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Exploring “The Receipts” on Radio 1Xtra

The BBC digital radio station recently picked up the women-of-colour-led conversational podcast.  It's a smart move.

Since it was launched in August 2002, the aim of the BBC digital station Radio 1Xtra has been to serve a young, diverse audience, both with its spoken and music content — the latter focusing on hip hop, RnB and grime, particularly by British artists. It has a deliberately younger focus even than its sister station BBC Radio 1, which has historically been the home of the corporation’s “youth” output.

With research from RAJAR, the official body that measures radio audiences in the UK, showing that radio listening is declining sharply among younger people (less than a third of weekly radio listeners were under 35 in Q1 of 2018) and the biggest increase in podcast listenership in the last 18 months being in the 15-34 demographic, it makes total sense that 1Xtra should look to podcasting as a way of shoring up its audience.

The result of this train of thought is a recently-launched 1Xtra programming strand called “XtraChat,” which will act as a showcase for both existing and newly-commissioned podcast series. The first show to appear under this banner is The Receipts, a lifestyle and sex podcast with a raucous, infectious conversational style — it’s pretty much impossible to listen to an episode without cracking a smile at least once, I find. The showcase feed practice has been used successfully in the past by other outlets, perhaps most notably by Radiotopia, which debuted limited-run shows like Ways of Hearing and The Great God of Depression in this manner.

Tolani Shoneye, Audrey Indome and Milena Sanchez, along with producer Renay Richardson, have created a short series of new episodes (originally slated for a run of six, now extended to eight thanks to its popularity) that are being broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 1Xtra on Sunday nights as The Receipts on 1Xtra, as well as being released for download under the same name. Part of the reason for the commission, I’ve been told, is to drive listeners towards the new “BBC Sounds” app, which the corporation is hoping will help them clarify a muddled internal attitude to on-demand audio, although there is little sign of a firmer direction there yet.

The Receipts is a particularly smart pick by the BBC to kick off their XtraChat showcase. The corporation came to them with the idea, the hosts confirmed to me — and given how opaque and lengthy the BBC’s commissioning processes can be, that’s a good sign, I think. It’s not hard to work out why these women attracted attention: theirs is a successful independent podcast in its own right, racking up around 25,000 listens an episode and selling out its live shows. Much of that audience is made up of exactly the kind of people the BBC traditionally struggles to gain traction with: millennials and people of colour. By bringing The Receipts onto 1Xtra, the BBC is hoping that a proportion of their listeners will stick around to hear the next show on the feed, and perhaps even tune into the radio station itself. “It’s a good look for us, and a good look for the BBC” is how the hosts described the collaboration to me.

Shoneye, Indome and Sanchez are also adept at promoting their show on social media. (I think their extremely active #TheReceiptsPodcast hashtag is one of the best examples of how podcasters can interact with listeners beyond audio.) The animated, chatty energy of the podcast feeds off its audience’s enthusiasm, and now, via the XtraChat feed, some of that fervour is being directed towards a BBC product. After the first episode of The Receipts on 1Xtra was broadcast, the show hit the number one spot on the UK iTunes chart, and the hosts told me that they have added thousands of daily listeners to their own feed since, as new listeners from the 1Xtra broadcast have started diving into their back catalogue. As a collaboration, this seems to be benefiting both parties.

There is one other aspect that makes The Receipts on 1Xtra a very encouraging move by the BBC. Producer Renay Richardson pointed out to me that this is the first podcast both hosted and produced by women of colour to make it to the top of the UK iTunes chart. The BBC’s own in-house podcasts tend to reflect the whiteness of the industry as a whole; it’s really good to see the corporation using its substantial power and reach to amplify these voices. Initially during recording, Shoneye told me, the hosts felt “very aware that we’re on the BBC and someone’s mum might hear it,” and were inclined to temper their usual loquacious, no holds barred style into something more conventionally “BBC”-sounding. However, they were assured by the staff at 1Xtra that their own style was exactly why they were asked to appear on XtraChat in the first place, and the final episodes fizz with all the usual irreverent over-talking familiar from the original Receipts podcast.

XtraChat appears to laying down the foundation for how a big established public broadcaster can work with independent podcasters beyond just encouraging them to pitch for existing radio or podcast segments. This is, ostensibly, a better, and more collaborative model, which recognises that a podcast created outside the auspices of the BBC can also be successful on the larger platform, and that drawing on popular shows from the widest possible field can do much to help bridge the gap between an establishment body and the audience that isn’t always that interested in its traditional output.