It’s been a good week for radio as a whole and for commercial radio
in particular. First, Chris Evans resigned (yes!) and then, in its
infinite wisdom, the Radio Authority saw fit to hand the last London FM
licence to Xfm.
Let’s do Evans first. In his early days he was simply the most
innovative, original, startling talent to emerge since ... well, since
Then his manic energy and wild ideas translated brilliantly to TV and to
the Big Breakfast.
So it was not surprising that Radio 1 hired him to give it some
much-needed pep and, to give credit where it’s due, he certainly did the
But over the past year or so, Evans’s shows were characterised by one
quality: malevolence. Whatever he did, there was no disguising his utter
contempt for his audience. It’s one thing to take the piss out of your
listeners, but humiliation isn’t the name of the game. By way of
contrast, take Russ and Jono on Virgin, whose humour, although robust,
is still essentially good-hearted. And, of course, Evans being the star
he is, others started to copy him with the result that swathes of
commercial radio are given over to clones. Evans, I suspect, has become
the very thing that he despised most when he started out.
Moving on. Let me declare it now: I can’t stand Genesis and, as for Phil
Collins ... don’t ask. I’d rather listen to ten mobile phone commercials
on the trot than either of those. But it’s hard to avoid them. If you
don’t believe me, spend an afternoon driving round the fringes of
London, as I did last weekend, and see how often they’re on.
But now relief and joy are at hand in the shape of Xfm, a station, I
feel I can safely predict, that will be a no-go zone for Genesis and
Phil Collins and a safe haven for all those who go in mortal fear of
them and all those who make briefcase rock.
Now we can all argue about the kind of music that Xfm should play, but
the real point - and the one on which the Radio Authority should be
congratulated - is that it significantly extends listener choice. Put it
like this: the people who don’t much care for top 40 formats or
so-called classic rock don’t have many places to go, which may explain
why, in recent Rajar sweeps, commercial radio has been surrendering its
hard-won gains in audience share.
If it pitches itself correctly, Xfm should halt that process by winning
back old listeners cheesed off with you know who and attracting new
And what of advertisers? Well, they should follow the audience which,
for Xfm, promises to be that hard-to-reach, low-media-consumption group
in the 18-30 (plus me, of course) age group they all crave.
Ironically, this is the very group that Radio 1’s boss, Matthew
Bannister, used to pull when he ran what was once London’s best unknown
station, GLR. Come to think of it, GLR was where Evans got his first big