Millions like us

While surfing round the analogue radio dial in the car on the way to the tip, I chanced across two perfect illustrations of why 6 Music should be preserved, and perhaps be given listed network status. Passing through XFM, I heard a presenter refer to Shakira and a new track that could be accessed via their website. “I know Shakira isn’t the sort of artist you’d usually associate with XFM …” she apologised, but of course Shakira has done a cover of an XX track, and that’s why she was fleetingly allowed inside the circle of indie trust. Then I switched to Radio 1 and heard Jo Whiley gamely interviewing some tykes due to play Radio 1’s Big Weekend, You Me At Six. As part of a formatted feature she asked them to pick a “guilty pleasure” and they chose Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl, which was duly played.

Now, with all due respect to the tremendous Sean Rowley who turned the concept into a brand, I have a massive problem with the very notion of guilty pleasures, particularly with regards to music. Surely the definition of a guilty pleasure is child porn or stealing lead off the church roof, not liking a record which has been deemed by some unelected committee to be uncool. To the credit of the tykes on Radio 1, they had been inched down this inquisitorial cul-de-sac and tried to play down the guilt, to the point where Jo had to conceded, “Alright, let’s just say it’s a pleasure.” (After the record, she also read out emails from Radio 1 listeners who felt a similarly nonexistent sense of guilt and said how much they’d enjoyed hearing the song.) I’ve got a good idea: why don’t we, as a nation, dispense with the idea of guilty, and just call liking a record “pleasure.”

Now, XFM is a commercial station. Though it began life with the greatest of intentions, since being bought out by Capital, it’s had to pay its way, and that means delivering traffic to advertisers by identifying a demographic and serving them. This means that playing Shakira, even doing an accredited indie tune, is confusing and off-brief, and muddies the pact between network and its creditors. But doesn’t it prove, once again, as if it needed proving, that 6 Music does a job that can never hope to be replicated by commercial radio? I remember once hearing an XFM DJ boasting about playing Prince, as if this was totally subversive – which, in the straitjacketed circumstances, it probably was. The breadth and depth of music we are permitted to play, during the daytime, remains unprecedented. Meanwhile, over on Radio 1, which also had a strict demographic to serve, pleasure is still divided up into guilty and not guilty. The listeners, of course, know better, and are happy to hear some ancient piece of history like a Van Morrison record, but the bosses must stick to the gospel and play only up-to-date, chartbound sounds, ideally with a dance beat, in order to keep within its remit.

The remit of 6 Music is to provide for those not provided for by Radio 1 and Radio 2 (that’s not the exact wording, but it’s the gist), and with Radio 2 under heavy manners from the Trust to lean towards its older listeners, this compensation is more and more vital.

There is still some musical snobbery among 6 Music listeners – I had one or two predictably sneery or shocked reactions to playing Toxic by Britney Spears the other week, although these were outweighed by messages of support – but, even with the huge new influx of listeners, I still pick up a general sense of broadminded music appreciation and investigation across at least four decades, if not five, regardless of an individual’s age. (A 13-year-old called Asher requested some Kiss recently, and we delivered some, on the day.)

As my seven-week stint in Nemone’s chair comes to an end (my last early afternoon show is on Friday), I must state, again, for the record, that 6 Music is a unique service, and must be protected, not attacked, or threatened, or rebranded. I feel privileged to have become a part of it again, at what might be the most exciting and gripping time in its history. The brand is working. People still might not know what it’s actually called, but with our 1.02 million RAJAR and stratospheric online listening spike, plus those two Sonys, I think we’re really starting to pay our way. There are no artists you wouldn’t usually associate with 6 Music, and none of our pleasures are guilty. I have just been compiling a list of tunes I wish to play out this week, between 1pm and 4pm, and it includes Tom Waits, Betty Wright, Baby D, Fad Gadget and the Nightingales, and do you know what – who cares? It’s just another week on 6 Music.

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37 thoughts on “Millions like us

  1. Another marvellous piece – you currently have me as a 100% satisfied reader, as I’ve only read this and the Robin Hood article since following you on Twatter.

