The 6 Music effect 

13 May 2010 tbs.pm/1186

It seems that the widely-publicised campaign to save BBC Radio 6 Music from threatened closure has not only significantly increased the station’s weekly reach – having now passed the magic million mark – but seems to have also boosted listening to digital radio in general.

Based on the first three months of 2010, digital radio listening now accounts for a 24% share (compared to 20.9% for the previous quarter), which is an impressive gain but still less than half of the 50% threshold previously proposed as being the trigger point for national analogue radio frequency closures.

(Whether national FM radio transmitters should actually be switched off at such a point is a separate issue entirely.)

Getting to that controversial 50% threshold will still prove to be a major undertaking, especially given the poor availability of digital radio for cars in general apart from expensive upgrades for certain makes and models. Something that’s a better solution than the Pure Highway is still desperately needed for this particular market.

Indeed any prospect of a “digital radio switchover” is very likely to be put on hold by the new coalition government for both practical and ideological reasons; the very difficulty of reaching such a target being a perfect excuse to do nothing in the short term if so desired.

Hopefully this new-found success of 6 Music might also spark some creativity in the commercial radio sector, as they suddenly wake up to the realisation that there’s a greater potential market out there for music that doesn’t merely consist of the same six songs played in repetition, despite what they might have been led to believe in the past.

This appetite for new music seems to be also partly reflected in the more modest audience gains made by certain other specialist digital radio stations such as NME Radio; something that all the 6 Music publicity may have assisted as a byproduct.

Fans of the BBC Asian Network weren’t so lucky, with a further decline in audience share for the station despite all the surrounding publicity, although in theory it might still be theoretically possible to make a case for saving the station based on the quality of its output if its public service criteria are still being met.

However since there appears to be some form of reasonable strategy in place to compensate in part for the network’s closure (unlike 6 Music), there doesn’t seem to be that much hope of a reprieve despite Asian Network’s Nihal winning the best speech programme category at the Sony Awards two days ago.

Given all the recent developments, if the BBC Trust wants to find favour and extend its lifespan during the term of a new government, it would be most wise to quickly make at least one decision that is generally popular with listeners yet go against the apparent wishes of BBC management, therefore saving 6 Music should most definitely be top of the agenda.