Media: X marks the spot where music died

It started as London's only alternative radio station. But has XFM finally sold its soul?

THE LAST time Bob Geldof rode in to rescue an apparently unfashionable cause, the issue seemed far more straightforward. But today, the man recently dubbed by the NME as "the worst DJ in Britain" is no longer primarily the passionate activist: he's a businessman who has lent his name and record collection to the rebirth of London's formerly alternative radio station, XFM.

He is actually supervising, his detractors say, the transformation of a station, set up to break interesting new music, into a bland corporate satellite of the Capital Radio Group. Worse, Geldof's production company, Planet 24, is consulting on the entire new sound of the station, a new sound that certainly hasn't found favour with many of the station's hard core listener base. They have set up a protest website, sought meetings with Capital's programming director, Richard Park, and orchestrated a campaign of letter writing to Parliament and the media to protest at what has happened to their station. But XFM wasn't supposed to be like this. This isn't what anyone expected.

After six years of struggle, and no fewer than four unsuccessful licence applications, the alternative radio station XFM finally started broadcasting on 1 September last year. It had been a long hard road for the fledgling station, but at least it had been a journey sustained by die hard supporters, like the Cure's Robert Smith, and by the passionate belief of its energetic founder, Chris Parry.

The fact that he let the station operate on a soft rent out of a house he owned in London's Charlotte Street had also helped. But so too had the dedication of a staff comprised largely of music-obsessed volunteers, of part timers and of the poorly paid. Their dream was simply that their brand of indie music would ride to the rescue of a city's increasingly bored radio-listening youth. A youth that had become progressively more enervated by the seemingly identical brand of adult orientated rock that was being served up by the heavy hitters of the London music scene - the likes of Capital, Heart FM, and Virgin.

XFM was an independent, battling in a cut-throat London radio market that had become a playground of big business. Its DJs, with the exception of its star daytime presenter, Gary Crowley, were not well known. Sometimes, their broadcast techniques revealed a lack of polish, but their commitment was real enough. XFM was not exaggerating when it claimed it was "London's only Alternative". And yet, six months after its launch, it was hard to see quite why it had bothered.

When its first listening figures were released - around Christmas time - they revealed that just 239,000 people were tuning in to XFM every week. A conservative first target of 500,000 listeners had been Parry's aim. It was national grief over the death of Diana, XFM claimed, which was largely responsible.

Unfortunately, three months later, the real picture became a lot clearer. By then, just 219,000 people were tuning in every week. That's considerably fewer than listened to the capital's now-defunct RTL Country station, an ill-fated Country & Western format. Something had to be done.

And on 1 May this year, something was. Capital Radio had just lost out to Chris Evans in the battle for Virgin Radio. But it promptly paid pounds 15 million for a 90.1 per cent controlling stake in XFM. Capital initially changed little of the station's output and, by the time the next set of audience figures were produced in June, it seemed as if the alliance had already begun to weave its magic. A figure of 329,000 still seemed a long way off the 500,000 launch target, but the trend was in the right direction.

And then Capital decided to act. For a while, at the beginning of August, the station simply played wall-to-wall records. Then, when the DJs returned on 24 August, they weren't the same DJs. The records they played weren't the same. They were more poppy, less alternative. XFM, the detractors said, had really sold out. "Every now and then, there is the glimmer of what it once was - Sparklehorse, Polly Harvey, Six By Seven," reports Jez Simmonds, one of the more moderate contributors to the web pages started by the disillusioned former fans.

"More often is the anvil-striking reminder of what has replaced it: Republica, the Beautiful South, Lenny bloody Kravitz." Star presenter, Gary Crowley had led the DJ exodus. In came Bob Geldof and, in the crucial position of programme controller, came Des Shore, who works for Geldof at Planet 24.

The Radio Authority says it is monitoring the output to make sure it complies with XFM's original promise of performance. In the meantime, nurtured on a new diet of bands like U2, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, the protests of the indie aficionados will just get louder: and XFM's listenership, Capital promises, will just get bigger.

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor