Music streaming services might have threatened to kill the radio star – or in the case of Apple hiring Zane Lowe, steal them.
But Steve Lamacq is proof that DJs are still in demand, after his 6 Music show hit a million listeners for the first time, making it the UK’s biggest digital music show.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” says Lamacq, who recently turned 50. “I thought it would take another year before we got there.”
He puts the station’s success down to its curatorial role in sorting through the flood of new music being shared online with the rise of online streaming services such as Spotify and Soundcloud. “Radio 6 does that thing of offering words of reassurance, filtering through everything that’s out there to bring you the best bits.”
Lamacq’s station is not the only one to buck expectations. Audience figures have soared at Radio 1, too, since rising star Annie Mac took over Lowe’s taste-making role in the evening slot, after he declared he was moving to Los Angeles to front a launch show on Beats 1, Apple’s new radio service.
Radio 1 has benefited from schedule changes promoting rising female DJs. Clara Amfo, who took over Fearne Cotton’s morning show, featuring the Live Lounge, added 300,000 listeners, according to the latest figures.
But the continued rise of 6 Music, five years after it came under threat when a BBC review found that only one in five UK residents were aware the station existed, is of particular joy to many music fans in search of something different. The network currently has 2.19 million listeners, its highest ever weekly reach.
“One of the things no one saw was how the music community has grown to develop, there is so much music that exists outside of the mainstream now and you have to have somewhere for those people to come,” Lamacq told The Independent.
Despite music tribes splintering and listening habits diversifing thanks to the internet, fandom is still as strong as ever behind individual acts.
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The launch of a vote this afternoon for 6 Music followers to choose their favourite band T-shirts – ranging from The Rolling Stones lips and tongue by Jon Pasche to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon prism by Storm Thorgerson – plays into the kind of devotion the station is aimed at.
Lamacq still acts like an obessive fan himself. He admits to spending his Sundays trawling through the sackfull of new music he is sent every week in his search for new gems.
“On Sundays I start at 9.30am and finish at 4.30pm. It’s like John Peel said, at the heart of his success was his insecurity that he might miss something.”
“When I was in my teens, music would change every day and if you missed it then you couldn’t have it so you never thought about going backwards.
“I would swap any of my old records for anything new and good that just came in the post tomorrow because it all comes back to that idea of new music.”
Lamacq and his colleagues are currently debating who should win the Mercury Prize, music’s equivalent of the Booker or Turner prize but one that is known for recognising new and sometimes virtually unheard-of artists alongside established acts.
He tips Soak, a 19-year-old Irish singer-songwriter whose real name is Bridie Monds-Watson and has just released her debut album, to win the award on 20 November.
“I think there’s more music in her,” he says of Soak. “I was at a new music showcase where she came on and didn’t say anything, just started playing her guitar, and the whole room fell silent. I wouldn’t mind her winning.”
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