From Choice FM to Capital Xtra

When ‘Choice FM’ was taken over by the Capital Radio Group and moved from Borough High Street to Leicester Square, the people marched. They saw the move as the beginning of the end of their treasured, local, station.

It was the first Black music station in the country to receive a licence and was built to showcase what historically “Black music”, had to offer. It broke new talent and during its evolution to becoming the seminal urban music station, became a positive influence on the community it served…

…..’and then it became Capital Xtra’. That is what a friend of mine, who is also a south London youth and community worker, said to me when I had read the first two paragraphs of this feature to him. He doesn’t just see the rebranding as the end for the station. He thinks that if the void left by Choice FM (as he still calls it) isn’t filled, his local community and the black community in this country as a whole will suffer. You see for him, and many like him, it wasn’t just about the music. It was the support of local business through advertising. The raising of awareness towards and the discussion of a raft of issues directly affecting the local black community and later on those communities as a whole. He saw it as a thread which helped keep his community together. With nothing identifiable as being able to take its place, he foresees a deeper fragmenting of his immediate community structure beyond those that already exist.

Anyone who has listened to Choice FM for any considerable length of time knows that the name change is at the end of a long curve that has seen the stations identity virtually disappear. Much loved DJs such as Natty P, Martin J and Daddy Ernie (amongst others) were dropped and with them the genres that they covered have virtually sunk without trace. I can understand the idea of trying to open up the station to a wider audience. It showcases both the genres involved and the artists within them to a whole new level of appreciation and possible commercial success. Yet was this success not already being garnered? Is the reason for said rebranding not because of the stations success in gaining many listeners who may have been perceived to be outside of its target market? Won’t this name change simply mean that the station has to build its heritage, and by consequence its listener loyalty, again from scratch?

This whole sorry state of affairs to me is one of two things. It could a perfect case of people desperately trying to justify their existence within an organisation. The brand and listener foundation were already in place so whoever did the analysis and drew conclusions that this change is a good idea clearly isn’t doing their job properly. People of all ethic origins were attracted to the station because of what was already available on it. So why not build on what was already there and use it as a way of introducing new listeners to a whole new world of music and country wide social awareness. Many of the issues faced by the typical demographic attracted to this station are regularly touched upon by the music they are listening to, which makes the station a great way to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

Or this disassociation with much of the stations roots is a deliberate and calculated move away from ‘Black music’ to more ‘Urban’ climbs. Forgive me but didn’t the latter originate from the former. Hip Hop, RnB, Blues, Classic Soul and Rock n Roll (yes I went there) are the foundations of what is being listened to currently on Capital Xtra and other stations like it. Even after the success of say…. Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Mary J Blige, 2Pac, Jay-Z, Dr Dre, Outkast and others in many cases the minority artist is still seen by some as the least viable (or marketable) option. And on top of all of that you have the blatant lack of creative thinking with the attempt to muscle in on BBC Radio 1Xtra’s (geddit?) audience. An original and forward thinking product is now well on its way to outstanding mediocrity.

But after all of that the current situation can be broken down by any one of many apt proverbs. Cut your coat according to the cloth, The hardest work is to do nothing, If you can’t help don’t hinder, It is easier to destroy than to build, Too many cooks spoil the broth, A good thing is soon snatched up. But I think I will go with, If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Originally written in 2013 for OnTheComeUpTV.com

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