Last week one of the local radio stations (well, I say local, but its studios are actually in Glasgow — as if enough of the media didn’t already come from Glasgow), Beat 106, changed its name to Xfm Scotland. Snappy.
I’ve had quite a rocky relationship with Beat 106. When it first launched in 1999 it offered a chink of light in a tunnel filled with the BBC stations (which is fair enough, except that we get poor reception for FM BBC stations where I live), and the generic local stations, Forth FM (which is too Edinburgh-centric) and Kingdom FM (which is too Fife-centric). Not to forget the absolutely hilarious Scot FM (complete with thistle logo… doh!).
Rumours spread that this new Beat 106 station promised to play reasonable music, and not the mixture of cheese-pop and ‘classic tracks’ offered up by the existing stations. Listening to the test transmission, even the sample adverts had a distinctive ‘offbeat’ style.
Well, it turned out to be a whole load of shite. The original plan for the station seemed to last about a month. Ever since then the station seems to have been in a permanent identity crisis, not knowing whether it was meant to be a credible dance station or a credible rock station, or both, or neither.
That identity crisis was only made worse when Capital Radio bought it, and decided that injecting a dose of the sort of music that you could easily find on every single other station was just what the listeners of the central belt needed. The identity crisis deepened. I’m sure there was, at one point, a misfired attempt to rename Beat 106 to Beat FM. It is worse than ITV1.
When it launched I listened to Beat 106 all the time, but I eventually got fed up with the transformation towards the same old stale format, with DJs who think they own the show and can’t help yelping their inane babble over the music.
The final straw for me came when the presenter of the late-night indie show described Radiohead’s ‘Knives Out’ as a return to form. That is indie-snob code for “it can only be proper music if it’s got guitars in it.” I gave up with music radio and turned to Radio Five Live instead.
Last week, in the face of declining listening figures, Capital Radio have gone the whole hog and decided to completely rename Beat 106, and pair it up with the famous Xfm. It must be quite a successful brand name (it must be one of the few local radio stations that people outside the transmission area have actually heard of), because apparently there is going to be an Xfm Manchester launching this year. I can only assume that the decision to rename Beat 106 was very recent, because just a few weeks ago there were Beat 106 fly posters near the university.
There was this guy handing out flyers as well — but he wanted to ask me questions. I was in a rush, but I managed to answer his question, “Do you ever listen to Beat 106?” It have me great satisfaction to be able to turn round and say right in his face, “I used to, but not any more.”
In the mid-to-late-1990s — before the days of digital radio and broadband — I remember being quite jealous that I couldn’t recieve Xfm because everybody seemed to be going on about it — interesting programming, decent music, a genuine alternative. It sounded like the kind of station that we needed up here. And now we’ve got it!
Er, maybe not. As far as I can tell, the programming is much the same. That indie guy who slagged Radiohead is still there in the same slot, right now! And it’s all the same old presenters (mostly failed television presenters, including the bloke who presented GamesMaster over decade ago; somebody who fronted the disastrous final series of Live & Kicking; and the token northerner off Scotsport).
Music-wise it seems to have finally decided that it wants to take the rock route (somewhere between Virgin Radio and Zane Lowe), with a few specialist dance shows at the weekend. Which is what it always should have been. Although without the unbearable hyperbole. Xfm Scotland seems to have taken the NME approach of just saying things like “they’re the best live act of the year,” and “the best new band since The Smiths,” about every. single. new. band that comes along, in the hope that some of it will stick and they can say, “Look at us, we praised [wank guitar band x] before you ever heard of them — aren’t we great?!”
Just listen to those fawning Dominik Diamond inserts which are being peppered around the schedule. He is going on about how you must check out the latest nonentity of a band, because the lead singer looks like Julian Casablancas, the guitarist looks like he’s from Jet, and “the bassist looks like a roadie — and that’s how all rock bands should be!” Why am I supposed to trust Dominik Diamond’s music recommendations?
Beat 106 might have been like that recently anyway though. I don’t know, I have hardly ever attempted to listen to it in the past few years. Ultimately, the relaunch doesn’t seem to mean much, except for the fact that they can freeride on Xfm London’s success by putting Ricky Gervais’ mug on their website.
What would be cool would be if Xfm could network some programmes, so that all three stations could share each other’s best output. I’m sure the London gets loads of juicy stuff that Xfm Scotland would never be able to get hold of.
doctorvee ver. 1999 would have loved today’s Xfm Scotland, but it leaves doctorvee ver. 2006 feeling pretty ambivalent. There’s not much point in me trying to get into music radio any more though, because, knowing me, even if there is ever a radio station which caters for my taste in music, my taste in music will probably have evolved beyond all recognition and we’ll be back to square one.