FEATURE: Static Resistance: Is There a Perfect Tuning When It Comes to a Radio Station?




Static Resistance



Is There a Perfect Tuning When It Comes to a Radio Station?


I am still bending my head around the news…



there is a line-up shift and change coming to BBC Radio 6 Music. From 1st January, some of the station’s best-loved figures will be settling into new shows. The cynic could say it is a reaction to the RAJAR figures – the figures that show which stations are popular and who is listening to whom. I feel, because of BBC Radio 6 Music’s growth, there is that need to remain fresh and exciting. The bosses’ solution is to move one of their most successful and beloved teams (Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie) and put them in a weekend slot. Mary Anne Hobbs is promoted to weekday daytime and there is a shift happening elsewhere. Shaun Keaveny is going to the afternoon; Lauren Laverne takes his morning slot and it seems there is a split regarding opinion. I am in favour of Hobbs, Laverne and Keaveny being moved – Keaveny is getting knackered at breakfast and needs some time to refresh – but moving RadMac was a big error! Many are reacting to the news and feel Hobbs’ appointment to the weekday morning slot is a mistake. I love her work but others are less sure and feel it is a bad change. I have been looking at the shake-up - and will bring an article in - but I feel the promotion of two female D.J.s. is a good move.


IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Look at the great work Hobbs and Laverne do and it is good we get to hear more of them. There is a worry, from the critics, that BBC Radio 6 Music is an edgy and alternative station that is playing it safe and not providing any real innovation and difference. In essence, all the time changes are doing is moving current talent to new times. It will provide nuance and new dynamics but does not give the station any real lift and alteration. There are two ways of looking at this. On the one front, the popular and reliable D.J.s are staying put and not being replaced by untested and unfamiliar replacements. There are some who say BBC Radio 6 Music is a station that needs fresh blood. Most of its D.J.s are men; most of them are white; the majority of them are middle-aged. That might sound like a recipe for the middle-class, middle-English and Brexit voter. This seems to be the flavour of an article that reacted to the changes at the station – a sign of mortality and a stagnant outlet:

Clearly 6 Music’s remit is one the commercial sector can’t fill: Capital isn’t poaching their talent, nor the lad-centric Radio X, nor TV. Though that speaks as much to the problem as the positives. Like Radio 2, 6 Music is a cultural endpoint with no clear next step for the majority of its older presenters. 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’sfestival 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”.


IMAGE CREDIT: BBC Pictures/Getty Images

The article complimented some of the changes. They were pleased two female D.J.s were being promoted and there was a group of loyal D.J.s that have a passionate and dedicated fanbase. They argued that new D.J.s should come in: younger faces and minorities; those who can inject a bit more pizzaz and colour. I wonder whether the changes needed to happen at all. The ratings were up and there were no complaints from the listeners. I fear it is a case of the BBC bosses tampering when not needed and risking the future success of the station. I guess it is hard keeping a station essential and evolving at the same time. If you bring younger D.J.s to a station that has its own brand and identity then there is a danger rebellion will happen and there will be a real shift. The long-serving D.J.s carry on as normal and there is another part of the station that is unfamiliar and outsider. I wonder whether BBC Radio 6 Music missed a trick when it came to demoting its only real radio partnership: put two female D.J.s together or create another team. I feel a station with solely solo D.J.s can become a bit monotonous and one-dimensional. I love RadMac because of that banter, chemistry and variation. Do you pair up existing D.J.s to create a team or bring in new faces?


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

It is hard pleasing everyone and difficult to forge a station that pleases everyone. BBC Radio 1 and 2 are changing stuff around. Nick Grimshaw has left the breakfast show – like Keaveny; he needs some sleep and recharge – and Greg James replaces him. Simon Mayo and Jo Whiley have recently teamed for an evening show and, whilst it puts a female D.J. in a primetime slot, it is an awkward partnership and, having listened to the show a lot, a rather awful thing. Whiley would be better alone or, in my view, it would be better having the warm wit and natural charm of Sara Cox in the prime position. I feel she would be perfect and it appears, yet again, bosses’ choices are not paying off. Going back to criticism regarding the age demographic and ethnic breakdown; I wonder whether there is such a thing as ‘perfect’ radio. I am an enormous BBC Radio 6 Music fan and feel the presenters we have now – and how things are set up – should remain in place. The music is the main thing and you can feel how much every one of the D.J.s wants to be at the station. We know more people are listening to the radio (even digital stations like BBC Radio 6 Music) and there is a definite appetite for great music and audio company.


