Saturday, January 27, 2007

In The Dock: Radio 1

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject: Radio 1

The case for the prosecution (Damo)

Deep breath.

Let me start with what I’m NOT saying, and if you disagree with anything I’ve written, please refer back to these points:

1. I’m NOT saying that Radio 1 will only be good if it just plays everything I like and disregards everything I don’t.

2. I’m NOT saying any kind of "anti-populism" is a good thing. I’m not suggesting it should be wall-to-wall Godspeed! You Black Emperor songs during drivetime.

Right. What I AM saying is this: there’s something called a license fee. The BBC doesn’t have to slavishly chase listeners just to survive (if I’ve lost you already, see point 2 above). The BBC has a duty to entertain, to inform and to educate. Many of its stations do that rather well. But Radio 1 is aimed squarely at the young (no, not the young at heart, the young) and it makes the mistake that so many organisations do in this position: it patronises them. It’s as though if they try and do anything a bit, well, different, people will run off screaming, or at least turn that dial. And perhaps they will, so low have their expectations been driven this last few years.

Some examples? OK then...

1. The playlist. Depending on whether you’re one of the bands on the A, B or C list, you can expect (respectively) 20, 10-15 and 5-6 plays a week. And that encompasses a total of 45 tracks. How much of the schedule do you think that clogs up? Do the math, as the Americans would say. Would it blow people’s minds to vary it a bit? How much room does that leave to play a decent amount of new music? If you think the answer is plenty, I suggest you give the daytime shows a listen sometime soon.

2. The patronising approach to new music. Not so much in the evening (I’ll get to that shortly), but in the daytime when you could turn people onto new things, how rarely does something truly new get dropped into the mix? A perfect example was when they decided to have a week dedicated to new music in the daytime. How did they do this? By choosing a total of six tracks by unsigned artists for the occasional play during the week. And then making a big deal of how much they were supporting new music.

3. You can’t even listen to the news (sorry, Newsbeat) anymore without a banging beat in the background. Because the kids would turn over if their pulses weren’t kept racing 24/7, wouldn’t they?

4. The butchery of the evening schedule part 1: the "indie" sector. Steve Lamacq? Too "nice" apparently. So why not marginalise him and bring in the "so hot right now" Zane Lowe who has accidentally confused shouting for enthusiasm. His love for new music is beyond question, but whether you can actually listen to the show for more 20 minutes without feeling like you’ve overdosed on E numbers in order to find out... that’s another question.

5. The butchery of the evening schedule part 2: John Peel. A genius, and there was certainly no point in trying to mimic him. Yes, he played "weird stuff", but if you didn’t like something he played, there was also something along in a minute that you did. How have they replaced him? Three "themed" shows. The whole point of what he did (and you don’t need to mimic his style to do this) was to turn people onto all sorts of music. Nobody can do that now. You need to listen to "dance", "indie", "hip-hop", "reggae dancehall"... choose your flavour. As Andy Kershaw said, that’s not broadcasting, that’s narrowcasting.

6. The butchery of the evening schedule, part 3: marginalisation. If you discount Zane’s show for the reasons given above, it doesn’t get remotely interesting in the evenings until 9pm now. Safe from the young kids, the people at work with a radio on, people who aren’t actively choosing to listen to something a little different. I refer you once more to the BBC’s duty to use the license fee to educate and entertain.

This is only a brief summary as I’ve only got 750 words, and hope you’ll see that I’ve attempted to be constructive rather than just homing in on "annoying DJs" or making blithe comments about "crap chart music" (a phrase which makes no sense). If you only remember two words I’ve written though, make them these ones:

Chris Moyles.

The case for the defence (Paul)

Before I start with my defence, I’d just like to clarify the relevant parts of this debate, and hopefully allow you, the jury, to understand the issues which are at stake in this case.

Radio 1 pitches itself at the younger end of the music listening spectrum.

It's vital that you remember this, because when judging it you may find yourself judging something on the basis that it's not like it used to be (when you were younger) and therefore should be found guilty.

The problem with doing that is that it is just like a teenager saying "Kids' TV is rubbish these days", or your parents saying "Music these days is all noise, not like the good old days, when it had a tune you could dance to...".

