A digital radio in a new car this year has meant that I have heard much more of BBC Radio 6 Music than before – which perhaps affords the opportunity for another assessment.
Daytime listening often means catching randomly stuff which sounds listenable or recognisable but turns out to be by someone you had never heard of, like Public Service Broadcasting, This is the Kit, Houndstooth or Childhood. Equally it allows the deliberate listening to Mark Radcliffe, a presenter I have liked since he first appeared on Radio 1 in 1991, continuing in his jovial partnership with Stuart Maconie which I first enjoyed on evenings on Radio 2.
However, this increased listening does also provide further evidence that, whether the music is previously unheard tracks by long ignored bands from the 1970s and 1980s or 1990s or new material by new acts, it does consist mostly of the same rock/R&B/soul/pop elements as might have been heard on Radios 1 or 2 in decades past.
For me, it is a glaring and disappointing omission that the daytime programmes on a radio station which describes itself as presenting “the cutting edge music of today (and) the iconic and groundbreaking music of the past 40 years” does not regularly include as standard some world music from Africa or the Caribbean and some modern classical and experimental music of the kind Radio 3 features in their programmes Late Junction, Hear and Now and Exposure, and thus give its artists and composers a wider audience.
The weekly Freak Zone presented by the aforementioned Stuart Maconie is, as far as I can see, the only Radio 6 Music programme at present which regularly includes at least some music from the more esoteric ends of the jazz and classical spectra.
This particular flaw in Radio 6 Music’s conservative scheduling was highlighted by a comment by Sam Jackson, managing editor of the equally conservative Classic FM, when he suggested part of his radio station’s long-term success lay in identifying and exploiting the closeness of the audiences for mainstream pop/rock and mainstream classical. “There is a far bigger audience crossover between us and Radio 1 than there is between us and Radio 3,” he said, “(because) young people don’t have any preconceptions about how classical music is supposed to enjoyed; they are used to listening to individual tracks so they completely get our approach.”
An earlier Leaf Collecting post argued that the BBC had one pop/rock radio station too many, and I still think that’s true, since it is clear that most of what Radio 6 Music plays would easily fit into the musical offerings of the BBC’s two older pop/rock music stations, Radios 1 and 2. This was further made apparent to me by the employment of DJs from all three channels on the BBC TV Glastonbury coverage, demonstrating that most of the festival acts selected for broadcast would be easily recognisable to all three audiences.
An alternative unhappy interpretation of the BBC’s approach with Radio 6Music is the one expressed by Paul Driver when he was discussing the present-day shape of music criticism on Radio 3’s Music Matters: that the established media’s poor coverage of classical music is not caused by a shortage of space or resources but of a lack of will – “a distinct cultural intervention against classical music really, which has had so many manifestations…”