Forget Radio 2: In five years' time, we'll all be going Smoooth
Former BBC DJ Mark Goodier tells Matthew Bell why BBC executives have reason to fear
Sunday 03 October 2010
It says something about the plurality of British radio that the most listened-to station, Radio 2, has never had a commercial competitor.
More than 13 million listeners tune in to its reassuring blend of easy listening and chatter in part because, at a national level, there's no similar proposition. But all that is about to change.
Since the passing this summer of the Digital Economy Bill, which relaxed the competition rules for local radio, the BBC has lost its middle-of-the-road monopoly. Tomorrow, the first of several potential threats to Radio 2's supremacy will emerge: the newly national Smooth Radio, the middle-brow station that, until now, has served six disparate regions. If BBC executives are nervous, that's because they're supposed to be.
"There should be competition, and we're going to make sure the BBC gets some," says a bullish Mark Goodier, one of several former BBC DJs signed up to Smooth. "It might take several years but I think the landscape is going to look very different."
Goodier, 49, will host the 10am to 1pm weekday slot and in many ways is the embodiment of Smooth: polished and safe, he is the least likely source of controversy. For anyone who listened to Radio 1 in the 1990s, his voice will forever be synonymous with the Sunday night charts. But despite forging a reputation as a safe pop DJ, Goodier does not want to be too closely associated with "easy listening".
"I want Smooth to be enjoyable to listen to, and not stressful. It should be a station you want to have on all day without having to change. That's not to say it should be bland and boring." A typical playlist will include a mix of old favourites from Stevie Wonder and Elton John to newer artists such as Paloma Faith and Nell Bryden.
Given his own style of presenting, it's perhaps surprising to hear Goodier defend loud-mouths like Radio 1's Chris Moyles. "It's easy to knock them but every youth-orientated station wants a presenter like Moyles," he says, "There are only a few in the world of these kind of broadcasters, and I'm not one of them Moyles is a proper communicator. He's a unique talent."
This is the businessman in Goodier speaking. Since 1997 he has owned and run the production company Wise Buddah – a play on the beer brand Budweiser – and he clearly knows what makes good radio. He believes Moyles was justified in dedicating half an hour of a recent breakfast show to complaining about not being paid. "The audience relates to it," he says, "They have had it happen to them, or they know someone who has, and these kinds of DJ, like Moyles and like Chris Evans used to be, can get away with it. The easy option would be to take offence and fire him, but Andy Parfitt [the controller of Radio 1] will not be bothered – it's the most economical marketing Radio 1 have had."
Goodier left Radio 1 after 15 years in 2002, and hints that a golden age of creative freedom at the BBC has passed. One of the highlights of his early career was the creation of the Evening Session, Radio 1's ground-breaking 1990s show which launched the careers of many unknown acts. It later became the baby of Steve Lamacq, another DJ now produced by Goodier. But the post-Sachsgate BBC is, he agrees, an altogether different place.
"The BBC had confidence in those days," he says, "You could permit Tim Westwood to have all his expletives, but you just can't do it now. It's catastrophic that these media storms, which mean nothing, can have this knock-on effect." But Goodier argues that, despite the storms, the BBC will always be able to take more risks than commercial rivals. "Commercial radio has been very much more strictly censured by Ofcom for far longer than the BBC ever has. The BBC has now come under this intense scrutiny, but for years commercial stations have been being fined tens of thousands of pounds for minor transgressions.
"It would be nice to think that once you're out of the BBC you can be more free but I think it's always harder on the commercial boys. Because when a commercial station gets a fine it goes straight to the bottom line, you don't pay it out of the licence fee."
Goodier was inspired to go into radio aged 11 after listening to John Peel and Johnny Walker, and speaks with palpable pride that his company now produces Walker's show.
On every subject we discuss, Goodier gives a perfectly neutral answer: it's a smooth performance. But does he not ever feel trapped in the middle of the road? "When I was on the Evening Session it was good to be the first to play a new record by the Happy Mondays or Nirvana. But I can still get excited about stuff Smooth doesn't play. We're not for kids. But you get to my age and there are other ways to define yourself as a broadcaster."
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