BBC 6 Music controller Bob Shennan says he is “enormously proud” of under-threat digital radio station.
There is now less than three weeks left of the public consultation on the closure of 6 Music.
Labels trade body the BPI sent a delegation to the BBC Trust – the governing body of the publicly funded broadcaster – to express concern about the potential loss of a station that supports new artists. Acts including Lily Allen, Radiohead and Keane have voiced support.
In an interview with Billboard.biz, Bob Shennan, controller of 6 Music and the national AC network BBC Radio 2, says he understands their concern.
BBC 6 Music had a weekly audience reach of 695,000 in Q4 2009, according to radio research body RAJAR. The BBC Trust consultation closes May 25. Amid the debate surrounding its future, 6 Music has continued as normal and has even made a new appointment: the late BBC broadcaster John Peel‘s son Tom Ravenscroft has landed a show on the network.
BPI ‘Absolutely Right’
“I think the BPI are absolutely right, and all of those august music industry leaders are absolutely right, to want to say how important they think it [6 Music] is, to the BBC trust,” adds Shennan. “There are a lot of people who are known artists who have also let their feelings be known to the Trust, and I think the Trust will probably tell you that they have been overwhelmed by the response of the listeners to the issue of what the value is of 6 music.”
With successful presenter appointments to the station including Lauren Laverne and Jarvis Cocker during Shennan’s 14-month tenure, he is open to 6 Music programming potentially moving to other networks such as Radio 2.
“I think first and foremost we’re now waiting on the consultation process,” he says. “I am enormously proud of 6 Music, both as an entity and very proud of some of the changes we’ve made over just the last 12 months to hone the direction of travel of 6 Music and the service that it offers, so I’m really pleased with Lauren Laverne’s role on daytime, I’m really pleased with Cerys Matthews who has eclectic tastes but an incredibly engaging style, and to have Jarvis Cocker on the network is terrific.”
Shennan also namechecks the “great iconic broadcasters” he inherited including Steve Lamacq and Guy Garvey.
Redeploying 6 Music Shows
“So I’m proud of what we’ve got to in terms of the radio station, I’m also proud of the service that we offer to music and I think that thus far the feeling has been that 6 music’s been the best way of offering that service to license fee payers,” he says.
“I think as and when the consultation period starts to come to an end, and we understand how the BBC Trust feels about the plans, we’ll be able to come forward more with some concrete thoughts about how we’re going to rise to the challenge of serving those audiences and meeting those music program needs, because I think we have to. Of course, one of the ways we could look to do that is with our existing services – that’s one of the ways.”
Even the BBC’s commercial rivals are opposed to the closure of 6 Music. “It just seems to me to be a strange target, it’s a unique service that is distinctly different from most commercial stations,” says Clive Dickens, Absolute Radio COO. “If it was closed it would have next to no benefit to commercial radio.”
Changes At Radio 2
Meanwhile, Shennan has reassured the music industry about his support for new music on Radio 2. A BBC Trust review of Radio 2 resulted in the station being told to do more for older 65-plus listeners and air more non-music programming in peak hours.
Radio 2 is the biggest U.K. station with 13.5 million listeners in Q4 2009, according to RAJAR.
“We will be playing new music and we won’t be abandoning our commitment to the music industry,” says Shennan. “I know how valuable Radio 2 is to the music industry, because it offers such a large scale outlet to artists and talent, new and old. And that’s not going to change and nor does it have to in order for us to continue to pursue as broad [an audience] including older listeners as we possibly can.”
Shennan also had to deal with the retirement of Terry Wogan from the flagship breakfast show at the end of 2009 after 17 years, and Chris Evans taking over.
“Terry’s elegant bowing out was out of a textbook,” says Shennan. “I think they have been brilliant in the way they have handled what is probably the biggest single change in U.K. radio that I can recall in my time in it.”
“Chris is, I think, the sort of master music entertainment broadcaster of his generation,” he adds. Nevertheless, he anticipates “churn” in the audience when Evans’ first audience RAJAR figures are released May 13.
Jonathan Ross ‘Might Be Back’
Shennan also has to find a replacement for Jonathan Ross, who is leaving the BBC in the summer after intense media coverage of his earnings and edgy humor, which resulted in a 12-week suspension in 2008 for comments made on Radio 2. There have been reports that TV presenter Graham Norton will take over the Saturday morning show.
“I have got somebody in mind to replace Jonathan,” he says, declining to identify the candidate. “I’ve gone on record before saying I didn’t want Jonathan to go, he chose to go. I think he has been brilliant for Radio 2 over the last 10 years. Of course over the last 18 months it’s been a lot more difficult for him, for us, but he retains a very loyal audience and he is a very clever broadcaster, he’s brilliant on the radio.”
Ross “might be back at some point doing something or other,” adds Shennan.
See the latest issue of Billboard for the interview with Bob Shennan about the future of Radio 2