XFM NEW FORMAT RAISES LISTENER HACKLES

XFM's new format - abandoning its agenda as "London's Only Alternative Radio Station" - is failing to impress NME.com readers...

XFM re-launched with its new format on Monday (August 24) this week, abandoning its agenda as being “London’s Only Alternative Radio Station”.

The topic of XFM’s musical realignment has dominated NME.com‘s ‘Angst’ message board for most of the past week, with almost every contributor reacting angrily to Capital Radio’s decision to take the station away from its established alternative territory.

Last week, over 20 staff and DJs were removed in a shake-up by owners Capital Radio. NME editor Steve Sutherland and writer Keith Cameron had their shows decommissioned and the daily NME news bulletin was ‘suspended’.

Sir Bob Geldof commenced his two hour-afternoon show on Monday. Geldof’s media production company, Planet 24, whose radio division syndicate material to 1200 stations around the world, are working with XFM for the foreseeable future.

On his first XFM show on Monday, Geldof played tracks by The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Bob Marley and made a plea for people to send him tapes of new bands.

At a press conference on Thursday (August 20) Geldof said: “I hope we’ll bring to it as many ideas as Planet 24 brought to television. XFM came with the promise of alternative music. I would prefer to think of the notion of an alternative radio station. Whatever is good will be played. I hope that we can reach a mean level of what is good without having to dumb down.”

“Nothing has been said to me about the content of my show and if I want to play a track from 1967 I will. If it’s been important in my head and I can explain why I will play it. That to me is as alternative as the latest release by whoever,” Geldof added.

Creation Records boss Alan McGee is concerned about the implications of the developments at XFM as the station had a 20 per cent shareholding in the consortium he heads which aims to set up an alternative radio station in Scotland.

He told NME: “This has all happened at the wrong time. If we win the licence in November, it won’t be like that because I won’t allow it. it annoys me that Capital are handling it this way. It’s very damaging for my Scottish bid.”

McGee said he thought the worst aspect of recent events at the station had been the way in which people had been sacked, “especially when so many of them were the same people who campaigned to get XFM on the airwaves over the past seven years.”

At the press conference on Thursday, NME put the following questions to XFM’s Acting Programme Controller Richard Parks:

How many DJs were sacked? “Nobody was sacked. Certain individuals were made redundant because we’re not going to have on the station specialist shows. We’re going to have programmes that run three or four hours at any given time because we’re going to broadcast our new music as a format. They had a lot of varieties of specialist shows that we’re not going to keep. But all the daytime broadcasters continue to be in this new service. There are a finite number of people we can employ. They had more broadcast staff than any other radio station in London. It’s just not realistic.”

Didn’t the radio authority grant your licence on the grounds of you doing something alternative? “We will be.”

Why are the specialist shows going then? “We want listeners to turn on and hear the product as it stands day in day out whatever time they choose to listen. We want to be musically consistent throughout the day. We really want to build a new music station for London.”

On your acquisition of XFM you told NME there wouldn’t be any change in the music policy whatsoever. Now you’ve introduced 24-hour playlisting. Why? “XFM has always had a playlist. (The evening shows did not, however). Well, specialist shows were allowed to choose their own material. Daytime broadcasting (6-9) was all based on a playlist.”

Record company radio and marketing departments are worried about XFM’s change. They say they’ve lost a valuable outlet. “Do you think I could have persuaded Bob Geldof to come on board if I was gonna imitate Capital FM? (Frankly, yes). Can you see Bob playing records by Cleopatra? We have a promise of performance and if we don’t live up to that you can give me a call.”

Who will choose the playlists? “I’ll be chairing a panel with the programme controller who’s greatly experienced in this alterntive field of music. We’ll be using all the benefit of systems that modern radio uses to ensure that all the records that we put on the playlist actually get played because that isn’t the case on all stations.”

Part of the promise of performance said XFM would play artists generally outside the mainstream… Bob Geldof answered: “We will. All these bands who are good will be largely determined by the DJs and that’s what the difference is between this and other stations.”

Shouldn’t you change the name because the X factor that XFM stood for is not part of the equation any longer. “You buy XFM cos that’s it. You don’t want to re-establish it ‘cos that costs shit loads of money. Change the name of NME,” said Geldof.

See last Friday’s XFM news story.