FEATURE: Digital Witnesses: The Continued Growth of BBC Radio 6 Music and the Digital Upswing



Digital Witnesses



The Continued Growth of BBC Radio 6 Music and the Digital Upswing


THIS is, to be fair, my first…



real passion-piece about BBC Radio 6 Music since last year! I have shackled my hands and will not do another vacillating and fevered article about the station until, oooh…next month! There is a reason why I am bringing the station back into the spotlight: the latest RAJAR figures are out. Rather than (RAJAR) being a super-spy looking out across the land for the most discerning listeners; it is a slightly-less-cool-and-awesome acronym for 'Radio Joint Audience Research'. We are now in the position where digital radio is more popular than A.M. and F.M. That seems extraordinary given that, as recently as a few years ago, the dominance of the big boys/girls. Over 50% of the radio audience is tuning in via laptops and D.A.B. radios. I will come to look at, what I think, is the leader of the digital market – before I get there; I want to bring in an article that highlights the facts and shows why digitally-produced radio is vibing so hard right now:

Digital listening has reached a new record share of 50.9% – a landmark achievement for the industry which hopes will trigger action from the Government about the future of DAB.

This compares to 47.2% in Q1 2017 and to 24.0% in Q1 2010 when the Government’s Digital Radio Action Plan, which outlined a programme of work to progress digital radio take up, was launched.

With the 50% digital listening threshold now met, it is anticipated that the Government will undertake a review to assess digital radio progress and determine next steps in due course.



Speaking at the Tuning In commercial radio conference yesterday, Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, said “The 50% share will be an important milestone for radio” and confirmed that Government will “work closely with all partners – the BBC, commercial radio, Arqiva, car manufacturers and listeners – and subject to this will make some further announcements.”

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, told RadioToday: “This is a landmark moment for the radio industry and for listeners alike. Digital platforms now account for the majority of all radio listening for the first time. The digital transition is good news for radio and is helping our industry compete more effectively in a digital age. We look forward to continuing to work with broadcasters, the supply chain and Government on delivering radio’s digital future and the upcoming digital radio review.”

Digital listening share is comprised of listening across all digital platforms – DAB in homes and in cars, Apps and online (which includes the growing number of smart and voice-controlled speakers) and DTV – and this is the first time that listening to digital has been greater than analogue platforms – FM and AM.

Overall, digital listening hours grew by 7.8% compared to Q1 2017. The greatest amount of digital listening takes place on a DAB radio which now accounts for 36.8% of all listening and 72.2% of digital listening, with hourly growth of 8.9% year on year. Online and Apps now accounts for 9.3% of all listening and 18.3% of digital listening, with the greatest percentage hourly growth of 17%. Listening via digital TV meanwhile accounts 4.8% of all listening and 9.4% of digital listening”.



It is unsurprising, given the ultra-technical world in which we live, more and more people are discovering radio through digital means. It does not mean the audience is exclusively young and fewer middle-aged/older people are tuning out – the demographics are shifting and more listeners are buying radios and listening via the Internet. It is easy to understand why digital radio is proving popular and on the rise: the Internet provides vast access to a world of great radio and, the more people that go online; the more people will seek out other options. To paraphrase a running joke of Mark Radcliffe – on his (week)daily show with Stuart Maconie – the average BBC Radio 2 listener might be found drinking sick from a pub toilet whilst a group of chanting drunks weald bicycle chains and scream over the sound of vomiting. The BBC Radio 6 Music listener, on the other hand, is busy inventing the next big breakthrough; curing stubborn diseases and leaving a flaming bag of dog poo on the doorstep of Piers Morgan. I joke, of course: the listeners of BBC Radio 2 are a more sophisticated bunch but it seems, with its cooing vibes and seductive rhythms; the sounds of BBC Radio 6 Music is a preferable option for many. The station has announced weekly listening figures in excess of 2.53 million – it is a station that has benefited from fantastic word-of-mouth and the power of the Internet!

