Stuart Maconie: “BBC 6 Music is like playing records with a pal”

On 6 Music’s tenth birthday, the DJ considers the digital radio station’s success

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To quote a Grateful Dead lyric, “What a long, strange trip it’s been?”. Well, long-ish and strange-ish anyway.

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It doesn’t seem a decade since I was waiting my turn with Phill Jupitus, Janice Long, Andrew Collins and others to have our promo pictures done for the BBC’s first new music network in a generation (the one with me in the Crombie with the cuppa. It still crops up).

What we couldn’t have known that day was how this fledgeling network – one where, if we’re honest, none of us were sure of what we were doing – would forge an identity and grow so loved that a threat to close it would mobilise an impassioned and enraged listenership into defending it, and bring Coldplay, David Bowie, Lily Allen, Brian Eno together to fight for it. And win.

I’m not going to harp on about the once-planned closure. It was a bad idea and that shadow has passed. The station is stronger and more popular than it has ever been (the biggest BBC digital station reaching one-and-a-half million people each week, up 27% on 2011) and gets bigger and better every day.

What are all these people getting out of it? Well, the music, clearly. No other station plays the music it does – the cream of alternative, independent, pioneering or original music of the past 30 years – or does it with the same combination of credibility and sense of fun.

The last bit is crucial. If 6 Music ever did wear an anorak, it has long since been shed. 6 Music knows its stuff but it has the feel of playing records with a pal rather than the forbidding air of an übercool record shop.

Looking back, there have been many highlights. Recently Paul McCartney was a guest on our afternoon berth and told me he was a fan of the show. Knowing that the likes of Johnny Marr, and James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers, are avid listeners of my weekend Freak Zone makes me rosy-cheeked with pride. No other station would give me the freedom to make that show.

I hope they’ll still have me on 6 in 2022. Because by then, this once fledgeling little station will bestride the airwaves like a colossus.

This is an edited version of an article from the issue of Radio Times magazine that went on sale 6 March 2012.

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Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone is on BBC 6 Music on Sunday at 6pm; Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie are on air Monday to Friday from 1pm