Twitter is abuzz with debate over the future of the BBC’s alternative music station 6Music, after an article in today’s Times suggested it would a victim of the Big British Castle scaling back operations. All the points I’m about to make have probably been dissected already, but I’m a big supporter of 6Music, for all its faults (including the ghastly fool George Lamb).
According to The Times, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson will admit that the BBC needs to shrink in order “to give its commercial rivals room to operate”, which apart from de-rigueur staff cuts, will include a cut in spending on import TV shows and the loss of 6Music and Asian Network. Axing 6Music seems at odds with this, as the station’s remit as defined by the BBC Trust is to
…entertain lovers of popular music with a service offering music from the 1960s to the present day. Its programmes juxtapose current releases outside the mainstream with earlier recordings, including music from the BBC Sound Archive. It should provide context for the music it plays, and support live music and new artists.
In other words, 6Music exists to promote music that doesn’t get much, or any, play on commerical radio and despite relatively small audience figures it fulfills a geniune gap in the airwaves; one that I doubt commerical radio would approach in this way (I’m dubious about this afternoon’s announcement that Absolute Radio would buy 6Music and not change it drastically). Surely the biggest threat to commerical operators is Radio 1, which mostly plays mainstream pop music but doesn’t rely on advertising.
If the station does go down the tubes, it won’t represent a great loss audience wise for the BBC but it will represent a blow to emerging music talent in an increasingly difficult industry to crack. A session on 6Music can introduce you to a dedicated audience of music lovers in the all important 21-35 demographic, who might come to your gig or even pay for you album on iTunes. The knowledgable, veteran evening presenters such as Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq and Stuart Maconie and their producers offer a curated listening experience that becoming increasingly rare with the decline of good music publications. They have a strong understanding of their audience because they’re one of them, the kind of people who froth at the mouth over rare Fall sevens and will trudge down to some dive bar to see the latest indie promise. These shows exist in part because there isn’t the pressure from advertisers or record labels. That’s why Maconie can introduce you to some strange jazz-prog wonder from the ’70s on the Freak Zone.
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.” – Phill Jupitus
Sure, there are probably blogs out there that dig up even more obscure cuts than Maconie, but reading a blog can’t match the experience of great radio, of letting a voice you grow to trust alter the fabric of your day by taking you on an unexpected trip. That’s what John Peel used to do and as David Bowie apparently stated earlier today, 6Music is keeping his spirit alive.
It may be too late to save 6Music. If so, it will be a sad day for independent music but interesting to see what, if anything, takes its place.We’ve booked a couple of acts (including Woodenbox With A Fistful Of Fivers) after 6Music airplay and we’ll definitely miss those “oh wow” moments if it does go.
Facebook: Save 6Music group.