Monday, 11 November 2013

BBC London 94.9 - The black sheep of the local radio family

BBC London 94.9 has had a turbulent and interesting history, providing some great radio in it's 43 year history, especially as GLR when managed by Matthew Bannister and playlisted by Trevor Dann when they introduced the Adult album alternative format.   However, one thing has always been an issue, few people listen to it.

It has 1.0% market share in London and 4% reach because of the large amount of choice provided in the capital.   BBC Local Radio works best in smaller markets where the core information of news, travel and weather are tailored to the area.   LR is also great at giving local organisations airtime, but due to the vast population and area 94.9 covers, a jumble sale in Enfield is not going to be relevant to another listener in Croydon and so on. 

In the capital however, listeners who'd otherwise be tuning into Paul Ross and Penny Smith for their diet of local news and information listen to Nick Ferrari on phone-in station LBC 97.3 which now has 1.2m listeners or the most popular radio station in London, BBC Radio 4, where the Today programme is the unofficial de-facto breakfast show that Londoners wake up to.

So, how do you solve the issue of the BBC local radio station that has a very small share, but keep the core elements of local PSB, such as news, travel and weather?

My suggestion is that BBC London becomes an opt-out of BBC Radio 5 live. 

Why?  As mentioned above, BBC London has always had a very small share, so instead, you replace BBC London with 5 Live which has 1.3m listeners in the capital, which considering it's on AM and DAB impressive, with local output at peak times, so Paul and Penny would continue to be on at breakfast, alongside Eddie Nestor at drive, otherwise 5 live listeners would be able to listen on FM for the first time to national presenters, such as Victoria Derbyshire and Richard Bacon.

During 5 Live Sport, the existing BBC London sports team can opt-out for London commentary of sports events as now when the national Mark Forrest show is networked across the local radio network.   

I'd also suggest that the 5 Live London opt would also provide local information during matters of emergency instead of national programming, such as during severe weather.  This has been one of BBC London's strongest points and one for LR in general.

Sadly for BBC London, the dilemma of trying to provide something for everyone simply isn't working and listeners have voted with their ears to Radio 4, 5 Live or LBC, alongside pirate and community radio provide hyperlocal output for ethnic minority groups.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Capital Radio celebrates 40 years

The legendary Music Power logo.  Credit: This is ILR.
Happy Birthday to the UK's second commercial radio station.  Capital Radio started broadcasting to London as the general entertainment station for the capital on October 16th 1973, opened by Sir Richard Attenborough, who was one of the directors of the station.

The station was quite frankly the only outlet for new pop music in London as Radio 1 was until 1987 stuck on medium wave.

Capital in the early days mixed speech, such as drama with specialist music shows and the latest chart music with now legendary presenters such as Kenny Everett, Dave Cash, Roger Scott, Peter Young, Graham Dene and Michael Aspel.

The station became more music intensive in the 80s with the 'Music Power' branding which gave fresh new presenters an outlet on the premier ILR of the time.   Mick Brown, Pat Sharp, Jon Sachs, Richard Allinson, Neil Fox, David Jensen (formerly of Radio 1 and Luxembourg) provided a tighter formatted chart intensive sound.

Chris Tarrant joined after years of presenting children's tv from Birmingham on ATV and Central. He initially joined in 1984 and moved to breakfast in 1987 joined by Kara Noble as his sidekick, alongside flying eye travel presenter Russ Kane and newsreader Howard Hughes. 

His breakfast show added listeners and was the most listened to commercial radio morning show in the London market.  CT as he was also called on the station left in 2004 for Johnny Vaughan in an attempt to bring younger listeners to the station.

Capital were also visible at events across London, from discos in the 70s, to the big budget roadshows at Alexandra Palace and Crystal Palace in the 80s and early 90s, to the more recent Balls at the O2 in Greenwich.

What made Capital special was the sense of comradeship from the presenting team, the heavy London centricity and the interactivity with the listeners in the pre-social media era.

Capital's charity Help a London Child raised millions of pounds for children's organisations through their Easter weekend radiothons.  This was an opportunity for presenters who'd never work together before to co-present.   The format was simple, listeners would pledge money to hear tracks on the playlist and get a dedication, alongside a premium product auction.  The charity still continues to this day with the auction format on LBC 97.3.

With the increase of radio stations, Capital no longer had a monopoly of music radio and went through various changes including splitting the FM and AM frequencies, the FM service continuing the 'Music Power' tight formatted FM service, while AM relaunched as the classic hits format Capital Gold, which included some heritage presenters from the 1970s era of Capital Radio.

New radio services which targeted Capital's audience were launched in the 1990s such as Heart and Kiss FM which eventually dented Capital's share.  This led to drastic changes to Capital FM's format in the noughties, however it has returned to being a hit music station, although as part of a national network of Capital stations, which has lost some of the station's charm of London centricity.

However Capital, like LBC has survived for the last 40 years and is still playing the hits.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Happy Birthday LBC

The various incarnations of LBC Radio over 40 years.
Waking up this morning felt like being in a timewarp.  Douglas Cameron was once again reading LBC 97.3's news bulletin with his effortless delivery.  It almost made me want to get my satchel on again and head off to primary school with my mother.

LBC is 40 years old today, the first commercial radio station to be launched in the UK (with Capital Radio on October 16th), it's main role to provide speech radio to London.  The business would at the time be viable as they would provide the national news service for commercial radio stations which would be launched gradually throughout the 70s, known as Independent Radio News (IRN).

My early memories of LBC was listening to the late evening phone-ins from the likes of Robbie Vincent and Mike Allen which mixed serious topical discussion with more light hearted discussion, however Clive Bull's show was legendary.  Moving from Through the Night to the late evening slot where callers became as much a listen.  Babs from Bermondsey, Adrian from Tottenham Court Road and others were great radio.

LBC's politics off-air was just as interesting.  Strikes in the 1970s, numerous owners, the business nearly going bust, being sold to a foreign company who moved the station away from the City of London to Hammersmith, being forced to split the FM and AM licences to provide alternative services and then eventually going bust in 1993 when the Radio Authority decided to award the award LBC's two licences for FM and AM to Reuters who then bought the station to maintain the output until the official licence handover in October 1994.

Reuters replaced LBC with two non LBC branded stations, London News (Rolling news) and London News Talk (phone-ins), the latter taking on LBC's heritage in all but name.   However the two formats didn't perform as well as expected and a new consortium which included the Daily Mail and General Trust and upcoming media group GWR relaunched LBC on it's AM frequency and moved output to ITN's then new modern building in Gray's Inn Road, while keeping the rolling news service on FM.

In 2002, LBC was sold by the London News Radio consortium to Chrysalis who owned Heart FM, so once again moved from central London to West London.   The formats were also flipped, rolling news moved to AM while the talk radio format switched back to FM for the first time since 1994.  

The relaunch format was more highbrow, however Chrysalis didn't learn from the mistakes of Crown FM in 1989 which attempted to compete with BBC Radio 4 and then brought in David Lloyd who controversially brought in 'appointment to listen' radio.  This basically meant LBC's heritage format of news talk was axed outside of weekday breakfast and the rest of the output consisted of pub ammo style discussion.  One of the most controversial signings was Iain Lee, who brought with him younger listeners which Chrysalis desired to attract advertisers.  Yet it felt as if the heart of the station had been ripped out in Lloyd's attempt to bring revenue.  However he should be congratulated for the innovative LBC podcast where listeners paid a small fee to listen again to shows listeners missed.

Chrysalis eventually sold their radio business to a new radio group, Global who then acquired GCap Media, so Global moved it to their new broadcast centre in Leicester Square.   Under Global, LBC is at the heart of their newsroom, while a revamped news talk format was introduced which has seen ratings soar to over a million listeners.  Politicians are regulars on the station, with Nick Clegg and Boris Johnson presenting phone-ins and former London Mayor Ken Livingstone with former Tory MP David Mellor on Saturday mornings. 

LBC has finally settled down as an alternative to Radio 4, 5 Live and BBC London, but has returned to it's core values of news and giving Londoners a mouthpiece.

Happy Birthday LBC, it's well deserved.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Goodbye Smooth Radio 70s

In the early hours of Sunday morning, decades station Smooth Radio 70s will be replaced by a test transmission of Global Radio's new spin-off station Capital XTRA aimed at younger audiences.

GMG started experimenting with spin-off brands on DAB with the novelty format Smooth Christmas, which then led to the launch of Smooth 70s on December 27th 2011.  Less than two years later and after acquiring a total audience of 730,000 listeners to add to Smooth Radio's total brand audience, it'll be a part of digital radio history.

Unlike the main station under GMG, this was a focused product which played a broad playlist, those which anoraks and musos love, this despite being broadcast at 80 kbps mono on DAB.

I was at first very critical of the format, as it launched after Absolute Radio launched it's own 70s decade station earlier in 2011, yet like all good things, I doubt the station ever made money, so would be a drain on resources.

If you consider it from Global's point of view, they have two slots on Digital One acquired from the acquisition of Real & Smooth Limited, both serving the over 50s.  Sadly, it's a fact that younger listeners despite using other ways to listen to music are still the most attractive to advertisers.  Capital XTRA gives Global a national platform to attract listeners from Kiss and 1Xtra who playlist similar dance and urban music on the same digital platform.

Once Smooth 70s closes, there's still Absolute Radio 70s on DAB in London and online, however it is more rock focused due to the Absolute brand values.  This station and it's parent Absolute Radio are currently in the middle of being acquired by Bauer Radio who may use the space on DAB for other uses instead. There are other online stations providing 70s music all day long.  Some of which have promoted themselves on Digital Spy and social media outlets.

From day 1 of the opening of Smooth 70s, it was always inventable that it'd close.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Global's insensitive rebranding of Choice FM to Capital XTRA

Copyright: Global Radio Ltd.
The decision by Global Radio to close Choice FM abruptly at noon today ahead of a rebrand to Capital XTRA brought back memories of the sudden decision of Capital Radio PLC to move indie station Xfm from it's base on Charlotte Street to it's Leicester Square base in 1998 with an automated playlist and sacking of specialist presenters with a lack of support from listeners from a management headed by Richard Park who didn't quite understand the audience.  Mr Park is now the executive director of Global Radio.

Unlike the subtle change in output on local radio stations which rebranded to Heart and Capital and even the more recent changes on Smooth Radio on Tuesday, this was sharp, sudden and poorly thought out considering how Choice is ingrained in London's black community starting as Britain's first commercial radio station for black people, based in Brixton in 1990 before being sold to Capital Radio PLC in 2004.

I can see why Global's decision to rebrand Choice as a spin-off of Capital FM considering the demographics are very similar and it'll boost the share of the overall Capital brand which makes it very attractive to advertisers, however the audiences couldn't be more polarised.

Global are using Choice and Smooth as pawns in a game of radio chess with rival Bauer Media.  Their brands Kiss and Magic are market leading in the capital and Global has lost ground to those stations.   As Smooth Radio became part of Global Radio on Tuesday, this has allowed them to tweak Smooth towards a more easy listening format and are using the Digital One National DAB slot currently used by Smooth 70s to launch Capital XTRA in it's place.   Kiss is also on national DAB, so will also be competing for the youth audience with them and the public service urban station BBC Radio 1Xtra.

Returning to the black community in London, the feedback on social media is largely negative, although this may work to the advantage of community, DAB and pirate stations to cater for those audiences.  Colourful Radio is largely similar in format to the original Choice FM and has former presenters from the station, I wouldn't be surprised if Daddy Ernie's Superjam ends up on there, younger listeners in North West London may prefer BANG Radio on 103.6 FM and there's the pirate stations, such as Metro Love Radio, On Top, Genesis and TSOL - The Soul of London which may benefit from Choice's closure.

I wish Capital Xtra all the best for their launch on Monday, however they may have a struggle to keep the existing audience who feel that Capital is a brand focused on One Direction and Lawson rather than urban artists and the community they're supposed to support. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Smooth Wallpaper Radio

Today is the first day of Smooth Radio coming under the control of it's new owner Global Radio.  However the company only owns two of the licences currently in London and the West Midlands as the other licences in northern England and Glasgow remain in hold separate with Real & Smooth Ltd.

Moving the studio to Global's Leicester Square broadcast centre will stem the losses from the London licence, which has continually hemorrhaged listeners under GMG/R&S Ltd due to the clash in format with Hot AC Heart and Bauer's soft AC format Magic 105.4. 

Global have made some subtle tweaks to the output today, regular speech features have been removed, such as Our Tune from the Breakfast Show and Lynn Parsons's quiz alongside specialist output on a Friday evening.   It also appears that new music that was playlisted under GMG/R&S has been removed, although stubbornly the second to last song played on Smooth from Laser House in Salford was Daft Punk's latest track, which jarred terribly amongst the classic hits.  

However The Golden Hour has been saved, presumably as it's heavy on music.

Like other Global brands, Smooth has become more music intensive with longer sweeps and short speed links which has made it an easier listen for those who don't like speech heavy links on music radio.  It also compliments Global's sister brands, rather than competing with them.  There are tracks which crossover with Heart and Gold, however as Global specialise in 'mood radio', this isn't a problem.

I think Smooth will have more changes once the issues with the Competition Commission are resolved.  Global now own two over 50's brands, the male skewed Gold which broadcasts on AM and now the female slanted Smooth which if Global don't have to sacrifice any of the regional licences contested on the more valuable FM frequencies, which surely will either lead to a merger or a sale of the less viable AM station.

To the normal listener, there isn't much to complain about as the regular presenters during the day have stayed with only small changes in overnight output with a shorter night shift and an early breakfast show presented by Global stalwart Nicola Bonn who has presented overnight shifts on Heart.

Anoraks on the radio message boards are not happy alongside a couple of people on Facebook, however I imagine that is due to the company who has taken over, rather than any real programming changes.  Niggling about technical problems on day 1 is petty.

It's a big improvement to how the station was sounding last week or even yesterday as the takeover was near and Global should be congratulated on maintaining the brand, however toxic it has been in London. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Why LBC 97.3 had to leave DAB in the regions

Copyright: Global Radio.
Over the last few months, the London speech station, LBC 97.3 has been gradually removed from multiplexes across the UK to make way for more profitable services due the consolidation of DAB services.

To improve DAB reception of local multiplexes, LBC with the exception of Glasgow and Edinburgh were on the MXR regional multiplexes.  MXR have decided not to renew their licences and the frequencies reused for local multiplexes, which arguably will improve digital reception of local services and give DAB reception for the first time to BBC local stations as more local muxes start broadcasting.

LBC started to gain regional DAB coverage in 2005 when DNN, which was a rolling news service provided by GMG and Chrysalis was axed.  However, the requirements for regional news and travel were required on the MXR multiplexes, so Chrysalis offered LBC as a sustaining service with those requirements replacing London news and travel.

Global Radio purchased Chrysalis in 2008 and the new owners requested the regional requirements to be removed, so all areas received the same bulletins as the London version.

As other media commentators have mentioned, those stations removed from MXR and not added to the local multiplexes had the lowest share in their regions.   LBC in the West Midlands had a reach of 5,000 listeners in the last Rajar quarter.  

It's common sense to concentrate on the area where LBC has the largest share of listeners and has 40 years of brand awareness, London.  Although the station discusses topics of national and international relevance, it is still a London-centric station which will heavily feature London politics, including a monthly phone in with the Mayor of London and covers London borough and Greater London Authority elections.   If an event, such as a pile-up on the North Circular Road or a extreme weather event in the capital happens, those few listeners listening in the North West or Yorkshire take second place to topics of relevance to the core audience inside the M25.

While I sympathise with listeners who have lost terrestrial coverage, Global Radio have tried their best to provide alternatives, such as recently acquiring a Freesat EPG slot, online apps for iPhone and Android, along with the current Sky EPG slot. 

LBC could have become the alternative to 5 Live and the former current affairs output on talkSPORT, however local commercial speech radio isn't simply viable outside London as seen with City Talk in Liverpool and Talk 107 in Edinburgh of which the latter closed and the Liverpool station now plays music.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Bauer's acquisition of Absolute Radio

Eventually, Bauer have won the prize London FM slot alongside two more slots on the Digital One DAB multiplex that it's been alleged they've been attempting to acquire for months.

Absolute Radio, the AOR format station which was previously Virgin Radio also operates a national AM licence, six decades stations and a classic rock format on digital radio and online.

Bauer already have complimentary rock orientated brands such as Q, Kerrang! and Planet Rock, the latter which recently launched on FM in the West Midlands.

So what could Bauer do with it's new acquisition?  In the press statement from Bauer and One Golden Square, the brand is staying, yet that doesn't mean it'll stay in it's present form.  Bauer cut costs from the then digital only Planet Rock on-air by axing live shows from 7pm and airing repeats of weekend specialist shows.  It's almost certain the station will move from One Golden Square to Bauer's hub a few minutes walk away to share with Kiss, Magic 105.4 and Planet Rock.

I believe that for Planet Rock to increase it's share in the London area, it'll need to replace Absolute Radio on 105.8 FM.  An FM presence in London, the most competitive market in the country is important for national advertisers to hear what the brand is about.   This is why Smooth Radio despite having little or no regional output still uses 102.2 despite having a flagging share in the capital.   This is a high risk strategy as Absolute has taken five years to gain some form of a presence after rebranding from Virgin Radio in that market.

