The news last week that BBC director Mark Thompson wants to lube himself up for the Tories by axing 6 Music came as something of a blow. I own 2 digital radios (one in the bedroom and one in the car) and both were bought for the specific purpose of listening to 6 music. I’ve signed every petition I’m aware of but wanted to make my feelings known to the trust, so over the last week, have written the following letter:
“I feel the need to complain in the strongest possible terms regarding the proposed axing of 6Music as well as the worrying direction that Mark Thompson seems intent on steering the BBC.
The BBC holds a unique and priceless cultural archive in the form of decades of BBC sessions on the shows of John Peel and others. If it weren’t for 6Music, these would, for the most part, remain locked away. The fact they are systematically added to the 6Music playlist on a daily basis, allowing them to be heard by new audiences is, in my opinion, reason alone for the continued funding of the station. Phil Jupitus said that to axe 6Music would be an act of cultural vandalism and an affront to the memory of John Peel. He hit the nail squarely on the head.
One of the reasons given for the axing of 6Music is that it would allow rival commercial operations to flourish. However, there is no commercial station which currently offers the breadth and scope of music which 6Music offers. Putting aside for a second the fact that the sessions mentioned above are owned by the BBC so cannot be offered by any commercial station, much of 6Music’s output is carefully selected and curated by experts to provide music programming which is both eclectic and entertaining. It is not just programmed by an algorithm with commercial concerns in mind. Almost every DJ on the station cares passionately about the music they play.
By comparison, if you look at the daytime output of Radio’s 1 and 2, it is indistinguishable, at least musically, from almost every commercial station in the country. The majority of DJ’s on Radio 1 and Radio 2 are selected for their personality rather than their musical knowledge or taste. Their personalities (and, in most cases, their salaries!) are the only thing to distinguish Radio 1 and Radio 2 from their commercial rivals.
The simple fact is that 6Music is a station that could never be offered by a commercial company. It would be a naive person who thought that if the BBC cut 6Music that some commercial organisation would step up and fill it’s place. The main commercial station which plays alternative music is XFM, but it is just a regional station and does not tend to play the vast range of music found on 6Music, choosing instead to focus on current chart hits. This will always be the case with commercial stations.
There are a broad range of musical audiences catered for by 6Music who are not being served by any other station, either commercial or on the BBC. Off the top of my head, we have the following, but there are others:
- Funk and Soul show (funk and soul)
- Freak Zone (experimental and Avant Garde)
- Don Letts (punk and reggae)
- Tom Robinson (unsigned)
- Gideon Coe (live BBC archives)
Axing 6Music would disenfranchise all these audiences, otherwise uncatered for, either by current BBC or commercial output. The proposals are that the best elements of what 6Music currently offers will be incorporated into Radio 1 and 2. To be fair, there are many shows on these stations with impassioned presenters who are genuine music fans. However, without exception, they are marginalised to night time slots. By design, Radios 1 and 2 will always cater to the most mainstream of tastes. Moving a few 6Music DJ’s into late night slots on these stations IS NOT a suitable alternative. It is no more than a token offering.
And it certainly would be late night slots that these shows were forced to. Whilst it’s true that both those stations already occasionally play songs which appear on the 6Music playlist, one must sit through an awful lot of mainstream commercial music to do so. This is the key reason most 6Music listeners do not currently listen to either of those stations. Only Radio 3 and 6Music, despite the obvious difference in their respective output, clearly, distinctly communicate, with a strong voice, to music fans with discerning tastes.
I cannot imagine the vast majority of the Peel sessions would sound at home nestled between Lady Gaga and JLS on the daytime Radio 1 roster. Similarly, if you axe 6Music, its listeners will not simply migrate to Radio 1 or Radio 2. They choose not to listen to these stations for good reason. They will probably just stop listening to radio and will be lost to the BBC for good.
I, probably like the majority of 6Music listenership, grew up listening to Radio 1. In my teens, as I discovered the more eclectic late night output, I drifted away from listening during the day, but continued to listen to the evening shows of John Peel, Steve Lamacq, Mark Radcliffe etc. The arrival a few years later of 6Music seemed like the logical next step. Since it caters to this audience the BBC builds on Radio 1. For this reason, I propose that Radio 1 might finance the continued support of 6Music.
This may sound like a radical proposal, but it is much the same practice already demonstrated by book publishers. They use their successes to fund ‘the long tail’. They know that there is not much money to be made in the majority of books, so rely on the huge profits from a few blockbusters to fund the production of a huge range of potentially less successful works, knowing that the collective human culture benefits overall. Similarly, it could be argued that since evening Radio 1 shows are probably the main breeding ground for 6Music listeners, money could be filtered from the budgets of Radio 1 and 2 to fund the cultural enrichment which 6Music offers.
1Xtra has avoided the cuts despite lower listening figures than 6Music because of it’s direct connections to Radio 1. I have read that, for the same reasons, BBC7 is to be rebranded Radio 4 Extra. Might I suggest rebranding 6Music’s name (but just the name, not the output) to more closely align it with Radio 1 since there is already a clear cross pollination between Radio 1’s evening output and the entire output of 6Music. This would raise the stations profile and listenership and make it a more viable proposition.
I pay my licence and am a strong, vocal supporter of the BBC. I don’t like sport, soaps or reality TV but would never dream of complaining about the tens of millions the BBC spends on those each year. Why should my opinion on what the BBC broadcasts be any less valid though? My personal opinion is that with BBC4, 6Music, the news website and the iPlayer, I have already got my moneysworth from the BBC. Axing 6Music may leave me, and the other hundreds of thousands who listen to the station, feeling short changed and alienated.
If the BBC were to focus solely on catering to more marginal groups, at the expense of commercial output, it would play into Tory hands and put them exactly where the likes of Rupert Murdoch want them. Therefore, it is vital that the BBC continues to cater to commercial markets. However, their remit, and the justification for the licence, is to provide for audiences which are ignored by the commercial market. The current wide range of BBC radio stations balances both needs perfectly. If you axe 6Music and the Asian Network, then very little remains to distinguish the BBC’s output from that of commercial rivals. This, in turn lends fuel to the argument for scrapping the licence fee.
These changes are obviously being made to appease the Conservatives in case they are successful in the forthcoming election. However, The Tories are entirely in the pocket or Rupert Murdoch who would happily see the BBC dismantled completely to allow his rampant greed to be further fed. What the BBC needs right now is a director who is prepared for the fight and is ready to face down the threats of the next few years voraciously. Not a director who will roll over and start offering sacrificial lambs at the first hint of trouble. He costs more than twice what the previous director did and therefore is poor value for money. Get him out and get someone in on a more realistic salary who is prepared to fight fiercly for the corporation and offer the licence payers better value for money.
It is obvious that the BBC, and Mark Thompson did not expect the outraged public response to last weeks announcement, but I hope that it has given them food for thought and that common sense will provail at the BBC Trust when the final decision regarding these proposals is made.”