    I made similar comments driving back to London from the mid-lands today. Radio 1 is so awful, so commercial, it makes you wonder how stations with advertising actually get away with it, as the songs remain the same.

  2. All very true. If only 6 Music were available on FM radio I would have the stereo at work permanently tuned to it.

  3. I think you should play ‘I need your Loving’ rather than the more obvious Baby D track ‘Let me be your Fantasy’. And then follow it straight up with ‘What’s he Building in There?’. Now that would throw XFM listeners off kilter a little!

  4. Good piece. My first reaction is to agree with your comments about music and 6Music. My second is to feel smug that I have DAB radio in my car and so won’t have to endure what you did – as long as the fabulous 6Music survives.

  5. i have a problem with you or anyone else playing ‘toxic’ on 6music(marc reilly has also done this) is that you’ve wasted a slot on your playlist to play a track which is more suited to 6music rather than a piece of music that will be played up and down the country on commercial radio multiple times of the week.

    i don’t have a problem with ‘toxic’ as i quite enjoy a decent pop tune, but if i wanted to hear that track or katy perry/madonna etc i have multiple choices to go to

  6. 100% Goodness – Even if they don’t pay the licence fee, I have American & Japanese friends who constantly go on about 6music as if they don’t really believe such a station could exist!
    I’ve complained to the BBC and the BBC trust, contributed to the Save 6music adverts – Don’t see what else I can do!
    .

  7. all very true – I feel it even more as I must make up one of the new surges in 6 music listeners. listened to very specific internet radio stations before about two months ago and am now appalled that once I finally found the one BBC radio music station worth listening to, it may be closed down (though do admit to being slightly lazy, but was put off by radio . I listen to 6 music all day at work now, and am sad the 1-4 slot will now change… but will still listen, even if it isn’t andrew collins after friday!

    • wasn’t finished writing when it accidentally posted, but oh well… after the “radio” it should have said “1 and 2”.

  8. Ian, for me, the beauty of 6 Music is that you get a broad church of music. Yes, you could hear Toxic on Radio 1 or a commercial pop station, but it would be preceded and succeeded by a similar pop tune. On 6 Music it would be preceded by, I don’t know, Darwin Deez, and succeeded by Public Enemy. So while I respect your argument, I think the joy of 6 is that it cannot be judged by one song, it must be judged by three in a row. My guess is that no three consecutive songs on 6 Music would be replicated on any other radio station. Also, if a presenter feels moved to play a song, even if it’s Toxic, he/she is allowed to, and again, that’s something you don’t get anywhere else. (As it happens, Toxic was a choice by a musician who’d chosen a playlist for us, so it was editorially double-justified!)

  9. I totally agree Andrew, there shouldn’t be such thing as a guilty pleasure, its a pathetic justification that people feel they have to make to themselves

  10. Whilst I agree with the bulk of your point calling child porn a guilty pleasure is one of the most offensive things I’ve heard in a long time.

    • Fellow Guardianista: if the description of child porn as a guilty pleasure is one of the most offensive things you’ve ever heard, you should get out more! First, it was intended to redefine the idea of listening to an uncool pop record as a “guilty pleasure” by comparing it to something that might give someone pleasure but should make them feel guilty. Now, are you saying that I shouldn’t mention child porn? If so, then we are living in a sad world. Child porn is a matter of fact. It exists. It’s horrible, but it exists. To skirt around mentioning it would be offensive to me, as that rules out a debate. Or, are you saying that by suggesting it brings pleasure is offensive? If so, then yes, that offends me too, but why should I not write it down? Having very clearly assigned guilt to the activity, I am reinforcing the fact that it’s wrong – legally, and morally. You’re going to have to come back with some kind of elaboration on this accusation.

      Unless of course you are offended because you don’t think child porn is something you should feel guilty about? I think my point is clear. Yours, at present, is not.