What I'm not looking to do is condone "modern pop music" or for that matter condemn it. That's not the point of this debate, and as such arguments about the Radio 1 playlist being dominated by middle-of-the-road dance and R'n'B are completely irrelevant. What is relevant is Radio 1's place in the music world, its influence, and legacy.

Taking those points in turn, it is clear that Radio 1 is unlike any other global station. Funded by BBC's licence fee it is free from the constraints that come with carrying advertising. This has two obvious benefits for its listeners: firstly we don't spend twenty minutes an hour listening to adverts for car dealers, insurance brokers etc and secondly their playlist isn't as constrained by the demands of advertisers and audience shares, and as such the Radio 1 has more freedom than any of its commercial competitors.

The influence of Radio 1 is massive. They (in my view, justifiably) boast about having the power and influence to attract bands and artists to do more than any other comparable radio station. How many times has Capital FM et al convinced Noel Gallagher to play guitar in a listener's house (something Radio 1 did towards the end of last year)? The answer is they haven't, and the reason being that they lack the influence to convince a record label that it will be to their artist's benefit to do so, when only a handful of people will hear the result.

As someone now in their late twenties, I'll admit I'm starting to cast my eyes (or should that be ears?) around and listen to other stations, with Radio 6 catching the ear at present. However, that's a sign of my own ageing, not a criticism of Radio 1. As the station found to its cost in the 80s, if you try and grow old with your audience, you don't recruit new, younger listeners - and to move the station forward Bruno Brookes et al were shown the door. This is something which the station has repeatedly done throughout its time, and whilst a core of embittered DJs may be left in the wake, no doubt hankering after the good old days, the focus of the station (and its raison d'etre) has to be the younger market.

In terms of legacy, how many other radio stations can justifiably claim to have seriously boosted the careers of a massive number of top artists - Lily Allen might point to MySpace, but Coldplay owe a lot more to Steve Lamacq, Queen to Kenny Everett’s championing of Bohemian Rhapsody and as for the hundreds of bands indebted to the late great John Peel I'll casually point to The White Stripes, The Fall, The Undertones and Mike Oldfield but the list is much longer, and I'm sure you all have your own favourites. All bands which subsequently went on to be played on commercial stations, but would not have received the widespread acclaim necessary to make their playlists without Radio 1.

You may not like all (or any) of the DJs. You may not approve of the playlist (although the music played from 7pm through the night is as brilliantly diverse and all encompassing as it is possible for any radio station to be), but you can't deny the influence, the relevance and the legacy of Radio 1. The simple fact is that without Radio 1 the musical landscape in this country (and indeed the world) would be massively different and a great deal poorer.

As such I urge you all to side with the defence and save Radio 1.

* * * * *

Thanks to Damo and Paul. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Friday to make up your mind...

23 Comments:

Blogger mike said...

Paul reminds us of what Radio One has been, of what it is occasionally capable of, and of what it should continue to be.

Damo reminds us of what Radio One actually IS, right here, right now.

I'm voting with the prosecution.

6:28 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

But surely, Mike, in ten years time today's hardcore Radio 1 listeners will be saying exactly the same thing, which is why I'm voting with the defence.

And how much better was Radio 1 back in the day (whichever day that was)? I remember one summer when Simon Bates played 'Go West' twice in a row because he liked it so much. This was on the same day that Peel was standing in for an afternoon DJ (I don't know... Gary Davis, Mark Goodyear or some other 'heavyweight' who filled in a couple of hours before Steve Wright) and he spent much of the show relaying the abuse that he'd received from listeners for playing something by The Fall. I'm guessing at the average age of contributors to these debates, but I guess that either we don't fall into Radio 1's target audience or we're just edging our way out of it.

Whatever, Paul's right that had it not been for Radio 1 the majority of the country's commercial stations wouldn't be playing certain types of music.

One radio station can never be all things to all people. In terms of the BBC's total radio output, Radio 1 serves its purpose far better than most of England's commercial output, and plays a specific role in the spectrum of Radios 1 to 7. Even for those of us who don't like it as much as they used to (and I definitely include myself in that group), we need to remember that John Peel wouldn't have been given house room by its competitors, and that many of us would have more limited music tastes as a result.

Chris Moyles is, however, an utter twunt. I'm with you on that score, Damo.

6:22 am  
Blogger Lord Bargain said...

Well, on the basis that I categorically disagree with every single one of the points Damo makes, I'll go for the defence please.

1. I've just looked at the current Radio 1 playlist and there looks to be a fair amount of new music on it to me. About 75% of the songs on it haven't been released yet. A playlist doesn't preclude new music, clearly.

2. It all depends on your definition of "new music". If your definition is an unsigned band from Taunton, then fine. If I get to hear new stuff I haven't heard before (the new Bloc Party single, the Gossip record, the Cold War Kids single for example - I heard all those on Friday) then it is planting new music in people's brains, surely? And I certainly don't feel patronised by them.

3. *rolls eyes*

4. Zane Lowe is alright. He is a bit excitable, but that's no crime for a radio broadcaster.

5. One minute you are saying Radio 1 is frightened to do anything different (ergo non-populist), and then you're having a pop at them trying to cater for all tastes with specialist shows. You can't have it both ways.

6. Radio 1 "...doesn’t get remotely interesting in the evenings until 9pm now...". Really? Tell that to several million listeners. Isn't that the BBC using it's license money to entertain to maximum effect?

As for Chris Moyles, he rarely fails to bring a smile to my face whenever I listen to his show. Having a lazy go at someone who at least dares to be challenging or outspoken (whether you care for him or not) isn't going to secure my vote, I am afraid.

11:29 am  
Blogger Simon said...

Hmmm. Peter Hitchens "dares to be challenging or outspoken" but I don't feel the need to defend him for it. I suspect this is beside the point in any case, as we're talking about its music policy, so...

It's actually quite a tough one, this - I used to work in an office that had our local variant of the GWR/GCap commercial pop station and its own narrowcasting got spectacularly frustrating (apart from how, more than a decade after its release, they'd still play Kingston Town by UB40 on a daily basis). At least Radio 1 gives it a go. On daytime, even on Jo Whiley's supposedly new music standard bearer, it's incredibly difficult to break through unless accompanied by a welter of hype - six of the ten most played tracks on the station last year were dance hits at a time when dance music is supposedly in its biggest trough since crystallising - but then you could argue that at least they're giving A-list slots to Bloc Party, Klaxons and Jamie T, none of whom will ever be booked for TMi. In fact, I think the playlist might actually be recovering some of its previous unlikely qualities that, without getting into the public service broadcaster side of the argument, gives it this position of pop power. They're not going to playlist Westlife any more, and we should be glad. (Radio 2's playlist is nuts, completely baffled by the twin ideas of populist old stagers and thrusting new bucks, but that's a different debate.) You do feel, though, that in aiming at the younger demographic they're downsizing the possibilities around it to this thin wedge of popular culture that outside music encompasses Lost, Little Britain, Hollywood blockbusters and nothing else. Maybe it's the trojan horse by which they can get the Gossip onto the current B-list, even if it's only being reissued off the back of the Skins advert, but again the pool of hyped new talent they're taking from that seems to be reducing. Sorry, why are we supposed to be so excited about The View again? As Damo says they have at least had a go with the evenings, but even there the last rejig completely screwed it up with Colin Murray's show, which is just the same as Zane Lowe's except with an even less likeable DJ, forcing the specialist shows back another couple of hours - Huw Stephens, whose OneMusic strand was the closest playlist-wise to the Peel legacy, has disappeared to the other side of midnight. But, again, at least there's a national outlet for it (and have you heard Xfm's daytime playlist?)

So I'm saying a vote for the defence, but tentatively.

1:35 pm  
Blogger Adam said...

I'm going to have to side with the defence. My main reasons have been well summerised by Lord Bargain above.

However one area that I don't think has been addressed is Radio 1's commitment to live music. They play some live music everyday, be it from the live lounge or from Madia Vale, attracting acts that other radio stations just can't get. They also devote a fair part of their schedule every year to festivals across the country be it Glasto or Homelands etc.

4:12 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

The last time I listened to Radio 1 was last January driving through Dorset because nothing else made itself through to our antennae. It was pretty annoying, although Newbeat giving all stories the same gravity (X number of soldiers killed in so and so place, lead guitarist of this band has broken his arm there are worries that the tour may be cancelled) made me laugh.

