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BBC Radio 6 Music in 2018: The Future Is Very Bright
ONE of my prurient distractions (that I constantly need to itch)…
is listening to BBC Radio 6 Music! I tend to write a couple of pieces about the station a year because, as much as anything, I hope it gets shared and new listeners turn on! I will be covering some older ground but I wanted to revisit the station because, as we head to the New Year; I have been looking back at the station and how important it is to me, personally. It has been a turbulent and eventful year for the station. One of my favourite D.J.s, Mark Radcliffe, is currently on a ‘sabbatical’/sick leave dealing with cancer and I will be very excited hearing him back on the airwaves next year. Radcliffe presents the afternoon show during the week with Stuart Maconie and their repartee/banter is one of the reasons why I love BBC Radio 6 Music so. They have been, as part of a New Year shuffle, moved to the weekends (during the morning) and that decision garnered its fair share of indignation! I was among those who protested – in the form of mild grumble – and asked why that decision was made. It is sad to see two stalwarts of radio taken from a slot they seem so comfortable and content in – Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe have both said they have a good working relationship and no desires to go their separate ways. With Radcliffe battling cancer; it seems sad his return to radio will be in a reduced role...
IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny with Jodie Whittaker/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
In any case; among the negativity and unwelcomed change are some new appointments. Shaun Keaveny has moved from the breakfast show to afternoon and, whilst I will miss him sorely in his usual slot; he has been breaking rocks and entertaining those weary-eyed risers for over a decade and, well…it is time the Leigh-born D.J. gets a bit of a kip in the morning! Mary Anne Hobbs is becoming a regular weekday D.J. and, alongside Lauren Laverne taking over the breakfast show; I am glad female D.J.s are getting bigger recognition and there is that move. Whilst I am going to take a while to adjust to someone more positive taking over breakfast – that 7 A.M. grumble and gripe is something I will miss, man! – I am glad Keaveny gets a chance to bed into a new slot. I love his partnership with Matt Everitt and it is good to see them travel together. I get a lot of my music news and discoveries from Everitt and his work is a big influence on me (from his music news to his in-depth and compelling interviews with big names). I wonder whether his regular features will go with him (Small Claims Court and his usual morning routine…) and whether, in that early slot, Laverne will be able to bring her much-loved features along – Desert Island Disco, Memory Tapes and Biorhythms are great fixtures and I always discover new music listening to them. She is a great interviewer and hosts live sessions and one would imagine, when that shift happens, Mary Anne Hobbs would take live sessions on?! I am a huge fan of Chris Hawkins too and, whilst he is on before Keavney - and a bit too early for me! - I catch him on the iPlayer. Hawkins’ hard work and endless commitment takes my breath. An exceptional D.J. and pivitol figure on BBC Radio 6 Music!
IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne with John Grant/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
I was slightly aggrieved at Laura Snapes’ reaction to the BBC Radio 6 Music ‘cabinet reshuffle’. Writing in The Guardian; she was pleased women were/are getting more exposure but felt, aside from that, it was same-old-same-old at the station:
“…Otherwise, it’s a classic 6 Music cabinet reshuffle. It speaks to the station’s core contradiction: its remit is to “celebrate the alternative spirit in popular music from the 1960s to the present day” yet its presenters are all firmly establishment. The average age of its 22 DJs is 52. Only one is under 40 – Tom Ravenscroft, at 38. For all its praiseworthy emphasis on new music (apparently a key doubling-down of the reshuffle), 6 Music struggles to introduce new presenters because it relies on stable brands – largely pegged to the very white history of British indie culture – rather than minting new stars.
There’s no shortage of potential 6 Music DJs: Jon Hillcock has been filling in on the station for years with one of the most inclusive and inquisitive new music shows going, yet has never progressed to a regular slot. A DJ like 1Xtra’s omnivorous Jamz Supernova would fit well, as would NTS’s Bullion, and they could do more with Huw Stephens than Radio 1 make of him. I’m surprised they’ve not poached the fairly new but eminently adept Matt Wilkinson from Beats 1, nor opened up their cohort of musicians to younger performers: off the top of my head, Lily Allen, Dev Hynes, MIA, Metronomy’s Joe Mount and Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan would all create exciting radio...
IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC
Yet the station’s complacency makes a certain sort of sense: the lack of room for new talent indicates the success of 6 Music’s well-established brands. Note that Steve Lamacq, the station’s most popular broadcaster outside of the breakfast show, is the only untouched daytime slot. Rajar figures released in May show that 6 Music now attracts a record 2.53 million weekly listeners aged 15 and over (from 2.34 million in the previous quarter and 2.35 million last year), with all of the daytime shows reaching more than a million listeners weekly for the first time. Why fix what isn’t broken – especially when listeners baulk at change? Who can forget the horror at George Lamb’s short-lived show? Attempts at GLR-style quirk (Natasha Desborough on weekend breakfast, Jon Holmes at the weekend) were similarly brief”.
I can abide by a couple of points. There is a pool of talent who do occasional shows on BBC Radio 6 Music, like Jon Hillcock, who I would like to see moved to a more permanent slot! I will come onto this a bit later but, your honour, I must get to my point! Like a lawyer making a case who has suddenly been distracted by a squirrel frolicking by a tree outside the courthouse; I need to regain some focus and clarity! I wanted to write this piece to state why BBC Radio 6 Music has been especially important to me this year – a look at where I think it could go in 2019...
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The past few weeks have seen me locate to London in search of work, dreams and all of that and I, to be honest, have found it very hard going. The phone is not ringing as much as I’d like; the Tube is being delayed more than I’d imagine and the bank balance is becoming ever-more malnourished and sickly! I am a bit concerned about that aspect but, if anything, BBC Radio 6 has been a trusted and forgiving companion. It does not scoff at my rather lacklustre riches nor snort in derision when looking at my plans for any given week! Instead, I have turned to the station like a mute confessional box and have let the music/D.J.s balm and soothe me. I am looking forward to changes and evolution next year but I have been blown away by the quality and brilliance of the station. It is getting stronger each year and that, in no small part, is because of the loyalty of the staff and the passion they exude! Say what you want about changes at BBC Radio 1 and 2 – some high-profile names going elsewhere – but BBC Radio 6 Music, to me, is a station that warrants a lot more love (more on that anon). I love the holy trio of Shaun Keaveny, Lauren Laverne and RadMac (Radcliffe and Maconie) and have discovered so much new music from them.
The enthusiasm, humour and passion you get from these D.J.s is infectious and (they have) buoyed me at a time when I need it most. Some people talking about mental illness like two pigeons fighting over a discarded condom in an alleyway – or something less revolting! – and turn their noses up. I, as a journalist, am not alone when it comes to mental-health. I suffer from depression and anxiety and ‘conventional’ medicines/talk have not made a dent through the years. Listening to these familiar and reliable voices each day, in an odd way, provides me with more spirit, determination and hope than nearly anything else. It may seem strange – as I have not met any of them – but I have become a more ambitious writer and a stronger-willed person because of them! I am tuning into Steve Lamacq during the afternoons and discovering what he is all about. I have always been aware of ‘Lammo’ but am spending more time with his show. He, aside from Tom Ravenscroft, Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, is one of the most ardent truffle hounds of new music. His nose is pressed to crates and his ears never more than a few feet from some sweaty, beer-scented and explosive gig; his mind never far from projecting florid and delighted words about some band we need to hear. The same is true of Marc Riley - who provides live sessions and is one of the most passionate and committed D.J.s at the station.
That sort of passion and love is, again, what makes BBC Radio 6 Music such a perennial banquet of delight! D.J.s on the station give a voice to new artists and so many musicians I interview have been featured on the station. It means so much to them and puts their music into new hands; it boosts their career and is an invaluable asset! I am listening more to Craig Charles, Tom Ravenscroft and Huw Stephens (a new name to the BBC Radio 6 Music roster) and dipping in to Cerys Matthews and Gilles Peterson – that sounds a bit wrong but you know (I hope) what I mean – and becoming less reliant on three or four D.J.s to satisfy my thirst. The quality and variation I have discovered by spending more time with the station is mind-blowing! I am discovering new things and qualities about BBC Radio 6 Music - and the station provides an alternative for those who want to escape the commercial rivals and discover D.J.s who are genuinely excited about music – so many smaller stations hire D.J.s for comedy/entertainment rather than a love of music. If you are new to the station and want to find that hard balance of excellent music and D.J.s who are likable and know what they are on about…you need to tune in to BBC Radio 6 Music. The station marked National Album Day and is always involved in every aspect of music. The documentaries they put on – like Martin Freeman, last Sunday, paying tribute to The Beatles’ eponymous album turning fifty – are fantastic and you get so much more than the same old shows week in, week out.
From shining a light on a special album to opening our eyes to issues around gender and race; BBC Radio 6 Music has a social conscious that is refreshing and inspiring to see! I disagree with something Snapes said in that Guardian piece:
“…It trades in comfort and familiarity, new versions of old sounds, rather than pursuing a genuine cultural “alternative spirit”. The “alternative” it celebrates is the mainstream – look no further than David Cameron’s festival selfies for proof. In essence, 6 is the old Radio 1 evening slot writ large for people who, due to jobs and kids, can no longer listen to the radio between 7pm and midnight. Sloughing off older presenters would force listeners of a certain age to reckon with their identity – and mortality – and the fact that what was once their youthful alternative now simply … isn’t”.
I think a reason why BBC Radio 6 Music continues to snap, crackle and pop the underwear of curiosity and slake the perversity of the musical imagination is (because of) the way it remains fresh and does not stick with rigid guidelines. I feel the fact there are slightly older D.J.s at the station is not a sign of mortality or a depressing thing: you have years’ experience and are not reliant on the usual plethora of overly-cheerful yoofs (sic) who are all about the ‘coolest’ and most commercial sounds. It seems, despite some dimples on the motorway; BBC Radio 6 Music is looking in fine shape as we head into 2019…
Aside from thanking BBC Radio 6 Music and recommending people tune in; I feel there are exciting possibilities that can be explored in 2019! I am not sure whether it is possible to bring a digital station - which BBC Radio 6 Music is - to the normal airwaves and turn it F.M. BBC Radio 2 and 1 have such a big audience, among other reasons, because they are not digital-only and, as such, it is easier to find them and stay with them. I know BBC Radio 6 Music has this cool and slightly exclusive edge but one of the reasons a lot of people I know have not discovered the station is because it is digital. Maybe it is not possible to do that but I feel like there is this chance for BBC Radio 6 Music to go a bit more mainstream and I think it could recruit a lot of listeners from BBC Radio 2 and 1 – they would find much to love and discover and it could create a new army for BBC Radio 6 Music. I am pleased Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs are moving to new slots and there is a conscious effort to promote women and make changes. I still feel like there is an opportunity to bring more women into the station and tip the balance. There are more men at the station than women – this is true of most bigger options – and I feel like BBC Radio 6 Music could be one of the first station to bring about parity in terms of gender.
I mentioned how part-time BBC Radio 6 Music faces like Jon Hillcock could be promoted and new blood brought in. There is great loyalty at the station but there are chances for new shows a slight shake-up. I wonder how the breakfast and afternoon shows will change; who the music news presenter will be in the morning and whether all the much-loved and familiar features will find a new home. I am confident everything will settle and it will be great but I know there is that chance to bring the brand to a bigger audience. The station does that itself but there are many more (uninitiated) out there who could benefit from the warm and chocolatey tones of BBC Radio 6 Music. In my last BBC Radio 6 Music-related piece; I mooted the possibility of an award show that can be run by the station. With the Mercury Prize gaining negative scrutiny and other options like the BRITs designed for a rather commercial market; I feel like BBC Radio 6 Music could provide that essential and sought-after award that genuinely reflects tastes, variety and geography – with the Mercury Prize being very London-centric. Whereas The Cardigans, back in the 1990s, urged us to Erase/Rewind; I think BBC Radio 6 Music should be embraced but, in terms of personnel and bringing it further to the masses, a slight retune could be in order. I have a lot to thank them (everyone at the station) for what they have produced this year and I am sure so many people out there have been enriched and harnessed by the station. It continues to resonate, grow and shine and I think next year will be a huge one for the station. As I look back and encapsulate what the station has provided me (and so many others) this past year; I look forward and seeing how, with changes and shifts, it can move forward and who it can reach. If you are unaware of BBC Radio 6 Music and the loyal army – from the D.J.s and producers through to music news presenters and everyone who makes the machine work – then make sure tuning in is one of your…
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NEW Year’s Resolutions!
Follow BBC Radio 6 Music
IN THIS PHOTO: Héloïse Letissier (Christine and the Queens) alongside Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC