By Frank Judah
"Q. What’s the difference between Jeremy Corbyn and X radio?
A. One of them is still authentic
On the day of the Labour leaders conference speech, memories come flooding back from a the same pivotal event back in late September 1997. Blair was the newly elected leader of the New Labour party, having defeated the Tories after what seemed like endless, miserable years of Conservative rule. His speech filled us with hope, optimism and made us feel as though things really “could only get better”, as their anthem repeatedly suggested.
Fast forward to September in the same year and you’ll never guess - but things really did get better. Xfm, the fledgling radio station I spent years working tirelessly for, finally received a full London FM radio license. Ok, Diana died a couple of days prior to the launch and I worried whether anyone would turn up, but in the end we had to turn hundreds away. Our supporters were seemingly indifferent to the tragedy.
In the space of a few months, my world changed beyond recognition. Britpop/Indie/Alternative music and even BritArt emerged from the shadows and entered the national consciousness. The Tories were finally gone and you could now turn on the radio and listen to bands like Radiohead, Primal Scream, Mercury Rev, The Cure, and the list goes on. This was seismic given the state of the airwaves pre 1997, when ‘rock’, was represented by the likes of Phil Collins - this more than 20 years after the birth of punk.
Xfm DJ’s lived and breathed the music they championed and this resonated with our listeners. DJ’s were regular gig-goers as were the majority of the audience. Steve Lamaq cut his teeth at Xfm before joining Radio 1 and I unearthed the hitherto unknown Ricky Gervais, who, along with Steven Merchant and later, Karl Pilkington, gave the station a much needed injection of humour. Brave new world and exciting times.
Then suddenly and with little warning, Xfm sold out. It sold out financially, but more importantly, it sold its soul. To the enemy. To the Capital Radio group. Only months after being awarded the very final FM license for London, the shareholders decided to flog our beloved radio station to the highest bidder. Gutted? So much so, I resigned the moment I found out.
Looking back, I was slow in recognising how getting rich quick was just as relevant under Blair as it had previously been under Thatcher. Suddenly the likes of Damien Hirst were making millions, and the word ‘entrepreneur’ became a badge of honour. Following on from the days of mass privatisation under Thatcher, now it was our football clubs, utilities, infrastructure and transport being sold off. It became the new normal.
Xfm was, and still is a product and every product has a market value. Founder Chris Parry made £14 million overnight, but my financial situation was so bad, I had to beg him to help me pay off debts I’d accumulated during years of salary sacrifice working for him for a pittance. How naive was I?
The original Xfm was genuinely authentic. Radio X, the latest in a long line of Xfm reincarnations really, really isn’t. And for me, listening to it is painful. Celebrity DJ’s playing music which 20 years ago would have been considered edgy, but mainstream today. I have no idea what the X stands for now.
Blair left a dreadful legacy. He paved the way for other career politicians who, like him, will say and do whatever they have to in order to win power. All the while, Jeremy Corbyn just kept doing what he’s always been doing. Fighting against inequality, injustice and war.
His speech a couple of days ago was passionate and will have no doubt rallied the troops, but can he win in 2020? Well, he has my vote and if you're looking for authenticity, vote Jez."