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BBC Radio 1 and 2 fail to inform, educate and entertain

Wednesday 20 May 2020

An opinion on how the BBC fails to fulfill its simple originally stated goal.

BBC Radio 1 and 2 fail to inform, educate and entertain

BBC Radio 1 and 2 no longer fulfil the BBC’s clearly stated three-word purpose: to inform, educate and entertain. Replacing the BBC Light Programme, Radio 1 and 2 were launched in 1967, created in response to competition from pirate radio stations such as Radio Caroline. Rather than giving the nation a mixed diet of music, from which people can form their own opinions and be exposed to all genres, they have instead been bombarded with chart products and the latest haircuts, music the industry can sell in vast quantities. The Light Programme exposed listeners to a mixed selection of music, ranging from jazz greats including Dave Brubeck to virtuoso guitarists such as Jose Feliciano, alongside rock superstars like the Rolling Stones & The Beatles. The formation of Radio 1 led to the BBC playing non-stop popular chart music, which was manipulated by the record companies via the chart return dealers (as detailed in this 1980 documentary). The producers would also get tips from record plungers of the next hot product which would climb into the top 20.

Rapidly, the days of the public hearing all genres of music regularly on the radio ended, leading to a far less varied music chart, and musical tastes have unfortunately since become permanently narrowed. The BBC set the pace for all future stations to choose to play singular genres of music, leaving perhaps only those who were fortunate enough to take music lessons or live in a musical household to have wider musical curiosity.

Outside of broadcasting, from the late 1960s there was, however, some relief for many who took advantage of the growing live music scene. After the Labour government decided to spread the Arts Council’s budget, which previously was only allocated to “high end arts” such as opera, funding for universities and colleges to pay for high-quality live music enabled students to hear top bands – this was known as the college scene period (as the technical colleges throughout the country had not yet become universities). This, in the early 1970s encouraged a new album only market, which was the antidote to the mainstream singles chart. This era helped develop the live music experience, where a generation of people could experience the very best musicians from both the UK and US, and developed the yearning for brilliant soloists. It helped spawn artists like Eric Clapton & Jethro Tull, leading to an environment where audiences wanted virtuoso performers. These appreciative and critical live audiences resulted in the Supergroup era, giving Britain some of the world’s leading bands, ranging from Queen to Led Zeppelin.

Today we are left in a sad place, with many young people who simply have never heard virtuoso musicians play, as they choose to simply listen to what is popular, or they just hear the stream of music being thrust at them from their favoured pop radio station. Most of the music is repetitive, with much just made from beats on a computer. When confronted with music created by real virtuoso musicians, they become mystified by the clusters of notes, chromatics and extended chords. Although there is more music available than at any time, with so many stations and the internet, it is particularly tough for many world class musicians, and a time when a budding Miles Davis or Brian May would stand no chance of sealing a major record deal. Sadly, the BBC confines its peak airtime into mostly either chart music on Radio 1, at an astonishing cost of around £1 million pounds a week, or Radio 2, with nostalgia from the ex-Radio 1 playlist, at an even greater cost. The BBC do, of course, have Radio 3, but somehow its large budget is focused mainly on a sort of highbrow elite, targeted perhaps at those who think good music must be from a bygone era, rather than swing like Quincy Jones or Jacob Collier.