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Friday, 16 August, 2002, 08:40 GMT 09:40 UK
1Xtra: On the cutting edge
BBC Radio 1Xtra programmes editor Willber Willberforce
Willber Willberforce: "It's about a feeling"

As the BBC launches a new black music digital radio station, 1Xtra, BBC News Online finds out who it is for and what listeners can expect.

Two things that the BBC says it wants to do above almost all else are to appeal to a wider, more multicultural audience and give the digital revolution the momentum it needs.

With new digital radio station 1Xtra, it hopes it is killing two birds with one stone.

The station, playing underground dance music to those who would have previously found it on pirate radio or in clubs, is the latest in the corporation's string of new digital-only channels.

So Solid Crew
So Solid Crew are stars of UK garage
It is designed to appeal to the people the BBC is most afraid of losing - teenagers and young adults of all ethnic backgrounds in cities across the UK who are put off by the whiff of establishment and feel ignored by BBC Radio 1's current pop slant.

1Xtra is billed as a black music station, and will play a streetwise mix of styles from the UK and United States.

Among them are UK garage, the scene made notorious by south London bad boys So Solid Crew - plus hip-hop, a US-led scene epitomised by Eminem and Dr Dre, the more soulful R&B of chart stars like Usher and the reggae-influenced dancehall.

Attitude

But although it is described as a black music station, it is not about colour, but attitude, programmes editor Willber Willberforce says.

"Back from Motown and beyond, it is the faces and the people and the attitude and the lifestyle - that is what black music is about," he told BBC News Online.

Femme Fatale
Pirate stations provided a springboard for Femme Fatale
"It's never about colour, it's about a feeling, and that's the only way we can describe it."

Anybody from Eminem to UK chart-topper Daniel Bedingfield can be described as making black music, Willberforce says.

"You could trace the feeling of the Daniel Bedingfield record back to the era of good old-fashioned black music," he says.

"Anyone making the music knows the history and knows where they're coming from."

One of the station's star DJs, a white 24-year-old called Natalie who prefers to use her stage name, Femme Fatale, is less sure what it means.


Our DJs live, breathe, eat and sleep music, just like a pirate radio DJ

Willber Willberforce
Programmes editor
"I don't really know what to say because I'm not really understanding it myself to be honest with you," she says.

But the name is irrelevant if you like the music, she says.

"I don't think the majority of people tuning into this station will be black. I think it will be an equal split," she says.

'Rolls-Royce'

"I know as many white people who are into garage as black people."

Alicia Keys
Grammy-winner Alicia Keys is on the playlist
Femme Fatale served her apprenticeship worrying about getting busted by police on pirate radio stations in "dodgy high-rise blocks in south-east London".

Moving to a BBC station, even one with relatively little exposure compared with the big national networks, is like "going from driving a Mini to a Rolls-Royce", she says.

But she thinks it still has the passion of the pirates - an atmosphere Willberforce is keen to let flourish.

"Our DJs live, breathe, eat and sleep music, just like a pirate radio DJ," he says.

"Our DJs come in and they have records they've just bought, white labels and they don't know what it is. It's that sort of ethos."

As well as music, the station will have a dedicated news team catering for the young and urban audience, as well as a daily early-evening discussion show that will encourage listeners to share their views by e-mail and text message.

Fresh talent

The 1Xtra workforce is mostly taken from its 16- to 24-year-old target audience, meaning they know what the listeners want, Willberforce says.

But he is keen to make sure there is a constant rotation of DJs and staff so only the best and freshest talent is involved.

But those who leave should move elsewhere in the BBC so the corporation is made up of a more accurate cross-section of the population, he says.

"I'm thinking that in 10 or 15 years time, the staff here will still be working for the BBC, whether it be in television, Radio 1, 2, 3 or 4, just so they are filtering throughout the institution," he says.

"It's time that everyone started to reflect the audience, because when we do then we're going to get better programmes."


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31 Jul 02 | Entertainment
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