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.