Tomorrow I'm going to listen to a batch of shows and then give my opinion. I think I'm going to hate it, but then I did used to love Blue Jam, John Peel and the comedy slots with Jeremy Hardy and Lee & Herring, so maybe there are gems in there...

10:56 am  
Blogger SwissToni said...

I think that much if the prosecution's argument is about ten years out of date, and seems to be somewhat rooted in the Smashie and Nicey era, a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and millions of people tuned in to listen to Master Bates doing "our tune" during their morning coffee break. Actually, I was at my mum and dad's house at the weekend and found that they were clearing out the loft. Amongst the piles of boxes that needed sorting was one containing all my old comics and things. I found several old copies of Smash Hits (including a mint condition copy of the Morrissey / Pete Burns edition - offers via email). In one was a detailed breakdown of what each of the radio one DJs would send you if you wrote to them. They ranged from Steve Wright and his "mr angry t-shirts", through Mike Read and his mugs and "a golden ruler engraved with the name of your favourite teacher" all the way through to Janis Long, who said she gave nothing away as she couldn't do it without thinking how the money could be better used to giving another band a session.

I thought about that, and I thought about this debate, and it occurred to me that if you looked at Radio 1 now, you'd get more of the Janis Long-type answers than you would of the Mike Reads and Steve Wrights.

Radio 1 has changed radically. Matthew Bannister started it in the mid-1990s when he cleared out Bruno Brookes, DLT and all that lot, but it has continued since then. There are still populist DJs out there, of course, but I think that Radio 1 nowadays does not chase the audience share as voraciously as they used to, but focuses instead upon their role as a public service broadcaster, as a viable alternative to commerical radio.

I used to find the daytime playlist on radio one unlisteneable, but now I find that I'm never more than a track or so away from an interesting song. Yeah, so maybe that interesting song is the first spin of the new Foo Fighters single, and not something by a completely unsigned band, but for daytime radio, I think that's okay. The evening schedule, in my opinion, is a marvel. Personally, I like Zane Lowe. Yes he shouts a lot, but he also exposes me to an awful lot of new (to me, anyway) music. I also love the fact that he can mix a session from someone like The Klaxons with a performance by Iron Maiden (who must have been absolutely astonished to be asked, given the history they have with radio 1). After 9pm is even more of a marvel. I've not listened to Colin Murray, but I think it is brilliant that you can tune into Neehal and Westwood and listen to some very diverse music. I choose not to, in the main, but I think it's brilliant that it is there, and that if you want more of it, you can pop across to the BBC's urban or asian stations on digital, or to 6Music or something like that.

Yes, there are things that annoy me. I can't abide the weekend schedules, packed as they are with vapid idiots like Sarah Cox and Vernon Kaye. But to me, that's OLD radio 1, and it just emphasises what a long way the station has come.

Perhaps the fact that I'm a 32 year old man and I find radio 1 more listeneable than ever is a condemnation of the station in its own right... but I think that it's a tribute to the BBC and is exactly what they should be doing with our licence fee.

"Crazy" was the biggest hit last year. It's a brilliant record, but where did it get its first exposure? That's right, on an advert for Zane Lowe's show. They played that about 6 months before the record was actually released, and it helped to create a real buzz about the record and got it off to a flying start. Yeah, it might well have been a hit anyway, but to expose it before it even had a release date.... well, that's a bit different to a commercial radio agenda, isn't it? The changing of the chart rules is clearly going to impact on commercial radio and how they work out their playlists. I don't think it will affect radio 1 at all - they've long since left the charts behind, only paying them lip-service on a sunday afternoon.

And I don't mind Moyles either.

Resoundingly not guilty.

ST

12:34 pm  
Blogger Stevious said...

