Archive: Resonance FM

I was sad yesterday to learn of the death of Robert Sandall. While he is most celebrated as a music journalist, I was more aware of him as a radio presenter.

In 2001, when I was discovering my interest in experimental music, I was advised by someone on a messageboard to listen to the Radio 3 programme Mixing It, which Robert Sandall co-presented with Mark Russell. As the title of the programme suggests, it was a genuinely eclectic affair. It showcased all manner of new (and sometimes old) music without discrimination. That’s not to say they weren’t critical — the programme’s catchphrase became “where’s the skill in that?”

I was hooked to the programme during my teenage years. When it was broadcast late on Sunday nights, it helped take my mind off the fact that I had school in the morning. When it moved to Friday nights, I was unusual among my peers. While most were developing their social lives, I was listening to Radio 3. Robert Sandall was my John Peel.

Nothing has shaped my taste in music more than Mixing It. The programme demonstrated how to approach all types of music with a genuinely open mind, no matter how outlandish or unpromising the premise of the piece may seem. The message was: you never know, you might like it — and if you didn’t like it, at least it was interesting to listen to.

In 2007, Mixing It was axed by Radio 3 having been broadcast since 1990. The word I read time and again about this decision is ‘criminal’. Mixing It was a genuinely unique programme. It was just the sort of thing you think the BBC ought to excel at. But it was disposed of — with little in the way of justification — leaving the programme’s fans angry.

Soon after Radio 3 stopped broadcasting the programme, it was resurrected as Where’s the Skill in That? on Resonance. Sadly these broadcasts were more sporadic, and I missed many of these editions as a result.

Since Mixing It ended, I have not seen the point of listening to much in the way of music radio programmes. Nothing offers the combination of eclecticism, inquisitiveness and humour that Mixing It brought. I am sad that Mixing It is not on the airwaves today, and I am sorry that we won’t hear Robert Sandall broadcast again.

Save BBC 6 Music

If the reports that the BBC will close down 6 Music are true, it is a great shame. Of course, this could be seen coming. The BBC has been utterly weak in almost every respect for the past few years, and it is difficult to escape the notion that it is too big, with too many outlets. Of course, when effectively forced to cut back, it will opt to close down the high quality products, rather than those that are merely popular.

6 Music is the only mainstream radio station where you can regularly hear genuinely experimental and alternative music on a regular basis. It is the only station that confounds expectations and delights in challenging the listener.

The Freak Zone is a jewel in 6 Music’s crown, dedicated to playing esoteric music from today and undiscovered gems from the past. For sure, it is a challenging listen at times — but that is the very point.

Similarly, Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service is truly unique. One of the most eclectic playlists I have ever heard is mixed with ponderings on, for instance, the sad beauty of abandoned Christmas trees.

I have effused before about Adam and Joe, which I think was genuinely the best programme on radio. These are just three of the must-listen radio programmes that 6 Music has brought us.

6 Music should have broadened its horizons

There is simply no commercial alternative. In short, it is precisely the sort of thing that the BBC should be doing.

In fact, I have in the past been critical of 6 Music for not being adventurous enough in the past. The BBC does, after all, already have three other major music radio stations, each of which is dedicated to playing different strands of mainstream music. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. But this should have provided 6 Music with the opportunity to explore the outer reaches of music more freely.

Instead, 6 Music has ended up being slightly unsure of its role. It has come to attain a dual identity. One is that of a genuinely exploratory musical agenda, for discerning listeners who are passionate about the music they already love, and are itching to discover new music.

The other is that of a mere weakened popular music station with a vague indie bent. This aspect made it like a transition station for listeners who have moved on from Radio 1 but can’t yet bring themselves to listen to Radio 2. Hence the travesty of George Lamb. There are plenty of commercial alternatives for these people to turn to. This is an audience that doesn’t need to be catered for by the BBC.

Instead of trying to gain listeners with gimmicky attempts to cater for the masses, 6 Music should have set its sights higher by increasing its quality. It could be transformed into a station that is genuinely dedicated to music that you won’t find on other radio stations.

And there is no need to stop at music. It could encompass culture as a whole. Why shouldn’t such a station also champion alternative comedy, experimental drama and the like? It could be like a well funded version of Resonance FM.

Instead, the BBC appears to have taken the coward’s option. Instead of setting its sights towards enhancing the station so that it becomes a great hub for alternative and experimental culture, it has weakly chosen to throw in the towel. Instead of realising the potential of 6 Music and promoting it properly, the BBC has left it in a corner to gather cobwebs and eventually die.

