Steve Lamacq on BBC 6 Music’s schedule shake-up: “You have to keep listening and looking ahead”

The DJ is one of the few presenters retaining his regular radio slot – but he says the station is ready for a change

(BBC)

Despite major shake-ups across the BBC Radio 6 Music schedule – Mary Anne Hobbs is moving from weekends to weekdays, while Shaun Keaveny starts up an afternoon show – Steve Lamacq is staying put in his 4pm slot.

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Radio Times caught up with the presenter as the station enters a new era.

So amid all these schedule changes, Steve, you’re staying put in your normal daytime slot?

Yes, well, I’ve got to have that slot —finish at 7, go to a gig at 8! It wouldn’t work otherwise, would it!

How do you feel about not being moved around?

Well, I mean, for me it’s perfect. And over the years, we’ve come to understand the people who are listening to the show, and you’re always thinking, where is the listener right now?

Because it’s not like a lunchtime programme or a breakfast show, where you pretty much know where people are. You’ve got people who are finishing work, probably travelling home. Then you’ve got the moment where they’re in the kitchen, or they’re having tea. But all the time, we’re trying to pace the show in the right way, so yes I’m really pleased to still be able to do it.

How many gigs do you go to a week?

Two or three. In some cases, you’ve got to go and see bands that you might not be sure about. I don’t like having an opinion on a band without having seen them.

And the content of the show?

Well, part of it’s from the daytime playlist: the new records. Then you get some older records which have come out of the computer, but I can always say, “Not so keen on this”, and change it for something else. The rest of it is me picking half old records, and half new records, really. Records that sort of tell a story, or you think might be interesting. I mean, I still work on the Peel Principle — that you play one record that you know the audience will like, one record that you think the audience will like, and one record which you don’t care whether they like it or not, because you like it yourself. I think, if you balance that right, you pretty much please everyone, and you save your soul in the process.

How has interaction with the listeners changed the job in terms of your enjoyment of it?

It’s slightly easier in a way because you can have conversations with listeners, and you’d never have got as many letters as you get emails. These days you get a much better impression of what people like, and the breadth of what people like, during the course of the week.

So what do you like most about the job?

Being able to play the records of bands that you think are really good — bands which might be on the periphery, I suppose. Slightly unfashionable. I’ve always liked misfit-style bands, or underdogs. You get a record by an underdog band, play it, and then somebody writes to you and says, “I really liked that record.” Or comes up to you at a gig and says, “That record that you played the other day, I downloaded two of their tracks,” or, “I went to see them live,” and it can just be one person. But it’s a great responsibility, because you can’t abuse that sort of position, so you have to work very hard to earn it. You have to listen to a lot of stuff, I think, and that’s why I go to so many gigs, and spend seven hours on a Sunday going through the post bag.

You mentioned pioneering the underdog. Give us us some bands and some acts that you’re proud of having played a part in their success?

I suppose, Blur from the early days, and Teenage Fanclub from the early ‘90s. Elastica, who I was involved with – I actually put out the first Elastica album I liked it that much. And Coldplay, a band who had been turned down by 23 record labels when I saw them.

Does Chris Martin still send you chocolates?

Well, he hasn’t sent us a box of chocolates. If this gets in the Radio Times, though, Chris, I’d quite like a box of chocolates! But he did send us a very nice message when I celebrated my 25th anniversary on the BBC, which was very nice of him.

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And 6 Music itself – what’s the secret?

Keeping in touch with the audience, I think. I’ve never worked at a radio station where I’ve known the audience so well. I think that’s always going to be key. And we’re not complacent. I think the changes coming in the new year suggest that everyone’s aware of that. We have to always keep thinking — where is music going, where do we want the station to go, how do we represent the musical landscape and the people who are making the music and the people who are listening to it. You have to keep listening and looking ahead, I think. That’s the only way we’ll carry on.