  11. I have really enjoyed listening to your shows Andrew and whole heartedly support you and all the presenters of 6 Music. I have heard it said time and time again throughout the current campaign to save this station that 6 Music is a station for Music Lovers and so it is !! Love you Andrew Collins!

  12. I was stunned when I heard Marc Riley playing Toxic a few months back, but he proclaimed that if the song had been done by Aretha Franklin, no one would have had a problem. And I nodded and thought “He’s got a point there…”

    If every song was pop, I’d have a problem. But it’s not. It’s part of a mix of music. And variety really is the spice of life.

    Now if it was Girls Aloud – another bad I know you’ve played in the past Mr Collins! – that would be a very different matter ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Well said Mr Collins – just a handful of the examples of the range of music played on 6, and why no other radio station can provide the same variety.

    Just to join in the radio 1 bashing, the final straw for me was when I heard Edith Bowman introducing a “classic” Killers track – this was when they had just released their second album! I suggest radio 1 needs a new pair of glasses – they fail to recognise anything outside the last year.

  14. Guilty pleasures are only for those who consider themselves on a higher cultural plane than everyone else.

    I don’t listen to 6Music nearly as often as I should.

  15. Andrew,I agree that 6 Music should exist as it does provide a genuine public service and thankully serves a different audience to Xfm. We know this as the massive audience increase at 6 was not reflected in Xfm’s recent figures. However, I am getting tired of the cheapshots at Xfm in order to gratuitously grasp at more pro 6 arguments. Xfm is run by an incredibly small team of very passionate music lovers who managed to over-deliver a breadth and depth of new music and still remain commercially successful in a mentally tough market place. The Shakira thing was a moment of ridicule for the Columbia popette and a weirdly misleading thing for you to pick up. Good luck with 6, genuinely, but have some empathy for those of us doing the best job we can outside of the BBC bubble. Mike Walsh, Xfm Head of Music

    • Fair enough, Mike, but I thought what I’d written was a fair and empathic appreciation of what XFM does, not a cheap shot. It operates within commercials restraints. I know what the station output is like; I listen to it more than any other music radio station. But you can’t blame me for defending 6 Music against the spurious charge (made by the BBC) that commercial radio does the job that 6 Music does. It can’t. That doesn’t mean one is right and one is wrong – if 6 Music resembles any other station, it’s XFM when it started out. I can hear the passion and breadth at XFM and Absolute and Smooth, but it’s achieved against the odds of a commercial remit. Clearly, 6 Music has no advertisers to deliver an audience to, and thus is free to stretch its legs in a way that I think chimes perfectly with what the BBC is all about. Which is why, even if I didn’t work there, I’d be gung ho for its reprieve.

      Sorry if you thought my anecdote was gratuitous, it was merely based up two things I heard in succession on the radio that I felt helped 6 Music’s case for survival when put into context of similar networks. Not meant as a dig. But you can’t blame any of us for “grasping” at arguments. We might not be here at the end of next year. Passions run high.

      I have empathy for anyone in radio. The easier it sounds to the listener, the harder if probably is to achieve that, but by calling the BBC “a bubble” you’re doing as much to draw battle lines as I am. There has been loads of crossover between 6 Music and XFM in terms of presenters. We’re hardly at war.

  16. What I hate about Radio 1 and commercial radio – even more than their cruddy, repetitive playlists and the adverts – is the fact they actively seek to mould their DJ’s into celebrities (Such as Fearne Cotton, who has her own page on the R1 website dedicated to the outfits she wears to work every day) or even deities (Chris Moyles)! Those who genuinely care about the music they play – step forward MaryAnne Hobbs, Rob DaBank and Tim Westwood – get shunted into sh*tty late night slots. The day your presenters believe they are more important than the bands they play, is the day you fail as a radio station.

    A large part of why I love 6Music is the fact the presenters are NORMAL, lovely people. They are on the same level as me, they genuinely interact with their listeners without sounding patronising and they are all (with perhaps one exception…) people I could see myself being friends with in the real world. The fact they play fantastic music is a bonus.

