The Case for Radio: A Look at BBC Radio 6


Bailey Childress

In a world where we have music right at our fingertips, radio seems like an obsolete, forgotten, format, but we need it more than ever to keep new music alive. 

This is the case for radio: a look at how radio is so vital to us in this digital age. This week, we take a look at BBC Radio 6, a humble station that is a shining example of why we need radio.    

To understand BBC Radio 6, you must first understand who John Peel is and what he did for the music industry in the late 60s to his death in early 2004. 

John Peel was a DJ for BBC and has been acclaimed as “one of the most important men in music for about a dozen years” by fellow DJ, Paul Gambaccini. 

Notably, he is known as one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic and prog (progressive) rock on British airways. He had a wide choice in music, spanning from Captain Beefheart — a very eccentric musician who created complex but chaotic rock — to the White Stripes. This allowed people to find new music that wasn’t being played on your average radio station.  

He is also known for his “peel sessions” which was revolutionary for the fact that it brought in underground and famous bands from all over, giving them a national broadcast stage to play on. Because of this, many of the unknown people that went on the Peel Sessions later became famous: for example, British folk punk singer Billy Bragg. 

After John Peel died in 2004 there was a gap, a need for a person who ushered in unground bands into the limelight; meet our friend BBC Radio 6.

BBC Radio 6 is a digital radio station, meaning that it only streams online and not over radio waves, which was started in 2002. It originally played “archives of concerts and music interviews to explore music from the 1970s to the 1990s,” according to an article written by BBC to announce the new station.

The station had an extremely rough first decade that could be compared to a teenager having an identity crisis. 

For starters it went under countless schedule changes that always hurt them rather than helped them. As current controller of Radio 6, Bob Shennan, stated in an article for independent, it [Radio 6] was “bumbling around with about half a million listeners.” 

It was this fumbling that would lead to being nearly shut down in 2010, due to the BBC needing to cut down on their assets. 

Miraculously by fate, they were saved from the chopping block. Thanks to over thousands of listeners gathering together to stop BBC from cutting it. 

By this time, Radio 6 had changed for the better in 2010, after they were saved, they ended up finding their voice through playing alternative music, with a focus on new music. As Jeff Smith, the head of Radio 6, stated in an article about the station, it“strives to expose fresh alternative music in new ways, while also educating listeners on rare records from days gone.”

This bridged the once vacant hole between mainstream pop and underground music,he hole that John Peel strived to fill. 

Since almost being cut from the BBC lineup, they have rebounded nicely with them showing upwards of a 2.5 million listeners worldwide. They also have many segments where artists from all over come into their studios and play a couple of songs, much like the latter John peel sessions. 

Not only this, but they have an extremely versed lineup of DJs that play anything from jazz to experimental noise rock. It is this diverse lineup that allows people to find a emsnese amount of new music.  

So why am I telling you this? Why should you even care about some digital station that is all the way in the UK? 

Because in today’s fast paced world, we barely take time to go out of our way and find new music. Sometimes we don’t even know where to find new music.

Some might argue that digital streaming services, like spotify, pandora, etc., have made it easier than ever to find new music. But there is so much new music that it can be hard to sift through, to a point where we don’t even know where to begin.

That’s not to say that I disregard what the digital age has allowed the artist to do in terms of promoting themselves. Instead, I just believe that the combination of having a digital streaming service while having a curated list of music from radio, is vital. 

Radio, more than ever, is important in today’s age, in order to keep music fresh and alive we need radio to provide us with the beacon of light that guides us to new shores.

In terms of Radio 6, we see the story of John Peel, and how he wanted to create a curation of artists to bring into the limelight, and how BBC Radio 6 continued his mission while being able to broadcast to a wider audience.

This mission is exactly what we need:” a designed set of underground, old, and somewhat popular acts coming together under one roof for people to listen to. 

This is the case for radio: a look into why we need radio in the digital age.