Sitting in my grandmother’s living room in Hackney, East London, I vividly remember seeing the advert on BBC One signalling the forming of a new radio station within its network that would cater solely to Black music. I was 12 years old at the time, and already a huge fan of pirate radio grime.

With shots of kids riding BMXs, two guys in a drop-top Benz, council estates and girls in big hooped-earrings, the station’s positioning was ‘Street Music’—which, at the time, was a broad, umbrella term but it also meant that there were no barriers when it came to the music offering. This was twenty years ago. Fast forward a decade and some change, I found myself working with the station on a project as they prepared for their popular 1Xtra Live series in Cardiff, Nottingham and Manchester. The station that I saw being born had now played a small part in my own career—and there are probably thousands of stories from artists, music journalists and tastemakers alike whose careers this station has had a hand in.

Many argue that 1Xtra began, in part, to quell the rise of pirate radio stations in the early 2000s—particularly those dedicated to championing grime, jungle and garage. While it did take some time for grime to find a permanent home on the station, walking, rather than running, really was the best strategy to ensure long-term success for 1Xtra.

“Landmarks like this are important because I don’t know if anybody thought 1Xtra would last, because we never had a station like this at the BBC,” Trevor Nelson explains on a Zoom call that also includes Faron McKenzie, Head of 1Xtra, and weekday Breakfast host Nadia Jae. “My biggest frustration back when I was an A&R, after signing an artist, was where I was going to get them played. At one point, honestly, it was so hard. If 1Xtra had started earlier, people like Craig David would’ve had their first play on the station—without a doubt. Artists needed that mainstream platform to have their music plugged, and 1X did what no other station was able to do simply because of the BBC’s reach.”

When 1Xtra began in 2002, it was only available on DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting)—which limited its reach, particularly for those who also didn’t have satellite television such as Sky. “At first, it was quite frustrating because I always thought 1Xtra was deserving of more reach,” Trevor tells me. “When I joined, I noticed that DAB wasn’t widely available. It was good on the one hand, because the signal was crisp and clear—I wasn’t used to that, but it also made it exciting because those listeners who latched on early felt they were listening to something truly special. I always got the feeling that they were invested in us, that people made an effort to listen to us.”