'A balanced, bigger 6 Music is what we're after': Station bosses Paul Rodgers & Jeff Smith talk 6's new schedule

Lauren Laverne

Are you ready for a radio revolution? The UK airwaves are about to undergo their biggest upheaval in years, starting with the new BBC Radio 6 Music schedule, which goes live on Monday January 7.

Kiss’ new breakfast show is already up and running, while Capital Radio unveils its new line-up on the same day as 6 Music. The following Monday, Zoe Ball debuts on BBC Radio 2’s breakfast show, alongside a host of schedule changes, and on January 21, Chris Evans will make his ad-free Virgin Radio breakfast bow.

The UK radio business has rarely, if ever, seen anything like it – so all eyes will be on industry favourite Lauren Laverne as she takes over 6 Music’s flagship breakfast show at the unusually late time of 7.30am on Monday.

Recent Music Week cover star Laverne has already told us of her vision for “a positive start to the day that isn’t just fluff”, and she’ll be supported across the schedule by new shows from Mary Anne Hobbs, Shaun Keaveny and Mark Radcliffe & Stuart Maconie.

But what’s the thinking behind the changes? And what will they mean for the industry’s favourite radio station? Music Week sat down with 6’s bosses – head of 6 Music Paul Rodgers and head of music Jeff Smith – to find out…

Was it important to make the changes at a time when the station was doing well?

Paul Rodgers: “The best way to do any change is to plan it and think about it and do it in an orderly, strategic way. We are aware that 6 Music has been very, very stable for a long time and we wanted to make sure that we can use that as a strength when we’ve got it to use as a strength, and that you don’t overdo it. Although these changes are pretty significant, most of 6 Music is staying the same and we’re using the same presenter mix. We’re still acknowledging where our strengths lay, but we’re building on that.”

Will the music mix be changing?

Jeff Smith: “The strength of our music mix is the strength of our presenters really. It’s how they curate. Obviously, we’ve got that central playlist which won’t change, but with that set of presenters you’ll hear the difference in terms of what they prefer. Because that’s the nature of the radio station, what they curate determines it. With 6 as it stands, 95% of what we play in daytime is unique to us, against any other radio station in the UK. Which is incredible. It’s so different from anybody else in the market.”

Most people still think 6 is just an indie rock station though…

JS: “That has been the presumption about us, but we’ve always been broad. We’ve always played a broad range of music, but particularly over the last two years we’ve dug deeper into that range and looked at things like, ‘Is there a new thing happening within jazz?’ People like Mary Anne and Lauren have been at the forefront of finding those sort of artists while Steve [Lamacq] won’t shirk at finding some exciting new stuff from a range of music but yes, he’s primarily been known for what we’ve been doing with Idles and so on.”

It’s not been a great few years for guitar music. Will that impact on 6’s music policy?

JS: “It’s actually the best time for guitar music because what’s happening now is, it’s not at the forefront. I’ve always found that, when it feels like it’s out of focus, these things start to come through. There’s a great scene coming out of Liverpool at the moment for example. So you’ll hear a lot of different music other than guitar music, but it’s a good time still to be invested in guitar music, particularly from the UK. It’ll be 60 years since The Beatles formed in 2020, so let’s bring the guitars back if we can, see if we can find some. This would be the station that would find them if there’s stuff to be found.”

What will Lauren Laverne bring to the breakfast show?

PR: “She is the logical choice for breakfast. She has tremendous profile, is beloved as a broadcaster, she’s hugely skilful, a really authentic curator of music, she’s got her own thing going and she will bring that to us. It will build our breakfast offer. Breakfast is clearly a foundation stone for any radio station. As 6 Music has developed, the importance of breakfast has developed as well. What Lauren will bring is a stronger foundation that will improve performance through the rest of the day.”

Why is the show starting later than most breakfast shows?

PR: “From what we can see from the audience’s consumption of 6 Music, there’s quite a lot of middle of the day listening, people come into work and maybe access us on a different digital platform to what they leave the house accessing us on. So we’re hoping that with the tweaks we’ve made to the timing of the breakfast show, we can make most use of our audience’s availability.”

The audience didn’t seem too thrilled about Radcliffe & Maconie moving to weekends…

PR: “You’d be disappointed if they were. They do a great show – all of these people do great shows, by the way. So it’s not an easy set of moves to enact, it’s not easy to do a shuffle like this. But the point about Radcliffe & Maconie going to weekends is that they will build the weekends. They came to 6 Music and they helped define it, that’s what we brought them in for and we’re moving them to the weekends so they can help define and build the whole weekend. Breakfast is a really important slot and weekend breakfast is also extremely important. We’re a digital-only radio station and we need to try and be there for when people are able to access us on digital platforms. There is a good opportunity for DAB access for larger, broader audiences on weekend mornings and we rather hope Radcliffe and Maconie will be able to help us take advantage of that. We’ve got two new breakfast shows, weekday and weekend, they’re both logical choices and the benefits of those two new breakfast shows will be shown throughout the whole station. It’s a big deal.”

Will the changes elsewhere make it easier for your new schedule to make an impact, or harder?

JS: “There’s churn in the market potentially, people are going around and trying out these new shows, so that’s a possibility.”

PR: “That would probably be the case. But we hope that our changes will get new people at different times of the day to find 6 Music. So if there’s churn in the market that’s all to the good.”

JS: “As a music programmer who’s been doing this for a long time, it’s one of the most exciting times I’ve seen in radio. We’re all there to find an audience and to be competitive, to be out in the market, find audiences and bring them to the BBC in our case. That’s an exciting job to have.”

And how will you judge if it’s been a success?

PR: “We’ll hopefully build the whole radio station and build it in a way that retains its distinctive quality. Can we continue to grow, are we relevant in the future and are we doing it by being the 6 Music that we should be; which is the radio station that keeps playing the music that other radio stations don’t play and has this attitude of exploration and curation at its heart.”

JS: “The perception of the station is it’s an indie guitar station so, for me in terms of music, if we’re seen as a perceivably broader mix of music and more diverse, that will be a great thing for music policy. And to have a wider appeal in terms of audiences of all ages being able to come and enjoy the station.”

Can you get more than the 2.5 million listeners you have at the moment?

PR: “I don’t know how much higher it can go, but it can definitely go higher. It’s essential that we keep trying to take it to new audiences, it’s important that we balance the appeal of 6 Music as broadly across the age demos as we can do. 6 Music is for anyone who’s passionate and curious about music, there’s no age limit on curiosity so a balanced, bigger 6 Music is what we’re after.”

* To read our recent cover story on Lauren Laverne, click here. To read our investigation into the current radio turmoil, see the current Review Of 2018 issue of Music Week, or click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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