Absolute has a higher share of listeners over Virgin Radio, however the latter only had two digital spin off stations which you could only hear in the London area.   Absolute has invested heavily in DAB and satellite transmission for it's seven digital spin-offs across the country with the 80s and 90s stations on the national Digital One multiplex.

So considering Bauer are committed to Absolute, this 'could' happen.

London FM: Planet Rock replaces Absolute to provide a regional FM network for London and the West Midlands.   In London this provides a new format for the capital.

1215 AM:  Stays as Absolute Radio.  My own personal opinion is to replace it with PR, but I doubt it'd raise share in the likes of Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh even if had classic rock on it instead.  Those who listen to PR there already use DAB.

Digital One DAB: Absolute Radio and 80s stay, although the latter is rebranded under one of Bauer's brands which can skew the playlist away from rock to AC which will enable the 80s station to reach it's full potential without the stigma of trying to be uber cool too.  90s is axed. 

Local DAB multiplex relays of the decades stations:  All axed.  With the exception of Classic Rock, the 60s, 70s and 00s stations have very little reach. These could be sold to OXIS Media for their expansion of Jack FM.

I really hope as many staff from Absolute are kept on as possible.   Despite the Islington skewed nonsense from management which I felt dogged their five years on-air, those with a real passion for radio not just on-air have an affinity for a station which has had an interesting history over the last twenty years.

The 'real' music era nonsense and cheap publicity stunts such as banning Cliff Richard are coming to an end.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Do OXIS Media really know how to Jack?

Friday saw the shock announcement from OXIS Media which whose largest shareholder is Absolute Radio International (ARI Consultancy) about the expansion of their licensed Jack FM brand across the UK regionally and the launch of Jack FM 2, a female skewed version of the largely automated main station in Oxford.

Jack FM 2 replaces Glide FM, which itself launched with a blaze of glory by stunting as Glee FM, which played tracks from the hit musical tv series.  However since then, ARI hasn't been able to capitalise on it's early publicity and is now on it's third relaunch in a short period for a station which was also called FM 107.9.  As Oxford's only commercial radio station for young adults, this is a failure despite sharing resources with the main Jack FM station, yet it appears that a CHR skewed Heart is still continuing to bring in the numbers, despite being networked from Reading and London.

For those of you who are not aware, ARI are also under contract to manage Absolute Radio, the national AM and London FM station on behalf of the Times of India, which may also be converted to be a Jack FM later in the year.   While ARI have increased the share of the overall Absolute Radio network, this has been done by launching seven costly digital radio spin off stations based on the decades from the 1960s to the 2000s and a mainstream classic rock station.

While some of the programming decisions of the main station have to be applauded, such as their investment in personality presenters such as Christian O'Connell, Geof Lloyd, Frank Skinner and Emily Dean, the business continues to lose money and has been rumoured that the likes of Richard Branson and Bauer have attempted to acquire the station.

If TIML don't sell and ARI continue to operate the station as Jack FM, this is about preserving the business and cost cutting, rather than taking the money from a larger well resourced radio group as well as maintaining Absolute's AOR 'real' music policy while not having to pay presenters.  

The other rumour is OXIS/ARI may be ready to step in and acquire stations Global Radio have to divest as part of their acquisition of GMG Radio to launch Jack FM in major regional markets.  The beauty of the Jack brand is that it can be adapted to suit the formats of other stations, for example Jack FM Solent a former AAA format is as far as you can get from Jack Hertfordshire which plays Hot AC.  Both of these stations are not owned by OXIS, but they have licenced them to other media groups as part of the business to sell the branding to local stations.

If OXIS pulls this off, it'll take them from being a small scale operator in Oxfordshire and a loss making contractor in London to taking their one successful brand Jack into something special.  It could be that midas touch that stops Bauer's expansion of Planet Rock and puts them into another successful male skewed brand alongside UTV's talkSPORT while keeping the contract for the national and London station safe.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Wimbledon 'commentary' on BBC Radio 5 live

Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live's Wimbledon commentary of Murray v Roberdo this evening, it started off as you'd expect, ball by ball commentary of each game, which was interrupted by the news and a round up of the day's play.

The third set had started and then suddenly the commentator announces that he's interviewing players who'd been knocked out, but after 5 minutes of these 'interviews' they announced that it was a 16 year old "internet sensation" impressionist had been doing them.

Now I don't begrudge the young man, however what the hell were 5 live doing this amount of padding during a game?  Now people in the industry will say "you could listen on 5 live Sports Extra" which is fine if you have digital or online.  However, what will the commuter with an analogue radio do expecting to hear the match and get banality instead?

You wouldn't have this nonsense during an English Premier League football match, so why does the BBC have this editorial policy of anything but the game during one of the major Tennis tournaments of the season?

If we were fully digital with radio as we are with tv, I could understand why 5 live would take an alternative look at Wimbledon, but while we still have analogue, it's a poor show.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Big groups are not 'protected' on radio discussion forums

A member calling himself 'neilm833' claims on the main radio discussion board that the big radio groups are protected when people promote niche online radio stations.

This is complete nonsense.

Global, Bauer and the other main groups come in for more scrutiny by anoraks than any other radio station.  Threads about Global's Heart, Gold, Capital FM, LBC 97.3 and the acquisition of GMG Radio are popular topics of discussion alongside Bauer's recent decision to switch Kerrang! for Planet Rock in the West Midlands and the merger of Metro Radio with TFM in the North East.

People from the radio industry will reply to defend their stations output or at least try to explain why they playlist stations in such a manner, which is largely met with resistance from elements of the anorak community.

Threads about internet radio stations tend to be created to either promote the station to fellow anoraks or to bash the major stations output as they have a more extensive playlist than your average radio station which cater to Joe Public.

