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
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...