FEATURE: Digital Love: You Me At 6: Hailing the Continued Growth and Popularity of BBC Radio 6 Music




Digital Love: You Me At 6


IMAGE CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music 

Hailing the Continued Growth and Popularity of BBC Radio 6 Music


THIS is the week when the dreaded/loved RAJAR figures…


 IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 6 Music’s much-loved mid-morning presenter, Mary Anne Hobbs/PHOTO CREDIT: Eddie Lock

came out. Basically, they tell us which stations people are listening to. Broken down in terms of region, age and so forth, they do indicate which demographics are listening to which station; whether personal change on stations makes a difference and what changes are occurring. I shall name no names here but, when news broke that Zoe Ball’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 has shed a lot of listeners, there were some who were keen to criticise and attack. Ball has a marvelous show and, whilst her style is different to that of her predecessor Chris Evans, she is a warm and energetic voice. It is natural a lot of Evans’ faithful have followed him to Virgin Radio and I know Ball has picked up a lot of fresh ears – she will be in that role for many years so we will see listener figures climb up. It seems that more and more people are listening to radio and, as this article explores, some of the biggest stations keep on bringing in the punters:

BBC Radio 2‘s drop in breakfast audience affects the reach of the rest of the station too, with the overall listening figure falling 763,000 this quarter – from 15.356m to 14.593m. Ken Bruce now has the biggest show on the station, with a weekly average of 8.489m to his 9.30-12noon programme. Ken says: “After 34 years as a part of the BBC Radio 2 family, I’m astounded that the allure of my daily grumpy musings, coupled with PopMaster, continue to entertain. Many thanks to the long-suffering listeners.”

IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball stops for a photo/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Radio 4 remains fairly constant year on year, but there is good annual growth for Radio 1 (up 327k to 9.563m), Radio 3 (up 120k to 2.028m), Radio 4 Extra (up 258k to 2.223m), 5 Live (up 509k to 5.242m), 5 Live Sports Extra (up 311k to 1.484m – highest in nearly 2 years) and 1Xtra (up 69k to 1.102m – highest since 2015)”.

Not only has traditional radio seen a bit of a rise but, happily, digital radio is feeling the sun shine on its back. Whilst the number listening to radio via a digital device has decreased, one cannot debate the continued popularity of digital radio:

Share of listening to the radio via a digital device has gone down this quarter, whilst AM/FM listening has increased.

But the quarterly figures don’t represent the yearly trend though, with all digital listening going from 50.2% a year ago to 56% today, and AM/FM share going down to 44% from 49.8%.

Across all platforms digital listening grew by 58.9 million hours or 11.6% year on year. Listening via online and apps grew by 32.3 million hours (or by 34.2%) to now account for 12.5% of all listening and 22% of digital listening.

Listening via DAB grew by 23.9 million hours (or by 6.5%) year on year to now account for 38.6% of all listening and 69% of digital listening. Listening via DTV grew by 2.8 million hours (or by 5.9%) year on year to now account for 4.9% of all listening and 8.8% of digital listening.

PHOTO CREDIT: @juja_han/Unsplash

26% of adults now claim to own a voice-activated speaker, and 94% of those use the device to listen to live radio. This has boosted online listening in home, which is now the fastest growing platform and location, increasing by 27.7 million hours (or by 44%) year on year to account for 15% of all in home listening.

In-car digital listening grew 17.1 million hours or by 20% year on year and reached a new record share of 41.8%.

Ford Ennals, CEO of Digital Radio UK, said: “This is a significant moment for digital radio with a 34% surge in online radio listening hours prompted by the growth of smart speakers. These speakers are now in over 26% of all homes and are good news for the radio sector with most people using them to listen to live radio”.