Not all internet radio is programmed for the anorak in mind, the .977 stations in the US have many formats, but are tightly playlisted to attract different demographics and advertisers unlike the specialist culture of those promoted on the radio forums.

My own personal opinion is if somebody wants to recreate a heritage ILR in internet form for the anorak community, good luck to them, but please don't try to compare it to a mass market, larger budget commercial radio station as there's no comparison as both have different audiences.

As for 'neilm833'  Members of radio forums may remember a certain character from the noughties who'd complain about bitrates and post about soul/jazz stations etc.  Some things never change in the wonderful world of radio forums.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

TeamRock Radio - Brief snoop

At two minutes to midnight on Sunday evening, new digital station TeamRock Radio finally launched after six weeks of test transmissions.

The station built up a following before the launch, thanks to social media via ex presenters and background staff from Real Radio XS who resigned from the station and publicity from TeamRock's magazine titles Metal Hammer and Classic Rock Magazine, which both have shows on the weekday schedule.

After a reading of a poem by Edgar Allan Guest from Corey Taylor, a band member from Slipknot, the station went straight into a special programme covering the Download Festival, with artist interviews with TeamRock's presenters.   This could've been an anorak fest of ego's self congratulating themselves, but no, the target audience came first and should be congratulated.

I then tuned into to thirty minutes of the debut show on Monday from "Dewsbury", a former producer of Real XS Manchester's breakfast show and now the afternoon presenter and head of music for TeamRock Radio.

I heard one metal track, however the playlist was mainly radio friendly without selling out by not playing Beady Eye or Coldplay as Kerrang! Radio have been playlisting when they were a FM station in the West Midlands.

I tuned in again this afernnon and heard some metal, however they played between 2-3pm the likes of Queen, Guns n Roses and Nazareth which should be enough to keep the hardcore rock fans going without frightening away the 'dippers' who may find out they like the random metal track in between the radio friendly  tracks.


TeamRock has launched to a great start, it's neither too commercial or too niche.  The presentation of the daytime shows is spot on, although listeners who like tight links will be disappointed and should have a healthy listenership of ex Real XS and Kerrang! Radio listeners, the latter who lost their FM service in the West Midlands to the mainstream Classic Rock station Planet Rock.  I do wonder how they'll monitise the station without spot ads, yet I think we'll see sponsored slots for the daytime shows once they finally report to Rajar.

The station could easily replace Absolute Radio if TIML Radio decide to sell at the right place, unlike AR which relies on mainstream stadium rock artists such as Muse, Coldplay and Snow Patrol and comedians at weekends, it'd fill a void on analogue radio (even on AM) of credible harder rock.  However Planet Rock (via Bauer) may finally win the day.  It's more likely they'll acquire the local radio licences of Real XS after Global's appeal to the Competition Commission is heard after their acquisition of GMG Radio was halted by being told to sell various radio stations across the country as they'd have an anticompetitive share of the radio advertising market.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Why Global are right to appeal

I'm not an expert in the advertising market, however it's clear that Global are right to appeal the decision by the Competition Commission based on these simplistic factors.

Ofcom's investigation into the merger between Global and GMG Radio took on board all the other media outlets, such as tv, print and online and approved it.  Global also offered to provide increased news for Real Radio in Wales and Central Scotland with journalists to cover the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Government.

The other is Bauer Media who were proactive in being against the merger to Ofcom and the CC.  In Northern England and Scotland where Real and Smooth compete with them, Bauer own heritage brands under their 'Place' banner where if Global rebrand Real as Heart would be a threat to their business.   This is nothing to do with Bauer losing advertising to a new rival in those markets, rather than Global have ready made brands which are tightly targeted to a particular audience.    This would be a greater threat to Bauer's broad heritage Place brands which target a wider female audience.

Take Yorkshire for example.  Global have been asked to sell Real or Capital.  Only Capital serves the whole of Yorkshire on FM, Real is a smaller regional licence covering the South and West.  Each part of Yorkshire has at least one commercial rival, such as UTV in Bradford, the Lincs FM Group stations, UKRD in York and Bauer in Leeds and Sheffield alongside local and regional press and websites.  To base the decision on just the radio advertising market is archaic.

A part of me thinks that Global should just 'take it on the chin' and franchise the brands in the conflicting areas as Global did with Heart and Gold in the Midlands after the merger with GCap, but there's also a golden opportunity to bring the Competition Commission into the 21st Century by getting them to take on board the other media providers in each area.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Alternatives to Planet Rock in the West Midlands

Classic rock station Planet Rock replaced Kerrang! Radio on 105.2 FM across the West Midlands this afternoon bringing the third classic rock FM format to the UK.

While this is sad news for those modern rock listeners with analogue radios, such as in cars, there are many rock alternatives available to West Midlands listeners on DAB or Freeview.

Kerrang! Radio hasn't closed down and continues on DAB, Freeview & online across the UK and has announced a new line-up which starts on Monday with all the presenters on weekdays being from the old FM station which gives some continuity. However the station will be refocused to be closer to the brand ethics of the sister magazine publication.

TeamRock Radio is the new all rock station which has been test transmitting on DAB across England, Scotland and Wales since May.  They finally launch at 11.58pm on Sunday with an eclectic playlist of modern and classic rock and for the first time on daytime commercial radio, the sub genre of metal will be playlisted.

For those who liked Kerrang! Radio playlisting mainstream artists such as Beady Eye and Muse, London's alternative station Xfm can be heard on DAB across the FM area that Kerrang was on as well as Sky.

At a push, the analogue radio alternative is adult orientated rock station Absolute Radio on 1215 AM and various options digitally.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Preconceptions about Gold Radio

A typical forum comment.  Copyright: Hearst Magazines UK.
"Worn out old songs" and "repetition" come up regularly on media forums when it comes to discussing Gold Radio and at times isn't seen by some in the anorak community as a proper oldies radio station.  You get kudos if you have a broad playlist like Smooth Radio, online such as Big L which is managed by volunteers or a radio station in the Netherlands which the quote is from a discussion about a poll from a Dutch radio station where they're counting down listeners votes which has an eclectic selection of classics.

So what is Gold apparently doing wrong?  Their proposition under Global management has been "The Greatest Hits of All Time"  A straight out of the tin brand where they play the big hits mainly from the 60s and 70s with a dash from the late 50s and early 80s with tight personality links which is perfectly fine for the average listener.

However Gold doesn't just play the big hits.  Gold Requests on Sunday to Friday evenings is presented by Dean Martin, a promoter and passionate presenter with an encyclopedic knowledge of music.  He's probably the flag bearer for the brand where he uses the traditional straight to air calls from listeners to discuss the songs they'd like to hear in addition to more modern social media techniques to discuss elements of his show while on-air which gives the listener a feeling that he's interested in the listener and isn't afraid to play what could be considered off-target tracks.   If a listener requests The Wombles, it gets played.   There are also specialist request segments for the 50s and 60s.

Gold is a different beast from the big budget Capital Gold of the 80s and 90s which included heritage presenters such as Kenny Everett, Tony Blackburn and Paul Burnett, but continues to treat those core early songs from the birth of mainstream pop music in an entertaining and respectful manner.  It'll never have the wide playlist of a 'Big L' or an niche oldies Dutch station, but it was never meant to be in the first place.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Saving radio station groups and the ignorance behind them

Summer 1998, Harvey Goldsmith sells his share of indie station Xfm London to the Capital Radio Group.  I was absolutely livid and Londoners set up 'Demonstration X' to combat Capital's takeover of the station.

A demonstration was held outside Leicester Square (along with a legendary rumour that the station was moved outside of London for the day, so was the fear that demonstrators would break in) where a brick was thrown into a window from the Charing Cross Road side of Capital Radio's HQ.

Later, a meeting was set up with the then programme controller, Richard Park which came to nothing.  However, Capital were caught after not complying with their format by providing a playlist of AOR (Adult Orientated Rock), the lack of a gig guide and specialist shows and were fined £4,000 by the Radio Authority.

This orchestrated campaign in the pre social media era worked because Capital had clearly not understood the spirit of the station and tried to implement the Virgin format they had when they tried to buy Virgin from Richard Branson.  This was blocked by the Competition Commission.  Eventually Xfm brought back a daily specialist show, the gig guides and a mainstream indie lite playlist during the day.

Step forward to May/June 2013.  Bauer Media announce that they're closing the new music skewed rock station Kerrang! Radio and replacing it with another rock brand Planet Rock which is skewed towards Classic Rock.

A Facebook group 'Hands off Kerrang Radio' was set up by a listener who wanted to share how frustrated he is with other listeners and even set up a farewell event at a nearby pub to the studios.  Fair enough.

The problem with these groups is when people with some knowledge of the station try to reason with people who are so blind to why it has to close.   Kerrang isn't Xfm circa 1998.  The radio industry has changed so much to the extent that the station has to flip format and network from London or die. 

Where this campaign could work is to ensure after the station flips on June 14th is to ensure they comply with the format agreed with Ofcom.   They have to play some modern rock and breakfast is speech heavy.  If they don't comply with it, orchestrate a campaign to ensure Bauer comply with Planet Rock's Kerrang legacy format.  

Using a group to say "Bauer is evil/shit" etc is not a good use of engaging listeners to be proactive and just leads to bickering and trolling.

Monday, 3 June 2013

More cuts at Bauer Radio

After recent decisions at Bauer to close their Birmingham station Kerrang! Radio on June 14th replaced by a relay of Planet Rock on DAB and the earlier decision to close TFM Radio and merge output with Newcastle's Metro Radio along with the regionalisation of local breakfast shows on Magic AM, Scotland now takes the turn for cuts with the decision to network the Breakfast show on all but one AM station in the group.

Clyde 2, Forth 2, Tay AM, West Sound and Northsound 2 will all share a new breakfast show presented by  Robin Galloway, a presenter well known for his wind-ups on Real Radio a few years ago. To give Bauer credit, the presenter should be able to convert those who'll miss local breakfast shows.

According to the Bauer presser, those presenters who lose their breakfast gigs will be offered a new show on the networked station schedule elsewhere and will feature a new topical phone-in regarding Scottish independence.

Considering Bauer sell their local stations under the 'Place' banner, based on their locality, networking is creeping in via the back door, yet rivals such as Global's Gold have networked everything on AM from London since the rules changed with the exception of Wales which continues to have a four hour 'national' show from Cardiff from noon-4pm weekdays on it's licences based in Cardiff and Wrexham.

UTV Radio continue to provide local programming on their AM stations during daytime hours, although Signal 2 and Swansea Sound take networked programming from their FM stations during evenings, while Pulse 2 is largely automated off-peak.

Can we see Bauer merging more station output in the future?  Wave 105 appears to be the exception to the rule of standalone stations being revenue earning successful stations being the market leader in the Solent market, yet the company could save money by relaying Magic 105.4 from London.   Yorkshire's Radio Aire and Hallam FM could also become one station.  Aire in particular has suffered from poor Rajar in-part due to poor reception issues in Leeds.  At one point, the sister station Magic 828 had more listeners than Aire despite being an AM oldies station.

Bauer should also consider bringing in a unified brand name for their AM stations in Scotland.  The nation's radio output is of course different to England due to the lack of BBC Local radio, yet it'll be an easier sell to advertisers, rather than than the mix of local brand names the networked greatest hits output currently has.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Have Sunrise Radio run out of Time?

