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.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

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.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week