FEATURE: Edge of Seventeen: BBC Radio 6 Music: The Progression, the Power and Prime Cuts – and Why the Station Remains the Ultimate Ambition for Folk Like Me




Edge of Seventeen



BBC Radio 6 Music: The Progression, the Power and Prime Cuts – and Why the Station Remains the Ultimate Ambition for Folk Like Me


YOU’LL excuse (I hope) the long title...

but I have another cold – does anyone stay healthy living in London?! – and germs seem to be invading every crevice, crease and psychic corner of my mind, body and temperament. I am hoping it clears through but, as I battle the Game of Thrones-like violence of a dreaded cold, I have been thinking about a big anniversary that is coming up: the seventeenth birthday of BBC Radio 6 Music. 11th March marks the official seventeenth anniversary and I think it is a mighty big one! Apart from all the seventeen-named songs they could play (I have included Stevie Nicks’ finest at the very top), it is testament to the station’s brand, loyalty and quality that means it is still on the air. BBC Radio 6 Music is a digital station and, back in 2002, survival and popularity was not a guarantee. In July 2010, there were plans to close BBC Radio 6 Music to allow its commercial superiors the room to breathe and focus. Figures such as Lauren Laverne voiced their concern and, with vociferous and passionate campaign, the station was saved. It seems ludicrous to imagine the airwaves without such a big and alternative station. The figures show that, by 2018, BBC Radio 6 was the most-listened-to digital station around with over two-and-a-half-million listeners. I will talk more about the changes, movements and personal reasons why the station remains so close to my heart but, at its core, is this very loyal and dedicated group of people.


 IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music’s new breakfast show host, Lauren Laverne/PHOTO CREDIT: Chris McAndrew for The Times

From the producers to social media guys; the small and big cogs that make BBC Radio 6 Music the must-listen-to option for those who want their music fresh, quality-huge and eclectic…they all deserve to, as Madonna said, take a bow. In terms of staff retention, BBC Radio 6 Music must rank as one of the most unchanged and impressive! I am not sure how many regular fixtures have moved since the launch but there has not been a great deal of movement through the years. Many argue there is a need for some new blood and changes – more women and black faces – but BBC Radio 6 Music, like its Wogan House-sharing colleagues at BBC Radio 2, have made some big steps. The fact Lauren Laverne hosts the breakfast show – she has naturally settled into the spot Shaun Keaveny used to fill – and we have Mary Anne Hobbs doing mornings means two of the station’s most-prominent and popular slots are occupied by women...women of the North, no less! There are, perhaps, fewer women at the station that one might hope but there is some great talent coming through. Katie Puckrik is a fabulous voice that many feel should be a permanent part of the station’s rotation; Cerys Matthew has her own show and Liz Kershaw is another big name at the station. Amy Lamé is also at BBC Radio 6 Music and there are quite a few female producers...



I feel, as the station grows and more listeners flood in, there will be a remit and budget to transfer more talent in – maybe in the form of making temporary female D.J.s permanent or scouting Internet stations and local players like Soho Radio. Georgie Rogers is a voice I have been lobbying to hear more of as, not only has she got one of the most beautiful radio voice possible; she knows her stuff and is an energetic, popular and knowledgeable presenter. I am not sure whether the structure will remain the same but there are other presenters, such as the excellent Jon Hillcock, who deserves their own permanent show. Rogers has her own Sunday show on Soho Radio and I think she could create her niche at BBC Radio 6 Music with some late-evening vibes and some seriously big tunes. Hillcock is another fantastic presenter and I think a weekend evening show, every week, would be his sort of fit. Not to put words and suggestions in the box at the BBC Radio 6 Music door but there are voices on social media that are passionate about these people and would love to hear more from them. There is, naturally, finite room at the station and the intense loyalty from its long-serving riders mean job opportunities are hard to come by.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Miranda Sawyer/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I will look more closely at the station’s ethos and D.N.A. structure in a bit but, in a recent post, I was a little cold when it came to giving non-music peeps their own show. The excellent Miranda Sawyer has her Sound and Vision show that talks with popular figures from the screen and reveals their musical tastes. The Leisure Society with Gemma Cairney looks at the arts and steps outside a purely musical sphere. These incredible women present shows that are very different to anything else at BBC Radio 6 Music and it is good we get that cross-pollination of disciplines, fields of the arts and options. The fact Cillian Murphy has his own show is, yeah, a good thing (he is only stepping in temporarily but I think he might get his own long-term option)! Props to the man and I know he is already proving a popular selection – he takes over Guy Garvey’s Sunday show. I was a bit ambivalent regarding actors getting their own radio slots – bitter grapes overflowing in my wine glass! – but I think it is good. Murphy can bring his own perspective to the slot and I know he will be a very entertaining, informative and calming voice for those who want some quality tunes and relaxation on a Sunday. Aside from the need to get a few more women onto the station, it is great there are new features and shows cropping up. One cannot doubt BBC Radio 6 Music is moving and shaking in the right direction!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Actor Cillian Murphy is temporarily taking over Guy Garvey’s Sunday show as the Elbow frontman works on a new album/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have mentioned a few of the presenters on the station but, at the moment, the weekday schedule has the reliable start from Chris Hawkins. He must be the hardest-working human on Earth and seems to be the go-to-guy when a show needs a substitute or there is some last-minute saving to be done! He is the King of Early Mornings and is responsible for waking us up with his patented blend of world-class musical knowledge, warmth and affection towards his listeners (we love him too)…and his smooth professionalism. Hawkins is one of those people you do not want to see leave the station and he keeps things warm until Lauren Laverne gets into the chair at Wogan House – Hawkins presents from MediaCity in the city of Salford. Laverne is a wonderful radio host and the fact she is also chairing (for the time being) Desert Island Discs means she is one of the most potent and powerful women on radio right now. I loved her mid-morning show but she has adapted to breakfast like a champ and has introduced some new features that have recruited fresh listeners. Hawkins has kept his core and continues to be a big pull for BBC Radio 6 Music. Laverne is one of the most knowledgeable names on the show and I always marvel how her and her production team manage to bring so many great sounds to us (is that a split infinitive?!).


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

I love Laverne’s show and her features – including Monday’s Cloudbusting and her Desert Island Disco – are fantastic. She has brought her listener from mid-morning but I think she is also bringing in a new demographic to breakfast. Shaun Keaveny is on afternoons now and moved from breakfast. He is a fantastic D.J. (and person) and has, like Laverne, kept his followers and brought in some new people. His musical outlay is slightly different to Lauren Laverne’s show – each show has its own tattoos and flavour – and there are some different features. Keaveny seems more refreshed in the afternoons and is producing excellent shows. He is another name that is essential to the station’s survival and growth - and you always get that great mixture of humour, anything-could-go-wrong-at-any-moment and faux-moaning from the man. I was worried when he moved from his slot but Lauren Laverne is smashing the breakfast show and Keaveny is doing a wonderful job on afternoons. He is joined by Matt Everitt on music news and their bond is a key element to the afternoon show’s feel. Everitt – formerly of Menswear and The Montrose Avenue (drummer) – knows his beans and he brings us a daily dose of music news! I do like the interplay between Keaveny and Everitt and it is this sort of long-standing friendship and warmth that makes BBC Radio 6 Music feel so familial and wonderful.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Mary Anne Hobbs – who was poorly last week with flu – is doing Laverne’s old slot and bringing her unique talents to the mid-morning gig! The soothing and warm voice of Hobbs is a perfect way to keep the momentum going and ensure the working week is as captivating and interesting as possible. Like Lauren Laverne, I am glad Hobbs was ‘promoted’ and, coming from MediaCity, there is this nice sandwich (albeit a four-layered one!) between the London-based and those in Salford. Hobbs’ sheer passion, experience and knowledge means she is bringing us rare treasures, unheard-of treats and some of the best artists around. She is as much a curator and discoverer as she is a D.J. Every show is eye-opening and you know how much music means to Hobbs – as it does every single human who works there! I like the different tones of the weekday shows and how someone like Mary Anne Hobbs can inhibit their own world. You never get two same-sounding shows and there is always something fascinating on BBC Radio 6 Music. Through weekdays and weekends, BBC Radio 6 Music boasts these incredible and highly addictive shows. Tom Robinson is one of those D.J.s who has a long history in the music industry and he brings his expertise and sheer verve to every broadcast. Don ‘The Rebel Dread’ Letts has his awesome style and show (check out his page on the BBC Radio 6 Music website) - and who can imagine weekdays without Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley?!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Marc Riley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I love Gideon Coe’s show and what he provides; Tom Ravenscroft – another name that should be permanent on a daily basis (have his own show each day) – is someone who naturally seems at home on BBC Radio 6 Music (…and is the son of the late John Peel). Gilles Peterson, Nemone; Huey Morgan and Craig Charles are entertaining, hugely popular and essential ingredients in the BBC Radio 6 Music cuisine! Doing weekend breakfast is Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe and I was a bit worried when they were taken from their weekday afternoons and moved to weekend breakfast! That said…they have made weekend breakfasts their own and they are doing wonderfully. I love the fact that these icons of radio remain together and that is what I mean regarding togetherness and loyalty – I could not imagine Radcliffe or Maconie being without on e other! Their morning show is fantastic and they have the let’s-hope-never-ending The Chain and Tea Time Theme Time. The presenters are fantastic and one mustn’t forget all the people behind the scenes that make it all run smoothly. There have been few big changes regarding personnel and shows through the years but I like the fact the D.J.s feel happy where they are and always bringing something new to their shows. BBC Radio 6 Music is never stale and predictable: every year, there are these revolutions, changes and new aspects.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Craig Charles/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Not only is the love the presenters have for the station the reason why BBC Radio 6 Music recruits new listeners – and existing ones are not upset when their favourite names leaves! – but you have these familiar and fabulous voices that seem like family. They follow us when we head to work in the dark and they keep us company, secretly, when we sneak a listen in the office. We get to hear them when we are commuting home and, when we need something electric, eclectic and  fun at the weekend, they are there to provide a box-full of cool vinyl, fresh cuts and engaging chat! I have written about the station multiple times – and will continue to do so – but there are multiple reasons why I am a die-hard fan. For a start, the music played is definitely a lot cooler and more ambitious than many stations. Tune the dial to any of the big and small names and you get varying quality. This might be subjective bias but BBC Radio 1 is too chart-based and, aside from people like Annie Mac…not many of the D.J.s are playing top-quality stuff as often as they should. BBC Radio 2 can stray into the slightly chart-cheese/calm realm and, whilst they play a lot of the classic hits, they are not so up regarding the newest underground acts. Each station around has its own remit and demographic but I worry whether there are these divides between stations like BBC Radio 1 and 2 – the former for the younger and the latter for those who prefer some softer chart music and the older tracks. I guess that is the way it needs be but I feel BBC Radio 6 Music is a natural peacemaker and can unite the classic and new without much effort.