The BBC’s disregard for experimental culture

This would be palatable if it weren’t for the fact that experimental music has been increasingly marginalised on the BBC’s other radio stations over the past decade as well. As if the passing of John Peel wasn’t enough of a blow to adventurous music on the BBC, the corporation appears to be determined to dismantle every last piece of its experimental music programming.

A decade ago Radio 1’s evening schedule was brimming with experimental music. But the station’s few remaining programmes dedicated to experimental music have all been shunted to shorter, graveyard time slots. To take just one example, Rob da Bank’s programme is on at the truly insulting 5-7am on a Saturday. Meanwhile, Mary Anne Hobbs’s Breezeblock is on at 2-4am on Thursday morning.

New experimental music has all but disappeared from Radio 3 as well. Since Mixing It was removed from the schedules, all that has remained is Late Junction, which has itself been marginalised in recent years.

In short, the BBC is doing less of the sort of programming it should be making, and replacing it with the sort of thing that ought to be left to its commercial rivals.

Absolute to the rescue?

The Times suggested that Absolute Radio may be interested in buying 6 Music should the BBC decide to close it down. It seems to me as though Clive Dickens was merely making a point about the inefficient way the BBC has run 6 Music.

But the idea that Absolute might acquire 6 Music and keep it alive is an interesting prospect. I have find myself being increasingly impressed with Absolute. I am sure that it has taken inspiration from 6 Music as it tries to re-build itself without the Virgin brand behind it.

Like 6 Music, Absolute thinks of itself as a home for good music (although in practice it just trots out middle-of-the-road dad rock). It mixes this with the use of comedians like Dave Gorman, Frank Skinner and Iain Lee as presenters.

This is the exact model that 6 Music has used throughout its existence. The station was launched by Phill Jupitus, who presented the 6 Music breakfast show for several years. Since then, 6 Music has been home to several comedians.

I find it doubtful that a radio station like 6 Music would flourish as a commercial operation. But if anyone can pull it off, it is Absolute. It would be fabulous.

The BBC has failed to convincingly promote digital radio. The lack of publicity is the real reason why 6 Music has so few listeners. Fewer than 10% of Radio 1 listeners are listening on a digital platform. When 6 Music is only available on digital platforms, it is no wonder it appears to perform so poorly. Only one in five people in the UK have even heard of the station. Hence Adam Buxton’s joke that it is “the secret station”.

Yet, over 54% of Absolute Radio’s listeners (approximately 31 minutes in) outside of London now listen on digital. The BBC, with all its supposed marketing might, has failed to generate anything like this sort of result, despite having shedloads of cash dedicated to the exercise.

The BBC is now weak and ineffective. It has failed digital radio, and it is now failing to commit to the very adventurous programming it is supposed to be dedicated to.

Long term readers of this blog will know that I am not a big fan of phone-in quizzes. So when the recent controversy surrounding premium rate phone lines I was quite pleased. But now I think it has turned into media bandwagon.

More and more instances of dodgy goings-on are being sniffed out by the media. The problem is, each subsequent new problem is less important than the last one. Now the premium rate phone lines look a bit amateurish — but not evil, which is what they actually are.

Not that I have any sympathy for the viewers who phone in time after time and somehow expect not to be charged. Take the fuss surrounding Channel Five’s Brainteaser. There were a few instances where the producers were unable to find anybody who had a correct answer among the ten random names and numbers supplied by the people in charge of the phone lines.

If you have ever watched Brainteaser, you will know just how cretinous you have to be to get the answer wrong. The most common puzzles on Brainteaser are are a bit like anagrams, but instead of all the letters being jumbled up, groups of letters are jumbled up. A typical example (stolen from here) is “LL WA PER PA”.

Not too difficult is it? To be honest, I don’t blame the producers for not having a contingency plan in case they can’t find somebody out of a list of ten people who can’t get the correct answer. It might have been misguided for them to make up fake names of non-winners, but this smacks more of panicking producers on a live TV show who don’t know what to do rather than the pure evil that can be found on other quiz channels.

Then there is the hoo-ha over The X Factor, where viewers were charged a bank-breaking 15 pence. I mean, most people probably drop that amount of money every day without realising it. And if you can’t spare that extra 15 pence, what on earth are you doing using premium rate phone-in lines where your chances of affecting the result are approximately zero?

Channel 4’s The Morning Line got in trouble for charging callers who were stupid enough to phone up after it was announced that the lines were closed. If the phrase “phone lines are now closed” isn’t enough to stop you phoning in, then you really have nothing to complain about.

And now we have got to the point where children are being dragged into the whole thing. A Blue Peter phone-in competition where proceeds went to charity fell victim to a technical glitch. Much like the Brainteaser instance, a panicking member of the production put a child who happened to be visiting the studio on the air to pose as a competition entrant.

