Betrayed again: NME Radio goes the way of Xfm

In 2007, Xfm ditched its daytime DJs, then axed all the remaining DJs in a shift to a fully automated playlist solution. I had been a loyal Xfm listener since day one in the mid-90s. I had listened on FM, via satellite TV when I left London and was out of signal range, online when I was abroad and then on DAB when Kevin bought me one for Christmas.

When Xfm fired all its DJs I felt betrayed, hurt and disappointed. A station I has supported for years had got rid of the very people who made it special. At the time I said:

The loss of real human DJs – people who care, people who are passionate, funny, interesting, exciting, cute, intelligent, informed, connected – will diminish listeners’ feelings of loyalty to the station. People react most favourably to other people. We like it when a human answers the phone instead of a machine. We prefer to be treated as individuals, not en masse. We want to have conversations with people we like and care about, people that we feel some sort of fellowship with. We don’t connect with people who pop up with an intrusive message for their own little social circle, we simply aren’t wired to care all that much about strangers.

In 2008, NME Radio began. By then I knew Iain Baker, who had been one of my favourite DJs on Xfm, personally and was excited to hear that NME Radio had hired him. Iain is a great DJ with a taste in music that matches mine and a warm, friendly manner that makes him a joy to listen to.

I finally had a replacement for the enfeebled Xfm. NME Radio was fun, full of great music played by great DJs. My radio listening needs were being fully met, even moreso when NME Radio moved on to Twitter so that I could interact with the DJs in a medium that I found convenient. (Although I must say that their use of social media in general was lacking and they could have done a lot more with it had they been bothered to find out how it can all work.)

But today I discovered, several days late due to having guests, that NME Radio have fired all their DJs and are pulling back to become an internet-only radio station. DX Media, who had licensed the NME brand, have decided not to renew that licence, thus leaving NME Radio as a shell of its former self. Says Brand Republic:

The live NME Radio station, launched under licence from IPC Media by Xfm founder Sammy Jacob’s DX Media, is to close after DX Media decided to terminate the arrangement.

NME Radio will stop broadcasting on national DAB and on digital television on Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat, but an automated service will continue online at while IPC reviews the next stage of development.

Perhaps they weren’t doing well, one might think. Well, it’s true that there weren’t as many ads as you might have expected, but according to Brand Republic, audience size was increasing:

According to the latest Rajar audience-measurement figures for the first quarter of this year, NME Radio had an average of 226,000 listeners a week, up 16.5% year on year and 27.7% quarter on quarter.

Today (14 June), media agencies expressed disappointment about the decision, citing the gold award the station won in the best use of branded content category for its Skins Radio work for Channel 4, as evidence of the station’s progressive approach.

So it would seem that DX Media simply didn’t have the patience to wait for NME Radio to read critical mass, despite the fact that the signs were good. If anything, it looked lie NME Radio was well on the up. The Guardian says:

NME Radio went nationwide on digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio at the end of last year and also broadcast via Sky Digital, Virgin Media, and Freesat.

The station had an average weekly reach of 226,000 listeners in the first quarter of 2010, and just two months ago announced the signing of former Xfm DJ Alex Zane. It launched with a show presented by Ricky Gervais.

Once again, a great radio station has decided that the human voice is unnecessary or too expensive, and that us little sheeplings will continue to listen to an automated service that has all soul and personality of a brick. Well, I for one shan’t. If I want music without interruption, there’s Spotify,, my iTunes folder, and a bazillion music blogs and podcasts that can keep me busy.

What I want is to be able to listen to Iain and his colleagues. Their voices gave shape to my day. Like the old town cryer calling “11 o’clock and all is well”, the sound of Iain’s voice was a reminder that I had better be getting on with my morning lest lunchtime creep up on me.

I feel betrayed by NME Radio. Hurt. Angry. I’ve been through the loss of my favourite radio station before when Xfm turned to shit, and this hurts even more because of it.

The strange thing is… just before Xfm lost the plot, it started broadcasting some really dodgy station idents that were repulsively puerile and insulting. They upset listener and DJ alike. I remember being quite shocked when I heard them or heard about them.

Only a few weeks ago, NME Radio started broadcasting dodgy station idents that I found repulsive and insulting. One featured a woman trying to ask her boyfriend to marry her, casting her as a needy, silly, unrealistic bimbo and him as an uncaring, selfish, emotionally unavailable twat more interested in his radio than the feelings of his girlfriend. That’s insulting to both men and women alike, frankly.

So now I’m lost. 6Music seems to be the place that refugees from Xfm and NME now go, but half their DJs bore me and the others drive me up the wall. I am again in the radio wilderness, searching for an indie alt rock home with charismatic and entertaining DJs to keep me company.

UPDATE 18 June 2010: I was pretty cross when I wrote this post. I think NME Radio’s fate reminded me so much of what happened at Xfm and opened up some old wounds. I’ve had an interesting conversation with someone closer to the action than myself, and reading this post back in the light of that additional information, it does sound a bit harsh.

Ultimately, DX Media and IPC were in a tough spot. Starting a new radio station just before the ad industry tanked and global recession set in was a piece of bad luck no one could have foreseen.

I have no reason to doubt the intentions and capabilities of the people at DX Media and IPC who worked on NME Radio. I do still think they could have done better at social media, but these have been testing times for all businesses that rely on advertising. I hope IPC figure a way to continue NME Radio, and perhaps even find the budget to hire back some of the great talent they were forced to let go. Indeed, I shall continue to listen, as they do still have the best playlist in town, and perhaps by remaining loyal through testing times I might help the station survive. One can but hope.

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