Although they do not play a lot of BBC Radio 1’s worst moments (the processed Pop and inane Electronic music), there are some common threads between the stations. BBC Radio 6 Music will dip into the cauldron of BBC Radio 2 without playing a lot of the slightly sterile and faceless chart songs that favour those of a slightly more mature frame. In acting as an intersect on the Venn diagram, we have this divining rod that is wide-ranging and speaks to those who like their music without barriers, restrictions and guidelines! It is the freewheelin’ and unpredictable nature of the station that pricks the ears of the curious and keeps its loyal core happy and safe. One would not be shocked to hear BBC Radio 6 Music play something from Del Shannon alongside The Prodigy or Stevie Nicks! They do not tend to play much commercial chart stuff or certain genres but, with few limitations, the sky is open and theirs for the taking! That is the main reason BBC Radio 6 Music succeeds and appeals to the genuine music lover: the huge breadth of their playlist and how they can introduce us to great new acts and remind us of some of the legends and classics songs we forgot about! I do love the fact they give a home to unsigned and upcoming artists; so many I know have been given a boost by the station.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Matt Everitt with The Rolling Stones’ Ronnie Wood (who he interviewed for his The First Time with… show)/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC/@matteveritt 

Not only is the variety of music played amazing but the features and shows we see on BBC Radio 6 Music is insane! There are one-off broadcasts that cover everything from album anniversaries through to women in music and, as they have been doing lately, Berlin has come under the spotlight. It is not the case, as you get with many stations, they are very rigid and do not deviate much from the format. I like the documentaries on the station and the regular features like Matt Everitt’s The First Time with... and The Leisure Society. The station marks albums’ anniversaries and they celebrate icons who have big birthdays. One of the hardest things they had to do was react when Prince and David Bowie died in 2016. Instead of panicking or ignoring the fact, they dedicated the station to them and seamlessly altered their playlists so that their music was played. The list of assets and wonderful facets (of BBC Radio 6 Music) is endless and BBC Radio 6 Music is always responding to its listeners and what they want. I guess the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival will be back this year - they didn’t run it in 2018 - and it will be interesting to see who they book for their stages. I predict Self Esteem (Rebecca LucyTaylor) will play a big role but there will be this great mix of established artists and the new breed.



I have talked a lot about a possible BBC Radio 6 Music awards – that would be better and more equal than the Grammys and BRIT Awards – and would cure some of the downfalls regarding the Mercury Prize and how it chooses its shortlist. The station has been going for nearly seventeen years and it has adapted to changes in music and technology. Looking at the BBC Radio 6 Music Twitter feed and there is this constant communication between the station and fans – getting the listeners involved and responding to their voices. I have only really scratched the surface of what makes BBC Radio 6 Music great but I know, when it hits seventeen, there will be much cheer and celebration.

The fact it was threatened with extinction only eight years into its run makes it extra-special the ship continues to sail and conquer new lands! I do wonder if there will be any personnel changes in 2019 – aside from Cillian Murphy’s appointment – but, if it ain’t broke, then why fix it?! Seventeen is quite a milestone and, rather than mark this stroppy and hormone-laden teenager, we will party tribute to this dignified and cool-as-hell student – if BBC Radio 2 is the parent that asks the kids to keep the volume down; BBC Radio 1 is the drink-laden revelers turning up the volume then BBC Radio 6 Music is the smiling teen that sits in an empty bath and listens to a Talking Heads record on a turntable and peruses a biography of Madonna!


 PHOTO CREDIT: @heftiba/Unsplash

One of the big reasons why people like me – music journalists and impassioned folk – love the station so is because it seems like our natural home! Whilst there is a long list of people who want their own show there, I hope I do live to see the day when I can hear my own show back – even if is only a one-off. I adore the fact there is this scope for one-offs and once a week slots; a chance for autonomy and something fresh. Cillian Murphy has his show coming up very soon but my desire has been to have this show– maybe once a week – that is a few hours long and I can mix in these new songs (those that might not be familiar with BBC Radio 6 Music) and the songs/artists who have moulded me. I would dedicate the second hour of each show to my own segments and ideas. Every week would feature a documentary that would focus on anything from albums celebrating anniversaries to sexism in the music industry; a look at movements like the birth of Hip-Hop or talk about sampling in music. There would also be a music interview with various figures – from D.J.s and actors through to celebrities – that would allow them, almost Desert Island Discs-like, the chance to pick songs important to them - and we could shoot the breeze along the way.