Note the final couple of paragraphs in the story:

But Ms Zahoor, whose information led to the discovery, says she thinks the BBC’s reaction is “silly”.

“I didn’t realise that it would be blown out of all proportion,” she said, adding that she had refused to lodge a formal complaint about the show.

Again, it was probably misguided, but it is hardly the deception and near fraud that you find on some channels. I can’t actually imagine how lame the next “premium rate phone call revelation” is going to be. 999 lines open instead of the 1,000 promised? Comic Relief is going to be fun this year!

What really gets me the most about this storm is the fact that the very worst examples of the genre are getting away with it. The media is after the big names like Britain’s finest comedy duo Richard and Judy, Saturday Kitchen, The X Factor and Blue Peter.

But the quiz channels themselves — entire channels that are devoted to these controversial competitions — are carrying on pretty much as normal. There was a slightly eerie evening recently when there was only one of these on Freeview — Big Game TV on Ftn (how different would it be if this channel were called ‘Virgin’, its true colours?). But TMF’s Pop the Q was only gone for one evening due to a technical problem.

Channel Five dropped Quiz Call in the wake of the Brainteaser problems, but Quiz Call itself carries on as normal on Sky. The ITV Play channel has been axed by ITV, but only because it wasn’t making enough money!

These might be signs that the phone-in quiz television genre has hit the rocks. But the genre’s coat has been on a shoogly nail for ages. You can tell that with all the chopping and changing that has been going on, such as when Channel 4 sold Quiz Call (I bet they’re mighty glad they sold it now!) and the musical chairs involving Ftn’s, Channel Five’s and even ITV’s quiz slots.

ITV Play only makes money on its late-night ITV1 slot and apparently often made a loss during the day. The channel probably would have closed anyway — it’s just that now was a convenient time to close it.

With this controversy, programmes like the relatively innocuous Richard & Judy are being castigated, while the actually evil Make Your Play has technically been given the all-clear.

I mean, at least the competitions on Richard & Judy and the like have well-defined rules and everybody gets pretty much what is expected. On the quiz channels, on the other hand, callers are taken arbitrarily (even during ‘speed rounds’, even when the presenters are promising that they are taking “as many calls as they can”).

The questions are vaguely-defined such as the tower guessing games (where is the skill in that?, as a couple of Resonance FM presenters might say) or the downright deceitful ‘add the numbers / pennies / circles / whatever’ games. And they never tell you how they get to the answers. These are the real premium rate scams, but somehow everybody is now focussing on charity-funding competitions for children.

Finally, a big thumbs down goes to Icstis, the so-called regulatory body for premium rate phone lines. That is has taken this media bandwagon to finally get Icstis to levitate their big arse over problems that are in some cases several months old is shocking. The shouldn’t have to wait for the media to do their job for them.

Notably, The Hits has ditched its frankly diabolical Cash Call slot. Apparently this programme was actually beamed from Hungary (and the programme was often fronted by presenters whose grip of English wasn’t too great). Quite fishy.

Anyway, enjoy this clip of it on YouTube. As you can see, it is deceptively boring — a good cure for insomnia at that time of night perhaps? On the other hand, it is classic car-crash television, and it is fascinating just for how boring it is.

Update: Qwghlm Twitters his view:

ZOMG Blue Peter cheatery! Meanwhile, the Trident bill is going through the House…

It’s true.

Whilst we of course have no objection to Mark Russell and Robert Sandall presenting a radio programme which covers new and experimental music, the BBC has issues regarding the unauthorised use of the programme title Mixing It. The BBC has been using the programme name for 16 years and in that time it has become a very established brand for our organisation

As Mark Russell says, so established that they decided to drop it without giving a reason!

So, not content with booting Mixing It off their own airwaves, the BBC seem to be doing everything they can to limit its chances on a tiny, not-for-profit radio station that survives on listeners’ donations.

Yes, it’s true! Mixing It is returning! Not to Radio 3, but that’s Radio 3’s loss. Mixing It’s new home is on Resonance FM.

According to Mark Russell himself, posting on the “alternative” Radio 3 message board, the first programme will be broadcast at some point within the next seven days. Then a series will begin later in March. This is fantastic news.

I have to confess that — although I’ve heard so much about it — I’ve never listened to Resonance before. I’ll definitely have to, now that Mark Russell and Robert Sandall are on board.

Apparently this was all thanks to the overwhelming response on the internet about the programme’s demise. And now they are wanting to set up a website and potentially make podcasts as well. It seems as though it may be off national radio, but in one way Mixing It will be bigger than ever before.

The way that such a strong online community formed following the axing of the programme was extraordinary. I think I speak for everyone when I say we will probably all appreciate Mixing It that little bit more from now on.

