Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Share Radio - An under served speech format

Digital radio start ups are usually either brand extensions of current radio stations or so niche that they don't cater to my mainstream ears.

However on November 4th, Share Radio launched on the London 3 DAB multiplex.  I was expecting to hear a Bloomberg style rolling business news format throughout the day, yet this radio station has found it's niche between providing hard business news and providing output for those who haven't got a clue about finance like yours truly who got an F in GCSE Maths, yet isn't dumbed down broadcasting.

Features such as explaining the jargon in business bring the world of finance closer to average people who don't have a clue about business, while business news is explained in a way which makes the information relevant.

Morning Money, the breakfast show presented by unknown Danish presenter Sandra Kilhof is as you expect a solid programme of business news, yet as mentioned above doesn't exclude those who don't work in the City or Canary Wharf.

It then gets a bit lighter from 9am when Consuming Issues with BBC London 94.9 sports reporter Georgie Frost takes over.  Along with her producer Annie Weston, they take a look at issues which affect the average person while keeping up to date with breaking business news.  They even have a Youth business slot on Friday mornings with blogger Iona Blair which looks at the issues affecting young people and students with their finances.   Interactivity is key with this programme when they ask the listener to pose questions, set the news agenda or my favourite part, the light questions such as what have you lost while travelling.

Business broadcasting legend Ed Mitchell (EBN/CNBC/ITN) takes over at 1pm with Investment Perspectives.  This is Ed's first gig since his much publicised issues that affected him a few years back.  

One of his features looks at ethical business which will help people like me understand that not all investors are in it for the greed, but ensure that a company works in an ethical manner.

The evening show (5-9) with Simon Rose is similar to Morning Money, but is not as straight laced with lighter discussion regarding the business stories of the day.

For a station that didn't even have a studio four months ago, the quality of the programming is on a par with 5 Live and LBC, although of course there are some small issues which I'm sure they'll sort out in due course.

News bulletin copy is excellent, but the delivery could be improved, that could be down to lack of piloting or inexperience.   Weekend shows are hard to find.  I found a 'Desert Island Discs' type programme on Saturday afternoon.  There's apparently other weekend shows, but bar the music show, the weekends I found to be repeats of programming from the week.  

Share Radio is also bidding for the 963/972 AM licence for the London area and plan to go national on DAB at some point in the future.

I wish these guys the best for the future as this is one station which is finally providing a much needed under served viable format which may just break even. 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Internet Radio may be the future...kind of

To be honest, I always obtain technology when it becomes outdated.  As a kid, AM radio was still the main way to listen to radio for me, until the big ILR split of local radio stations in the late 80s when the chart music moved to FM and AM became the home of golden oldies.

So it may come to no surprise that I only had landline ADSL2 broadband installed yesterday.   It's on TalkTalk's dirt cheap 'Simply Broadband' deal where for £1.75 plus line rental, I can now discover the wonders of various radio stations thanks to the unlimited broadband they provide.

In the noughties, I'd visit easyeverything, a internet cafe in London where they had banks of computers which had headphone jacks so you could listen to music.   Back then, it wasn't very good.  32k Windows Media Streams or the inferior Real Player ones were the norm with some sounding sub AM quality.  Considering we just got out of dial-up, this wasn't surprising.

Now the possibilities are endless. Hi-fi quality streams providing better than FM with higher bitrates, although 128k mp3 or 48k AAC+ appear to be the norm for your average listener.   You can listen on your smartphone etc either on wifi or on mobile broadband, so you're not tied to your PC.

One of the best things about internet radio is that anyone can set up a niche format station.  I'm a big fan of the 1990s rave scene and numerous stations playing the music from my era of the scene from 1991-1996 have popped up, such as Break Pirates Radio and Rave Tape Radio just to name two and simulcasts of London pirate radio stations.    While the pirates are on FM, the coverage on FM isn't as great as in the 90s, so listening on wifi around the house takes away the issue of interference.  

Having that amount of choice, reminds me of the days of London Pirate radio of that era when I could tune into any number of stations from across the capital playing underground dance.

