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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 August, 2003, 05:25 GMT 06:25 UK
1Xtra celebrates birthday presence
by Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Wayne Marshall at Dancehall Birthday event
1Xtra has celebrated with a week of birthday parties
The BBC's black music digital radio station, 1Xtra, celebrated its first birthday on Saturday.

BBC News Online looks at how it has fared in its first year.

Victoria Beckham does not seem like the type of artist to get her records played on 1Xtra, the BBC's home of hip-hop, R&B and garage.

But it was one of her first ports of call when she wanted to promote her new track, It's That Simple - a collaboration with hip-hop mogul Damon Dash.

The pair were in the building in July when they heard a DJ not "being overly kind" to the song on air - so demanded to go into the studio to defend it.

As a result, they gave the station an exclusive impromptu interview and some welcome publicity.

It also proved that the station has carved out a reputation as an influential destination where trends are set.

Beckham was there in the hope that some of the station's street cred would rub off on her - not because millions of people were listening. Because they were not.

Jason Mitchell (right) with early breakfast co-host Iyare Igiehon
Jason Mitchell (right) with early breakfast co-host Iyare Igiehon
In fact, nobody knows how many people listen because its first official audience figures from research company Rajar are not released until October.

Jason Mitchell, who hosts the 0600-0900 slot with Iyare Igiehon, says he has "no clue" how many people are tuning in.

"I just know there are people out there from emails, texts and people who we get on the line," he said.

"Sometimes we get dry days where there's absolutely nothing - [they are] very few and far between, but it has happened."

But he cannot take that to mean no-one is listening, he says.

"You just get on with it and make it sound like there are people there."

But after just one year, the pressure of audience figures is not crippling because it is guaranteed to grow in popularity as more and more people get digital radios.

Seani B and Robbo Ranx live from Asylum Night Club in Jamaica
The station has broadcast from events in locations like Jamaica and Miami
And its position as one of the main weapons in the BBC's battle to hold on to younger, ethnic audiences means it is important to the corporation.

In its first 12 months, 1Xtra has slotted in between the sister station Radio 1, with its professionalism, and the illegal pirate stations, with their cutting-edge talent and credibility.

Few of the 1Xtra daytime DJs or songs would sound out of place on Radio 1 - its slick links, news bulletins and competitions follow the same style.

But eating into the BBC's budget at 800 per hour, it is more than three times cheaper than Radio 1.

And the night-times are given over to more specialist, free-flowing shows dedicated to new music in the different scenes.

The station's achievements include championing artists such as 50 Cent, Dizzee Rascal and Terri Walker before the mainstream caught on.

The Heartless Crew
The Heartless Crew are one of the station's big-name signings
And with large-scale live broadcasts coming from Miami, Jamaica, New York and Trinidad, it has proved to listeners that it is serious about offering quality and originality.

One UK Garage promoter, Muks from Nuthing Sorted, said the station had a high profile and good reputation among fans.

But because digital radios were not common in hi-fis or cars, many never had the chance to listen, he said.

"It hasn't had a great effect on the large proportion of the urban listeners just because it's not as accessible as radio or tapes or TV," he said.

"When digital radios become more popular it will get even better."

The station has had to dodge its share of controversy over the last 12 months, becoming a target for criticism over gun crime and racism.

Gun accusations

In January, reggae producer Neil Fraser - aka the Mad Professor - said Radio 1 and 1Xtra "should share some of the guilt every time a black youth dies by the gun in Britain".

"BBC 1Xtra has several programmes that encourage gun violence and a general ignorant agro within the black community," he said.

But a BBC spokesman argued that the stations "do a great deal to inform and educate their audience on a variety of issues including violence and racism".

"We make every effort to encourage positive and constructive attitudes to such issues," he said.

The station has tackled such serious topics in its daily hour-long news programme, TX Unlimited.

DJ reshuffle

But it failed to meet a commitment that at least 10% of its output should be news, documentaries and "social action programmes", according to the latest BBC annual report.

The station only hit 6.9%, prompting TX's length to be doubled to a two-hour daily show as part of a wider schedule reshuffle from Monday.

"1Xtra prides itself on leading the pack when it comes to spotting new music and we like to do the same thing with our on air talent too," programmes editor, Willber Willberforce said.

Jason Mitchell, who will keep his early breakfast slot, said the station was "going in the right direction".

"I don't think there should be much change. I think we've started off really strong and we'll only get better from here," he said.

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