Cons:
- Moyles
- Edith Bowman's over-use of the word 'tune'.
- Making a complete arse of the evening schedule and marginalising the truly innovative shows.
- 'Chaning tracks' on Jo Whiley. I mean, come on.
- Over-reliance on the playlist. Radio stations do need a playlist for various reasons, but I reckon Radio 1 could get away with a wee bit less repetition.
- No more John Peel (not really their fault though)
- The utter triviality of Newsbeat

Pros:
- The playlist isn't actually that bad.
- At least there are some brilliant music shows on it.
- I can list several R1 DJs who are a complete joy to listen to.
- It's several orders of magnitude better than commercial radio.
- If it wasn't for Radio 1 I probably wouldn't have heard Mogwai - I have no doubt that many teenagers are having similar musical epiphanies right now.

I think I have to vote for the Defense on this one.

9:31 pm  
Blogger Del said...

I could do a long broken down argument, but quite simply it's still the first station on the dial for me. Not guilty.

1:51 am  
Blogger Martin said...

I don't listen to Desert Island Discs expecting to hear tracks by unsigned artists. Similarly I don't listen to Newsbeat expecting incisive comment. I think it's a testament to the quality of Radio One that many of the arguments here expect so much of the one radio station, whereas I can't imagine anyone arguing that news programming on commercial stations is crap because we don't expect any better.

(Thanks to this debate for my current earworm, BTW: Tommy Vance announcing 'One... More... Record... To... Bits... And... Pieces' while Gary Davies was no doubt arsing about with Kajagoogoo in a car park in Great Yarmouth).

12:00 pm  
Anonymous Nick The Snick said...

In the 1990s I listened to Radio One all the time and discovered new music that the commercial alternatives weren't playing.

Nowadays I use the internet and digital radio to fufill that need so haven't sat and listened to Radio One for a long time.

I don't feel I can make a judgement on its current state without having at least a week of listening to it.

Due to time contraints I'll have to abstain.

4:02 pm  
Anonymous caskared said...

Day 1 of listening to bits of Radio 1:
-Chris Moyles is worse than I imagined
-Jo Wiley was allright, basically charty but a bit of a mix
-Zane Low says really silly things but the music was pretty good and there were some fantastic stuff I hadn't heard before. Wish he'd calm down though and think before he spoke though
-The Essential Mix, well, clearly not the programme for me. I've been craving Late Junction all day...

I'm going to listen to some more tomorrow and then make my judgement.

7:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I firmly agree with the prosecution, the daytime radio, that I have listened to continuously in the office, is the very pits of radio hell.

It's hard to know where to start, but in brief:

The DJs: It's supposed to be about the music, not what you did last night. Stop hyping yourselves up and stop talking rubbish, Chris Moyles being the biggest example.
Stop all the damn gimmicks and your horrible attempts at proving your selling power and status.

A personal peeve, who made Sarah Cox a radio DJ, one of the worst voices I've ever heard over the radio, I prefer adverts to that. And less said about Zoe Ball the better.

The only good radio 1 DJ is Goldfinger, listen to him and learn.

2) The playlist, it's very obvious that something is going on, radio1 and the DJs forcing tripe down people's throats trying to create hits to justify their existence could be it. It's the same songs all day, prompting continual groans of "not again" in the office.

There is so much that could be played that isn't and claiming it's what the kids listen to doesn't wash. The ones that listen, listen because they are told that Radio 1 is cool (in other words naive sheep) . I know people of all age ranges that can't take more than 20 minutes of Radio 1 during the day.

There is so much more, but I haven’t got time to write a book

3:32 pm  
Blogger Damo said...

I've got a lot more I want to say when this vote's over. 750 words was very restrictive.

But funnily enough I agree almost entirely with the defense and that's exactly why I made my prosecution case. We NEED a good Radio One, in these days when the massive 'choice' elsewhere is largely the same things in a different order with adverts. Lamacq was (rightly) mentioned for what he's done for bands - well, he used to have 12 hours to do it, now he has one. And of course Peel's mentioned. But what about now? Isn't that a bit like defending BBC1 now on the basis of liking Fawlty Towers?

If I'd had room there would have been a lot more - I made sure I listened to it a fair bit before writing this, hence submitting the piece at the last minute. And it'd be nice also to think we're completely free of the 'wacky' DJ days, which I didn't mention at all, but we've got Scott Mills and his "Rate My Listener". As well as incisive insight into whether the 'slebs are "minging" or not. That's only a small part of the output admittedly, which is why I resisted the lowest common denominator stuff in my case... it is however the stuff they put on at the times of day that most people are listening...

