It’s been a rough couple of months for Radio 1. First you lot all had a pop at head of music George Ergatoudis for not playing enough guitar bands. Now one Guardian writer is calling for their entire daytime line-up to be given the hump.
All this while the threat of privatisation still looms as the government claim that Radio 1 is too similar to its commercial rivals. Here’s why everyone’s got it wrong.
Commercial radio is terrified of alienating listeners with music that hasn’t been focus grouped into oblivion. People moan that Radio 1 doesn’t accurately reflect the music most people listen to, but if you want a station that does, flick on Absolute and you’ll hear a heady mix of Stereophonics, Snow Patrol and Stereophonics.
Public funding means Radio 1 can be a leader not a follower, and its massive national listenership means it has the power to shape British pop. This week, for example, the stunning piano house track’ I Love You So’ which Skream remixed for relatively unknown French duo Cassius, was whacked straight on the B-list and Toddla T was given a two hour special dedicated to Moombathon, a genre which, face it, you hadn’t even heard of.
Compare that with the fate of the dullest British pop acts, the ones who converse only in four to the floor clap tracks and slurs of what they’d like to do to us “in the club”. Jay Sean and Taio Cruz were rejected by the Radio 1 A-list for being too boring, so they went to America where they were welcomed with open arms.
Back in the UK, meanwhile, we’re cultivating a generation of off-kilter alternative pop stars like Katy B and James Blake. In the past month Radio 1 have played the new Sleigh Bells single more times than the new JLS one. Compare that to closest commercial rival Capital which has a tiny playlist ruled by American megastars:
Would it be nice if there were a few guitar bands on the playlist? Well actually, there already are. The Vaccines, Two Door Cinema Club, Noah And The Whale and The Black Keys are all getting a big daytime push. On top of that, each week there’s eight hours of Zane, ten hours of Nick Grimshaw, four hours dedicated to rock and punk and three hours of Huw Stephens.
If you want more indie than that, flick your dial just two notches to 6 Music, a brilliant station that’s saviour from closure is only worthwhile if people bother tuning in.
Of course there’s a lot that can be improved about Radio 1 (and let’s not forget there are alternatives, such as our very own NME Radio). I lay awake at night drafting letters to station controller Andy Parfitt. Getting rid of Whiley was a step in the right direction but it’d also be nice to sack off human inanity factory Fearne Cotton, a woman whose three catch phrases “great live band”, “ooo, I’ve got goosepimples”, and “absolutely brilliant” are presumably scrawled in 7ft high letters across her studio in case she forgets any of them.
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But let’s not go too far. The broad appeal of skilled broadcasters like Moyles, Mills and Reggie Yates means that Radio 1 can reach listeners who would otherwise switch stations. Their mass-market presenting style is a price worth paying for a national station that champions great pop music, not celebrities who happen to sing.