Auntie's at sixes and sevens

By Paul Flower on Mar 5, 10 12:45 PM

You'd expect me to have an opinion on the proposed closure of BBC 6Music and the Asian Network, and naturally I do. My instinct has been to keep it to myself but the subject is failing to die down, so I'll dump this stream of semi-consciousness upon you and then let's all move on.

Firstly we should note the wording - it is a 'proposal', a discussion document. It may happen, it may not. You may be inclined to believe (as I was initially) that the BBC are undertaking some political posturing, manoeuvres to show a potential new government that they're able to self-regulate and don't need anyone else to tell them what to do. By putting this statement out now they are placing a flag in the sand, one they can leave there until they know who has the reins of power at the end of the year.

I'm not the only one who thinks it is politically motivated; many broadsheet leaders have claimed the same. In addition to this the announcements have created a groundswell of support, marketing the stations in a way that the Beeb could barely afford and certainly never justify.

This said, I'm not sure what reaction actually constitutes a 'groundswell' and if the general public really 'give a toss' about what happens to 6 Music. I know that those of us working in media have been concerned, but we're middle-class-white-boys (in the main) who like to profess our love for 'alternative' music, we do not actually represent the bulk of the listening public.

In our regular sessions of preaching to the converted and stamping our feet about perceived injustice we tend to forget that the general public (i.e. the vast majority of people) are far more passive about their entertainment choices.

We may all love Spotify for it's breadth of music choice for example, then weep when we discover that the most popular track streamed by users of the service in 2009 was one by Lady GaGa, a song that it was probably difficult to escape from on any normal radio station or music channel.

We appear to be equally passive. Otherwise stations like 6 Music, Xfm, Kerrang and their ilk would have far more listeners than their current Rajar statistics suggest. Similarly the closure of 6 Music has prompted a Facebook group joined by 140,000 people which, as a friend of mine (coincidentally working at Smooth) noted, means that the other 460,000 who apparently listen to it possibly don't give a damn.

We all have many entertainment choices; maybe we believe that by the time 6 Music closes we'll have moved on to something new - maybe we'll all have internet radios instead of DAB by that time (we are talking 2011 btw).

People generally don't have that passion for their individual radio stations or presenters, there are rare exceptions but even then they're limited to minorities within a larger group - hence 140,000 of 600,000 6Music listeners or Terry Wogan's TOGs grouping within the mass of Radio 2 listeners.

I found this out the hard way - by being the victim of having two programmes axed by local BBC bosses back in the 90's. Sure it upset a few people, but it was far too few to make any real difference. The worst thing was being aware that there were people out there who wanted local-unsigned-music programming and weren't prepared to do much about it. - evidenced by the many demos I'd receive with notes that proved the sender had never heard the programme. Those were the demos that went straight in the bin.

There is a separate argument to be had over whether these are the kind of services that the BBC should be supporting rather than abandoning. It surely has a duty to serve audiences that won't be covered by commercial broadcasters, and it is beyond argument that 6 Music and the Asian Network are two of these.

I'm a natural cynic, one who greatly doubts that 6 Music will close. It is doubtlessly in need of being pared back, costing way too much for the audience it delivers, I suspect that's what'll happen in the end and the station will survive in some form or other.

Of course I could be wrong, you can choose the path of apathy or you can give your own feedback to the BBC Trust on the Strategy Review here

Or if you're a petitions person, go here:

and finally, the facebook group

Here every week

pontificating on an irregular basishere and too frequently here


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