Update: So Mixing It is confirmed for Wednesday at 2300. It looks like it will be a weekly 60 minute slot for the next wee while. Fantastic stuff.

Tomorrow is a sad day for fans of experimental music, and it is a particularly poor one for the reputation of the BBC in certain circles. Probably the best music programme on radio, Mixing It, has been axed. The final programme will be tomorrow at 2215 on Radio 3.

Mixing It was probably the only radio programme I would go out of my way to listen to. Ever since I was introduced to it six years ago by a good person on a messageboard about Feeder (of all bands), the programme has been the main source through which I discovered new bands. It’s been doing the same thing for many others since 1990. But that will all end tomorrow.

Over the past six years, nothing has influenced my music buying habits more than Mixing It. There literally is nothing else like it on the radio. It wasn’t called Mixing It for nothing. You genuinely wouldn’t know what was around the corner. It took Blectum From Blechdom as seriously as the rest of Radio 3 took Bach and Beethoven.

This love of modern experimental music earned it a certain reputation from some particular snooty-nosed Radio 3 listeners who would rather the station was filled with classical music and nothing else. People such as Friends of Radio 3 (some “friends”, huh?) say that Mixing It would fit better on Radio 1 or 6Music.

I can only assume that they have never listened to Radio 1. A perousal of Radio 1’s “Experimental” [sic] page would downright offend any self-respecting fan of experimentation. Right now it features The Klaxons and CSS. It is hardly boundary smashing stuff.

As for the programmes on Radio 1, even in the past five years the change has been drastic. Back then there was The Blue Room, an ambient / acoustic music show which, while tucked away in the schedules at 5am, at least suited its slot. In the past year, it has been axed. Other experimental shows by Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson have scandalously been moved to graveyard slots like 2am to make way for Colin Murray.

Meanwhile, 6Music (with a couple of notable exceptions) is really just Radio 2 for people in denial. For all of its good aspects, 6Music probably does not have the ability to accomodate a programme with such varied and eclectic playlists. I certainly could not imagine Radio 1 or 6Music broadcasting concerts by artists like The Matthew Herbert Big Band.

And this is not to mention the approach taken by Mixing It, which really took an interest in the way the music was made. It was chin-strokey but not po-faced, an approach shaped by the brilliant banter between Mark Russell and Robert Sandall. The programme didn’t take itself too seriously, but it had quite an analytical bent that really only suits Radio 3, certainly more than it would suit Radio 1 or 6Music.

Take, for instance, last week’s special programme on the Berlin music scene. Radio 1 might do a documentary on Berlin, but it would probably only focus on a genre at a time and it certainly wouldn’t last ninety minutes. Mixing It‘s programme explored many aspects of the Berlin community and took a genuine interest in the way the music was made. It didn’t try to relate everything to some kind of superficial, non-existent scene.

Mixing It was a unique in that it didn’t see a boundary between pop and classical music as somebody like Friends of Radio 3 or even your average Radio 1 listener would see. The approach of Mixing It has possibly fostered a new culture linking pop and classical music. I recently wrote about how brilliant Jonny Greenwood is. Writing on the Media Guardian website, Ed Baxter of Resonance FM said:

Witness the BBC Concert Orchestra’s coy description of its current Composer in Residence, Johnny Greenwood, as “probably better known as the guitarist in the hugely successful band Radiohead”. Probably. And probably too such a collaboration would have been inconceivable without Mixing It connecting savvy classical players and serious young pop stars.

It is very sad that Radio 3 should be turning its back on something so wonderful, in a year when Jonny Greenwood won the Radio 3 listeners’ award in the British Composer Awards.

Because not only has Mixing It been axed, but its only close relative — Late Junction — has been cut from four shows per week to three as well. Radio 3 appears to be closing the door to the sort of music that doesn’t get an outlet anywhere else (despite what Friends of Radio 3 might believe!). And to think that just a few years ago things were looking up, when Mixing It‘s slot was extended.

So what has Mixing It been replaced with? Something called Jazz Library, a new programme dedicated to playing old jazz records. Now I don’t have an aversion to jazz, but I find it difficult to believe that this new programme will make anything like the same impact as Mixing It did.

Is there really not enough space for Mixing It to remain on Radio 3’s schedules. It is not as if 75 minutes tucked away on a Friday night (or even its old slot of 60 minutes on a Sunday night!) is really getting in anybody’s way.

What can fans of experimental music listen to now? Do we really have to make do Mary Anne Hobbs’ yelping (at 4am) and whatever podcasts we can rustle up from the internet? What will influence my music purchases from now on? From Saturday onwards, I will be a little bit more lost than I was before.