I did try mobile broadband to listen to online radio.  It does work, but I did it when my phone provider Virgin Media offered unlimited data for £10 on PAYG.  It's now only 1GB, so limits you to low bitrate AAC streams for short periods, so the phone is now used for looking at social media while the trusted old PURE PocketDAB 1500 is used to listen to radio stations.

Bauer's Absolute stations are offered to registered listeners in high quality stereo with less ads and extra music.  This means I now listen to their 80s and 90s decade stations online instead of 64kbps MP2 mono on DAB at home at least.

Wifi has clearly opened up internet radio to the masses who don't need to buy an internet radio by simply using their smartphones using either the TuneIn or UK Radioplayer apps, yet mobile listening using the 3G/4G networks are still not ready for it.  Data limits and coverage are still an issue, so I wouldn't give up on FM or DAB just yet.   But when it does become popular, commercial radio will have to up it's game again.   There's only so much you can do with tightly formatted radio, however good Heart or Smooth is programmed.

Friday, 28 February 2014

The beginning of the end of the oldies format in the UK?

The Greatest Hits of all Time...for not much longer.
A tale of two cities which both have classic hits formats.  New York's CBS-FM this week announced the addition of former PLJ and Z100 legendary presenter Scott Shannon as their new breakfast presenter.   Shannon has a pedigree of programming CHR formats which transformed Z100 into one of the world's best pop music station.  He later moved to WPLJ, where he co-presented the 'Scott and Todd' show for 22 years which made PLJ a must listen Hot AC station.   Listeners in London may remember the Heart 106.2 test transmissions for which they simulcast the show along with all PLJ output.

WCBS-FM is currently third in the fiercely competitive New York tri-state market.

Back home in London, the national classic hits network Gold announced that it would no longer broadcast to the majority of the country on it's AM and DAB Digital Radio network except for three areas, which include London, Leicestershire, Notts and Manchester. 

The remaining outlets would be replaced with Global's new 'sexy' brand catering for the over 45's market Smooth Radio.   As I've blogged recently, Smooth recently announced a plethora of celebrity presenters in an effort to increase audiences and the addition of Gold's AM network will increase their reach.

Unlike Gold, Smooth targets women with a relaxing mix of classic hits and the occasional new track, where as Gold is male skewed, plays plenty of rockier music and is more eclectic than it's sexier sister brand.

Gold doesn't have celebrity presenters, instead relying on traditional radio presenters, including Tony Dibbin on Breakfast and Dean Martin who's 'Gold Requests' show borders on public service broadcasting by playing a mix of classic songs which hardly receive any airplay.  I've certainly discovered plenty of music from the 1950s thanks to his 50s request segment.

While these programmes on Gold are certainly worthy, the British market has made it hard to market this type of music where as Smooth's Soft AC format is easier to attract advertisers.     It may have been different if Gold was allocated an FM frequency in the London market.

In 1996, Gold's predecessor Capital Gold applied for the 104.9 FM frequency, the final London wide frequency to Xfm, which is now also part of the Global Radio empire.   This may have ensured the longer term future of the classic hits format.   During the glory days of the 1990s, Capital Gold had over 1m listeners and well respected radio presenters in the UK, such as Kenny Everett, Tony Blackburn and David Hamilton to mention three presenters.

However (Capital) Gold was left on AM, the other main selling point was it's Premier League football commentary which the parent company decided to no longer bid for.  DAB, Sky and online coverage was introduced as a way of receiving Gold in stereo, yet didn't do enough to raise it's share.

So what's left of the oldies format?    There's Bauer's Magic AM network across Northern England and the 'Greatest Hits Network' in Scotland.   However, they also playlist a minimum of new music.   There are specialist shows on Radio 2 (Sounds of the Sixties and Pick of the Pops) and BBC Local Radio, but they don't air 24/7.  Bauer's Absolute Radio offers decades stations from the 1960s to the 2000s, however they have a 'real music' policy which doesn't play certain pop music artists, so no Cliff and the Shadows then!

Gold is the only terrestrial radio station in the UK dedicated to a vast range of classic pop music from the 1950s to the 1980s without new music being in the way and it's slow painful demise is due in part to a lack of FM coverage and the British market not being able to monetise from the format.      Luckily those markets in the United States have found a way of making it work and CBS Radio who manage CBS-FM, K-Hits and others should be congratulated for keeping it going, although they've had to tweak the format to be 70s and 80s skewed.

