On Friday lunchtime I called a man up about installing a satellite dish so 853 Towers can take full advantage of its recently-acquired high definition television set. I also asked if he’d fit me a DAB aerial while he was up there – after all, it’s not every day someone gets up on my roof, and I might as well get both jobs done in one.
He’s coming around tomorrow, as it happens. But I might as well tell him not to bother with that last job now.
A couple of hours after I made that call, it was announced that NME Radio, one of the three stations I regularly listen to, was to close. With a death sentence hanging over 6 Music, that’ll be just 5 Live left for me by the end of next year. NME Radio has already gone, the DJs shunted from the air, just its automated feed running until someone pulls the plug. Funnily enough, that automated feed is still better than almost anything else on air.
I liked NME Radio. It introduced me to plenty of new bands, it rarely irritated me and it treated me like a grown-up. It was there whenever 6 Music got too psuedy, and whenever I just wanted something decent in the background. As with every radio station I like… it couldn’t last.
So, what happened? NME publisher IPC announced on Friday that DX Media, the firm which produced NME Radio, had announced its intention to terminate the arrangement. Media Guardian reported it as IPC “pulling the plug“. What we do know is that IPC wants to keep some kind of NME Radio running on the nme.com website, while DX Media’s own website has gone west. Which seems to tell a clear enough story.
IPC had seemed serious about NME Radio tearing up trees. It provided DX with a studio facility inside the Blue Fin Building, the Southwark home of the publishing giant. And as No Rock And Roll Fun points out, NME editor Krissi Murison – who relaunched the weekly a few months back, breathing a bit of life and authority back into it – told the Guardian in April that the station was ready to “fill the gap” if the BBC axed 6 Music.
Ah, yes, 6 Music. Hold that thought.
It’s easy to see why DX Media would have hit trouble. It carried very little advertising – the most frequent sound heard in a commercial break being an unintentionally hilarious trail for The Metal Hammer Meltdown (“with Gill and Bees!” – cue apeshit drum and vocal noise – although it sounded more like it was presented by “killer bees”). That’s not completely unusual for radio – Xfm at night seems to carry only government ads warning listeners not to catch the clap, for instance. But running all day with little in the way of ads? Ouch.
So was listening to NME Radio? Well, in October 2008, after its launch, it was clocking up 215,000 listeners each week via satellite/cable TV and online. By May 2010, with the station on DAB across the country, it had reached 226,000 listeners. While radio ratings aren’t always as accurate as the industry would like, it appeared the station had spent 18 months just treading water. Its DAB berth was just a trial, and the station could only be heard in mono (!). With very little publicity beyond NME itself – a paper which for many years has had a mixed reputation with music fans – news of the station was mainly spread by word of mouth.
But those that tuned in, liked it.
Those that liked NME Radio also liked 6 Music – itself under threat of closure by the BBC. The ex-marketing boss who now runs BBC Radio observed that few adults had heard of the station that it was his job to publicise, and used it as a justification for closing the station down. The row over 6 Music’s proposed closure gave the station huge publicity – and saw its audience rocket. While that proves there is an audience out there for indie music radio, that surge must have also hurt NME Radio’s chances badly.
There is also a horrible sense of history repeating itself – DX Media managing director Sammy Jacob founded the first incarnation of Xfm, which crashed and burned within a year of its 1997 launch, being taken over by Capital and (at least for a spell) completely ruined. NME Radio sounded very, very similar to that original version of Xfm – and its sudden death brings back some uncomfortable memories.
If there is a silver lining to NME Radio’s closure, it is that it shows the BBC management’s suggestion that 6 Music’s output could be replicated by a commercial station is absolute cobblers. Hopefully the BBC Trust is taking note.
The loss of NME Radio hasn’t resulted in the wailing and gnashing of teeth that 6 Music’s proposed closure inspired, although both stations are/were valuable parts of the UK’s new music scene. Most importantly, both stations had great potential to grow and nurture new acts. (Happily, NME Radio’s Jon Hillcock has signalled that his New Noise show will continue online.) If one must go, then please, please, let the other stay.