“They don’t make the city beat – they’re making all the action stop”
Beat106’s only outlet for alternative music has been axed. Read on for the full story, or air your views…
So, the Beatscene is over. For now, at least. On last night’s final show Jim Gellatly made a few references to ‘at least, in this timeslot’, indicating that there might be hope that the largest regular show for new and alternative music in Scotland might be saveable. Having moved from Aberden’s Northsound when the station started up, Gellatly is staying at the station – “I’m still hopeful that there can still be a place for new music at Beat 106, and that I can be part of it.” Gellatly closed his show with ‘Capital Radio’, the Clash song which coincidentally describes Beat106’s new owners, who have instigated the sweeping changes that see Gellatly’s Beatscene show plus the one which ordinarily follows it, Bobby Finn’s, axed.
Is it all so simple though? Is it a case of Capital – described 20-odd years ago as “the sound of complacency” by Joe Strummer – being the big conglomerate in the black hat walking into town and taking our jobs, our music? Well, it ‘saved’ Xfm, the London alternative station which vanished from trace almost before it got on the air thanks to a shoddy promotional campaign, and rather failed to endear itself to London’s listeners with its diet of daytime post-rock and indie that would have made John Peel leap up and down (naturally, the majority of its target audience switched off). And to be fair to Capital, Beat106 was put on the market and its owners turned in a healthy profit from the £33M sale. Indeed, allegations were made in a Sunday paper that the licence was offered for sale to one of the losing bidders almost immediately the result was announced. Given that noted media players sich as Alan McGee also tabled bids – McGee described the axing of the Beatscene as “another example of corporate globalisation and another nail in the coffin of individualism” – it’s unsurprising that such unsubstantiated rumours fly around, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of the people who were relying on Beat to create a buzz around the central belt. Instead the only physical impact is the inevitable round of redundancies when a foreign-based company takes over a local one.
Many people saw Capital’s involvement simply as gaining them a foothold in the central Scottish market, being the only UK area where they have no presence. Indeed, one commentator remarked that Beat could have been “a 24-hour showtune station for all Capital cared”. Unfortunately they have aspirations beyond being just another player in a market dominated by Clyde and Forth. Bobby Finn, outgoing overnight dj, remarked “Capital want to be number one in Scotland right now, certainly before Christmas – I’d believed that we could be in 2 years, but …”
Of course, some people might ask what Beat was doing trying to compete with Clyde and Forth when they were mandated to provide an alternative to these stations.
And it all started so promisingly not much over a year ago when the central Scottish licence (see previous news story)- the Holy Grail of Broadcasting – came up for grabs. Various parties put in bids – some optimistic smaller bids who wanted a voice for their communities, others big players who although pitching the importance of their content, clearly had an eye on the bigger picture. No bad thing of course, it’s a dog-eat-dog cutthroat world out there.
Beat106, with T in the Park man Stuart Clumpas the figurehead of the bid, won. The music underground gave a reserved cheer – well, BigBeat (the company behind the bid, managed by entrepreneur Ron McCulloch) was surely the best bid, right? The people behind King Tut’s surely had the best interests of the burgeoning music community at heart?
Fast forward to June 2000. Beat106 has a daytime playlist featuring such ‘alternative’ talents as Macy Gray, Madonna, and Jamiroquai. Hmm. Is that what we were promised?
Well, the thing about radio in this country is that for something so restricted – there’s only a couple of stations allowed to cover the central belt – if you DO get the licence, you can get away with murder.
Kerry Curtis at the Radio Authority elaborated “We’re a complaint-driven organisation as we can’t monitor all 300 stations in the UK under our control – we rely on public/listebers keeping us abreast of what’s going on. Also we’ve received no notice of change from Beat106 over a change of use of licence.” If complaints are received and a station is found to be in breach of agreement, a warning is issued, and “similar further breaches or more serious breaches sanctions applied may include fines and/or shortening of licences.” Any change of control, as has happened following Capital’s takeover, are subject to review of the station’s format.
[More at http://www.radioauthority.org.uk, and formal letters of complaint are usually addressed to The Radio Authority, Holbrook House, 14 Great Queen Street, Holborn, London WC2B 5DG]
For the unitiated, a radio station makes what’s described as a Promise of Performance which “enshrines a station’s character of service”. Interestingly, a “more concise Format is issued some six to nine months after a station’s launch and is designed to capture a station’s personality and direction.” It’s unclear if ths new Format is in place yet, but Beat106’s ‘character of service’ is listed as “A fresh dynamic mix of new rock and dance music for Central Scotland for listeners below 39.”
