I vividly remember the first time, though I don't recall which man it was with. It may have been Tony Robinson. It may have been Marc Riley, or Gideon Coe. But one of these chaps was presenting a radio show on BBC 6Music, followed by another of them, and there I was sitting in a friend's kitchen, listening to the station for the first time, gripped.
What was this rare heaven? A station where the presenters were lovely and witty and knowledgeable – and yet the music they played was an exploration. New indie records, old soul records, unfamiliar folk records, Motown classics – and their love for all of it so palpable you wanted to reach out and hug them.
Well, that was more than five years ago and I've been listening to 6Music ever since. In fact, it's probably the main reason that I and a lot of my friends bought digital radios. But the secret society, word-of-mouth love of a bunch of 30-year-olds is not enough to fund a station that costs the BBC £6m a year to run, which is why the Beeb announced this week that 6Music, along with the Asian Network, may have to go.
Recently, the BBC Trust's review had found that "over the last four years the station's reach had grown faster than any other BBC digital radio-only service but this growth had been from a low base". There were also concerns about low awareness, "with just 20 per cent of the adult population aware that the station existed". But in the past few days has come the harsher message that Mark Thompson, the Director-General, may shrink his corporation by getting rid of 6Music altogether.
The irony is, the station is just getting into its stride. And not by chasing listeners, which had been its downfall in the past, but by playing to its strengths. In a loud age, the station is being asked to shout its name from the rooftops, when really it's better at mentioning it from the back garden. And so, from 2007 to 2009, there was the dodgy George Lamb period. Brought in as a "personality" DJ, he shouted the word "shabba" a lot, and once said that gypsy travellers were like asbestos. You'd tune in in the morning and he'd be lording it over his female correspondents, barking inane catchphrases like a bear with a hangover. Yes, he brought in new listeners – we're just not sure what he did with the old ones.
Brilliantly, he was recently replaced by Lauren Laverne, who is perfect for the station, combining wide cultural knowledge with understated charm, and a deep love of pop and indie and folk and everything else. Plus, a weekly show was given to Jarvis Cocker, who is so in tune with the 6Music demographic that he is the radio station in human form. Last week, he had a short story by the incredible writer Miranda July, and the visual artist Gavin Turk came in for a nonchalant chat about art. We want more of this sort of thing. It's not a station about celebrities: a lot of the presenters are not so much presenters but musicians or comedians who just really love playing records.
Given that John Peel's death left so many musical mourners worried that nobody could replace him, it would be idiotic to get rid of a station that embodies a large part of his values. Especially when Simon Cowell is still filling ITV with the notion that music is a competition to be won or lost, with fame and fortune its only accompanying goal.
In an age of rapped knuckles and endless accountability, the BBC needs to take a deep breath and stand up for something that doesn't want to shout about itself. And where people are happy. Not shouting, but quietly enjoying themselves.Reuse content