9:39 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

My instinct before reading the cases for and against was to vote for the prosecution, and I've not been swayed into changing my mind by the defence here.

At its best, radio can introduce you to unexpected and brilliant music - but personally I generally find myself wondering why anyone would want to bother listening to 55 minutes of dross for the possibility of one half-decent song when they could be listening to a whole album of stuff they like. The anonymous commenter above speaks for me too when he / she says that the DJs are usually far too keen to become the centre of attention, the star of the show, when in fact it's the music that matters. John Peel understood that. And of course Damo's right - Moyles is the worst of them all, a complete prick.

But, as you may have gathered from the above, I don't listen to the radio full stop - it's not just Radio 1 that I avoid. My primary source of new music (and information on new music) is the internet, as it is for an increasing number of people. Sometimes I feel I should listen to more Radio 6, but most of the time I don't feel like I'm missing much at all.

All of which means I'm in no position to come to a considered conclusion about the current state of Radio 1 - and so, at the risk of being accused of wimping out again, I'm going to sit on the fence for the second week in a row.

10:52 pm  
Blogger Martin said...

Ben - You should be listening to Radio 7 at the moment; they're repeating Fist Of Fun!

I agree with the Peel / Fawlty Towers comparison, but would also ask people to consider what 24/7's worth of Peal-a-likes (in terms of music and DJing style) would be like. I certainly couldn't cope with it during drivetime to and from work when, frankly, I need something more lightweight.

In terms of new music, I don't get the 'core' of my listening from Radio 1 by any means, but as I don't pay any attention to the charts it's the best way for me to hear new pop songs.

It's all about diversity, innit?

12:43 am  
Blogger Martin said...

Nng. Peel-a-likes, obviously.

12:45 am  
Anonymous Alison said...

Given its remit (public service broadcasting targeting young adults) I agree with the defence that Radio 1 doesn't do too badly in terms of the music it plays. However, largely because I hate the majority of the DJs, I'm siding with the prosecution. There's just too many 'personalities' with no evidence of a knowledge about the music.

3:38 pm  
Blogger SwissToni said...

I actually find radio one more pleasant to listen to than 6music, which I often find intensely annoying, even if I am more likely to hear an old album track that radio one probably wouldn't go near.

I agree with Ben that I probably hear a lot more new music now via the internet (and yes, by downloading stuff from new artists free from various places)... but Zane Lowe has introduced me to a few bands over the last couple of years.

Mills and Moyles are not there as serious music DJs on the whole, they are there to entertain audiences during the day and before the more niche broadcasting begins. I wouldn't want to listen to either of them all day, but actually in small doses I find them moderately amusing, on the whole. It's all part of radio one's diversity though, isn't it? You want chin-stroking musos, go elsewhere.

ST

7:35 pm  
Anonymous drmigs said...

I can't abide Chris Moyles or Scott Mills, but even so I'm siding with the defence. Thanks to Matthew Bannister, it's no longer Smash Hits FM.

Outside of the tawdry daytime shows (breakfast and drive time) that have a remit to be popularist, there is some good stuff. Yes it's not like when we were 17, but nor are our waist lines ...

If you explore the listen again facility there's always a good show somewhere. I must admit to a bit of a Blue Room habit in its hey day. And I'm glad it gave Rob Da Bank a bigger and better slot. He found me some nice tunes, and introduced me to The Concretes.

So, Radio 1 gets the thumbs up from me.

11:05 pm  
Blogger James said...

I haven't the amount of time that I would like, so I shall just say 'defence'. I never listen to it, but I am kind of glad that it is there...

6:55 am  
Anonymous caskared said...

And after a couple of days of visiting Radio 1, I'm siding with the defence. There were some stupid things (I'm never ever going to actively listen to Chris Moyles ever again in my life), but enough properly good stuff and I do feel updated as to what's actually going on. I think Newsround is more informative than Newsbeat though.

drimigs: yes! Rob da Bank (which I am hoping is his real name) was my favourite.

1:44 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

drmigs / Caskared: Rob Da Bank is good, but for me he's something of an exception rather than the rule on Radio 1 - a DJ who's genuinely interested in and passionate about music and turning people on to new things.

12:45 am  

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