After a five year battle to win London’s last licence, Xfm went on
air last week as London’s ’only alternative music station’, but has its
widespread acceptance by mainstream bodies made the phrase ’alternative
music’ a contradiction in terms, asks Lesley Brend, managing director,
To write this, I decided that I needed a bit of musical inspiration, so
I’m sitting here tapping away to the sounds of Radiohead, Corner Shop
The jingle (if that’s the right word for an alternative music station)
is telling me that ’Xfm is not as good as sex, but safer’.
Hmm. What an interesting juxtaposition of the ’rude word’ sex (how
alternative) with safe (how establishment).
Then it struck me that that is the dilemma which the new station
And that’s been the tone of the media coverage to date.
This is a station which originally flourished through underground,
’pirate’ broadcasts, but which is now being pitched in editorial comment
as a real contender to Radio 1 and Capital.
I even read somewhere that the British Phonographic Institute has given
its support to the station (which is akin to realising that Oasis has
become mainstream when your grandmother buys Be Here Now).
The editorial appears to have been unanimously favourable towards Xfm -
the rebel with a cause taking on the big boys of the broadcasting
And credit is due to the PR agency (FFI Beatwax) for this.
But therein lies the big paradox - the rebel has been welcomed with open
arms into the fold. If Xfm is truly ’alternative’, then shouldn’t there
have been at least some voices of dissent? Shouldn’t someone have thrown
the toys out of their pram in outrage?
Fair enough, maybe they decided on a launch strategy of ’play it safe’
because they feel that they’ve been dogged with enough controversy for
the past five years over the licence battle. However, by definition,
anything which is ’alternative’ has to have a short lifespan -
alternative either becomes mainstream, or it curls up and dies because a
new alternative has come along to replace it. Ironically, even the word
’alternative’ itself has become a mainstream adjective over the past 15
And I see the finger of ’mainstream’ beckoning Xfm. It’s too damn good
to stay ’alternative’