Following on from Brian Lister's blog post about the news that Sunrise Radio have asked for listener contributions to keep the radio stations on-air, speculation is rife that the Litt Corporation who run Sunrise Radio Group will sell or cut back even more on their stations.

Since last year, Litt Corporation have sold their share in Exeter FM (which is now called Radio Exe) and more recently Radio Plymouth, leaving them with three mainstream format stations.  Time 106.6 in Slough (which is based at Sunrise HQ in Southall) which was recently re-awarded to Time beating a bid from Slough community station Asian Star claiming that Sunrise can support the station with it's shared resources, Time 107.5 in Romford which last year had it's own problems when the former pirate station Centreforce who provided the off-peak output on the station to meet it's licence requirements resigned after Litt Corp decided to reduce their hours to weekday evenings, Palm FM in Torquay, alongside their Asian brands, Sunrise Radio, Kismat Radio and youth station Buzz Radio.

The company has also cut costs by closing Sunrise TV on Sky and removing Sunrise and Kismat Radio from Sky and Virgin Media and on Friday removed Sunrise from DAB in Glasgow and Edinburgh leaving the station only available in London on 1458 AM and DAB. 

Sunrise have had financial issues in recent years, in 2009, their two stations in South East London, Time 106.8 and South London Radio were put up for sale.  It's hard to find confirmation, however it was alleged that Sunrise sold these two stations to an Asian owner who kept the two stations on-air.   There were also mysterious 'For Sale' posts on the station websites.  However the station licences were handed into Ofcom and were re awarded to community organisations Rinse FM and Reprezent who are providing an alternative service which was much needed in London in comparison to the poor contemporary pop services that were provided previously.

Will Litt Corp sell more stations?

Possibly.  Time 106.6 is in the Thames Valley approved area which allows local licences to network all output together.  This would allow Celador's The Breeze to broadcast a bespoke version of the station from it's Thames Valley base in Basingstoke, alongside networked programming from Southampton.  The Breeze already broadcasts in the approved area in Newbury, Andover and Basingstoke, however the Litt family may put an inflated price tag on the licence considering the TSA is within the Greater London area.  Asian Star Radio may also offer to buy the licence, but would have to request a format change from Ofcom which would surely go to consultation and in that time would still have to provide an AC service.

Palm FM and Time 107.5 could be sold as part of a management buy-out.   There's also the possibility of Adventure Radio (Southend and Chelmsford Radio) acquiring the Time Romford licence, however it's not in the Essex approved area and would have to adhere to Time's format which includes playing soul music, although it could network from Southend expect for 7 hours per day on weekdays and 4 hours at weekends.  This would mean Time would continue to have a local base for peak shows.

Litt Corp would be left with the core Asian services in London without the burden of the contemporary stations

Friday, 31 May 2013

Saturated Rock

Rock formats appear to be the 'in' trend on UK radio at the moment.   Despite the closure of Kerrang! Radio on FM in the West Midlands on June 14th, we see two new rock stations competing for a mainly male audience joining Absolute (and it's Classic Rock digital spin-off), Real Radio XS, XFM and recent Bauer acquisition Planet Rock.

TeamRock Radio launches sometime in June and is already test transmitting on DAB nationally.  The team mainly consists of former GMG Radio people including John Myers, Billy Anderson and on-air presenters such as Moose, Dewsbury and Rachel Houghton who worked on GMG's Real XS.  They also have former Planet Rock presenter Nicky Horne, Metal Hammer Editor-in-Chief Alexander Milas and erm...former Bid TV assistant Sophie K.

Going by their test transmissions, TeamRock will playlist a broad range of new and classic rock genres and will playlist Metal for the first time on daytime commercial radio.   Unlike other commercial stations, TeamRock won't air spot advertising, instead going for sponsored slots.   Heat Radio when operated by Emap did this which led to mid-mornings being sponsored by Ford and afternoons by Diet Coke, yet reverted to spot advertising under Bauer ownership.

A surprising entry into the already saturated rock market is a new outfit which promises to combine sports talk and rock.  Eklipse Sports Radio, based in Glasgow will broadcast on DAB Digital Radio in Scotland's central belt with a "tightly formatted rock station interspersed with sports news and interviews" from mid-June.

It'll be interesting to see how this outfit will be able to compete with the might of Clyde 1's sports phone-in and Saturday football output and with Real Radio XS, which in itself may be sold although the recent Competition Commission review into Global Radio's merger with GMG Radio doesn't include Real Radio XS's FM frequency in Paisley as a station they have to sell.  

Incidentally Kerrang! Radio will also relaunch on June 14th as a digital only station which Bauer claim will be closer to the editorial of the magazine targeting younger listeners with new music.  This will put it in direct competition with TeamRock, while classic rock station Planet Rock will be broadcasting on FM for the first time in the West Midlands, replacing Kerrang! at 1pm on June 14th.

I can't see all of these Rock stations surviving, so will be interesting to see which stations can survive.  TeamRock may acquire the Real XS FM licences in Manchester and Paisley, considering Eklipse Sports Radio have decided not to acquire a FM outlet from the Global/GMG divestment and Bauer who have been rumoured to have been negotiating purchasing Absolute Radio from it's Indian owners TIML Radio, which would give Planet Rock additional FM coverage in London and national coverage on AM in addition to it's current national DAB slot and digital satellite coverage.

Considering Planet Rock was until earlier this year an independent station losing money which it's previous owner had subsidised with their own money, the potential for this station under Bauer with FM coverage in the West Midlands alone is staggering. The older male with disposable income surely led to Bauer's decision to  dump the Brummie Metal kid for his father.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Radio anorak musings and the success of Mark Forrest

Following on from this excellent post from Christopher England which puts the point across that radio anoraks are out of touch with what the average listener and the modern marketplace.

I believe you have three types of anorak.

