Mar 10

Why 6Music Should Become Radio 2Extra

FT//31 comments • 1,415 views

1. We know that even before the BBC’s strategy document recommended 6Music’s closure, the BBC Trust had asked for changes to the station. The Trust felt it should be playing less new music (down from 50% to 30%) and should be attracting a more diverse audience – older people, more women, more ethnic minorities. Perhaps mindful of the fact that previous attempts to diversify – the George Lamb affair – had led to accusations of 6 losing its identity, the Trust suggested changing the remit of the station to one celebrating “the alternative spirit in popular music since the 1960s”. (Previously there was no mention of ‘alternative’.)

2. We know that the strategy review recommends a big shift in focus on Radio 2, making it at least 50% speech-based in the day time and giving its specialist, comedy, concert and jazz shows higher-profile slots. This is to create greater distinction between R2 and commercial radio.

3. We know that the strategy of creating branded digital “sister channels” which allow more diverse and in-depth content is seen as a success. 1Xtra costs more per listener hour than 6Music but is not being threatened with any cuts – instead it will have “closer ties” to Radio 1 (a very dubious idea, but that’s for another post!). The relatively successful Radio 7 is being rebranded as Radio 4 Extra (R4 listeners are uncool enough to need the ‘E’ in Extra, apparently).

4. We know that 6Music as it stands has passionate fans, but we also know that at least until its existence began to be threatened, it was open to a good deal of criticism: the comments on this Martin Kelner piece, from only a year ago, are especially interesting partly because very few are from 6 Music listeners saying how wonderful it is – most agree that changes are badly needed.

So taking all these things together, one really obvious course of action suggests itself: push through the changes suggested by the Trust anyway and rebrand 6Music as Radio 2Extra.

This would have the following benefits:

– continue to make the BBC’s radio channel strategy more coherent and justifiable.
– preserve the good elements of 6Music – specialist shows like Craig Charles and Stuart Maconie, their live and session broadcasts, etc.
– raise awareness of 6Music/2Extra among listeners to the biggest radio station in the UK.
– widen the channel’s non-new music programming away from its current comfort zone of the post-punk and indie eras and make it think a bit more widely about what “alternative” might mean to different and more diverse audiences.
– give 2 Extra a distinct music-based identity compared to the more speech-led identity of Radio 2 proper.
– lower the listener cost per hour over time by using 2 Extra as a seed for formats, presenters etc. on its sister channel.

So simple! I bet they’ll end up actually doing something like this so I thought I’d blog about it now.

And while they’re at it they could nick all of Resonance’s best programming for 3 Extra too ;)


  1. 1
    Pete on 2 Mar 2010 #

    I have a feeling that the 6music palaver is a subtle way to put the boot in at BBC3. NO WAIT.
    The trust barely mentions BBC3, and it certainly isn’t for the chop in the report. Yet I bet most of the SAVE 6MUSIC gang will wail on BBC3 as a waste of money. Hence 12 week consultation, rebrand as 2eXtra and BBC3 getting a serious looking at. (BBC2xTra). It will be an interesting example of how people actually use consultation though, and how the BBC treats it. Lip service will not be acceptable.
    Anyway who is for #ditch6music

  2. 2
    Tom on 2 Mar 2010 #

    The anti BBC3 thing is all over Twitter and it’s a bit embarassing – it positions the whole thing as “LOOK HERE I’M 35 AND I SHAKE A FIST AT YOU 20 YEAR OLDS WHO I DON’T EVEN BELIEVE EXIST”

  3. 4
    punctum on 2 Mar 2010 #

    The interesting thing about the protests so far is that they seem to be purely coming from within the industry – music journalists, ex-presenters, current presenters, record label chiefs, PR people, musicians themselves, bloggers – and there is very little, if any, evidence of interest from ordinary members of the radio-listening public. This suggests that the station may perhaps be guilty of speaking to itself, preaching to the converted, rather than reaching out. Of course reaching out doesn’t have to entail George Lamb-level crassness (the historical ties which the BBC has with certain management agencies notwithstanding) but as a fairly regular sometime listener (if that’s not a contradiction) I don’t see any pressing Real World argument for its continuation as it currently stands.

    Taking some of your points by point:

    – Do we need Craig Charles when R2 already has Trevor Nelson? As for Maconie, wouldn’t the Freak Zone be better located on R3 and renamed in order to get rid of the “music for weirdos” barbed wire which discourages casual listeners? Live and session broadcasts are already endemic on R1 and R2 so why re-duplicate?

    – The biggest problem 6Music had was lack of discernible identity. Hardly anyone who isn’t in the know knows it’s there, as a digital station it’s clearly only available to a minority (for now), and there seems to have been little examination as to what it should exactly stand for. Peel’s ghost has been repeatedly invoked but my feeling is he would wonder why this stuff isn’t still being catered for on R1.

    – I don’t think “alternative” should mean an unwieldy cross between old school GLR and pirate era Xfm; the overwhelming impression I get from 6Music is middle-aged, middle-class and generally whiter than white. Where are the drum n’ bass retrospectives, where’s Westwood’s Eighties Hood Classics show (just a suggestion)? Listening to fifty-year-old “comedians” droning on about the Clash makes me look for an alternative station pretty damn quickly.

    – New talent needs to be nurtured. Currently on R2 or 6Music you basically can’t get a DJ gig unless you’re already a “celebrity.” OK, so young DJs are coming up through R1 and 1Xtra but any 2Xtra idea would need to look for new and fresher voices, or at least different ones. Jonny Trunk’s Resonance soundtrack music show for instance would be a ratings winner on the BBC but who there is paying attention? And similarly, for non-speech stuff, get things like – all right, all right, the Lollards, but that’s not all – instead of whoever’s available from N**l G*y M*n*g*m*nt for the next 12 weeks.

    (btw if anyone out in the organisation catches this: Lena and I are currently working on 3-4 killer ideas for long-running radio shows and if anyone wants to know more email either/both of us ahem ahem).

    (btw2: hasn’t ANYONE at the BBC thought of making a radio series out of Popular? Say an hour a week, six or seven number ones per show and Tom presenting with a rotating panel of comments regulars? It’d be like Retro Round Table meets the Brains Trust!)

  4. 5
    Tom on 2 Mar 2010 #

    I’ve seen a lot of non-industry people saddened about it, but very much people who work within the, er, ‘knowledge economy’ in general. A lot of the comments have been “it’s the only thing I can bear to listen to in the office” and I think OK yes, that’s a bummer but you don’t need to be Richard Littlejohn to think that ‘a better XFM’ isn’t really a justifiable use of taxpayer’s money. There’s a divide of sorts between the music biz people who bemoan the loss of the weekend XFM and its somewhat cosy daytime listenership.

    Totally agree about the need for a wider definition of ‘alternative’ – that’s a point I was trying to make. And the Trust’s review was saying as much too.

    In a sense I think this is the flipside of the “Pitchfork hegemony” debates too. 1Xtra and the Asian Network are trying to cater to existing and real communities – whether they do a good job or not is another matter – and does 6Music have that community? Well, yes, but to the extent it does the community exists online and actually enjoys a level of dominance over the discourse there. What are the implications of that for a radio station?

  5. 6
    Matt DC on 2 Mar 2010 #

    I think the anti-BBC3 feeling is largely down to two things:

    – Most of what’s good would sit perfectly well on BBC2 and probably gather a wider audience there
    – BBC3 is being soundly trounced at its own game by E4

  6. 7

    […] – and here’s an interesting five-point plan to save the station from TechDigest and another idea from Freaky […]

  7. 8
    Matt DC on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Anyway all good ideas Tom but I get the feeling none of them are really addressing the problems Mark Thompson claims exist.

  8. 9
    Tom on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Well, Thompson’s points as I understand them are a) 6 doesn’t bring many unique listeners in and b) the only way it could get more popular is by treading on commercial toes (presumably this is the lesson of Lambgate?)

