It’s been a busy first year in charge of BBC Radio 6 Music for Samantha Moy.
Since her promotion to head of station, Moy has made a series of schedule changes as she looks to the future of a network that’s becoming more representative of contemporary alternative music.
After launching in 2002 with a focus on indie bands and classic BBC sessions, the station has evolved along with the music scene. As it prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary next year, 6 Music is no longer associated primarily with guitar music, even if some of its presenters cut their teeth in broadcasting by championing indie bands.
Today (September 10) marks the final show of daytime afternoon presenter and former breakfast host Shaun Keaveny, who’s exiting the digital station after 14 years. Craig Charles, another veteran of 6 Music, takes over the show after impressing bosses with his daytime deputising during the pandemic.
Of course, Samantha Moy has not had to worry about RAJAR figures during the pandemic. Its last reported figures in 2020 showed that it is the country’s most popular digital station, with 2.56 million listeners.
It would be a brave move to make too many changes at a station that’s so loved by its listeners (the mid-noughties George Lamb experiment was one occasion where 6 Music bosses got it wrong). Over nearly two decades, many of the station’s presenters, and even the unchanging newsreaders, have become a familiar presence. Listeners have a proprietary feeling about a network that was saved from a BBC closure proposal in 2010, following a campaign that was led by the music industry, artists and fans of the station.
In April, 2021, 1Xtra’s Jamz Supernova started on Saturday afternoons in place of Liz Kershaw, a veteran of the station who was one of its original presenters. The Blessed Madonna took over on Saturday evenings from Tom Robinson, another mainstay of the station who continues to host a Sunday night show as well as deputising for other DJs.
6 Music had become a natural fit for Jamz Supernova, a DJ who champions alternative R&B, hip-hop, broken beat, global club sounds and leftfield electronica.
Asked if the station was broadening its sound, Jamz Supernova told Music Week: “Yeah, I think just naturally. I guess [listeners] noticed it a lot more when the daytime schedule changed [in 2019 ] with Mary Anne [Hobbs] coming in and Lauren [Laverne]. Bringing their taste in, I think that definitely had a role to play in shaping the sound. You can even see it across the [2020 6 Music Festival] line-up, having someone like Robert Glasper last year.
“To me, it feels like quite a natural progression, it’s just broadening it for a music lover - and a music lover isn’t just somebody that loves guitar music. I think that’s what [6 Music] does really well, they fill a gap. I guess someone might not listen to Radio 1 or 1Xtra any more because of where they’re at in life, but they still want to be across new music and they still want to see it represented. So 6 Music is a really good place for them.”
I am always looking at ways we can evolve, engage more listeners and be the best partner we can be to artists and the industry
With the support of a sterling production team, 74-year-old Iggy Pop has become an effective champion of alternative music on the network, which suggests that the future of the station is not simply about reducing the average age of its presenters. Both Iggy Pop and Amy Lamé are being moved to new slots (Iggy Pop from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, and Amy Lamé from Sunday afternoon to early weekend breakfast).
Music Week has spoken to label execs about the importance of the station and its evolution (see below).
Here, as she marks her first year in charge of BBC Radio 6 Music, Samantha Moy opens up about the big changes at the digital station and her plans to make it more relevant....
How have you evolved 6 Music in the past year?
“6 Music is still 6 Music. We are a radio station made by music lovers, for music lovers. A year ago I said that I wanted 6 Music to have even more meaning and more relevance to more music fans - representing an even greater variety of musical genres and communities. I feel we’ve come some way in achieving that. On Saturdays, you can now find Jamz Supernova (1pm-3pm) and The Blessed Madonna (9pm-12am) – both are DJs and broadcasters who bring considerable curatorial strength and a defining legacy in club culture to 6 Music and our audience.
“We’ve renamed 6 Music Recommends, our new music strand, to New Music Fix and whilst the format of the show hasn’t changed, we have seen an increase in on-demand listens since the launch of the new title in July. In November last year, we introduced 6 Music’s Artist in Residence, where we welcomed artists into our world, to share some of their favourite music directly with listeners. So far we’ve had fantastic series from Loyle Carner, Arlo Parks, Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, Mykki Blanco, Beabadoobee and Wolf Alice. Other new formats and commissions include Lose Yourself With… presented by Nabihah Iqbal, Honey Dijon, Rostam and more, our Loud and Proud season marking Pride Month in June and our recent All Day Raves celebrating the club culture of the 80s, 90s and 00s. We have also just curated our own stage at All Points East festival for the first time. We’re still 6 Music, we’ve just expanded and tried new things and I’m very proud of that.”
Is 6 Music still an alternative station?
“Yes. We are alternative to the mainstream. 82% of the music on our playlist last year was from independent labels. Alternative – as in indie? Yes we are, as well as a myriad of other genres, scenes and specialisms. Truly, we love music of all kinds and we love artists who push boundaries, develop and hone their craft. The last 18 months have been difficult for artists and our audience too - there might have been moments when we are the only voice a listener might hear, so it’s been so important to be the thread which ties us together through our love of music. And in those dark wintry months, we’ve brought a little sunshine through the speakers – celebrating our cut of pop and revelling in nostalgia as we did with 6 Music Goes Pop and 6 Music Goes Back To.”
What are your plans and ambitions for the station in the months and years ahead?
“To build on what we’ve achieved so far. We’ll always keep the schedule and our plans alive with brilliant commissions, guests and presenters – and of course music. But one thing that I can’t wait for is getting the gang back together - it’s been a long time since we've all been in the same space. I’m looking forward to the return of the 6 Music Festival – with all our presenters and as many of our listeners we can get there. I love those moments when you see Mark Radcliffe and Marc Riley having a chat, or Mary Anne and Steve Lamacq in a studio together, Tom Robinson darting about to as many shows as possible in one weekend or Gideon Coe crate digging for records. It’ll be wonderful to get back to sharing our love of live music together in person.”
