Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Radio One More Time: Keeping It Peel

You can't talk about Radio One without mentioning John Peel, in much the same way that you can't mention Peel without him being seen in the context of surviving on Radio One. For most of his time on the network, Peel functioned as the network's conscience. Nobody likes their conscience, of course, because without it, we could all live like we were in a video game shooting and screwing to our black heart's content. But we're also aware that without it, we'd probably end up in serious trouble. Like, being pelted with rocks and condemned in the tabloids, at the very least.

So it was with Peel: happily playing his music in a series of unlovely slots, as controllers knew that - although giving his six hours to someone a bit more showbiz might bring a listening boost - while Peel was somewhere not too close to dawn, they could always point and demonstrate their commitment to new music and supporting rock that would otherwise be largely ignored.

Peel's programme was, for the network, like going to church at Christmas - the bare minimum non-believers can do in case they one day need to explain themselves to Saint Peter.

His death, then, was something of a shock to the system. It's not so much that you wouldn't invent the Peel programme if you started from scratch, it's more that if you did create it, you wouldn't bother to pitch it to Radio One. So, what was the network to do?

It came up with the idea of Keeping It Peel, some sort of promise that John would function as the station's Saint Christopher medal. From this day forth, Radio One would be Peelie.

The first act of Keeping It Peel was to replace his show with three programmes under one banner, One Music, with the three presenters, Rob Da Bank, Ras Kwame, Huw Stephens and Rob Da Bank each taking a chunk of the sort of thing that Peel did under their belt. All three are excellent presenters, and all three shows are stuffed with delights, but this very Balkanization of musical styles suggested that somehow, the point of what made John Peel's shows different - the idea of there not being any genre-tramlines to keep within - had been badly missed.

Next came the big, showy event in honour of a quiet, shy man. The suggestion was that this was to be Radio One's equivalent of the Reith Lectures; a focus for continuing the founding father's work. And in year one, it was a fitting tribute. Last year - year two - it had already shrunk somewhat and had the atmosphere of an anniversary meal for a couple heading for divorce: everything was booked, all the elements for the evening was there, but a sense of going through the motions hung above the night.

This year, it's shrunk even further, and been co-opted into the Electric Proms, although you can still submit details of a gig you might want to do, to. And, as part of the 40th Birthday celebrations, Elijah Wood is presenting a programme called Keeping It Peel. This isn't totally inappropriate - Wood had been lined up as a guest host to cover what turned out to be Peel's final holiday - but the attaching of a Hollywood name to the Peel show demonstrates how far from "Keeping It Peel" the network has drifted.

Clearly, Colin Murray is seen as being a sort-of the 2007's John Peel. But we know in our hearts that he's just keeping it Campbell.

[Part of Radio One More Time]