The addictive quality of the station and its ethos means it is hard being even a day without the glorious music and chat. I have started a new job and have to endure another day without my favourite shows from the station – I am routinely screaming and punching a toilet door to cope without the glorious dead air of Shaun Keaveny or a fantastic piece of wordplay from Radcliffe and Maconie; some brilliant tunes and wit from Lauren Laverne, for instance. My daily routine consists of mornings with Keaveny and then the continued northern warmth of Laverne and RadMac – bits of Steve Lamacq and, when I have the time, lashings of Marc Riley and Mary Anne Hobbs. I love a bit of Nemone and Tom ‘Ravers’ Ravenscroft and love Chris ‘The Hawk’ Hawkins – so much personality and passion packed into every show. I have speculated as to why stations like BBC Radio 6 Music have grown and continued to recruit followers at an alarming rate. One listens to the music and the range coming from the airwaves and is inspired to be better and have great ambitions. I, myself, am planning a music T.V. show – it will need a lot of money and patience to get it off the ground – and pushing myself as a music journalist. Many others have changed their horizons and, because of BBC Radio 6 Music, have found a great sense of comfort and familiarity...


IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/BBC 

The reason I stumbled upon the station was dissatisfaction with my previous ‘favourite’ – I shall not name the station...but it rhymes with ‘Babsolute Radio’. I had been longing for an option where the D.J.s were there for the music and keen to promote the finest new sounds and keep the best of the archives burning and moving forward! I have discovered older acts like Can through BBC Radio 6 Music; glorious new blood like Kamasi Washington, Nils Frahm and Hannah Peel – every week, you find a new sensation and are, in many ways, waiting to hear the greatest song ever. There is that link between producers, D.J.s and other talent on the show: many stations put walls between D.J.s and producers and the experience comes off rather cold and too-formal. We have great music news presenters like Matt Everitt, Georgie Rogers (possibly, the most seductive and purest voice on the station) and Clare Crane; Helen Weatherhead and Elizabeth ‘Alcopops’ Alker, too. Every show, too, has its own identity and sound. Craig Charles favours Funk and Soul; Nemone has her Electric Ladyland; Laverne, Keaveny and RadMac have their mix and particular style. One can navigate the schedules and find D.J.s/programmes bespoke and ready to cater to your every desire – if you want a broader option then there are shows to satisfy and slake. I have professed my love, enough, for D.J.s like Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveny; the banter/passive-aggressive love between Matt (Everitt) and Keavney; Laverne’s endless passion and wonder – the way she seems to drink and live music every moment.

You need only look at every D.J. on the station to know their place there is because of that dedication to music and a level of quality you will not find anywhere. I have not even mentioned D.J.s like Amy Lamé, Gideon Coe and Cerys Matthews. If anything, there are little steps the station could take. The website is fantastic but looks like any other BBC radio station page. It is organised to an extent but they could benefit from something with a bit more edge and order – it can be quite hard navigating and honing in on presenters and shows. BBC Radio 6 Music could run and command an award show – one that people genuinely look forward to; recognises the actual best in music! I have been trying to pitch a music T.V. show but, in essence, it would be a visual form of BBC Radio 6 Music: fantastic live performances and a mix of classic music (looking at one legendary album a week) and the brand-new. There are no T.V. options out there like that: a venture by BBC Radio 6 Music could fill the gap and be a prudent and popular move. That may all happen, but I am glad the station continues to find new fans and feed those who love music the most. I have broadened my visions and pushed myself harder through finding the station. I am discovering new gems and wonderful music each and every day.



Whilst the music is fantastic and it is all-killer-and-no-filler; it is the people behind the microphones that keep me hooked. The accents (northern presenters as dominant as southern vocals) and unique voices make the music stand out and, with it, make the listener feel at home a part of the party. BBC Radio 6 Music sees the outsider and welcomes them in; it hugs the senses and keeps everyone safe and warm. It is a festival for those who know their music but are willing to allow someone else to infect their bloodstream and suggest other options. There are other great digital stations out there – one can do their research and surf a bit – but BBC Radio 6 Music is at the top of the tree and is the Grand Master of the Digital World. I will continue to listen and promote the station because it continued to give so much and has made a huge impact on my life. I hear call-ins and regular features on various shows and can hear the D.J.s truly connect and emphasise with their followers. There is that two-way connection and relationship that means new listeners need not be afraid or tepid. They are all welcome to dive in and excited to share their stories and favourite music. For a station that faced closure a few years back; it is amazing to see this huge recovery and dominance – not that the station was ever in any trouble at all or lacked genius! It shows you cannot judge a station by its place in the market and how underground it is. BBC Radio 6 Music is still in the ‘cool’ part of the pie-chart but is starting to compete with the biggest stations in the U.K. For new and old listeners alike; let’s keep the digital waves alive, growing and…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Steve Lamacq/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

CATERING to those who love their music variegated and incredibly good!