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Radiohead: BBC has exiled adult music
by Vanessa Thorpe

Radiohead - the British rock band who have topped the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic - have attacked the BBC for keeping their music off the air.

The reclusive Oxford-based band have criticised the 'safe' music that is commercially successful in this country and called for BBC radio to take up the challenge of their work.

At best, they say, guitar music is now of 'average standard' and yet it takes up so much playtime that Radiohead are often 'excluded'.

The comments were made by Colin and Jonny Greenwood, the band's bassist and guitarist, during an interview for the BBC's own Mixing It, a contemporary music show on Radio 3. Their contentious views are unlikely to make it into the final edit of the programme which goes out on 20 January.

The Greenwood brothers' complaints echo those of other British rock stars who spoke out last autumn about their dissatisfaction with the 'phoney' world of pop music. Last October George Michael blamed the corporate takeover of youth culture for the 'rubbish' acts.

He was promptly backed by Bono of U2, who criticised Steps and said people were 'sick to the teeth of processed and hyped pop bands. It's crap'. Even Blur weighed in to call chart music 'a load of shite'.

Jonny Greenwood talks about the 'series of kickings' that Radiohead's recent album, Kid A, initially received from British critics. Despite this it sold 55,000 copies in its first day in the shops and then went in at No 1 in the US Billboard charts - the first time in three years a British act had done so.

The experimental Radiohead album, which has been branded 'difficult' even by its fans, was also nominated last week for Grammy Awards in four categories.

But, in this country, the Greenwoods argue that radio station 'demographics' are preventing serious rock music from being heard. 'I heard the controller of Radio 1 say the demographic for their station is now 14 or 15 to 25, so I think we are kind of excluded. It is getting harder for our music to be heard,' said Colin Greenwood.

'It is the nature of the times we are in,' the Cambridge-educated musician adds. 'Other artists of considerable stature launched albums in the past few months only to see them drop out of the top twenties and thirties two weeks later.'

Radio 1 says it simply has a commitment to new sounds. But Radiohead's harsh words come at a time when the BBC is facing up to a huge gap in its range of targeted audiences. The corporation now has no radio station which is aimed at rock and pop music-lovers in their late twenties and thirties.

While Radio 2 has adopted an increasingly youthward path by introducing Jonathan Ross, Jools Holland, Mark Lamarr and Steve Wright as presenters, its lower audience age profile still only reaches down to those in their late 40s. Last summer Radio 2 schedulers commissioned a series about punk rock in an effort to confound expectations. Hosted by the former Sex Pistol, Glen Matlock, and called Anarchy In the UK, it was a hit with younger listeners.

So it is Radio 3, the classical music station, that is left to make the BBC's most positive moves towards listeners in their thirties. The station was quick to pick up the world music presenter Andy Kershaw when he was edged out of Radio 1 last year.

'The difficulty is that age profiling is a fairly crude way of working out your listenership. After all, rock itself is around 50 years old now anyway,' Kershaw said.

'I know my old show on Radio 1 had a wide age range of listeners and I hope the BBC will return to the idea of surprising its audiences a little.'

Kershaw's new show on Radio 3 starts in April and is part of a concerted drive to add more jazz and world music to its schedule. The BBC's controller of Radio and Music, Jenny Abramsky, plans to launch five additional digital networks this year and one of them, which is codenamed Network Y, is to be devoted to this missing age group, the thirty-somethings or Generation Y.

'I imagine that Radiohead will be right at the core of this new digital station's playlist,' said a spokeswoman for Radio 2.

The rare Radiohead interview on Mixing It was the result of the Greenwood brothers' enthusiasm for the programme. They wanted to talk about the wider musical influences on their work. The jazz of Charlie Mingus and the sound of the harpist Alice Coltrane are both listed as providing inspiration for tracks on Kid A as well as on the next album to be released, Amnesiac, which was recorded at the same time.

A spokesman for Radio 1 argues that the band has no reason to feel excluded. 'We have actually made far more room for Radiohead than the commercial stations have, so it seems unfair that we have been picked out,' a spokesman said. 'Both Radiohead and U2 had major live performances on Radio 1 last year and Radiohead had unprecedented exposure.'

The station's attention to dance music trends merely reflects changes in musical tastes, he said.