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RadioCentre questions Radio 1 and 2 output (again)

By | Published on Wednesday 1 October 2014


Radio 1 and Radio 2 should stop playing so much popular pop music and put more time, effort, money, love, energy, commitment, passion, promotion, manpower, airtime, expertise, importance, caffeine and sodium into their specialist output, documentaries and laugh making shows.

Not my words, people. Well, my words, but not my sentiment. I love popular pop music, and despise specialist output, documentaries and laugh-making shows. More Fearne Cotton! More Harry Styles! More shit repetitive EDM! More mediocre melodies from tax-dodging has-beens! That’s what I say.

But RadioCentre, speaking for (some of) the commercial radio sector, does not concur, and they bloody well told any Tories willing to listen at the party’s Birmingham conference yesterday (well, those Tories not too distracted by the opportunity to exchange Womble stories with Mike Batt at the UK Music party).

It’s no secret that the commercial radio groups dislike the BBC’s big two national pop stations, they competing most closely with the main services provided by the likes of Global Radio and Bauer Media, and generally enjoying bigger overall audiences. And despite recent cutbacks, the big two BBC stations are still vastly better funded than their commercial rivals, with much more manpower to call on.

The BBC would argue that it uses most of those extra resources to make the kind of programming that you just don’t find on commercial radio, in doing so making Radios 1 and 2 pretty distinct from commercial rivals.

Though RadioCentre would likely counter that while that might be true off-peak – when commercial radio stations fire up their jukebox machines as the Beeb pumps out hours of specialist programming aimed at niche audiences – turn on Radios 1 and 2 in daytime and it sounds pretty like Capital or Heart. That statement is not entirely true of course. But it’s partly true. And RadioCentre presumably hopes that BBC-hating Tories won’t analyse its topline statements too closely.

RadioCentre used the Conservative Party Conference to release new research that said that only a fifth of listeners surveyed could remember hearing any specialist show, documentary or comedy programme on Radios 1 and 2, despite both having remits to provide such output. The BBC quickly hit back by claiming its research showed otherwise.

Who to believe? I mean, surely more people than that could name a few non-pop shows on Radios 1 and 2. For starters there’s thingimy and you know, whatsisname, who does that show with the music that goes didumdidumdidum. And does Radio 2 still have the Blackpool organ music hour? And no comedy? Why, ‘Newsbeat’ is the finest spoof news show I’ve ever heard.

But RadioCentre wants BBC overseer – the BBC Trust – to be stricter with the Corporation’s big two music radio channels. Said the trade group’s CEO Siobhan Kenny: “While nobody seriously suggests that certain bands should be ‘off limits’ to mainstream output like Radio 2, there is a balance to be struck and one that more specifically fulfils the criteria laid out for both Radio 1 and Radio 2”.

Kenny continued: “The BBC Trust should have more power to police this blend and mix more conscientiously, ensuring that the BBC sticks to its remit and allows an environment where all players in the market can flourish. This will enhance the BBC’s reputation, allow commercial radio a level playing field and, most importantly, enhance listener choice”.

A spokesman for the BBC, though, told The Guardian: “These claims bear absolutely no resemblance to our own regular research, our audience feedback or the behaviour of millions of listeners who tune into Radio 1 and 2’s news, documentaries, speech programming and unique music mix every week – programmes that simply are not available on commercial radio”.

They added: “Our research shows Radio 1 and 2 are utterly unique – for example, Radio 1 broadcasts around 20 times more specialist music than Capital, while 80% of the songs played in daytime on Radio 2 not played on any competitor station – and have been focussed on becoming even more distinctive in recent years”.

At a debate on Radio 1 at The Great Escape in 2012 a panel of radio, music and PR experts agreed that the BBC service was actually two separate services, possibly because the station has two remits – to service a youth audience and to champion new music. The panel felt the station’s world-leading off-peak specialist shows did the latter, while daytime was aiming to satisfy the former, and subsequent schedule changes probably make that even more true.

But, said the panel, Radio 1 could be more distinct in daytime if just a couple more wild-card tracks per hour were thrown into the mix. Though, radio experts Sammy Jacob and Matt Deegan conceded, even that simple a change would almost certainly result in a notable slide in audience figures. At the BBC that would be considered a failure, though RadioCentre, of course, would see it as a wholly positive result.