music is distinct from other radio stations, and that this distinctiveness should be encouraged. And it will sadden the 57,000 members of a Facebook group aimed at saving the station from closure.
Now don’t get me wrong, the station is far from perfect. It seems unsure if it should target the mainstream or obscure. Few things are as debasing to the soul as listening to George Lamb, for example, and 6 Music can sometimes be too conservative in its playlist. But still, what it does well, it really does well. 6 Music has, in Tom Robinson, Marc Riley, Jarvis Cocker and others, some sensationally intelligent and wide-ranging evening DJs. And these presenters certainly wouldn’t have the same freedom on commercial radio or anywhere else at the BBC.
But what the station is really good at, what is perhaps its USP, is providing live sessions for small bands. These are what Jeremy Hunt, the shadow secretary of state for culture, would call “niche” musicians, but they are great ones – artists who won’t get exposure anywhere else.
The station might only get 620,000 weekly listeners, but for a band like David Cronenberg’s Wife, who have had several different live sessions on shows by Marc Riley or Cerys Matthews, it makes all the difference. The total number of plays on their MySpace page is just over 35,000 – in the four and a half years they’ve been on the site they’ve achieved a play equivalent of just 5% of 6 Music’s weekly listeners. And right now, that’s the biggest audience a band at this level can expect. They pick unseemly topics for their songs, singing about anorexia, Anna Karenina and paedophilia – not the kind of soundtrack you’ll hear on an Apple advert. But an audience still exists for their weird and compelling music, who’ll be grateful to learn, through 6 Music’s sessions, that this band exists.
The internet is the only means of exposure for bands like DCW. They don’t get write-ups in NME or airplay on commercial stations like Xfm. Bigger artists like Jeffrey Lewis, who can sell out larger venues and receive press coverage, will never be playlisted on any national radio station other than 6 Music. Commercial enterprises need to promote bands with a broad enough appeal to appease the advertisers. They can’t afford to spend their resources on niche artists.
But 6 Music can. It works on similar lines to something like Radio 3, which unlike Classic FM, can feature Xenakis concerts alongside more well-known composers. 6 Music does the same for a different kind of music. It’s the most mainstream avenue for outliers. With the exception of the always excellent but comparatively unknown Resonance FM, it’s the only place that small but inventive bands can get airtime.
This is exactly what the BBC exists for: to “represent the many communities that exist in the UK”. To provide not just what the majority wants, but to appeal to all minority interests.
But the danger is that as the BBC struggles to defend its existence to a more critical government, it may turn away from eclecticism. 6 Music can’t turn into Radio 1 in a leather jacket – to secure its future the more unusual stuff needs to be encouraged, just as the BBC Trust’s report concluded. 6 Music should be encouraged to become what it deserves to be – John Peel’s dream of a station. Now it looks like that may never happen.