March 24th is when Smooth Radio replaces Gold.  Make the most of it.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Global's revamped Smooth line-up, an open goal to Magic 105.4

Global Radio have announced their presenter changes to Smooth Radio after a staggered revamp of the music playlist since October.

Former GMTV presenter Andrew Castle who currently presents on LBC will replace Simon Bates at Breakfast in the London area, while his former colleague Kate Garraway replaces Lynn Parsons from next Monday.

Chris Skinner, formerly of Essex FM replaces Carlos on evenings while ex Magic 105.4 presenter Paul Phear replaces Gary King on afternoons.  Recent addition Anthony Davis remains on drive.

While the changes are more than most have expected, having Andrew Castle competing against the might of Neil Fox and Verity Geere on Magic 105.4 in London won't be giving Bauer bosses much cause for concern.   This despite almost throwing in the towel axing Richard Park's old formula for Magic which now includes some personality links and off-target tracks.

Kate Garraway who incidentally has a radio background, starting as a broadcast journalist at BBC Radio Oxford is up against one of the best solid jocks of the soft AC format on Magic.  Gary Vincent has more listeners in London than Heart and Smooth who compete for a similar audience.

Magic is also market leading around 2200 during Mellow Magic, which means Chris Skinner's 'Sanctuary' will have to provide something special to grab listeners from the long established Magic format of love and slow songs.

I'm not against celebrity presenters as Magic uses Kim Wilde and Rick Astley in off-peak slots, however they compliment the brand, where as two ex GMTV presenters of which were a turn-off not helped by the premium rate competition scandal and the Marmite Myleene Klass may be enough for those Smooth listeners who have found Richard Park's old Magic format may retune elsewhere and in-particular back to Magic.

Bauer will be relieved tonight.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

A retrospective look at LBC post going national

On the face of it, not much has changed since LBC became a national station after launching on the national Digital One DAB multiplex last Tuesday.   The usual tabloid skewed discussion topics remain, the presenting line-up is exactly the same as it was last week, the same advertisers are there, including the exaggerated production for a property firm and James O'Brien's Mystery Hour continues on a Thursday lunchtime, but under the hood, there have been some subtle changes.

A new jingle package has been commissioned, produced by David Arnold who produced LBC's jingles in the mid 1980s, which gives the station a more authoritative sound, the strapline is now "Leading Britain's Conversation" to reflect the national output.

There are some other changes which may only be recognisable by London listeners.   While topics on the London only station are of a national nature, the tendency to provide more London-centric topics has been lost.    During the storm on Friday night, the presenters turned the discussion into a national topic and even moved onto other topics, so that new listeners elsewhere in the country could still join in the conversation without it turning into a London-centric storm watch.

On DAB Digital Radio, the local feed of LBC has been switched off, listeners were asked to retune their receivers to the new national feed on Digital One.   The only problem with that is that the station provides a national travel news bulletin on DAB, so doesn't completely cover London.    

The only way to listen to the existing LBC output with London travel information is on 97.3 FM or online.   A retrograde option, however the bulk of listening is still via FM, so Global have balanced the inconvenience of the lack of travel on LBC DAB by having it on FM.   In addition between 0700-1900, LBC News 1152 which is still on London 1 provide travel news every ten minutes since the revamp to the main station as a compromise.  

LBC also no longer provide a detailed weather forecast solely for London, both FM and DAB provide either a London, then the rest of the country forecast.  On the half hourly headlines, there are is no weather forecast for London. 

As I mentioned at the start, LBC still provides an excellent forum for newstalk radio and it's easy to be hooked into the debate, so they're still doing a great job, however I feel the remaining London-centricity has been lost.  Whether Londoners care about that or not will be reflected by the Rajar for LBC in London and any increase in the share of BBC London 94.9.

However, Global and LBC appear to be no longer interested in the minnow BBC London, concentrating on 5 Live who in London at least are slightly higher in share than LBC and going for some of the 5 Live listeners outside London who don't like the sports output or the non phone-in elements of 5 Live.  