I am currently pitching a Kate Bush documentary idea to radio producers and feel like BBC Radio 6 Music would allow a D.J. to bring that to the station or something similar – I am also thinking about a Madonna documentary that would be pretty cool too. There are numerous reasons why musicians and ordinary folk alike see BBC Radio 6 Music as the best station around. Not only are there these amazing presenters and names that have such passion and love but there is this consistently great music! I have discovered so much new and older music through the station and continue to do so. I love how each show has its own skin and sound and there are these presenters who sound effortlessly assured and completely dedicated to what they do. BBC Radio 6 Music provides an alternative spirit - but it never alienates and excludes. Instead, it is a warm and welcoming inn for those who want to stray away from the samey and commercial-heavy streets and discover something evocative, memorable and hugely picturesque. The station is the natural haven for those who put quality of the music above ‘popularity’ and a rather flawed notion of what is cool and relevant. If you are unware of BBC Radio 6 Music then make sure you get it on your DAB radio or Smartphone (or laptop) and listen as much as you can.


 PHOTO CREDIT: @rawpixel/Unsplash

I listen during the week and weekends but you can dip in and out and discover all these great shows. It is almost like this incredible banquet filled with colours and varied scents: everyone will be able to find something that suites their tastes and come away fulfilled and happy. So many of us have been enriched and made better by BBC Radio 6 Music and given fresh perspective. I, personally, have been given this ambition to get there myself and present my own show. The station has made me more informed and ambitious as a music listener and journalist and I have this always-reliable and wonderful station full of friendly voices that can keep me protected against the vicissitudes of daily life and hard decisions. It would be folly to suggest the station can remain active for decades to come but I see no reason why not! The BBC chiefs realised, back in 2002, the station was a great idea and, when it was threatened with closure, they listened to those who felt aggrieved and angry. Now, as BBC Radio 6 Music grows each year and remains this titan, there is no way the ball will not keep rolling. There will be thousands of listeners out there whose lives have been changed – significantly or in a minor way- simply because of the station and what it does to us. I do not get the time to listen as much as I used to but I listen on BBC Sounds and ensure I catch up every day!

Who knows how much more growing the station can do and what BBC Radio 6 Music will look like in, say, a couple of years. I hope the established presenters are still there but I would like to see some new talent come in and get their own shows. The great and growing BBC Radio 6 Music has already asked its parents for presents and I am sure, like every seventeen-year-old, it will want a party with its mates! I hope the station does have a shindig on 11th March. I mentioned how BBC Radio 6 Music is the cool kid who shuns the noise and hangs out in the bathtub so, whilst there might be some Blur pounding on the living-room stereo, I’d like the think the seventeen-year-old station will keep its cool and sobriety and listen to Remain in Light (Talking Heads) with a smile on its face – although one would forgive it if a sneaky beer were to make its way in (even the most sensible teenagers let themselves go once in a while)! I have so much to thank BBC Radio 6 Music for and I have so much love and appreciation for all the remarkable people who make the station run. From the controllers and bosses to the producers, runners and presenters – all of them are essential and are the reason why, in 2019, BBC Radio 6 Music is the most-listened-to, digital-only station. Let’s hope the BBC Radio 6 Music Festival is back in 2019 and I cannot wait to see what shows and broadcasts come. Some big albums turn thirty this year (including De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising on 3rd March and Madonna’s Like a Prayer on 21st March) and The Beatles’ Abbey Road is fifty in September. It is going to be a big year for BBC Radio 6 Music and, after switching their weekday line-up (four shows, at least), the station is growing and bringing in new ears. As BBC Radio 6 Music will mark its seventeenth birthday with a big cheer, I will be sure to slip a card and a cool vinyl...


 IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Hawkins (back, centre) with The Lottery Winners/PHOTO CREDIT: @ChrisHawkinsUK/BBC

THROUGH the post!