Today the BBC’s alternative music station, 6 Music, is golden, delivering record figures of 1.44 million weekly listeners and planning for its tenth birthday celebrations next month. But this time two years ago it looked unlikely that the radio station would live to see a decade on the air.
Reports that 6 Music was for the chop emerged in February 2010 to the dismay of the network’s loyal listeners, then numbering just under 700,000. But even before the story broke, Jon Morter, the social media campaigner who used Facebook to send Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one ahead of The X Factor the previous year, had a plan.
“I had someone within 6 Music that got in touch with me because of the whole Rage Against the Machine thing. I’ve always promised I wouldn’t say who it was, but it was one of the prominent people at 6 Music,” Morter tells RadioTimes.com.
“They said: ‘We read in an interview that you listened to 6 Music. Well, did you know that this is potentially going to happen?’ To which I was like: ‘Whoa. You can’t do that. What’s going on there?’ So that was the start.”
Along with his wife, Tracy, Morter quickly built support on Facebook for the campaign, overseeing a group that eventually numbered 180,000 members.
However, unlike the Rage campaign and its 1.2 million supporters – over which Morter had retained absolute control – the 6 Music story was to take a slightly different turn, one that at times would bruise his “digital ego”.
“What we were finding is that we had a lot of people trying to be ‘helpful’ by creating protests and stuff, which got us some media
interest, so I’m not slating it by a long shot. But I kind of knew, heart
of hearts, that that wasn’t going to really solve it.
“You had people making websites, there was Love 6 Music, you had people making the ‘official’ Twitter. There were about five ‘official’ Twitters for it. It was bit strange.
“But one thing I was told, quite specifically, but a lot of people from within were saying:
‘Protest won’t make a jot of difference. A petition won’t make a jot of
difference. You’ve got to write to the BBC Trust.’”
To ensure as many people as possible wrote to the Trust, Morter contacted a campaigning charity, 38 Degrees, and asked them to help. They designed a form that would allow users to register their disdain in just minutes rather than “half an hour”: “Put your names in and that’s it, we can do the rest for you.”
Morter made this “quick fix” form the central component of his social media campaign. And, although it was the two Save 6 Music protests outside Broadcasting House, and not the Facebook group, that garnered most press attention, it was ultimately the sheer weight of numbers of concerned listeners who persuaded the BBC Trust to rule in July 2010 that: “As things stand, the case has not been made for the closure of 6 Music”. Furthermore, the Trust noted a “significant show of public support” behind the campaign, and admitted that 78 per cent of online responses to the Trust consultation had related to the plight of 6 Music.
But as the 6 Music DJs prepare to blow out ten candles and toast the future on 11 March, perhaps they don’t realise just how close they came to getting the chop – as Jon reveals one final twist to the story.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that I was very close to stopping the whole campaign because my favourite show by a mile on 6 Music was Bruce Dickinson’s show on Friday nights. And, even though they were going to save 6 Music, they were still going to, apparently, get rid of Bruce’s show, which I was quite upset about and I was very close to pulling the plug on the group because I was so annoyed.
“I had a conversation with one of the 6 Music DJs and I was like: ‘What do you mean they’re getting rid of Bruce? No, they can’t do that.’ And he persuaded me to keep going, because he had a show,” Morter laughs.
“I think it probably would have been a petty move and I would have been public enemy number one for years if I did that. But, again, it’s the power of social media. I was really quite temped to pull the plug on it.
“Even though there were other Twitter campaigns, there were other Facebook groups that were smaller, so it still would have had some online presence. But I knew mine was the biggest and I was going to make a stand for Bruce.”