Why BBC 6 Music matters

BBC Director General Mark Thompson has recommended to the BBC Trust that digital radio station 6 Music be closed down. As someone who has religiously tuned into this station since it first started broadcasting a decade ago, I’m a bit upset by this.

Why should it be saved? In a nutshell: 6 Music is a station for people that like music, largely curated by people that like music. In much the same way, the film magazine Sight & Soundis for people that like films, by people that like films, and Edge fulfills the same criteria for videogames. But this sounds obvious; you could say the same about BBC Radio 1, Empire and GamesMaster, so what’s the difference?

Every mature industry has its prestige media; the magazine, website or channel that’s consumed not only by the public but by the industry itself. Commonly, prestige media will have low consumption levels compared to other, more populist media but high levels of critical acceptance from the public and the industry. By and large, this media will be well-respected; something for people to aim for. A good review in Sight & Sound and a rating of 10 out of 10 in Edge is something to be proud of, more so than a good rating in TotalFilm or Nintendo Power.

6 Music is a prestige product. It doesn’t just play music, it celebrates music. It isn’t trying to sell anything, or target a particular age group or subset of society. It isn’t in thrall to the big record companies; the DJs are given a high level of freedom compared to other staions to play what they believe is worth playing. From Phil Jupitus:

“I once bumped into one of my main competitors from commercial breakfast radio on a train. As we chatted, I bemoaned the fact that we only got nine free choices per show. He looked at me somewhat crestfallen and said “I get one…a week.”

The breadth of what it covers is incredible, unsurpassed by any commercial rival or anything else the BBC has to offer, covering everything from the past century regardless of genre, availability or popularity. Its DJs are passionate, highly knowledgeable people who have immersed themselves in music for decades, music buffs who will happily play the theme from The Littlest Hobo next to Public Enemy without snobbery or distinction. Craig Charles, Stuart Maconie, Huey Morgan, Guy Garvey, Jarvis Cocker, Liz Kershaw, Marc Riley, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne and Tom Robinson; these are people who care deeply about their chosen subject, who love music so much that they’ve devoted their lives to bringing it to a wider audience.

BBC 6 Music is a station that the BBC ought to be proud of; that David Bowie and Radiohead would both release statements urging the BBC to support it should be proof enough that the station is well-respected, considered to be of a high quality and something that the organisation ought to be producing. Instead, it seems that the BBC’s top brass think it can just be absorbed into Radio 2, which is a bit like telling people who read the New York Times that in the future they’ll be able to get all their news and commentary from a supplement to be included in Saga Magazine. Culturally, I don’t see how this can work. I can’t imagine Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone being played anywhere other than 6 Music. Nowhere else would allow it.

There is hope for 6 Music; the BBC Trust had this to say:

“If we find that… there’s massive public concern that we need to take account of then we will go back to the director general to rethink the strategy before it’s approved”

If you want to support 6 Music, you can find a few ways of doing so here. Alternatively, if you just want to watch Mark Thompson look like a prat, you can watch him being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman.