Need a cure for narcolepsy? Start a business. It’s a brilliant way to keep you awake at night. My favourite time is 03:22. For some reason, that’s always when I wake up, worried about something or other. You could set your clock by me.
This week, I’ve slept like a baby. This may sound perverse; my radio station just got flung off the air, why would it make me sleep better? Because before then, we weren’t quite sure if you like what we do. On Monday afternoon, when we realised there was no way of avoiding this, my Exec team all sat round the table in my office wondering aloud what would happen. Would anyone notice? Did anyone care?
Then the reaction started. It’s impossible not to feel emotional when you read the comments on the petition at http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/saveamazingdab (click on ‘signatures’) or on Twitter to @amazingradio and @saveamazingdab. It’s not just in the UK either. Yesterday I spoke to the boss of a big record label in New York who said they were behind us, and he had been talking to a Major who had said the same. Something very odd is going on. Something very wonderful. That’s an incredible comfort. When you’ve lived with something for years, hoping people will like it and will support it, it’s mind-blowing when you discover they actually do. It aids peaceful sleep.
It sets new challenges too. Funding this business in the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression has not exactly been a bed of roses. DAB was our biggest single expense. Coming off the air will cut our annual running costs by over 30%. If we were acting through self-interest, just concerned with money, we would breathe a sigh of financial relief, then cut and run. Our future American investors may be more concerned about broadcasting in LA than the UK, may regard DAB as an expensive frivolity. Instead, watching the incredible reaction this week, we’re looking for ways to get back on the air.
Why? Because this business has never been about business alone. It’s been driven by a synthesis of the things I believe in; the need to behave ethically, the importance of music, and the values of the BBC.
I’ve played the drums since I was nine, earned money doing it since I was eleven. My last gig, playing timpani with the Northern Sinfonia, was a few weeks ago. I know what it’s like to wait for a reaction to a demo from a record label, and the incredible excitement of hearing something you played on, played on the radio. (I was fourteen when it first happened to me). But I’ve never written a song myself, I don’t have that kind of brain. I have the most immense respect for people who can. As a drummer, my role is to support people with that kind of talent. That’s amazing’s role too. We can’t stop.
I joined the BBC as a management trainee in 1980, a firm believer in Reithianism. I still am (although not in an ‘Auntie knows best’ sense). The BBC is one of the glories of Britain, it embodies everything we should all be proud of, and it’s brilliant at helping creative industries. However it has to stop its core activities at the UK border, because of how it’s funded. We don’t. So in a way, amazing is an attempt to create a global, private sector version of the BBC. That may sound arrogant, even ludicrous, but it’s what is driving us. It means doing what is right, even if it’s expensive and requires long-term courage. You are telling us, loud and clear, that you want Amazing Radio back on the air. So we’ll find a way to sort it. You could call it public service broadcasting.
And the ethical thing? Well I do think it’s better than the alternative, don’t you? Musicians have been ripped off from time immemorial. We figured that if we played fair by them instead, new fans of their music would do the same and would choose to pay for music instead of stealing it. That would create a virtuous circle that might just re-frame how the music industry should work in the digital age. Read the feedback on the petition; it seems to work.
Put those values together with your reactions this week and the way forward is clear. 03:22, here I come.