Music: A case of middle-of-the-road rage

Stephen Jelbert fears that the sale of indie rock station XFM to Capital Radio could mean the death of alternative music programming on London's airwaves

They never saw it coming. Staff at "London's Only Alternative," XFM, finally discovered that the station had been sold to the nation's largest local radio outfit, Capital Radio, at a hastily called meeting on the morning of May 1.

Although Capital's newscasts had been talking up a takeover bid for two days beforehand, the news came as a shock. Presumably no one had taken a minicab that week.

The brainchild of "radio enthusiast" (code for "ex-pirate") Sammy Jacob and music biz veteran and major shareholder Chris Parry had remained independent for exactly eight months.

Finally launching full time last September in one of the music businesses periodical downturns didn't help, but the news seems a sad end to what has probably been the most influential radio style in Britain this decade. XFM's eclectic style and music-led programming in its occasional forays on the airwaves before the full-time launch have had a profound effect on other stations, notably Radio One. The mainstream has been forced to take on "alternative" notions of programming, thus pushing XFM further to the margins. To its credit it has refused to compromise.

Its relations with certain major record companies have become uneasy as the station has followed its own path, most recently getting into a spat with Sony over not playlisting Kula Shaker's recent useless single. Music Week reported criticism from A&M's Osman Eralp, who obviously can't remember that decade when the alternatives were John Peel or nothing.

Many music professionals are saddened by the sale. Veteran plugger Scott Piering, who represents the Verve among others, is wary but hopeful. "Unfortunately for XFM, mistakes have been made, primarily in the marketing. The one thing that Capital does extremely well is to attract listeners. My worry is that the station will go the way of Kiss 100FM, once a cutting- edge dance music station," he says. "I'd like to think there'd be some cross pollination ... but mostly from XFM to Capital."

Despite five successful RSL (Restricted Service Licence) trials of a month each, XFM had to wait five years for a full licence. Even Capital's Ellie Smith feels "they should have had it years ago, when Virgin and Heart FM [equally bland middle of the road] got them". Smith concurs with Piering, describing XFM's marketing as "quite elusive", adding that Capital has no plans to "make it mainstream. It has a very tight 'promise of performance', and we have to abide by that".

That "promise of performance", required by all applications, defines the station's service as "innovative, youthful, generally guitar-led modern rock with attitude, featuring artists generally outside the mainstream". And these artists are the ones with most to lose from what is, after all, seen as the jewel in Britain's alternative radio.

Sean Newsham, who runs a small plugging firm, is aware of this. "People talk about it in the rest of the country. They want to know how it's doing and what it's playing," he says. Like most of the smaller businesses that need XFM, he worries about the implications. "There's a certain amount of information so far, and that rings alarm bells because no one knows what it actually means." Worryingly, the Radio Authority apparently told Jacob that his was the only new station that hadn't asked for a change in its remit within the first six months.

Mike Wyeld, of independent label Better Records, is also concerned, having managed to sell 10,000 copies of an unknown band's record after using XFM to advertise. A Canadian, he cites experience of similar stations in North America. "It's written into their licences that they will present an alternative point of view. I think it would be a sad thing if indie radio became Dr Fox playing Natalie Imbruglia back to back with Republica."

What it all comes down to is money. XFM, apparently pounds 1.5m in debt - over half of that rumoured to have been spent on marketing and redecorating its headquarters - has still been sold for nearly pounds 16 million. "Oh, they're more valuable when they have fewer listeners," says Piering, though he feels that XFM offered better value to advertisers, especially record labels, than bald figures suggested. "Their audience was so targeted that a time buy there was probably three times as effective as on any other station."

The licence is the asset here, and as stories circulate of boardroom bluffs and counterbluffs, the shareholders have walked away with large personal profits, rewards for failure if you want. Meanwhile the staff, working for less than the industry average, ponder their future, as rumours suggest that Capital already has surplus staff on contracts since its failed bid for Virgin Radio - which was apparently opposed by one Chris Parry, who must be aware that regulations prevent a company from holding more than two licences on each wavelength. Myself, I just hope that XFM continues to play the MC5 as drivetime and that enough complaints are put to the Radio Authority to ensure that at least one dissenting voice remains on the air.

You can complain to the Radio Authority on 0171-430 2724 if you think Capital is big enough already. I plan to.

Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    FLEX Developer

    £45000 - £65000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, ...

    SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a global leader in the Oil &a...

    SAP Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000. Wakefield

    £55000 - £450000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Consultant...

    PMO Analyst - London - Banking - £350 - £400

    £350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: PMO Analyst - Banking - London - £350 -£400 per d...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn