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.