Judge and Jury: All in all, will the alternative become another brick in the wall?

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, Red Consultancy.

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,

Red Consultancy.



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

and SmashMouth.



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

faces.



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

establishment.



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

years.



And I see the finger of ’mainstream’ beckoning Xfm. It’s too damn good

to stay ’alternative’



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