My response to the BBC on 6 Music’s closure

Apologies for the self-indulgence (well, this is a blog after all) but here’s what I’ve just e-mailed to srconsultation@bbc.co.uk and trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk:

I would like to register my anger at the plans to close BBC 6 Music, which were first leaked to The Times on 26 February, then unveiled by Mark Thompson on 2 March.

6 Music, when first conceived, was set up to utilise the BBC’s archives of popular music and to play music from acts that could not be heard elsewhere. That mission is as true today as it was in 2002. To give just one example, Lauren Laverne’s morning show is everything the BBC should be proud of; original, distinctive and entertaining, featuring a style of music and conversation which cannot be found elsewhere.

The station has provided a valuable route for musicians to get national coverage, continuing a long tradition – going back to the days of John Peel’s earliest days on Radio 1 – of allowing bands to perform specially-recorded sessions for the BBC.

6 Music has inherited this mantle from Peel and Radio 1’s Evening Session; and has evolved to perform a unique role in British music and in promoting British culture around the world. There is no national commercial station currently doing this, and the loss of 6 Music will be keenly felt by music lovers, musicians and the music industry. Indeed, a generation of music fans has grown up seeing the promotion of new music as one of the BBC’s core functions, giving the licence fee legitimacy – to many, this is as baffling as trying to axe EastEnders.

If 6 Music has had its failings, it is because of the whims of its past management in trying to fill the station’s output with comedians and ill-suited (and sometimes fraudulent) phone-in competitions, in the mistaken belief that the station needed to dramatically expand its audience. This strategy was presumably backed by Mark Thompson, who now claims that any expansion in 6 Music’s audience would distort the market.

6 Music’s most recent schedule change has restored the station to its former strengths, and it has never sounded better. I cannot think of a radio station which better sums up the BBC’s strengths of being entertaining and distinctive, while promoting new British talent. To scrap it would be an act of vandalism.

Popular music has changed and evolved since the creation of Radios 1 and 2 in 1967, and has even evolved since 6 Music launched in 2002. These days, there is a wide audience of all ages for differing kinds of rock and pop music. 6 Music recognised this by filling the gap between Radios 1 and 2. Neither of these stations could adequately replace it, especially considering Radio 1’s emphasis on youth and the recent decision to broaden Radio 2’s output to encourage more listeners over 65.

Mark Thompson claims 6 Music’s role could be better filled by commercial competitors – but he is wrong. In September 1997, indie music station Xfm launched in London under independent ownership, with a wide range of music and comedy. But after only a few months, it was in financial disarray with its shareholders revolting, and was bought out by Capital Radio, undergoing the first in a series of format changes, resulting in its current incarnation as a mainstream rock station.

Arguably the nearest national commercial equivalent is NME Radio – but fine as that station is, it could not sustain the broad range of programming which 6 Music transmits. Another commercial station, Q Radio, flirted with a 6 Music-style schedule, but abandoned it last year after only a few months.

With its long history of supporting new music, and the dedication of its staff and presenters, it would be a waste to close a station which costs comparatively little when compared with other parts of the BBC output, or even the salaries paid to some of its talent. I hope the BBC Trust will stand up for radio listeners and tell the BBC Executive to think again.

I heard Mark Thompson try to defend this decision this afternoon and spluttered with disbelief – after a few years of trying desperately to increase the audience by adding the likes of George Lamb to the schedule, he now claims that 6 Music is poor value for money yet would distort the market if it was to become more popular. Surely then he should be sacking Chris Moyles and dropping the Radio 1 breakfast show?

Inevitable, but funny:

You can read the full strategy review here (1.8MB PDF) – and here’s an interesting five-point plan to save the station from TechDigest and another idea from Freaky Trigger.

3 comments

  1. Very nicely put. The absurdity of a decision based on low listener figures being a threat to the commercial sector just beggars belief. So if 6 Music had a larger audience…it would be cut for challenging commercial interests. But it costs too much per listener…so will be cut. Nobody has ever said it is anything other than a high quality station, but is being cut as part of a commitment to quality.

    Love the YouTube as well…whole plan does have a whiff of the bunker, doesn’t it?

  2. Well put. I love how it’s implied 6 Music listeners should go to Radio 1 or 2, yet Radio 2 is going to be 50% speech in the day. So how does that work then? Still, I’m looking forward to the massive improvement in quality in commercial radio that this decision is somehow going to miraculously bring about.

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