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01st Jun 2018

Channel AKA, the pioneering grime TV station, is shutting down

Previously known as Channel U, the station helped launch the careers of grime’s biggest stars.

Wil Jones

Previously known as Channel U, the station helped launch the careers of grime’s biggest stars

When NME ceased publishing a print edition in March this year, many music fans of a certain age got a little teary-eyed. Now a whole other generation is about to experience the same feeling.

Channel AKA – which was known as Channel U until 2009 – has announced that it is closing for good. The music channel tweeted that it was ceasing broadcast after 15 years on air, and will be replaced by Massive R&B on Sky channel 373.

While it may never have become the household name that something like NME did, British music would be very, very different without Channel U.

In 2018, grime is arguably the most important thing in British music. Skepta is a superstar, Stormzy is a national treasure, and international rappers like Drake are desperate to be seen with UK acts. But for the longest time, Channel U was the only TV station that would give grime and UK rap airtime, and support black British artists.

Launching in 2003 at the tail end of UK Garage, Channel U gave national exposure to early grime acts when no one else was. Then in the era between the initial wave of popularity of grime in the mid 2000s and the resurgence in last few years, where the mainstream basically forgot about it, Channel U/AKA stuck with it, helping develop the scene until the likes of Meridian Dan’s “German Whip” and Skepta’s “That’s Not Me” pushed it back into the limelight. Whereas the other music channels preferred to show US rappers, it never gave up on home grown artists.

Just some of the other artists it helped launch include Giggs, Wretch 32, Tinchy Stryder, Tinie Tempah, Dizzee Rascal, Chip, and N-Dubz.

Of course, Channel U wasn’t the only place these artists got exposure – radio stations like Rinse FM and websites like SBTV were just as important, if not more. But Channel U was a national TV channel, that sat alongside the likes of MTV and 4Music on the EPG. It brought garage, grime and UK rap to kids all across the country, not just those who lived in a big city near where raves were happening. It cheap and grimy, and felt punk and real. SMS requests scrolled across the bottom of the screen. It was filled with cameraphone footage, and shaky DV tapes, which were a million miles away from the glossy videos on MTV Base.

In recent years, Channel AKA’s ownership had bound around several companies, and in July 2016, the station’s founder Darren Platt sadly pasted away.

In 2018, grime is mainstream, and artists can go direct to the fans through YouTube and social media. Music television is an outdated idea. But let’s take a second to remember Channel U, and play “Pow” really, really loud.