Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Xfm - A Backward Step

This weeks news that Xfm is to get rid of its daytime line-up of DJ's and run a listener-powered, non-stop music offering between 10am and 4pm is an incredible move.

When John Plunkett at the Media Guardian first got wind of the story, he published a speculative "they're thinking about this idea", which usually means the story has been leaked, but he couldn't confirm it completely!

"Surely some mistake", I thought. "They wouldn't do a foolish thing like that.... would they?"

Then came the confirmation. Radio to the Power of U will allow listeners to choose songs via text, phone, and online across the day.

Nick Davidson, the MD of Xfm was quoted on Media Guardian as saying:

"Our listeners are used to being able to control what they watch or listen to as these days people are inundated with choice. Allowing them to shape their own content seems the next logical step." (Actually if people are being inundated with opportunities to take control, falling into line and allowing them to do the same on Xfm is not actually the next logical step. However, I digress!)

OK. Here's the reason why this is a bad idea for Xfm.

Xfm is all about having a passion for new music. A passion that is emphasised and celebrated by its presenters. The DJ's on Xfm bring new music to life. They live it, breathe it, feel it and share it with their listeners who look to them to a trusted guide through the sea of musical mediocrity.

Cutting out these musical champions is like removing a vital organ from the radio station. Will it still function? Yes - but it will look a lot paler... probably be bed-bound, and need some sort of dialysis for the rest of its natural life.

One of the reasons why BBC Radio 1 does so well, is because it has entertaining presenters who share their passion for music with the listeners. Even Moyles gets excited about certain records at breakfast! The opportunities for exploiting the rich vein of content that sessions, interviews and new music features brings will all be lost across the day at Xfm. Gone. And replaced with what?

A faceless jukebox that I could replicate on my ipod.

Radio at its best is about the relationship that develops between a broadcaster who communicates in a unique way with the listener. Imagine Paul Gambaccini if he played 40 minutes of non stop music every hour... or Bob Harris entering into a 100 Minute Music Marathon! Great music radio stations need great broadcasters. Sure, there's all the specialist shows in the evening and weekends, but that's not where the mass of the audience is available. I know putting your consumers in control is very fashionable at the moment and having sections of your output where this happens is as old as the hills in radio programming. "The Giant Jukebox" anyone? But having it across at least 30 hours of primetime radio every week is frankly a waste of valuable spectrum.

I like Xfm and what it stands for. It shows that some in commercial radio do care about new music (even though it's always struggled to make any significant commercial revenues) and it's been a breeding ground and platform for great talent like Adam and Joe, Shaun Keavney, Justin Lee Collins, Christian O Connell and Ricky Gervais.

Just at a time when the BBC has extended it's lead over commercial radio across the UK, one of the major radio groups announces that it's pulling it's daytime line-up off its network of new music stations, and replacing it with listener requests. Hardly a move that will win back valuable share points from the BBC is it now? Shouldn't commercial radio be investing in content... not removing it from the airwaves? I'm sure that Radio 1 are laughing into the thier licence fee settlement as we speak.

This move is a negative, defensive step and my predication is that it won't have any significant positive impact on the audience. If anything, the loyal Xfm fan who tuned in to hear a knowledgable DJ get excited by music, will re-tune to find a station that has one.

Sorry Xfm. Bad move.

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