Launched in 2002 with the tiniest of budgets, P-Rock was a independant digital music channel set up by two South Londoners. It's playlist consisted of mostly pop-punk, ska, skate punk, emo as well as some hardcore, and as a result proved a unexpected success at the time averaging out at 600,000 viewers a week.
The channel, run by a small team of staff with no previous experience in television, differed greatly from other music stations: just one type of specialist rock music, no presenters, only one type of regular 'show' (a weekly countdown) and little to no advertising - a factor that would lead to the channel being taken off air numerous times, eventually for good in November 2003.
I asked one of the co-founders, Mark Shipman, about this saccharine anomaly in my teenage viewing schedule. Shipman who is now respected economist and soon to be celebrating his 47th birthday, has published books, holds seminars, advises banks and other institutions as well as infrequently appearing on television as a guest expert. Still pretty punk rock though.
-What were your first memories of the punk scene in the 70's, how did you get involved? What were your favourite releases/clubnights?
I remember just how scared everyone was of the punk movement. The “establishment” genuinely thought this was anarchy and they were very worried. Being a teenager and part of such a movement was a real buzz. Having had to grow up with Gary Glitter and The Wombles, punk was a breath of fresh air. During the 70’s, although I lived very near Bromley, I wasn’t part of the Bromley Contingent although I knew one or two of them. To be honest, I was just into the music and went to gigs like most people. My favourite bands at the time were Generation X, UK Subs, Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Damned and a couple of local bands (Rodney & The Failures and Fucking Useless) who never made a record.
-How did you go about setting up the channel initially? What were the protocols like to get it on air?
Setting the channel up was hard work. We had to jump through a number of hoops with Sky and the music collection/copyright agencies. What made it harder were we were just a couple of South London geezers as opposed to some suited corporate outfit. It took us a long time to be taken seriously.
UK acts that would normally never get any airtime on other stations found an audience on P-rock. Jesse James (here with 'Shoes') show off two of the main themes that these British bands usually shared: a cheaply made video and love of ska.
-How many people were involved in the running of the channel? How hands on was the process?
The channel was set up by two people, myself and my good mate Lol Pryor. It was Lol who had idea for the channel. Just before we went live, we recruited a third person, Russell Aldrich (former Epitaph Europe Records head of marketing).
-The channel and website came about before the days of mainstream broadband, youtube and viral videos, would you have been able to do p-rock online if it was created nowadays?
Yes, I think it would be a lot easier to do on-line!
-Was it simpler to have a channel run entirely by fan votes rather than the way that every other music station does/did things?
P-rock used a computer software package (similar to the one used by the other channels at the time) to record the phone votes and then adjust the play list. This was the easiest way for us to operate, especially as there was only three of us running the channel.
Millencolin - Fox (Epitaph Records))
-P-rock's playlist consisted of mostly American bands, mostly playing skate punk or ska, mostly on American labels, did you have any connection to these bands or was it a case of enjoying what was being selected and popular at the time?
When we began to turn the idea of a music channel into P-rock, most labels never even returned our calls. Therefore, we could only play the videos we were sent. The American labels got the idea better than most and in particular Epitaph were very helpful. Hence the American dominated play list.
-P-rock were quite liberal in the videos they played in terms of adult content, did you care much that you were showing 18+ videos?
We always-pixilated videos to be shown after the 9pm watershed. I remember spending hours on an editing machine taking out tits, dicks and such like. That said, we know a couple got under the radar, but it didn’t do too much harm to the channels reputation.
-At what point did P-rock no longer seem financially viable?
Running a satellite channel is a very expensive business; the monthly broadcast fee to Sky just to use a satellite was over £40k a month. Our plan was to have enough funds to cover the channels operating costs until the advertisers come in. We anticipated this would take a few months.
However, the problem actually came from the channels success. Within just two weeks of launchinh and with a marketing budget of only £2k, we were receiving 50% of Kerrang TV viewing figs and it was similar for MTV2. This obviously pissed off the owners of these channels, who we believe then operated, a cartel on us with advertisers.
No reasonably large advertiser would place an ad on p-rock because they wouldn’t be allowed to have ads on the other 11 music channels run by the two big corporates. At that point, we knew our days were numbered. Our viewers loved the fact there were hardly any adverts but as a channel we couldn’t live on thin air and the revenue from phone votes was just too small. Something had to give and in the end we ran out of money.
I'd like to think that other people have as fond memories as... wait what I am talking about. This song is still fantastic, Home Grown -You're Not Alone
-Odds are probably against you getting recognised in the street but do you ever think about the legacy that P-Rock left?
Now and again I read or get sent something about P-rock and it does make me feel proud. When you think that two blokes, who knew absolutely nothing about TV other than watching it, had an idea, wrote it on the back of a fag packet and then turned it into the fastest growing music channel in Europe, I’m very proud. Also, to have influenced as many people as it did is a nice legacy.
-What advice would you give to someone trying to set up an independent channel in 2009?
My advice to anyone thinking of setting up a channel - start with a large fortune and expect to have a small one at the end. The journey is great but it’s not a cheap one.
Looking back, P-Rock can seem incredibly dated and of its time. Yet with the effect that it had, in shaping the musical tastes and ears of countless impressionable youths across the country and also in providing hours upon hours of sheer joy and entertainment to hundreds of thousands, the channel and its creators should be remembered with warmth and fondness rather than the embarrassment and shame that you would associate with other teenage escapades, like not any reading books and liking Static X.
Mark Shipman can be found online at trendfollewer.com