    I’m hypothesising that the changes in Radio 2 will LOSE some of its unique listeners – and a rebranded music-based sister station might pick some of that up while offering stuff commercial broadcasters don’t via access to the BBC’s amazing archive.

  9. 10
    Andy M on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Who are these commercial broadcasters itching to move into the space occupied by 6 Music though? I don’t think they exist. XFM is the closest and that’s nothing but indie wallpaper, really it’s as close to Radio 1 these days as it is to 6. The commercials only care about tearing a piece from Radio 2, this is a pointless gesture by Thompson to try and divert attention from that.

  10. 11
    pink champale on 2 Mar 2010 #

    lots of good points here. i kind of missed lambgate at the time, but i gather he was generally thought to be beyond the pale, a disgrace to reithianism, etc. listening to 6 music once in a while, often while he’s on, i find this a bit puzzling – he seems amiable and quite funny to me, and in contrast to the general clash bore hegemony punctum nails, somewhat engaged, albeit in a slightly snarky way, with stuff that’s outside the stations usual indie comfort zone.

    but yes, 6 music’s marketing is terrible at telling you who should listen to it and why. i sort of assume what it’s aimed at people who feel they’re too old for radio one and too young and, ahem, cool for radio 2 (or are switching off because of the threatened twenty per cent increase in jeremy bloody vine). (sort of me in other words) this is surely quite a big group and it shouldn’t be too hard to snag a portion of it by just widening the stations remit a bit and being clearer what it is for – a wide spread of old music that doesn’t get played much elsewhere, focused particularly on the last 20/30 years, with a bit of new stuff too. to distinguish it from heart, etc, this should be mainly not mainstream pop, and to distinguish it from absolute etc, it should play a wide spread of this not just pop stuff and not only the retrofitted jam/oasis consensus. clearly it’s more of a risk to have a broad music policy, but this is precisely what the bbc is for, and there are also plus sides – people will tolerate hearing records they can’t stand if they think that in a minute they are likely to hear something brilliant that they won’t get anywhere else. being the bbc means they can also get away with taking more risks in having quirky/highbrow/lowbrow/whatever presenters. so in other words, yes to radio 2 xtra, and certainly yes to radio popular.

  11. 12
    lonepilgrim on 2 Mar 2010 #

    There’s a telling quote from Frank Skinner about his radio show on Absolute in yesterday’s Guardian:

    Skinner says his Absolute Radio show gives him a freedom that he never completely had on television. He even gets to choose his own music – well, two songs an hour – playing Public Image Ltd, X-Ray Spex and the Fall. “The only time they have rejected them was because they said they were too dancey,” explains Skinner of the station’s music policy. “As long as there’s one strum of a guitar somewhere, you’re all right.”

  12. 13
    Tom on 2 Mar 2010 #

    One of the interesting things about 6 Music is that I expect it’s the station most media types would like to listen to themselves, and this makes it very HARD to market well, because marketing well requires you to empathise with different kinds of people, otherwise you tend to assume its appeal is more obvious than it is.

    For instance, one of the tweets I saw today saying save it went something like “They’re playing the Pixies at 10am! What other radio station would do that?” – like playing the Pixies at 10am is a public good you don’t have to argue in favour of. I mean, I like the Pixies, I’d be happy if I turned on the radio and heard them at 10am. But I wouldn’t be getting anything new or interesting out of that experience: I already know the song. For it to be valuable I’d need to imagine a lot of people unfamiliar with the Pixies also listening.

    So like a lot of niche activity the justification turns on this slight paradox whereby you find it very comfortable and all the people you know also do but you’re also imagining this audience who are discovering it all. But to GET that audience requires WORK that word-of-mouth doesn’t really substitute for.

  13. 14
    punctum on 2 Mar 2010 #

    #12: Absolute Radio have interestingly expressed an interest.

  14. 15
    pink champale on 2 Mar 2010 #

    #13 yes, and getting that audience who are going to be amazed by the pixies might require you to play music that’s familiar and comfortable to them but not to the existing audience. otherwise you’re just left with the perennial problem of the cosy avant garde – we will freak you out/please don’t freak us out.

