Monday, 5 July 2010

How my friend Chris saved BBC 6 Music

There were obviously a few significant strands to the campaign to save 6 Music. The grassroots efforts of the listeners, with their Facebook campaigns, twitter hashtags, real live demonstrations and flashmobs. Adam Buxton was the perfect poster boy for the campaign, and he rose to the challenge admirably, somehow successfully articulating the listeners' rage through his deafult filter of knowing lunacy.

Other important pop culture figures like David Bowie and Damon Albarn weighed in to save the station. Jarvis Cocker's impassioned "rant" at the Sony Awards in May (hear my interview with him about it here) left the BBC hierarchy in no doubt that the fuss over 6 Music was not going to die down.

In fact, the sustained level of support the Save 6 Music campaign enjoyed from the moment this story was leaked to The Times in February, to today's decision, is a tribute to the passion (and savvy) of its fans.

But I would argue the BBC's plan to can the station was fatally holed by an email my mate Chris wrote to Ed Vaizey MP, who was then the Conservative Party spokesman on culture. Ed's response gave the campaign hope and momentum.

Every day for the last eight years, Chris's company, CMU music, has sent out a free daily email for people who work in the music industry. At the last count he had around 18,500 subscribers. Within a week of the decision to close 6 Music being announced by the BBC, Chris wrote an open letter to Ed Vaizey. In the email, he explained why he thought the BBC should cherish, rather than close 6 Music, and asked Ed for his help.

The email itself, (published on Chris's personal blog) is worth reading. It is a long, beatifully-pitched and incredibly well-informed piece of writing. Ed may not have known about Chris, or his blog, before he received Chris's email, but he clearly felt it was a credible enough forum to send a strong message to the BBC and the BBC Trust about what senior Conservatives were thinking about all this. Ed's reply is also posted on Chris's blog.

Chris press released the email exchange to all his contacts. Within minutes he had a call from someone purporting to be from BBC News online who said (breathlessly, I'd like to think):

"Is this genuine?"
"Can you send us those emails?"
And he did.

The exchange was confirmed at Vaizey's end, and the story was taken up by The Guardian and The Telegraph (probably picking it up from a PA re-write) before gaining wider currency in the broadcast and online media. I cannot find the orginal story (if it was ever published) on BBC news online at all.

In seems in that period in early March, Ed Vaizey wrote a number of emails to outraged listeners who contacted him. You can see one of Ed's emails on the Facebook campaign to save 6 Music, but the email to Chris, as far as I am aware, was the first, and it was a damn good scoop.

I think Chris's initial contact may have gone some way towards persuading Ed Vaizey to come out in favour of 6 Music. It was certainly the very first shaft of light for 6 Music's fans. What was originally presented as a fait accompli suddenly looked shaky and the station's supporters found they had gained a powerful friend in a very high place.

The CMU website doesn't really break stories. I was having lunch with Chris a week or so after he sent his email to Ed Vaizey and asked what other exclusives he's nailed, expecting him to reel off a list.

The best, no, the only one he could come up with was when Anthony Hall resigned from the BPI over their "three strikes and you're out" policy on illegal file-sharing. Anthony sent a copy of his resignation letter direct to CMU, rather than the paywalled Music Week, ensuring maxiumum online exposure. Clever Anthony.

But that was it. Which makes the Ed Vaizey email and its subsequent impact all the more interesting.

So hats off to Chris and congratulations to everyone who fought the campaign. I worked at 6 Music as a freelance music newsreader and had a great time there, and I'm pleased it's going to remain part of the BBC's radio portfolio.

1 comment: