On Saturday (22nd May, 2010) I headed down to the ‘Save 6Music’ demo outside BBC Broadcasting House, arguably the spritual home of UK radio. It was perhaps the politest demonstration to hit London in recent times, with cakes, sunshine and banner slogans such as ‘Would you mind awfully if we kept 6Music, we’re rather fond of it’. 6Music’s Jon Holmes compered the proceedings fantastically, reading out messages of support from bands and artists and getting the crowd to chant banner slogans that he spotted from the small stage.
Around 1000 fans of the station turned out to hear rallying cries from presenters Liz Kershaw, Collins and Herring and Shaun Keaveny topped off with a brilliantly comical rant from Ed Byrne. (You must Listen! ) In addition to these speeches there was also music from a band that the station has supported and a man with a beard snuck in a (not so) subtle message about saving the station as he took to the stage to sing, resplendent in a purple velvet jacket.
Cerys Matthews, who also hosts a show on the station, attacked the ‘uninformed decision to axe 6Music’ and explained that ‘we must be here to cherish the BBC and to cherish programmes and stations like 6Music’. With her young son in tow, she added ‘I wanted him to witness this day that we came to save 6Music. I wanted him to come and witness the day we came to save the BBC as we know it’. She spoke with passion and obviously hit a chord with the assembled crowd. You can listen to her speech here. Listen!
Liberal Democrat Lord Clement Jones vowed to ask a question about the future of 6Music as soon as the House of Lords returns, saying that ‘6Music is ‘absolutely vital for the future of new music’.
BBC Asian Network supporters joined in the demo and representatives of the station brought a bit of Bhangra to the afternoon, engaging everyone in what they claim was ‘the world’s first Bhangra flashmob’, before waving off musician Ranvir Singh Verma who started on his 120-mile backward walk to Birmingham, to highlight what a backward step it would be to close the Asian Network.
By 2pm the main protest was winding up and people headed for a free music gig in Great Portland street, headlined by the Magic Numbers, who played for free to show their support for 6 Music and were introduced by Steve Lamacq, who also spared me a moment to talk about what 6 Music means to him.
There was a real sense that this was about more than saving a radio station, this was about standing up for the BBC as a whole and continuing to support the brilliant work it does to reach out to, entertain, inspire and educate people. I don’t know what will happen, but I strongly suspect (and hope) that 6 Music is saved from closure. The station has just had unprecedented RAJAR results, which show not only an increase in audience, but an increase in the amount of time that people spend listening to the station. It appears that the accidental result of announcing that the station may close was the greatest advertising campaign that they could ever have asked for. The grass-roots support and word-of-mouth recommendation from the station’s listeners is the sort of thing that most marketing folk can only dream of. On the flip-side of this is the Asian Network, which despite the media attention has still lost listeners. Something is not right there, and I think that the station will be taking a long hard look at its strategy if it wants to maintain any hope of staying alive.
As I said in my comments on the BBC strategy review consultation, 6Music takes the risks that other broadcasters can’t manage, and serves and audience others can’t reach. It plays a selection of music unrivalled by any commercial operation, promotes emerging talent and it is driving people towards take-up of DAB, all of these are things that fit the BBC’s core values. Why would you axe it?
To steal a phrase from Jon Holmes – ‘6Music is like a crazy diamond, shining out from the sludge of music radio’ and as Jarvis Cocker said at the Sony’s ‘6Music doesn’t want to change the world, it just wants to make it a little bit nicer’. Judging from the polite passion I observed on Saturday, it’s doing a pretty good job on both those fronts. So in the words of Cerys Matthews: ‘Viva BBC! Viva 6Music!’