ARIN6902: BBC6 Music – the campaign to save a digital-only radio station

I may be biased (just a touch) but I really don’t think there are many things in this world that get people either all misty eyed, worked up in a lather, crazy-eyed like a bull or just plain opinionated as popular music.  You say you like Radiohead and I end the friendship there and then. Many a love story is told with the backdrop of a music festival or sweaty gig, lovers without a care in the world or even a care about the long toilet queue.

I am a music tragic. Plain and simple. There’s nothing in life I love more than listening to music, either at home on the stereo, crammed like a sardine on the train with my trusty mp3 player or standing for hours on end trying to see past the back of people’s heads to enjoy a show (it’s fun being a shortie).

When I lived in London I fell in deep love with a digital music station that some cool guy at work used to play on the work stereo. BBC6 Music is one of the defining memories of the time I lived in London back in 2007/8 and I have brought that love back here to Oz with me. A few of my close friends (also music tragics…there is a theme to my friendships) are also avid 6Music fans. We are very privileged to stream it online for no cost apart from a small portion of our ISP bills. Hearing the voices of the DJs I used to listen to and the theme music for the News brings all those London moments back, most oddly I remember the time getting ready for work in the morning listening to the radio eating breakfast.

So when I heard that the BBC Trust had conducted a review with a recommendation to close 6Music at the end of 2011, I was pretty devastated to say the least. That may sound dire, but I’m not a TV junkie, I’m not a nightclubber. 6Music is probably my biggest cultural investment. I’m just someone that loves listening to DJs who are passionate and knowledgeable about the world of music. 6Music is admired for the sheer breadth of music played on the station – specialist shows and small up and coming bands are nurtured and the playlist is suitably eclectic. It’s also home to some iconic broadcasters including Steve Lamacq and has given a home to a multitude of iconic English music stars including former Pulp frontman and raconteur, Jarvis Cocker and Welsh lass Cerys Matthews, formerly of Catatonia.

Launched in March 2002 and available only as a digital channel, BBC6 Music aims to appeal to music fans by focusing on acts “outside the mainstream”. It also features archive recordings of tracks and the famous “Peel Sessions” recorded by legendary radio DJ John Peel from the late 60s onwards.

Background of the review and the consultation process

The proposal to axe BBC6Music was confirmed on 2nd March after a wide-ranging BBC strategy review  by the BBC Trust that also recommended the pruning of half of the BBC’s website pages, cutting 20% spend on foreign-made shows and selling off particular BBC magazines. The aim of these changes is to save £600 million which can then be reinvested in content.

As the BBC is funded by an annual tv licence fee paid by the public, a public consultation is required before a final decision can be made. Submissions close on 25 May and are collected by the BBC Trust.

The reasons put forward by the BBC management to axe 6Music are mainly that it costs too much money to run when viewed in light of its ratings and level of awareness of its existence and that its DJs don’t have credibility as much experts. This last point is just a little ridiculous given that most of the DJs on the station have a long history of either broadcasting or creating music themselves.

Too many protest singers, not enough protest songs?

As may be expected for fans of an eclectic music station, the forms of protest that have emerged have been passionate, widespread and original. From the expected (a Facebook group with 90,000 members, Twits using Save BBC6Music “twibbons” as their profile pictures, 25,000 signatures on an online petition) to the more unique: songwriter Dan Bull posted a protest song on YouTube: Dear Auntie (An Open Letter to the BBC)

Cerys Matthews' Twibbon

Cerys Matthews' Twibbon

Tweet to the beat

On the day the proposal to axe BBC6 Music was made public, #savebbc6music and #save6music became trending topics on Twitter on and off for the week thereafter.  Campaigners are still using these as the main hashtags for the campaign.

Dedicated sites

A multitude of dedicated protest sites with information have also been set up http://save6music.com/ http://www.love6music.com/ and http://www.bbc6music.info/

Love6Music.com lead graphic

Lead site graphic from Love6Music.com

The British Phonographic Industry which represents companies involved in the industry has also set up its own protest website: http://www.thejoyof6.com/

Back in the real world…

Of course, this protest isn’t confined to the Interwebs – the first physical protest event was on Saturday 27 March at BBC Broadcasting House in Central London attended by up to 2000 people. The second protest is scheduled for Saturday 22 May and follows the huge increase in ratings and a double win at the Sony Radio awards. It will be the final public protest before the public consultation ends on 25 May.

Images of the protest

BBC6 Demonstration

A view of the demonstration looking south from BBC Broadcasting House

Credit: http://www.love6music.com

BBC6 demonstration

A 6 Music fan sports a T-shirt protesting against BBC budget cuts

Credit: Gareth Fuller/PA

Radio hijacking?

In March, a 3 minute segment of a song playing on BBC6 and the 6Music ident somehow intruded on a Radio 4 news broadcast. The song? Punk anthem “Teenage Kicks” by the undertones. Twitter immediately was awash with speculation as to how this happened, with suggestions that it may have been the work of frustrated BBC6 Music employees. The Beeb’s official response was that it was the result of a technical glitch – someone pressing the wrong button. Whatever the case, it has certainly added to the mythology and publicity surrounding the campaign to save 6Music.

It’s not yet known how many people have responded officially via the public consultation survey, this information will not be released until after the review by the BBC Trust is complete. Campaigners have made Freedom of Information requests which have so far been rejected.

Meanwhile, campaigners are also being encouraged to use the Write to Them website to contact their MPs, urging them to sign an Early Day Motion (the parliamentary version of a Facebook group) in support of 6 Music. The motion, EDM963, was started by Labour MP and active Twitterer Tom Watson.

Campaigners have also been encouraged to post comments on the blogs of the BBC management personnel involved with the review.

Notable support

Iconic former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker (famous for his own stage invasion protest against Michael Jackson at the 1996 Brit Awards), now a 6 Music DJ, used his win for “Rising Star” at the recent  Sony Radio awards to make a strong statement of support for the station, saying:

“If 6 Music goes the commercial sector is not going to take up the slack. Advertisers do not want to reach alternative types who wear second-hand clothes and grow their own potatoes.”

The site set up by the British Phonographic Society (BPI)  features support from The Cure, Coldplay, Duran Duran and countless other musicians. Here are some key quotes from musicians showing their support:

6Music is simply the station of choice for the true music fan. Where else could you listen to Iggy back to back with Sigur Ros, MGMT and Led Zep? If the BBC axes 6Music it would be one of the biggest broadcasting injustices ever. Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode)

I HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED THE BBC SHOULD OFFER REAL CHOICE IN HONORING ITS SEMINAL MISSION STATEMENT – TO EDUCATE, INFORM AND ENTERTAIN – UNDERSTANDING THAT THIS MAY AT TIMES REQUIRE IT TO ACT MORE AS A PUBLIC SERVICE BROADCASTER THAN A COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE. IF THE CORPORATION GETS RID OF RADIO 6 IT WILL BE GUILTY OF REDUCING REAL CHOICE, AND OF ACTIVELY ENCOURAGING THE LITERALLY STUPEFYING GROWTH OF A DISMAL HOMOGENEOUS X-DRIVEL CULTURE.

KEEP RADIO 6 ALIVE! Robert Smith (The Cure)

In a boost to the protest movement, heavy hitters from the UK’s biggest record labels also held a meeting on the 14th April with the BBC Trust as part of their BPI membership., presenting their views and those of the 6Music listenership.

Lily Allen has even got in on the act, writing an editorial piece for The Guardian newspaper.

Most of the station’s DJs have also taken to the airwaves, Twitter or their blogs to air their frustration and opposition to the closure.

Broadcasting union Bectu and the National Union of Journalists have also lent their weight to the campaign, saying that 600 jobs could be lost across the BBC.

Rumours and Conjecture

As with any proposal that generates a large amount of media coverage, there are plenty of rumours out there about just what will happen. One of the rumours was that BBC6Music may be closed and somehow resurrected in a limited form as part of BBC2 Radio Extra. This rumour has been shot down by BBC Management though.

Another rumour widely reported was that Absolute Radio, the station previously known as Virgin Radio, may bid to buy 6 Music from the BBC to save it from being axed. COO Clive Dickens: “We would buy 6 Music from the BBC, both the brand and the network, and we’d run it more efficiently than they’ve been doing.”

Recent Developments

The campaign has received a few well-timed boosts in recent weeks. As I already mentioned, DJ Jarvis Cocker recently won a prestigious Sony Radio award, as did duo Adam and Joe.

The station has also seen a huge rise in its ratings, with an average weekly reach of 1.02 million listeners in the first three months of this year, up from 695,000 in the final three months of last year (stats: Rajar). This is a rise of almost 50%. Campaigners took to Twitter to congratulate the station.

Twitter support

Supporters take to Twitter

According to a commenter (CliveBen) on The Guardian website:

“6 Music listeners last week presented their case to Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of the BBC Trust. According to reports of the meeting, the views of the listeners were favourably received. Evidence of the economic, educational and cultural impact of the station was presented along with the human and personal aspects that brought listeners to the station.

This, combined with the record listening figures for the first quarter of this year, must surely persuade the BBC that the proposal to close the station is completely absurd. Hopefully they will have the good sense to revisit the proposals in their ill-judged Strategy Review sooner rather than later.”

(source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/may/13/bbc-6-music-protest-22-may)

Where to from here?

A second day of protest is set for Saturday 22 May in Central London.  With the public consultation closing on 25 May, campaigners will be hoping to add a last ditch flurry of publicity  to their cause.

It will be fascinating to  see the impact of this internet-driven protest. Will the BBC Trust listen to the official and unofficial responses to the review? Only time will tell.

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2 Responses to “ARIN6902: BBC6 Music – the campaign to save a digital-only radio station”

  1. Marvin Says:

    Really good read. Makes me want to give 6 a listen..

    They do play Radiohead though, don’t they??!

  2. sallycinnamon77 Says:

    you made it to the end….! hooray. didn’t realise how long it was til i read it again last night.

    yes they do play good ol’ radiohead, you’ll be most please to know. they played fake plastic trees yesterday actually, AND i managed not to throw the radio out the window 🙂

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