    I laugh when Andrew plays “frivolous” pop tracks like Toxic. They are good songs in their own right (“Toxic” was written by Cathy Dennis, one of the greatest pop writers this country has ever produced) and as Marc Riley said, if they were sung by someone with more artistic credibility, no one would bat an eyelid about hearing them on 6music! It sort of knocks the “indie musos” down a peg or two, and that can only be a good thing ๐Ÿ™‚

    Long live 6music!

  17. I will say with NO SHAME that “Toxic” by Britney Spears is one of the best pop songs of the 21st century. I get it, sometimes you want to listen to Ian Curtis Wishlist and feel miserable (and god knows I love Xiu Xiu), but us indie types need to ditch the undeserved sense of superiority and respect the fact that the guitar riff from Shakira’s “She-Wolf” encapsulates everything the Foals want to be and will ever be in under 10 seconds. Well done Andrew for playing songs you like as opposed to trying to appeal to some imaginary indie archetype!

  18. The joy you mention of 3 completely unconnected tracks, is an un-joy to me in that the chance of liking all 3 of any 3 tracks are slim.

    Is it fuddy duddy to like a little bit of knowing-what-you’re-getting?

    And I do have to object to Radio 2 being lumped in with Radio 1. Not fair. If you take Radio 1/Radio 2/commercial radio, Radio 2 (most of the time) is quite apart from the others. And the first place I ever heard of a certain someone on “The Day the Music Died”

    6 music it may not be, Radio 1 it is most certainly not.

  19. MD, my point about the three tracks wasn’t that anyone should like all three, but that you can’t judge 6 Music by one track, you have to listen to three in a row to fully appreciate its eclecticism. Liking one out of three would be fine. Anyway, no it’s not fuddy or duddy to want predictability. I listen to Smooth a lot, and that’s as targeted as XFM or Absolute, if not more! I know exactly what I’m going to get, and that’s just the ticket a lot of the time.

    Also, Radio 2 has never been more diverse in its playlist. I love Radio 2, and feel rather honoured when asked to be on it. Vine, Maconie, Radcliffe, Lamarr, Ball, Walker, Harris, even Lamacq … it’s a very exciting station.

    I don’t want anyone to think of my passionate defence of 6 Music as an attack on anyone else, or written out of a sense of superiority. My hackles are up because it’s seriously under threat of closure. If it wasn’t, I guess I’d just take it for granted.

  20. Oh what a brilliant article…you write so well Andrew! as well as being a thoroughly delightful DJ with a splendidly eclectic tsaste in music…
    Can you syndicate this ready for the press TRIUMPH!!! which will greet our party….I mean protest on Saturday!

  21. To reiterate another poster 6music needs to be on FM until digital radio becomes the norm..otherwise it is just another minority channel.

  22. I do still believe that the threatened closure of 6 music is a salad cream situation (ie massive boost following threatened discontinuation). If there was any doubt as to its popularity, there’s been an overwhelming level of support, nobody could now doubt its popularity and influence.

    It would be sublime if the result of it all was to put it on fm just now.

  23. There have now been a few mentions of the idea of putting 6music on FM. It is something I’ve been wondering about for a long time… why isn’t it? I know nothing of how radio works etc. so this is a genuine question from an ignorant person. Can anyone shed any light on it? Would it cost a significant amount more? Are they keeping some stations exclusively digital in order to encourage people to purchase DABs?

    I do a lot of driving and would absolutely love to be able to get 6music on my car radio. Surely ratings would shoot up immediately.

    Thanks in advance for any answers!

  24. Darren – Analogue TV along with FM and AM radio is to be “switched off” in the UK in 2012. If the BBC were to move a DAB only station onto FM, it would be seen as a step backwards and a waste of money.

  25. Oops – Seems i’m wrong about the 2012 date but the plan is to get rid of analogue radio and replace it with DAB at some point.

  26. Also, Darren, the FM band is full.

    There is nowhere to put 6 Music, or anything else (I’m sure Xfm, FiveLive, Absolute or Kiss would like to be national on FM too).

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