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Global Radio changes, how will it affect you?

So we finally have it, Global have announced various changes to their brands, including the sale of 8 stations to the Irish media company Communicorp, who own Today FM and Spin in Ireland.

Radio Rental will attempt to explain in layman's terms what will happen to each brand and how you can still listen, although some final details are still to be confirmed.

REAL RADIO:  These stations will all rebrand to Heart with network programming from London.  Real North Wales and Real Yorkshire have been sold to Communicorp.  The current Welsh station will be split between South and Mid and North Wales when it rebrands to Heart.

CAPITAL: No change for the average listener, Capital South Wales and Capital Scotland will be owned by Communicorp, but will continue to take programming from Capital in London.  A new Capital station will launch in North Wales on Heart's existing frequencies.  However Welsh language programming will continue on those stations with those requirements.

HEART: Business as usual for the existing Heart network, with the exception of North Wales where the existing station will move to Real Radio's frequencies and will be owned by Communicorp.  Heart North Wales will no longer have to broadcast Welsh language programming which will move to Capital.

GOLD: Gold will no longer broadcast to the majority of the country on DAB and AM, except in London, Manchester and the East Midlands.  Speculation is rife that Gold will replace Smooth on national DAB with a 70s, 80s and early 90s format. 

SMOOTH RADIO:  The station will be removed from national DAB with all current Smooth regional FM licences providing local programming for seven hours a day on weekdays and four at weekends.  The station will also be available on local DAB and AM in areas currently served by Gold with the exception of London, Manchester and the East Midlands where Smooth is on FM.    In Wales, Smooth will also provide national programming within Wales for four hours a day on weekdays on AM in Cardiff/Newport and Wrexham. 

Communicorp will also own Smooth in the North West, North East and the East Midlands.

REAL RADIO XS: In Glasgow, the station will rebrand as Xfm which outside of local hours will network from London.   It's unconfirmed how Real XS Manchester will continue, but has been purchased by Communicorp.

LBC 97.3 will go national on Digital One DAB from February 11th replacing Birdsong and there is no change to LBC News 1152, Capital Xtra or Xfm in London and Manchester.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

The future editorial policy of LBC 97.3 once it goes national

Copyright: Global Radio 2014
With the announcement that LBC 97.3 will become the UK's first national 'news talk' station when it launches on the Digital One DAB multiplex on February 11th, it raises issues about the future editorial policy of the station.

Since 2007, LBC was given the strapline of 'London's Biggest Conversation' with additional investment in re-focusing the station as radio's answer to the Daily Mail with right-wing commentators such as Iain Dale alongside political presenters Ken Livingstone, David Mellor, the current Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Deputy PM Nick Clegg who's Call Clegg chat show is partially responsible for the rise in LBC's share in the London area.

With the re-focus of LBC as 'Leading British Conversation' to compete with BBC Radio 5 Live, this will inevitably dilute the London-centric content the station has been famous for since October 1973.

Despite the current station providing national topics, there are elements of the station which are core London.  News, travel, weather, the Ask Boris feature on Nick Ferrari's breakfast show and other London talking points are still core to LBC's editorial agenda.

Will tube strikes, transport fare rises and local election coverage be reduced or axed as LBC's new found focus on national issues, such as Scottish independence take more importance as part of James Rea's new national station?

There is of course an alternative to LBC in the form of BBC London 94.9, the flagging licence-fee funded station which has a broader remit than LBC providing varied speech and music, yet doesn't have the slick format that LBC has, nor provides local news and travel between 1900-2200 weekdays due to taking the national evening show as part of the BBC's Delivering Quality First cuts.

London also has the new local television channel 'London Live' which launches at the end of March, which is owned by the Evening Standard newspaper which promises up to five and a half hours of current affairs content on weekdays.   However unlike LBC, it's targeting a younger audience and Vikki Cook, London Live's head of news promises a more irrelevant look at local news, which will hardly attract the LBC audience.

If LBC and Global Radio dump the local audience, it could be a massive blow not only in audience share, but the other local speech outlets aren't up to the job yet.