BBC Radio 6’s plans to slash popular presenters’ airtime will ‘rip the heart out of’ the hit alternative station, insiders fear.
Gideon Coe and Marc Riley, called the “soul” of the digital station, are to lose more than half of their on-air hours in a schedule shake-up.
Coe, a presenter of the alternative music station since its launch in 2002, and Riley, who joined two years later, currently present a five-hour block of shows on weekday evenings from 7pm until midnight.
Under the new 6 Music schedule, the 20 hours a week the duo currently enjoy will be slashed to only eight hours, with the pair being asked to share a nightly show, i can reveal.
The changes are being made amid fears that 6 Music, which attracts 2.5m weekly listeners, is losing its “alternative” ethos, with “indie rock” replaced by dance tracks also played on Radio 1.
Its audience is fiercely loyal. When BBC bosses tried to close 6 Music in 2010, a backlash from listeners and artists forced a swift retreat and the station doubled its audience as a result of the publicity.
Currently, Riley’s 7-9pm show is followed by Coe presenting until midnight. Under the new evening schedule, the two DJ’s contributions will be reduced to a 10pm-12am show from Monday to Thursday.
Riley, 61, will present the Monday late night show, with Coe, 55, taking the reins on Thursday. The duo will unite for a joint 10pm show on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
From June, Riley and Coe will be replaced earlier in the evenings by New Music Fix Daily, a new 7-9pm strand presented by Tom Ravenscroft, son of John Peel, and Deb Grant, an Irish DJ and musician.
Where Coe’s show featured sessions and classic concerts from the BBC archive, the replacement programme will showcase Ravenscroft and Grant’s “new music obsessions – expect songs from any genre and from across the globe.”
The 9-10pm slot will be presented by a rotating 6 Music “artist in residence”. Each programme is presented by a musician “who takes listeners on a journey into their musical soul”.
It is believed that Coe and Riley’s pay will reflect the reduction in their weekly shows.
One figure said: “Marc and Gideon are the heart and soul of 6 Music. Listeners will fear that slashing their airtime means the channel is losing touch with its alternative music roots.”
Another blamed “ageism” and a drive to win younger listeners on the move to cut their airtime. Shaun Keaveny, 50, who quit 6 Music after 14 years when he lost his afternoon shows, said of his departure: “I was forced out onto the ice floe like an elderly Inuit relative.”
The shake-up echoes the changes at Radio 2 where Steve Wright, 68, was replaced as host of the afternoon show after 24 years by Scott Mills, 49, and Paul O’Grady, 67, left his Sunday afternoon show after 14 years. Ken Bruce launched his new show on rival Greatest Hits Radio on Monday.
But the BBC said the changes were designed to give a fresh look to evenings at 6 Music with greater focus on discovering new artists.
Samantha Moy, head of 6 Music, said: “A love of music unites all of our 6 Music presenters. And bringing Marc and Gid and Tom and Deb together means even more music will be found and shared with our audience, giving a new sound to 6 Music at night.”
6 Music’s longest-serving presenter alongside Craig Charles and Stuart Maconie, Coe will move to Salford’s MediaCity studios to present his shows.
The BBC said the entire evening line-up will now be presented from Greater Manchester as part of its commitment to moving production out of London.
The Sony award-winning Coe presented morning and afternoon shows on the station before moving to the late evening slot in 2008.
Riley champions new artists on his show. Famed for his partnership with Mark Radcliffe, the pair still present a weekend breakfast programme together on 6 Music.
Riley said: “I’ve been calling Gid ‘The Guv’nor’ for the last 16 years so this is my chance to learn from the best in the business!
“We’ll be joining forces to do what we’ve both always done on 6 Music – sharing music and sessions from the artists we love.”
Coe said: “Marc plays great records and hosts fantastic sessions. I very much look forward to doing that alongside him.
“I also look forward to continuing to provide late-night radio for the 6 Music listeners. They remain the most important part of any programme.”
Ravenscroft said: “Every day, thousands of new tracks are released, bands are formed in bedrooms, and the search for the perfect beat continues. Deb and I will be inviting listeners and fellow music lovers to join our conversation about some of our favourites.”
Grant said it was “a total honour to be joining the 6 Music family for New Music Fix Daily, even more so to be working alongside a station legend like Tom on a show that champions something so fundamental to the station’s ethos – new music”.
6 Music was launched to scoop up music fans who were too old for Radio 1 but thought Radio 2 was for their grandparents. Led by presenters like Lauren Laverne, 6 built a large following, overtaking Radio 3 in the listening figures.
However, the guitar-based rock that was once its currency has fallen out of fashion, and the station refreshed its playlists with more hip-hop, rap, and cutting-edge dance music.
As well as moving shows outside of London, the BBC is asking independent producers to bid to make more programmes. Presenters unable to move with their shows are likely to be replaced when their contracts end – although Breakfast shows on BBC national stations can stay in London.
The 6 Music Festival, broadcast last month, featuring live performances from Arlo Parks and Christine and the Queens, which used to be staged in a new city each year, will now be based in Manchester.
Bosses hope the 6 music shake-up will not spark a listener rebellion, with the corporation recently beset by crises.
A cost-cutting move to axe the BBC Singers choir was paused following threats to boycott the upcoming Proms by prominent classical figures. The BBC will now explore funding options from outside the BBC to keep the Singers going as the ensemble approaches its centenary year.
Ken Bruce’s departure from Radio 2 for commercial rival Greatest Hits Radio was overshadowed by the veteran presenter’s annoyance that he was not allowed to complete his contract before leaving. Bruce walked out of a meeting after being told he was being placed on gardening leave.
The BBC is awaiting the outcome of an independent review into the process that appointed Richard Sharp as chairman. Mr Sharp is accused of failing to declare his role in discussions which helped facilitate a loan for Boris Johnson.
The row engulfed Mr Sharp just as the BBC became embroiled in controversy over Gary Lineker’s tweets, which appeared to breach the broadcaster’s impartiality guidelines.