IN THIS PHOTO: Sara Cox/PHOTO CREDIT: Just Voices Agency/Getty Images

More younger listeners are coming in and I wonder whether there is a station dedicated to their tastes? You could say BBC Radio 1 is that choice: their music and D.J.s, to me, seem to have a larger audience than many would assume. I think a station catering solely to those under thirty, let’s say, wouldn’t be that great. Limiting your audience is always a bit risky: a great station appeals to all ages and tastes; a fine blend between experienced hands and new sounds. Jay-Z, when speaking last year, looked at modern radio and its problems:

It’s pretty much an advertisement model. You take these pop stations, they’re reaching 18-34 young, white females. So they’re playing music based on those tastes. And then they’re taking those numbers and they’re going to advertising agencies and people are paying numbers based on the audience that they have. So these places are not even based on music. Their playlist isn’t based on music…

A person like Bob Marley right now probably wouldn’t play on a pop station. Which is crazy. It’s not even about the DJ discovering what music is best. You know, music is music. The line’s just been separated so much that we’re lost at this point in time”.

Maybe he has a point regarding restrictions and a set ‘demographic’ for each station. One of the reasons why Radio 1 is limited to a certain age group is because of the songs it plays. There is a leaning towards mainstream material and a slightly grittier/processed sound – although they are ahead of the curve when it comes to big artists breaking through.



BBC Radio 6 is very broad and cool but stays away from some of the BBC Radio 1 artists who are rather good – each show has its own flavour and personality which means there is a compartmentalised and clique-like nature. BBC Radio 2 has a somewhat older audience and the songs are largely chart-based – taking from the softer, less taxing side of the spectrum. Apart from that, you have a few other options. There are various offshoots of BBC Radio 1 – there is an Asian network and options for those who like their music even spicier than the main station – and you have great Internet-based stations. Podcasts are becoming more popular which means there is autonomy and a lack of commercial pressure. New innovators do not have to do what bosses and sponsors say: they get a choice regarding their music but one can argue that is rather subjective and limited. The RAJAR figures are good when it comes to identifying which age groups and people listening to what stations. A lot of the mainstream radio stations are directed by the charts and marketing campaigns. So much mechanical and business-like input is taking away some naturalness and freedom. I wonder how much say individual D.J.s get when it comes to the music played and what they say.



Another article looked at the age gaps and how the charts are decided:

But today, only people too old for the internet buy CDs. If we still used physical sales as an indication for “hit” songs, we’d have nothing but Michael Bublé and Anthony Callea on the wireless.

Now, charts are determined by streaming sites like Spotify and Apple Music. This is a massive problem for programming new music on the radio. Music streaming charts don’t show what new music people are excited about. Instead, they show what music is being played most often.

The charts have moved away from “what people are buying” towards “what people are listening to”. This is terrible for pop music, because it means the most successful songs today aren’t the ones people are excited about, but the ones featured on corporate playlists for gyms, supermarkets, clothing stores, bars, offices and coffee shops.

These playlists don’t change for months at a time, and put the same bland, inoffensive songs on the charts again and again”.

Everyone has their own desires and needs when it comes to a radio station but it seems, with every change in personnel and decision, people will moan and threaten to boycott. Is it possible to make a radio station that ticks all the boxes: it reaches a national audience and plays music from all over the radio dial; it has a balance of D.J.s (gender, age and race) and reacts to changes and new demands in a constructive and positive way?!


IMAGE CREDIT: BBC Pictures/Getty Images

Maybe BBC Radio 6 Music is 80% there is one way; BBC Radio 1 is there 85% in another way. The only way to create a flawless and nation-uniting station is to take all the best parts from the national brands and the best of the underground. I wonder whether that would be a hideous misfit and would ever work in practice?! It is like putting parts from different cars together and hoping it runs: it is likely to explode, not start or get a little way and careen off the road! I don’t think you can ever successfully create a station that will be valued by everyone and never go out of fashion. I am not a fan of stations, BBC especially, that seem to have different options depending on your age. Even though the BBC Radio 6 Music rejigs has been met with mixed reviews; their music does seem to unite existing options and places quality over popularity. The station does have some issues that it needs to sort out – reverse some bad decisions and get some new talent in at some point – but I feel there is no way we can create a radio station with no issues that attract everyone in. Maybe you have a BBC Radio 7 that seeks to unify all stations out there or highlight an underground station to the mainstream.



The sheer variety of options – on F.M. or the Internet – means we can always shop around and mix a few stations together if needed. Podcasts are the best way to make your own brand and personalise the music plays. That, inevitably, is going to only appeal to you and it will be hard nationalising it. I understand some people will react negatively to change. Station bosses have to react to figures and changing tastes – they are going to make some bad decisions and not always going to take the right steps. The biggest thing any station can do, national or otherwise, is to react to shortcomings and look to remedy those. In many cases, those issues arise when it comes to gender and race: having a less homogenised and male-heavy station; any shows that are not working need to be retooled. That elusive question remains: Can you ever have a no-faults, flawless radio station? I feel the big stations we have right now do what they do really well but need to listen to criticism and make wise choices. Whether that is broadening their musical scope or refreshing their line-up; pledging a more balances (gender and race) set of D.J.s; reversing any decisions that are met with widespread criticism (or explain why those decisions have been made). If that is done, more regularly, then I think we can create a station(s) that satisfy all and set a great example…



FOR everyone else out there.