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.

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