The more popular voice-activity speakers and radios are becoming, the more people will seek out great digital stations. Riding high in the pack is the ever-expanding and incredible BBC Radio 6 Music. I understand I have written several features (many in fact!) about the station but, f*ck it, if you are someone who takes offence at optimistic and passionate journalism then you are not my kind of people. Maybe the station has not experienced the same RAJAR boom as other brands this week but, as you can see from these figures here, and a more specific breakdown here, the health of BBC Radio 6 Music is pretty impressive. In fact, as the years go by, I do think digital radio will grow and reach new heights.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Steve Lamacq gets in the middle of Slay Duggee/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music

I will get into specifics regarding the presenters and aspects of BBC Radio 6 Music that means it is the only radio avenue for me and millions of others. There have been peaks and troths regarding listening figures but one can see that there are a lot of passionate listeners out there and, whereas a lot of the commercial stations are rigid and offer a particular sound/format, BBC Radio 6 Music is a sweet-leaf, scratch-your-diary-because-you’re-going-to-be-hooked haven that continues to blossom and delight. Maybe I am biased – as I am a long-time devotee rather than a new convert – but I used to listen a lot to stations such as BBC Radio 2 and Absolute Radio and, whilst the former has excellent presenters like Zoe Ball and Ken Bruce, I find there is something lacking. Perhaps it is the music not really resonating or something else but I am hooked and locked on to BBC Radio 6 Music. Whether you add Pearl Jam’s Ten and subtract Beyoncé’s 4, the result is the same: 6 is the answer! Some might say BBC Radio 6 Music’s biggest drawback is the inflexibility regarding recruitment; a lack of fresh faces that means, compared to some stations, it lacks a sense of evolution and ambition. Conversely, it is the passion and dedication each and every person at the station has for what they do that means they do not want to go anywhere.

The rest of this feature is going to be pretty gushing and positive – it would be perverse if I were to do a switcheroo and do a hatchet job on the station! – so let’s get out some minor, minuscule points out the way – something a bit constructive. I may have covered this before but the playlists every station has, to me, seems outdated in a digital age. At a time when new songs are coming in thick and fast, having the same songs being repeated and promulgated does seem strange. If you are someone like me who listens to the stations for seven-eight hours a day, hearing the same track two days in a row can be annoying. As much as I love tracks like Sampa the Great’s Final Form, it is one of several songs that has been rinsed to the point of the obscene; constantly being spun and that has, for me, bled all the life and interest out of the track. I am not alone and do feel that mandated repetition is a little jarring; given a lot of the artists on playlists release new singles in the meantime (whilst their previous one is still being spanked) and, when their album comes out, we do not hear any other tracks from it. The only other downside relates to the classic artists are played and how, with such an impressive body of work behind them, the same songs are played. Kate Bush’s birthday was celebrated on BBC Radio 6 Music last Tuesday (30th July) and I was touched.

I did not expect them to make such an effort for an icon of mine and, to their credit, they did her proud! I was laughing to myself the day before because a Kate Bush song was played. The presenter announced Bush would be played and, without blinking I guessed what song they’d play: the station plays Hounds of Love and, more often than not, it is Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God), Cloudbusting or Hounds of Love that gets the spin – it was the former, just so you know. I guess playing her music is better than not but it is not just the fault of BBC Radio 6 Music. From The Beatles to David Bowie, I do think the same songs are played too much. I am not sure whether there are station guidelines/preferences but what about digging into the albums a bit more creatively?! Playing familiar songs is good to a point but, when we have to hear the same tracks so often, it does feel a bit stilted. The only reason I bring this up is because BBC Radio 6 Music is synonymous with its sonic depth and passion for the vinyl crates. I want to do a general shout-out to all the presenters and producers who make BBC Radio 6 Music tick; ensure that numbers climb and survival is guaranteed – God help the BBC if they try and scrap BBC Radio 6 Music like they did before.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Chris Hawkins in an IDLES sandwich/PHOTO CREDIT: @ChrisHawkinsUK

Next year will be a decade since the station was saved and it is over seventeen years since it launched! That seems amazing. How many people who tuned in on 11th March, 2002 and heard Ash’s Burn Baby Burn beckon on this new station would have guessed it would still be around today?! I want to mention, in a large way, a few presenters that I listen to on a regular basis: Chris Hawkins, Lauren Laverne; Mary Anne Hobbs and Shaun Keaveny – with a bit of a nod to everyone else on the station. I love Steve Lamacq and his late-afternoon show; the clear enjoyment he has (as a veteran on the station) and the fact that he is constantly looking out for new music and discoveries. I also love Craig Charles and Cerys Matthews but, to be honest, every bone, vessel and patch of skin that makes the station a beautiful and vibrant climate should be congratulated. One can hear the soothing tones of Mary Anne Hobbs weekday mornings but (they can) also discover the U.S.-tough of Huey Morgan on Saturday. Chris Hawkins has enjoyed a boost in listener figures and, to be honest, I am not surprised in the least. He must be one of the hardest-working people in radio and I do love the infectiousness he gives – given the fact he starts at five in the freaking morning!


 IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne poses with Michael Kiwanuka/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music

He is a quick-witted and really funny presenter who, like so many on the station, is eager to find the best new talent around. I remember him introducing Sam Fender to me and so many others. Hawkins is a busy D.J. who travels around the country to play. Based in MediaCity, Salford, his unique brand of brilliance runs seven days a week. Although he does two hours Saturday and Sunday, he does an extra half-hour during the week. Hawkins wakes me up and, when I am heading to work, he is perfect to have in the ears. Lauren Laverne takes over at 7:30 a.m. and makes sure breakfast is chilled and hot at the same time. I used to listen to her in the mid-morning slot and wondered whether she would be a great fit for breakfast. Taking over from Shaun Keaveny, it did not take too long for her to establish and hook in new listeners. Not only has Laverne been responsible for bringing record numbers to breakfast, she is an award-winning broadcaster and is fighting to ensure music is free and accessible to those who live with dementia. Laverne is the host of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs – having taken over from Kirsty Young – and I expect that appointment will be made permanent given the positive reviews and the excellent job she is doing.

One might imagine that Laverne’s breakfast show would suffer because of other commitments but, like Hawkins, she can bring that experience to BBC Radio 6 Music and, when it comes to music and reaching the public, she seems unstoppable – she has just completed a two-week break because, let’s face it, she has been working like a demon since the start of the year! I will not tread on well-covered ground too much but there are a few reasons why BBC Radio 6 Music is lucky to have presenters like Laverne. An experienced broadcaster – having worked for BBC Radio 2 and XFM -, Laverne seems to have found her home at BBC Radio 6 Music. The music featured on the show is the perfect blend of the uplifting and anthemic – lots of House and Dance – with the new, seductive and selective. There are no barriers when it comes to the sounds but, so long as the tune is ace, it goes in. Again, I have discovered new artists from listening to Lauren Laverne – Sampa the Great is one such example (even though Final Form has been ragged severely, I still love Sampa). Excellent features such as Desert Island Disco, House Music and The Maths of Life creates this structure and safety that means, like great T.V. shows, we will always tune back in. 6 Music Salutes gives a shout to people/events and music-related things that deserve a hearty nod; The People’s Playlist has a theme (usually relating to the news or inspired by something happening in music) and is a listener-curated collection of cool songs.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Tom Ravenscroft/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I have speculated whether the show needs another feature but I think it is perfect as it is. The fantastic producers on the show ensure that there is this great balance of popular features and great music but, at the front, it is Laverne’s charm, enthusiasm and humour that keeps us all up and smiling. So many stations have presenters who are less bothered about the music and are all about being a personality or trying to be an entertainer. Maybe that accounts for a slight shift from traditional stations to digital - but BBC Radio 6 Music succeeds and resonates because music is at the core. Presenters like Laverne are all about the best sounds; bringing them to the listener and ensuring there is not a wasted breath and moment. Lauren Laverne is back on breakfast from Monday and it will be good to have her back. Before I nod to two more presenters, I want to highlight those semi-permanent presenters who often cover. This week, we have seen Huw Stephens, Tom Ravenscroft and Mark Radcliffe stand in. I will talk about Radcliffe in the conclusion but I wonder whether presenters like Ravenscroft will be given a permanent slot. He is very popular and, as his father is the late John Peel, the man knows his music! Maybe there is limited space and opportunity but I feel Ravenscroft has proven himself and would be suited to a regular position.