  15. 16
    unlogged mog on 2 Mar 2010 #

    I am still really angry about the Asian Network thing, especially if there’s no effort made to put more Asian music into the Radio 1 playlists after its cancellation but who am I fooling?

    As a person in my twenties I think it would be better to cancel Chris Moyles than either Asian Network or 6Music; let us not forget that if 6Music dies, Dave Pearce’s Dance Anthems on a Sunday evening will be lost forever = NOT TOLERABLE.

  16. 17
    Steve Mannion on 2 Mar 2010 #

    I saw a large billboard ad for Absolute radio this morning for the first time and immediately thought ‘oh right, i guess they’ll be picking up a fair few listeners then…’

  17. 18
    Jon Bounds on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Officially, within the BBC at least 6music is already a “digital sister station” to Radio 2 (as the Asian Network is officially with Five Live) — why more isn’t made of that apart from the analogue stations having a route in for testing DJs etc I don’t know.

    If Radio 2 got more about the music (and yes the “alternative” music for want of a better word) then some listeners would no-doubt desert it for commercial safe havens — it’s the 2 listeners that are worth money after all.

  18. 19
    thefatgit on 2 Mar 2010 #

    Almost 80% of my TV and radio intake is courtesy of BBC. I do that by choice, because of its’ diversity and quality of programming. I’m in the 35-45 age bracket and I own a digital radio. I’m slap bang in the centre of 6Music’s target audience, and yet I have never listened to 6Music. I listen to Radio 1, Radio 2 and on occasion Smooth and Absolute. My choice. I can’t honestly say I had no knowledge of 6Music’s existence, but I can’t honestly say I knew the presenters or what music they played.

    IMO, the BBC failed to promote it adequately. Even the best products can fail if they aren’t marketed properly.

  19. 20
    Garry on 3 Mar 2010 #

    I’m Australian, ex-radio, and just looking at the 6Music’s playlist and shows, I agree with your 2Extra idea. There needs to be a place for older non-mainstream/alternate music, expecially the specialist programs, but adding Gorillaz and Jamie T into some form of playlist seems, well, trying to ensure you still stay savvy with the kids. I mean I know they are trying to say older listeners still like new music, but just reading the playlists of shows, it seems a bit, unfocussed.

    I can understand the outrage and one of the reasons surely comes out of people outgrowing youth or commercial pop radio but not all the music they play.

    In Australia, there is a youth station called Triple J run by the ABC. It’s been around since the late seventies, but because it’s playlists have always been more alternative than the commercials, much of the listenership has aged with it. It’s chartered to play music to the youth, but has a large older listenership who grumble when, for instance, the amount of hip hop, or emo etc, plays increased in line with youth listener patterns.

    This means there is a listenership who still want to listen to Nick Cave, XTC, Buzzcocks, Oasis, Suede etc, and are still interested in the Arctic Monkeys or Jamie T, but can’t stand a lot of what Triple J play. They listen to Triple J because there is no one else like it. For this reason they almost need a Triple J playing mostly their playlist of a decade or more ago with a few new tunes.

    BUT isn’t that what Last.fm or iTunes are for. And it’s very hard to pin down the demographic I describe above, because age doesn’t necessarily mean musical tastes – there are plenty of long term Triple J listeners who still love the station.

    6Music seems to be built from an assumed intersection between musical taste and age, but I’m guessing most alternative listeners usually have wide ears regardless of age. So age seems a bit of a meaningless demographic marker for what should be a station defined mostly by the music it plays. It should be there to expose all listeners to the music, not just as a nostalgia trip for some.

    (I think the above is called a ramble.)

