The golden age of wireless

The news that BBC radio listening figures are at an all-time low is a sad indicator of the times, but no great surprise.

Of course, millions still tune in to the Beeb’s array of stations, from Radios 1 to 5 to the newer digital offerings, but there’s plenty of competition on the airwaves. The (often struggling) commercial stations are joined by online options like Spotify and Tidal, and with new streaming offerings from Apple and YouTube on the way, the average listen of 10 hours a week – down 14% from a decade earlier – could fall further.

Still, two thirds of the UK public hear some BBC radio every week. The new stats are more about the length of time spent listening with Auntie.

Radio‘s not had an easy time of it of late. It seems like a different age now, when the Beeb had a monopoly on our leisure time – youngsters could either listen to chart music, or kick a ball around the street. Come the evening, they’d listen to John Peel until the small hours waiting for the latest from the Sex Pistols and be half asleep during their exams the next day. Or was that just me?

As it happens, digital station 6music is the one success story with listeners up to a couple of million (there were even calls to swap its FM slot with an ailing Radio 3).

6 is an oddity – crewed by the likes of Jarvis Cocker and Iggy Pop (left, who surely don’t need the work), it would have closed in 2010 were it not for a public outcry. Today, it’s somehow not just afloat but thriving as the flagship of a digital strategy with podcasts and ‘Listen again’ adding to the choice of how we hear what and when. Ironically, its listenership comes from the 25-44 age group – maybe not as digitally savvy as Radio 1’s audience, but earning enough to afford a DAB radio.

Despite the closure threat, BBC stations have less worries than commercial rivals like Xfm, who have to water down output and be constantly aware of sponsors and advertisers. So, 6music attracts listeners outwith its target demographic, like youngsters who buy vinyl on the back of a play on the Guy Garvey show – the station is a great place to discover new music.

Indeed, being based in Scotland, the BBC was one of my own biggest concerns during the recent independence referendum – never mind the oil or fiscal autonomy, what about our weekly Freakzone?

As it happens, BBC Radio Scotland has shifted towards speech-based programming, like local radio in England, and inevitably the change has generated much criticism. The next round of listener figures should make interesting reading.


Remember the 1980s? Russian quintet Motorama do. In Cold War times the joke was that Soviet music fans were getting into The Beatles just when they split. However, it may be that the band from Rostov-on-Don have been trawling their parents’ record collections.
Poverty is poppier than 2010’s debut Alps – obvious influences still include The Cure and Editors, but it’s a short hop to A-ha whereas previously they ploughed doomier depths, recalling Artery and a plethora of long-forgotten indie acts. Meandering basslines and spooky keyboards sit oddly with Vladislav Parshin’s crooned vocal on ‘Dispersed Energy’, but ‘Heavy Wave’ recalls New Order at their most chipper. Looks like the ’80s are here to stay. HHHH

This piece originally appeared in the Fareham View

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