So I’m listening to Bon Jovi on the station for “Scotland’s new music”. I can tune into Radio One or Forth and hear the Delgados or Apples In Stereo or Grandady, but the diet on Beat106 is to say the least, unadventurous. But what of these competitors? A senior Beat executive stated that you could hear, for example, Idlewild during daytime at Beat, something you wouldn’t get on One or Forth or Clyde. Wrong!
And this was even before Capital got its hands on “our” station.
However, some people saw the writing on the wall long before the name of Capital was even being mentioned. Alun Woodward of Glasgow indie label Chemikal Underground said “I gave it a short lifespan anyway; the damage was done by a conservative daytime playlist … the music’s just there to break up the adverts “.
Bobby Finn, outgoing nighttime dj, agrees to an entent.
“It’s sad that commercial radio is ruled by facts and figures… I’m glad to be out of the presentation side as I need to believe the music I’m playing.”
So what was Beat thinking of when it put together its music policy? Even Gellatly said, on his show’s launch, that he would play some chart stuff to draw in the listeners. However, I don’t think he had in mind quite as much, at the expense of new music (in case you wondered, the Beatscene, despite being a specialist show, has much of its content chosen by the same people who set the daytime schedules).
How could it have got its programming so spectacularly wrong? Was it wrong at all? Well, the successful RAJAR figures which prompted Clumpas and McCulloch to sell out their stakes in the station, perhaps reflect that people in the central belt actually want to hear the mind-numbing chart fodder that Beat has been pumping out since day one?
Does this mean however, that they now want to move direction again, with wall-to-wall dance music in the evenings? Perhaps they could have canvassed opinion at Glasgow Green, or indeed T in the Park, where a massive proportion of Beat’s listeners congregated to hear precisely the type of indie and guitar music that is now being marginalised by the station’s new regime. (Festival-goers will have realised that even the dance tents popularity was boosted significantly by fairly alternative acts such as Death in Vegas and Leftfield.)
It’s hard to say what the people still at the station think. Clearly anyone that wants to remain in any kind of employment realises that dissing their bosses is a bad career move, but it’s possible that they genuinely believe that the new format is the way forward. MD Bobby Hain appeared commited and confident about the future – “After just over 6 months on air, we have more 15-24 yr olds than the other stations. Asked about Capital’s influence, he was similarly loyal. “There’s liaison, but we’re not following orders – we’re just part of a group benefitting from central resources.
The station has a dymanic mix of new rock/dance, and that’s nothing to do with Capital, the mix will change to follow fashion -we’ve had a summer of dance anthems.”
But what about the commitment to new music made when the licence was granted? “Jim’s done a fantastic job representing that music, but was being eclipsed by Friday/Saturday nights. We’re not turning our backs on local guitar music, we just want to find a way to work this to listeners’ preferences and find the best formats.”
So where next for alternative music in Scotland? (Apologies to readers outwith the Central Belt and particularly in Aberdeen – rather like Rangers and Celtic, regional talent has been lured away only to languish on the Beat106 bench). It does seem that with the new schedule changes in place, weekday evenings will not be the same again, at least for some months. But this may not be a bad thing (well, gotta be positive, eh?) After all, the scheduling decision to put Beatscene up against the Evening session – especially with Radio One’s ‘devolved’ show on Thursdays – was one that must have left even Gellatly scratching his head, and the fact that it had such healthy ratings, even with the forced plays of some truly out-of-place records, can only be a tribute to his persistence. Gellatly himself seemed to believe that things could be turned around and the Beatscene might get a slot elsewhere. Knowing Beat’s record this could easily be the 4am slot, but that’s what tape recorders are for, eh?? (for presenters as well as listeners)
Seriously, though, the Beatscene and the new so-called specialist shows that replace Gellatly and Finn, aren’t the issue really. What’s at the heart of the matter is the music we’re being fed. Someone once described Beat as ‘Radio One without the boy bands’. Bad enough, but it’s also without Mark and Lard, Lamacq, Peel etc, and the cutting edge music that they bring. If Beat can sort out its daytime shows – how about Ewan McLeod for breakfast, Bobby Finn for lunch, Jim Gellatly at drivetime, and some specialist electronic, rock and local shows at weekends? – they can put their handbag house on the rest of the time and we’ll happily stick to Radio One in the evenings. That is, of the daytime playlist gets sorted – hey, we’ll take Underworld and Oasis if you put it alongside Teenage Fanclub and Mount Florida. Is that really too much to ask?
But we’ll have the Beatscene back to be going on with, thanks very much.
Otherwise, do touch that dial.