1. The Offshore anorak - They want stations to return to a free spirited format where presenters can play what they like (although in reality, the ships played what the record companies paid them to play as the BBC couldn't). You're likely to hear these chaps programme online stations for them and their friends to listen to, complete with jingles from the era.

2. The ILR anorak - Brought up on full service commercial radio, from where you'd have a mix of daytime pop and prattle, followed by specialist music and/or a late night phone-in.  A format which commercial radio wouldn't be able to find viable.

3. The vengeful anorak - Like the ILR anorak, but with an agenda of spinning that the major groups who bought the beloved ILR stations who then brought them into the modern era, including using networking with other stations across the country.  Some may be former employees who refused to adapt or change.

I've based my anorak musings based on what I believe is to be common sense, however I was surprised as much as my fellow anoraks about the success of the Mark Forrest networked evening show on BBC Local Radio in England and the Channel Islands.

The format suggests that it's a brand extension to the daytime output of BBC local radio, looking back in retrospect of the day's output topically with a specialist music feature and interactive elements.

Forrest's show goes against the grain of BBC local radio by the sheer fact that it's networked across such a wide area with differing audience tastes, yet BBC LR (with the exception of London) targets the same audience (50+) which has enabled them to provide a generic format that fits most if not all of those stations.

As Christopher England mentions in his blog, Forrest has managed to gain listeners on BBC LR in the South and South East formerly presented by Roger Day, a well respected presenter of both offshore and mainstream radio.   Day had a broad format with hours dedicated to specialist music and other non news features.

Maybe where the Forrest show gets it right is that the show keeps up the light hearted topical nature of the daytime shows which then slips into the late regional shows where the format is more whimsical which suits the LR audience more than an hour of folk music on a weekday evening?

I think it's right for anoraks to ask questions about changes to programming and station output as in the case of the Mark Forrest show which came about as part of the Delivering Quality First cuts to the BBC, but should also realise that they need to take the chip off their shoulder when it comes to the reforms to the industry.  Stations were as John Myers mentioned during his report to Ofcom were in serious trouble which led to the reforms to networking in commercial radio    Without them, licences would have been handed in and we'd have less choice than today.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

How to solve a problem like Global

Copyright: Real and Smooth Ltd.
After the Competition Commission's decision on the acquisition of GMG Radio (trading as Real and Smooth Ltd) by Global Radio, the owner of national brands such as Capital FM and Heart, the group has to sell seven stations in areas where the company would have an unfair advantage in the advertising market in those areas.

In most areas, they have to sell at least one regional station, which means one national brand will be sold or franchised to keep the other.

Most professionals and anoraks agree that Global's reported £70m acquisition is to expand the Heart brand into areas of the UK the station doesn't broadcast on FM on licences currently held by Real Radio, which should mean those stations will be kept on by Global, although there's debate if the mix of North Wales local FM Heart licences will be kept, despite cumbersome Welsh language commitments, especially on the Anglesey licence instead of the North and mid-Wales Real regional licence which has no Welsh commitments and already has an agreement with Ofcom to network with the South Wales Real station as it'd mean existing listeners would be forced to retune.

Another issue is the Smooth regional licences, do Global sell the brand on, franchise it  or merge with existing brand Gold, the oldies/classic hits station which also caters to over 45's, but with an older musical sound in comparison to Smooth?

In the North West, Smooth is the most listened to regional station with under a million listeners in a market place saturated with AC and CHR formats, yet in London, the UK's most competitive market, the station bobs around the 400-600k listener level while their nearest competitor Magic 105.4, owned by Bauer Radio has under 2 million listeners.

Suggestions have been made that Smooth could be re-focused (for the third time mind) as a Soft AC station to directly compete with Magic, yet the brand has been used as a classic soul, later refocusing as an Easy Listening station and hasn't made a dent in the market, this would be a waste of resources, which is why I personally feel that a straight FM simulcast of Gold would be the best use for this frequency as it'd cut costs considerably and bring a new format to London's FM marketplace.

Smooth could still be kept on as a brand in London by flipping the formats of Gold and Smooth so that the latter moves to Gold's 1548 AM frequency.  This would allay any fears of a lack of a London presence in the national advertising market to any investor interested in their regional FM licences.

Capital is a likely candidate to be franchised off in areas where the CC has asked Global to consider to sell.  Who'd want to buy them though if a company can't change the programming output? Orion, who acquired a Heart franchise in the East Midlands and Gold in the West Midlands eventually quit as a franchisee to go it alone with Gem and Free Radio 80s.   A consortium may come forward to buy those licences from Global to 'hold' them before the rules change again which would let them buy the stations again, but do Global want to be around in ten years when they surely have a strategy to sell the group altogether to an overseas investor?

What happens next?

Global have another 11 weeks at time of posting to inform the Competition Commission their plans to sell or franchise the stations in each area.

It's also very likely that we'll see a decision to sell classic rock station Real Radio XS in Glasgow and Manchester although the CC didn't include the Scottish station on the for sale list as Global have no direct brand to merge the licence with.

Whatever happens, the radio landscape will be different, even if a brand continues with a new owner with no change in programming output.

Monday, 27 May 2013

First post

Welcome to the first Radio Rental post.  For over 12 years, I discussed the wonderful medium of radio and the politics behind it on the usual media related forums.

After becoming disillusioned with the repetitive comments on forums which include on regular rotation, the hatred of one media group who have descended from a group who introduced mass market networking to Britain to the extent that anything slightly negative is spun to be a massive blow, to DAB radio being a dead duck although sales of receivers continue to rise and be used by 'Joe Public' as seen in the Rajar (the organisation which measures radio listening) figures for digital only stations.

So like the radio professionals, I've moved to blogging to discuss radio.  Some of my posts will be in-depth analysis, others will be observations I've heard while listening to  output.

I don't expect everyone to agree with my views, however, I expect replies to be constructive and respectful to me and other contributors and people I feature in my blog posts.