Have you completed all the schedule changes you envisioned for the station, or can we expect any further announcements in 2021?
“Later this month, we will be able to announce who will host our 7pm-9pm slot on Friday nights - as Iggy Pop moves to Sunday afternoons (4pm-6pm). And we’ve confirmed that in time, 6 Music will be rooted in Salford as part of the BBC’s Across the UK plans, so that will shape our plans too. I am always looking at ways we can evolve, engage more listeners and be the best partner we can be to artists and the industry, and I’m looking forward to seizing every opportunity we can in 2021 and beyond.”
BBC Radio 6 Music is an industry favourite - it’s up for the Radio Station category once again at the Music Week Awards (September 14) and has dominated our awards over the last decade.
When Music Week quizzed the industry about the development of 6 Music, the reaction was broadly positive.
However, some execs (speaking anonymously) questioned the overall strategy at the digital station, raising doubts about initiatives such as the 6 Music Goes Pop all-day pop programming in April, which was perhaps more typical of a commercial network rather than a BBC station. Some questioned the disconnect between the shows in the first half of the day (Lauren Laverne, Mary Anne Hobbs) and those in the second half (Shaun Keaveny and Steve Lamacq).
“What’s going on at 6 Music?” was the question one executive said came up in conversation with artist managers, reflecting the fact that the station has shifted its sound and line-up. There were also questions about its continued status as an alternative music station.
6 Music has become an essential staple for innovative, progressive artists around the world
While it may have been time to refresh the line-up, there is clearly a balancing act to be made between youth and experience at 6 Music. When Prince Philip died, the station needed a trusted voice and turned to Mark Radcliffe. And it’s hard to imagine the network without mainstays Marc Riley, Chris Hawkins and Gideon Coe in their familiar time slots.
The station has shown its commitment to the Mercury Prize with a live broadcast from last night’s ceremony.
Here, Music Week hears from industry executives, including label bosses behind Mercury winner Arlo Parks and Nubya Garcia, two artists championed by the more musically diverse 6 Music in 2021...
Toby L, co-founder, Transgressive Records
“6 Music has become an essential staple for innovative, progressive artists around the world, servicing career-focused acts with a platform that presents their message unfiltered and with unrivalled knowledge and passion. Everybody involved, from presenters to producers, lives and breathes art and music. Every time we see a Transgressive song playlisted, the uplift across streaming, sales and tickets for an artist hits new peaks. And this is true for both brand new artists or returning acts - the engagement and interaction from listeners is consistently immense. The way that the material is contextualised and presented on air is heartfelt, informed and passionate - which is to mirror the beating heart of any defiantly independent artist or music company. It’s undeniable that 6 Music has become part of the fabric of modern British music culture, and the country is all the better for it, too.”
Fred Gillham, UK MD, Concord
“6 Music is an important station for many of our artists. The audience listens to 6 because they simply love music and are looking to the station to introduce them to great artists, regardless of any genre labelling. It’s such a unique platform to have in the UK, there really aren’t any equivalents. That approach is naturally more likely to align with the independent sector and for labels like ours we should celebrate the fact we have such a platform to be able to showcase the diverse and amazing artists we work with. Their support for Nubya Garcia is testament to that and undoubtedly has played a part in introducing a broader audience to her great talent.”
It’s such a unique platform to have in the UK, there really aren’t any equivalents
Jason Rackham, MD, PIAS UK
“If you look at 6 Music playlists from five or 10 years ago compared to 6 Music playlists now, they've really embraced diversity. They've really embraced not just diversity of culture, but diversity of music in a big way. They have really got behind the new British jazz movement, supporting artists like Moses Boyd, which has been fantastic to see. I think that 6 Music remains a key partner for artists developing their fanbases and developing their story. A lot of artists that have spent time in the Top 5 [albums chart] this year, they're all artists that have been hugely supported by 6 Music - most of them are A-list artists, including Arlo Parks. It's a connoisseur’s station, it's sort of in parallel to what record stores do, people at blogs and music publications. It's very much part of driving people’s engagement with new music, and it's really important. That should be protected, and it should be celebrated.”
Dave Rajan, head of radio, Parlophone
“6 Music is a brilliant radio station. A lot of the music that we [Parlophone] has doesn't really touch 6 Music, but it knows exactly what it wants to do. It breaks new artists. It's a remarkable line-up of presenters. I can't say enough good things about it. Look at what they've managed to achieve, especially considering there was a point where it wasn't going to be around for much longer [when the BBC proposed to axe the station in 2010]. They bounced back from that and said, ‘Look at what we can do, look how strong we are’. If you look at it from the music industry's point of view, it's so influential. It breaks records and it helps sell albums. And they do it so brilliantly, the music team there are wonderful. They have such an eclectic mix of everything. There was great support from Steve Lamacq and Chris Hawkins for The Snuts. But their sound has moved away from that; it feels like [The Snuts] is in a much better spot at Radio 1. I think there's a perception of 6 Music that dates back to when it was first started. But in actual fact, it bends genres, it has new artists and old. It's got a Kojey Radical record on it, and it's got The National. You're like, ‘What is this?’. But it works. I always ask people what they listen to, and they take pride and they are jubilant when they say, ‘I listen to 6 Music’. It's a badge of honour.”
Subscribers can read our interview from earlier this year with 6 Music’s head of station Samantha Moy here.
Our Jamz Supernova interview is available here.