This week, it was leaked that the the BBC was to axe some of its services, namely a large chunk of their internet based content, its services for young adults and the radio stations Asian Network and 6Music. Twitter and Facebook ignited, questioning things as far removed from one another as the BBC’s broadcasting remit and the high pay of Chris Moyles.
I should know – I was one of them.
Most of the attention seems to be focused around the rumoured closure of 6Music. It is certainly the one that personally affects me the most. For those that don’t know, 6Music is pretty much the only alternative radio station in Britain with any true integrity, featuring well informed and intelligent DJs (and George Lamb, boom boom) playing the music that you feel they would like you to hear. Within three hours of daytime listening, you will have probably heard a range of music from the likes of The Beatles, Florence and the Machine, Massive Attack, Squeeze, Elastica, Focus and The Buzzcocks. Yes, there is a playlist in use and yes, you tend to hear those songs more than others, but one gets the distinct impression that this was carefully picked based on what the audience has asked for rather than simply making money. Which is, after all, what Radio 1 and Radio 2 tend to do.
A cursory glance around the protest pages of social networking sites and comments on news websites tells you that the average 6Music listener feels a real and true kinship with the station, of which they feel fiercely loyal. My own experience seems to be echoed by many — a lack of faith in radio as a medium of varied and good quality output that was only rescued when 6Music was finally heard on either the DAB or online.
6Music’s success comes not from being an “alternative” radio station at all; in fact it’s so much more far reaching and diverse than many people would give it credit for. There are shows for all types of people (rock shows, dance shows, funk and soul shows, reggae and dancehall shows at el) who have a varied and fervent interest in all types and kinds of music. The only thing that is never heard is the production line, Airfix pop that seems prevalent on other stations. 6Music will not appeal to fans of Girls Aloud, Tiesto and, possibly, Razorlight, but frankly this is no bad thing.
Except, apparently it is. 6Music’s listenership is pretty poor when compared to others owned, run and commissioned by the BBC. This probably has everything to do with 6Music being a digital only station, which means that it can’t be listened to in the majority of cars and radios out there. If it were an FM station, it’s listening numbers would, I should think, undoubtedly increase dramatically.
And this is ultimately where the BBC would falter. The statement that came from the BBC after the leak was reported in The Times suggested that the station was a failure and, therefore, would be taken off the air. Which, sad though it is, makes a fair amount of sense. I’m sure that there were those in the world who loved the BBC1 soap, Eldorado, but no bugger watched it, so it was axed. But — and here’s the rub — there is a massive difference between something failing because it is poorly realised or because they is a lack of audience and something failing because it has been under nourished by the logistical systems that put it into being. Imagine putting Dr Who on BBC3 only or putting the X Factor on in the middle of the night. Things would be different, no?
But even this isn’t enough. The BBC then went on to say that they felt that they were taking away valuable listenership away from independent commercial radio stations by having 6Music. This argument houses two very fundamental flaws. Firstly – if no-one listens to 6Music then is it really jeopardising these independent radio stations? Yes, not a lot to the BBC is probably huge to a smaller radio station, but surely once these listening figures have been scattered around like dandelion seeds on a blustery day, they are going to seem insignificant to individual stations. And secondly (and even more basically) – if this is the case now then surely this was the case when the station was first launched.
I have focussed on 6Music because I am a dedicated and loyal listener whose days will honestly be that little bit more drab without my fix of (what I consider) quality radio. But I must say that the thought of any cuts made by the BBC across the board are a travesty. I’m sure that there are countless others who feel the same about the Asian Network.
What really smarts about all of this is that the BBC is non-profit making and funded by the British public. Rather than simply increasing its production of what is already drilled into us by the mainstream media, they should be dedicated to providing a diverse mix of content for everyone regardless of taste, culture or age. The BBC is unique in the way in which is funded and therefore have a responsibility to ensure that their output is as varied and far reaching as possible. And the removal of two of its broadcasting stations, one of which represents cultural identity, is surely a step too far.