  20. 21
    Mark M on 3 Mar 2010 #

    1) I know plenty of people not in the music industry upset by the plan to kill off 6Music – but I still suspect they are representative of a fairly small group of people. I’m 39 and grew up on the Radio 1 Evening Shows and Peel, and so fall into the group 6Music over-serves, but I’ve never listened to it that much – occasionally Guy Garvey or Craig Charles or Maconie’s noodley nonsense show. Oh, listening to Jarvis Cocker reading big chunks of Brautigan out on the radio the other day was nice. But I’m far from convinced it has any great need to exist.
    2) That said, Tom’s case for 2Xtra is excellent.
    3) I’m more worried about the 4Xtra idea for Radio 7. Although 7 has blatantly run out of unheard programming, I think it’s vital we have one radio station with no news bulletins.
    4) What I’m very sceptical about is the idea that if the BBC backs off on any front, then commercial broadcasters or profit-making websites are going to be able to step in effectively. I think BBC bashing is good way for them to get worried shareholders off their backs. The history of radio in this country says otherwise, and as for the website, it’s become a useful excuse for dying newspapers who are ignoring the fact that their US counterparts in an even worse state with no publicly funded monolith to heap the blame on.

  21. 22
    Mark M on 17 Mar 2010 #

    This week have been working in an office where someone at nearby desk has Radio 6 on a low volume all day, so I’ve been getting something of an idea of its daytime shows. There seems to be less landfill indie than I feared, with the only song getting overly heavy rotation being the Wild Beasts single. It might be that I’m blanking out all the stuff I don’t recognise because, as I said, the radio’s not on very loud.
    Some of the stuff they have played includes: both the original and The Fall’s version of Ghost In My House, Jimmy Cliff, Prebab Sprout, The Pogues (London Girls), Prince (Girls & Boys – really perked up the office, that one), Chemical Brothers, Shangri-Las (Give Him A Great Big Kiss), Culture (Two Sevens Clash), NWA (Express Yourself, obviously…), some Hendrix, the Specials’ first as album of the week. The only oldie they played that sounded brutally overplayed was The Clash’s London Calling.

    In essence, probably too guitar rock-centric, too precisely aimed at those who came of listening age in the 1976-86 slot, but not bad really and easy to imagine as being widened into Tom’s 2 Xtra concept.

  22. 23
    enitharmon on 19 Mar 2010 #

    6 Music became Radio 4 for a few minutes last night, of course.

  23. 25
    logged-out Tracer Hand on 12 Apr 2010 #

    Tom can you write an article about me becoming a millionare?

  24. 26
    Pete on 12 Apr 2010 #

    As ever the money is in changing should to could.

  25. 27
    Tracer Hand on 13 Apr 2010 #

    From Ariel:

    ‘There are no plans to rebrand 6 Music as Radio 2 Extra,’ the BBC said on Monday following newspaper reports suggesting that the station would be relaunched under a new name, while continuing to feature many of its current presenters and much of the same playlist.

    In a brief statement, the corporation explained: ‘We have said that we will reinvest any funds from the proposed closure of 6 Music in digital radio content. This commitment remains and we are looking at a number of ways of doing it. But simply rebranding 6 Music as Radio 2 Extra is not one of them.’

    NB I think the word “simply” is doing a lot of work here. Much as US presidents promise not to withdraw troops “precipitously”.

  26. 28
    Alan not logged in on 14 Apr 2010 #

    ditto from Tim “head of audio and music” Davie’s own blog

  27. 29
    Paul on 15 Apr 2010 #

    Punctum 2 March 2010

    Your statement – “The interesting thing about the protests so far is that they seem to be purely coming from within the industry – music journalists, ex-presenters, current presenters, record label chiefs, PR people, musicians themselves, bloggers – and there is very little, if any, evidence of interest from ordinary members of the radio-listening public.”

    Nonsense. You can’t have read any comments on the comment boards, Facebook page or petition site. There is a real sense of grievance among ordinary members of the radio-listening public.

  28. 30
    thefatgit on 5 Jul 2010 #

    A triumph for people-power? The BBC Trust has decided to hold fire on nixing 6Music, although Asian Network still looks doomed. More than 100,000 people have signed petitions, joined Facebook groups etc. But, it appears the overriding factor is ratings. 6Music’s audience has doubled to 1 million listeners per week.

  29. 31
    punctum on 5 Jul 2010 #

    #29: My question is who put the comments there, not about the comments themselves.

    I do wonder whether the whole thing was a PR stunt to increase station awareness.

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