Mary Anne Hobbs has also been off this week and is back on Monday. When BBC Radio 6 Music had a bit of a move around late last year, it was announced Hobbs would go from weekend breakfast to weekday mid-mornings. I really love her show and, like Hawkins and Laverne, Hobbs is a keen and tireless promoter of great artists. I think BBC Radio 6 Music shines because you know the presenters are always looking out for underground artists; revealing classics we may have forgotten about and, basically, making music their life. Hobbs radiates warmth and curiosity and that is something that we all need. Less feature-led than Laverne and Keaveny, maybe it is more about playing the music but Hobbs, like so many of her colleagues, has crafted a show that is hard to fault. If they were all structured the same then it would be rather anodyne and formulaic. Instead, we get this nice blend and change of pace as we transition from Chris Hawkins to Lauren Laverne and then to Mary Anne Hobbs. I know she has seen her listener figures increase and I hope that continues for a long time to come. Shaun Keaveny takes over 1 p.m. and is someone I respect hugely. He moved from breakfast earlier this year and has taken to afternoons effortlessly. A lot of the same features remain – such as Small Claims Court and the usual impressions (Paul McCartney among them) – but there are new features.

IN THIS PHOTO: Shaun Keaveny (right) with Matt Everitt/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC Radio 6 Music 

Keaveny hosts an artist/band early each month: last month he had on the excellent Penelope Isles and, on Monday, he welcomes the legendary The Wedding Present into the studio at Wogan House. If you have not heard Keaveny’s show then tune in and witness the man in action. A key part of the show is the daily music news. The excellent Siobhán McAndrew has stood in a few days and I do hope she gets more of a role on the station down the line. Not only is Georgie Rogers making her excellent Super Women series and presenting on Soho Radio and foundation.fm, but she also does the music news. I think she is someone who would be brilliant fronting her own show on BBC Radio 6 Music but she has a great chemistry with Shaun Keaveny. In the regular music news slot is the excellent Matt Everitt. With his experience in the industry – having played with Menswear and The Montrose Avenue – his bond with Keaveny is infectious and joyous (even when they are taking the piss out of one another!). If you have not heard his show, The First Time with… then do so. It has just been named a top-ten Apple Podcast show and, alongside the book that accompanies the series, it is another essential thing you need in your life.

Maybe I am saying things I have already expressed but it is only because the station is a huge part of mine and many other people’s lives. The weekends have Mark Radlcliffe and Stuart Maconie bring their magic to the airwaves. They have features like Sampled Underfoot and The Chain – the long-running, listener-led giant – and there is that brotherly connection between Radcliffe and Maconie. They used to present afternoons during the week but the Salford-based duo are now on the weekends. I still maintain they are best when heard five days of the week and it is a bit of a shame they have a more reduced role. They are consistently funny and entertaining and, like so many people, I am now spending my weekend breakfasts listening to BBC Radio 6 Music. I have not yet mentioned Gideon Coe and Gilles Peterson; Marc Riley and Liz Kerhsaw; excellent series like Paperback Writers and the high-profile names they have had presenting on Sundays – Martin Freeman delivers his last show tomorrow; Rob Delaney presented a four-week run of shows before him. There is so much to enjoy about BBC Radio 6 Music and I know the future is very bright. I hope great presenters like Jon Hilcock, Tom Ravenscroft and Huw Stephens come into the fold more and are afforded more time on the air. I also really love Tom Robinson and cannot miss his show.

I know BBC Radio 6 Music celebrate big album anniversaries but, as The Beatles’ Abbey Road turns fifty in September, I wonder whether the station will sojourn to Abbey Road Studios and present there; have musical guests performing songs from the album and celebrating the final release The Beatles ever recorded. Maybe they will nod to the album but let’s hope they mark it somehow. BBC Radio 6 Music is there when you need it: it provides a lift and can give optimism in a grey world; it is a Mecca (Macca?!) for those who seriously adore music. Whether we want to find a great new band or rediscover some classic album, BBC Radio 6 Music is the place to be. There are other fantastic stations around but, in terms of the presenters, blend of music and quality, few can fault BBC Radio 6 Music. It has overcome some hard times and near-extinction but, with figures showing more and more people are embracing the station, it looks like things are smooth sailing (let’s hope). Maybe a few alterations – playlist-wise and giving more time to those presenters who cover for others – would be the way forward but, as it is, BBC Radio 6 Music is pretty awesome! This will be the last time this year I will write about BBC Radio 6 Music this year – as I know I can be a bit persistent! – but I hope those who are unaware of the station get involved. For those who want their music quality-steeped, their presenters engaging and passionate and their days golden, you definitely know…

WHERE to go!


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