Is 'cool' Radio 2 now too hot for its own good?

Critics say it's not the station's job to promote the Scissor Sisters

BBC Radio 2 is cool. Credibility has replaced cosiness on the network that boasts middle-youth icons Jeremy Vine, Chris Evans and foppish stand-up comedian Russell Brand as presenters.

The revolution was confirmed in October when Radio 2 signed the high priest of hip, Bob Dylan. Starting on 23 December, his Theme Time Radio Hour will bring Dylan's playlists to UK audiences for the first time. It will mark a fitting climax to six years in which Radio 2 has left competition in its wake, establishing itself as Britain's premier radio station, with a regular audience of more than 13 million listeners and an unparalleled Rajar share of 15.7 per cent.

One man has steered the music policy at the heart of this creative transformation. Colin Martin, Radio 2's executive producer of music, chairs the all-powerful playlist committee that decides each week which new releases will be added to the output. Inclusion on the A list (tracks receiving about 20 plays per week) can make a band. Stars that have benefited include the Georgian jazz/blues singer Katie Melua, Fife songstress KT Tunstall, James Blunt, Norah Jones and New York glam rock outfit the Scissor Sisters.

"Prior to Colin Martin, Radio 2 had an esoteric and shambolic music policy," says the radio industry consultant Paul Robinson, a former head of BBC network radio strategy. "He has made it coherent, given it real shape and focus and really younged it down."

But now Martin, the former drummer in the 1960s blues and rock band the Artwoods, has announced his retirement and the biggest job in music radio is up for grabs. Outside the BBC, radio industry leaders pray it will go to someone less ruthlessly determined to dominate the airwaves.

"I would like to see him replaced by someone who is entirely focused on delivering the BBC's public-service purposes," says Lisa Kerr, of the commercial radio companies body the RadioCentre. "Radio 2 performs very poorly against its public-purpose objectives. It has a format freedom that is totally incompatible with what commercial radio companies are allowed to do."

Analysis from the RadioCentre reveals that Martin's years in charge of Radio 2 coincide with a 40 per cent increase in listening by commercial radio's key demographic target group of 15- to 34-year-olds. The average number of hours they tune in to the BBC station has gone up by a dramatic 53 per cent.

"Once you commit to a strategy that is specifically designed to drive market share and pursue a younger audience, you are targeting commercial radio's heartland, whether you admit it or not," says Steve Orchard, operations director of GCap Media. "Colin Martin has been a very effective director of music, but why is the BBC pursuing market share at all? Its job is to fill niches the commercial sector cannot or will not fill."

Ms Kerr says: "If you give tens of millions of pounds of public money to a national FM radio station, it inevitably plays a role in promoting new talent. But the truth is there are loads of places where you can hear Boyzone or the Scissor Sisters. We were very disappointed that the Government did not take a much more critical view of Radio 2 during the charter review process."

"Some of commercial radio's loss to Radio 2 is the commercial sector's own fault," says Mr Robinson. "They have not been at their creative best in recent years. But the problem is real because research proves that once someone becomes a Radio 2 listener they do not want to leave. Commercial stations find it almost impossible to pull them back out of the pot."

That makes Radio 2 a dangerous enemy for commercial radio stations. "The BBC is being pushed on to the back foot," says Professor Steven Barnett of Westminster University. "Radio 2 is getting in the way of the profits of a lot of companies. All eyes will be on the service licence the BBC Trust draws up for it. I suspect it may have to withdraw a bit from popular music in favour of news, documentary and talk."

By the time Colin Martin hangs up his headphones in March it may be clear that is the price the BBC will pay for his formidable ability to predict musical taste.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Database Executive - Leading Events Marketing Company - London

£23000 - £25000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Databas...

Recruitment Genius: Publishing Assistant

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

Guru Careers: Print Project Manager

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Print Project Manager is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living