There was lots going on for this year's Peel Day, which has cheered those of us who still hold out hope that it may one day become an official public holiday. But what was missing was any discussion of the radio station that John Peel helped to create. Which is odd, since a glance at the Radio 1 schedule is enough to convince you that some kind of nightmarish prank has been played. The 10pm-midnight slot, which was occupied by Peel until 2003, is now being defiled by - of all people – Mr. Colin Murray.
As you can see from his playlists, Murray has planted himself so firmly in the middle of the road that frightened hedgehogs could use him as a traffic island. One of the last sessions the ever-prescient Peel booked was with the Digital Mystikz, who made dubstep what it is today. With Murray, we are lucky to get anyone as searingly avant-garde as the Killers. I truly despair.
And as a result of Murray's move, fantastic shows like Mary Anne Hobbs' get shunted back to even more unsociable hours. This is the Radio 1 equivalent of replacing In Our Time with a live phone-in about Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing. Good night, public service broadcasting. The BBC's defence is that, with the online 'listen again' function, time slots become irrelevant. But then the potential audience for specialist programmes is reduced to the few people who already know about them (and are loyal enough to tolerate the infuriatingly erratic Realplayer stream). There is no longer any possibility of someone turning on Radio 1 at random in the car late at night, hearing some Burial, and having a minor epiphany.
Yes, Murray's show will be less 'inaccessible' - but 'inaccessible' is just another word for 'difficult' - and 'difficult' is often just another word for 'new and unexpected and potentially important'. Moves like this will please the public, but what the public wants in the short term is not always what the public needs in the long term. The mainstream has always fed greedily off the fringe. Without Sonic Youth, there would be no 'Since You Been Gone'. Without old-school jungle, there would be 'Promiscuous'. Without Nick Drake, there would be no 'Nine Million Bicycles'. (Perhaps I shouldn't have brought that one up.) Take away the fringe, and the mainstream will eventually starve.
I am indeed one of the 'indie mafia,' as Colin Murray put it in his recent self-serving Guardian article, and I make no apology. Nor did Saint Peel himself.