After I read this article that Tom Staniszewski posted at Audio Addict, a few thoughts did come to mind on the subject of how diabolical Radio X may be. He raises some very good points on why one could be forgiven for considering the relaunched Radio X belongs within the darkest trench of the deepest cesspool that the airwaves have to offer. For those who missed the memo, beloved radio network XFM was rebranded in September, with its demographic being men, aged 25-44 – “the first truly male focused radio station” as it calls itself.
He concludes that “in this day and age, a radio show should be for anyone and everyone and Radio X just screams inequality.” However, it could just as easily be argued that amidst the chaos of the internet, where there is entertainment awaiting everybody no matter what your interests are, then while not the greatest of business choices, that a specialized station, magazine or site is by no means offensive. In fact, it might even be praised for providing a glowing core for a certain demographic, something provided in the context of race with the BBC Asian Network, and for the disabled with BBC Ouch.
For this reason, I can’t help but find this approach slightly one dimensional in how it accuses Radio X of neglecting the entire female listenership. While he’s right in saying that it overlooks half of the population, there is no denying that other magazines, radio stations, TV shows and so on, are just as guilty, no matter who the demographic may be.
In short: Does the upset really stem from the quality of Radio X, or the memory of what the demographic once was?
It is an interesting subject on the basis of what XFM once was – something that will already bring a lump to the throat in memoriam of its greatness. It is for this reason that the question is raised over how much of an upset is from how things have changed, in that ‘rights’ and feelings about being welcome have been removed, or that it is entirely down to the venture for equality. For example, were a more generic catalogue format magazine like Stuff to decide to book the topless models to demonstrate the new technology (seductively chewing the cables of course), en route to becoming a nerdier Front magazine (not that that’s required as that takes up half of the internet as it is), there would be an upset in that the Stuff demographic had shrunk, yet there presumably would not be nearly as much fuss has Stuff been that way from day one.
It’s not difficult to see why one would want to hurl abuse in Radio X’s direction, and I would gladly join in. Stanizewski’s use of the word ‘archaic’ is applied to the idea of women being segregated, and it is observable. It appears that Global Radio has gone for the ‘bloke’ approach, enlisting Chris Moyles, Johnny Vaughn, Vernon Kay and Ricky Wilson, presumably pint glasses aloft. To be fair though, they have little reason to feel any different. Under the guise of XFM, the station was the breakout moment for Ricky Gervais, Russell Brand, Dermot O’ Leary and Alex Zane. I don’t know about you but I’d be pretty offended to be compared to any of the above. However, that said, that also demonstrates that there isn’t a whole lot of change beyond ditching the ‘fm’ from the title. Either way, it is definitely the promotion of the change, in spite of how minimal it might be that has come as the biggest blow.
All joking aside, this lad culture approach at entertainment networks isn’t anywhere close to new, and it comes as no surprise that they were to give it a go. At the moment, websites and Facebook pages such as UNILAD and The Lad Bible, in their good old-fashioned plagiarizing ways, encompass this type of personality, drizzled with ‘ladbantz’. Curiously the marketing director of The Lad Bible is a woman – Mimi Turner of Pretty52. However one feels about these pages, there is no denying that it has an audience. A massive audience. There is also offensive content that has upset many, but we are yet to see any campaign for a rebranding as TheLadAndLadyBible. Men on the other hand have been guiltlessly labeled online as living to being casually offensive for a laugh. This is portrayed as the primary canvas of the male demographic, as though there is nothing else to discuss.
Sure, it’s popular, but surely a transformation from a more neutral station to aiming at the scummier corner of a single gender, would be the most irresponsible pursuit of modern culture since BBC created a gameshow called Epic Win. Either way, Radio X have done it.
This is pointed out by Laura Snapes in a discussion on the matter of the rebranding, mentioning how a male orientated station is justified and uses Radio 4 lifestyle show Woman’s Hour as an example of what a male demographic might need. I agree that this is something missing from the airways. After all, there are networks specialized upon age and even race (such as BBC Asian Network). While lifestyle broadcasting for the female demographic is catered for, ranging from the deadly seriousness of Women’s Hour to the undeniably stupid Loose Women (seriously, how many times can one laugh at the term ‘blow dry’?). At this time, it appears that men won’t ever get that canvas provided for them in broadcasting. Radio X’s offense is not entirely for its content (its demographic exists, and is large), but for what it doesn’t provide anymore, for both women and men. Its existence is the final nail as the demographic layers are peeled away. The mourning of what it once was – the ameliorated memories of a perfect XFM past – is the source of upset. The shock is not just dislike of Radio X, it is the feeling of loss, and were one not a fan to begin with, it is easy to come to the conclusion that it is a sexist gesture (to both men and women), with the rug tugged from beneath them.
However, what if that were how Radio X were planned from day one, it found its crowd and there was never a change? This links back to one last point made by Staniszewski – how the demographic, based upon how almost 40% of current listeners of that frequency are female, and that they were on their way out of the door. Already it demonstrates the point that there is a big change once gunning for the men is fully implemented. However, Radio X is by no means alone in the matter. The standout monster example comes from Heart FM which prides itself in having an almost identical, yet mirrored, 58% female listenership (fittingly in the 25-44) age range. In spite of the heart being a symbol of all life, it will forever be accused of being an audio manifestation of jumping and hipshaking femininely around the house – inoffensive, aside from for the kids who are sick of hearing Katrina and the Waves’ ‘Walking on Sunshine’ for the hundredth time today.
However, this is seemingly without incident. One can’t help but observe that such a station is very neutral in its atmosphere – just there for the sake of fun, however feminine. Having been that way from the begin, Heart FM will not offend, but to watch oneself fall away from a crumbling demographic is what is really bound to cause offence and above all else, disappointment.
The key upset is change, a situation with more context that Radio X being an amalgamation of people that you would want to spend no time with under any circumstance. Ever.