6 Music axe: What does it mean for comedy?

Toby Martin has some ideas

The BBC’s plan to axe 6 Music has caused widespread uproar and more wailing and gnashing of teeth than an Old Testament omnibus.  Several comedians have their thumbs in the 6 Music pie and names such as Phill Jupitus, Ed Byrne and Chris Addison can be see sporting Save 6 Music banners on Twitter, and rightly so: the station champions decent music, created by decent musicians.

But at the end of every shitstorm, you still have a perfectly serviceable fan.  In the maelstrom of axes being wielded by BBC execs qualified only to push pens under their Strategy Review, it should be pointed out that BBC Radio 7, a station that is certainly not mainstream and does not have a broad reach, has been left almost completely untouched. 

Could the downfall of 6 Music and the Asian Network even be a boost for the BBC’s comedy-centred station?

Radio 7 could be to comedy what 6 Music is to music.  In its Stand Up On 7 slot, it has championed sets from the likes of Miles Jupp, Milton Jones and Stephen K Amos.  In addition to that, programmes such as Spanking New On 7, Serious About Comedy and The Mitch Benn Music Showdemonstrate a dedication to commissioning new comedy material alongside its vintage output. 

This week, the station features none other than Armando Iannucci as its Comedy Controller.  I imagine that Iannucci is to Radio 7 what John Peel might be to 6 Music.

The similarities between the two stations continue.  They were both launched in 2002, they have both generated a loyal, if not colossal listenership and they both saw a dip in audience figures after a peak in early 2008.  Both stations, however, seem to have steadily built up an increasing audience since then. 

By last year, the 6 Music reach was more than 650,000 people per week, compared to 900,000 for Radio 7.  Given the higher listener statistics for Radio 7, it is perhaps understandable that it has been left untouched.  However, given that the same figures for Radio 4 stand at over nine and a half million a week, some people might be forgiven for asking why the station survived the cull.

Nevertheless, the Strategy Review does not completely steer clear of Radio 7.  It proposes that it is rebranded as Radio 4 Extra, developing closer ties with its new mother station. 

Apparently, this would ‘offer listeners the best of Radio 7 as well as offering new possibilities, such as extending existing Radio 4 favourites, newly commissioned programmes and more second runs of popular programmes’.  While not as alarming as the treatment being dished out at 6 Music, this is still a cause for concern. 

Anyone who is eager to hear quality new comedy and stand up on the radio should be wary of Radio 7 being turned into a repeats service for Radio 4.  Wall-to-wall renditions of The News Quiz are not going to unearth any great new comedic gems.

In order to suggest my solution to these cuts that are seemingly putting anything outside of the mainstream in jeopardy, I shall have to utter the five most commonly-used words on Radio 5 Live outside of ‘I’m not a racist but…’:

As a licence fee payer…

…I am very eager to ensure that the BBC does not support a growing society in which the mainstream is the only stream, river or estuary in existence.  6 Music provides a welcome break from the charts on Radio 1 and the easy listening on Radio 2. 

Radio 7 ensures that the BBC’s radio comedy output is not limited to a half hour chuckle every weeknight.  Between BBCs 6 and 7, there is an audience of just over one and a half million that want to hear quality music, drama and comedy.  So, in order to satisfy that slim percentage of licence payers perhaps a slim percentage of licence fee money should pay for a radio station – let’s call it ‘BBC Radio 8 Extra Online and on DAB’ – that plays a combination of independent music and shows that promote up and coming comedy.  A typical day might include a half hour comedy programme in the morning, a few hours of music followed by a serialised drama at lunchtime, more music, interrupted by a half hour comedy show at around half past six, and finishes of with a late-night stand up set.

Music and comedy often seem inextricably linked.  This is reflected by the amount of comedians that you will find presenting shows on radio stations.  With every day that goes by, it seems less and less likely that 6 Music will survive (although I do hope that I am wrong about that).  Comedy promoters and programmers should take this as a warning sign and, in the case of Radio 7, make sure that it evolves, rather than dies.

The Strategy Review states that, as one of five main priorities for the BBC will be creating new ‘ambitious UK drama and comedy’  If 6 Music does die a death, we should be given one pound of our licence fee back every time we hear the words, ‘And now, from the makers of Two Pints and a Packet of Crisps…’

However, maybe I am being overly cynical and critical here.  Let’s give them a chance: BBC 6 Music has been martyred.  Welcome to a golden age in UK comedy on BBC!

Published: 8 Mar 2010

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.