BBC 6 Music is not ”completely safe” from closure says station boss

“It feels very difficult to say anything is completely safe because we’re in a period of great flux and great change," says Bob Shennan, "but I don’t hear any clarion call for closure of 6 Music from any part of the media landscape"

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BBC 6 Music, the radio station that was saved from closure following a huge public outcry five years ago, is not necessarily safe from BBC cutbacks.

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Asked if the station could face the threat of closure again, Bob Shennan, controller of Radio 2 and 6 Music and director of BBC music, said: “At the moment it feels very difficult to say anything is completely safe because we’re in a period of great flux and great change. But I don’t hear any clarion call for closure of 6 Music from any part of the media landscape.

“The BBC came very close to closing 6 in a different time for different reasons to the circumstances which surround us today and under a very different regime. “

BBC 6 Music was lined up for the axe but was saved in July 2010 after a concerted public campaign.

In his interview with the Media Masters podcast, Shennan did say that the output of the station improved following the closure threat.

“In truth I think 6 Music has got a lot better in the past few years. It was almost galvanised by the experience of near closure.

“It is certainly talked about as one of the great marketing campaigns of the BBC to threaten to close something. It brought a lot of attention to the station and the station has grown enormously.

“The great thing about the BBC is that it realised it was the wrong decision and it was big enough to change its corporate mind about 6. I think that’s a great thing that we were able to see the testimony of audiences and as an organisation, do a bit of a volte face – and thank goodness for that because the station has become such a fundamental part of the portfolio of BBC Radio.”

However, the fact that the BBC cannot absolutely guarantee 6 Music’s safety will add fuel to the arguments put forward by some commentators and commercial rivals who believe the Corporation is using the threat of closing services to its own advantage.

This week, ITV chief executive Adam Crozier accused the BBC of presenting a threat to much-loved services as a way of diverting attention from what he sees as its bloated management structure. He told the House of Commons Media and Sport select committee that the BBC could achieve its savings target by making the organisation more efficient instead of closing services.

On the subject of charter renewal, Shennan said: “It’s a challenging time. If you’ve got a popular radio station across all platforms it has an impact on others outside of the BBC and they want to voice their concerns in a time of change. The BBC has to be held to account and to explain why we do what we do. We’re not a government funded broadcaster, we’re not a state broadcaster. We’re paid for by the people and we’re for the people so it’s important everyone listens to the public about our content and services.

“I know we have the great privilege of the licence fee. Our competitors don’t have that privilege. We have well-funded stations.”

However, Shennan went on to defend the huge success of Radio 2 which has been regularly trumping its commercial competitors in the ratings. 

“Radio 2’s audience has increased from 13m to 15.5m in the last seven years. The audience appetite is as high as ever. I believe its distinctiveness is even greater than in the past.

“I don’t think there’s another station remotely like Radio 2. If you’re delivering 15 million listeners every week and one third of all hours listened to on the BBC then you’re a target. People constantly challenge us that we are only big because we’re like everyone else. I would argue the opposite is the truth. We’re only big because we’re totally distinctive. I’m perplexed why other people don’t follow the formula.

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“We want to continue to entertain audiences and continue to play a big range of different musical genres but we’ve got to do it in a changing economic, political and technological age.”