The Radio Revolution

The new report published by the Radiocentre highlights the glow coming from commercial radio right now. It’s a powerful read on the return it delivers alongside the incredible contribution it makes to numerous charities. Make Some Noise from Global and Bauer’s Cash for Kids are knocking it out of the park. The latter, still the most impressive in my view.

Talk to any independent media observer and they will readily admit that Global has driven the industry to new heights. They came in, got on with it and turned the industry around. Youth, experience, commercial excellence and enough money to do it right left others in their wake. Many, of course, didn’t like the plan but what we know for sure, is that they had one! They outsmarted, outmanoeuvred and out-strategised the competition with the result that they now lead the industry. Their first Capital commercial was a game changer, followed by radio studios becoming television sets and the staging of events that made radio a very different animal.

However, you can’t win by basking in old glories and so the game is about to move up a gear.

The key date is January 2020 when RAJAR results are published. It will not only highlight the quarter, but it will also reveal, for the first time, many of the winners and losers across the whole of next years listening. Millions will have been spent on marketing to get you to listen to a new show, new station and new sound. It’s a big gamble and the first big test.

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On top of that, there is the question of how people listen. We know that’s changing and will continue to do so. LBC has shown, perhaps better than most, the power of social media and the viral clip. They are also, in my view, the success story of the decade.

Whatever you do, you won’t succeed without the right strategy. Getting it wrong is just too expensive. Global had theirs formed early on. Out went local heritage names, in came national brands and as much networking as possible and while they lost audience on some, the whole became greater than any individual part. Look at them now, king of the crop.

Bauer, is equally impressive, certainly on a national level. They placed a bet on digital before anyone else, building up good brands, hiring and retaining top class people, making purchases along the way and developing a solid strategy.

Locally, it all appears a bit of a muddle. Too many changes of direction for my liking although, to be fair, the local issue is much more difficult for them to solve. If deeds speak louder than words, then where they once proudly boasted that localness was their difference, the hours given to networking may suggest a different direction of travel.

They could have demonstrated their love of local by investing in KEY 103 in order to restore it as the pride of Manchester, but instead, they’ve gone with it as the base of their new national brand, Hits Radio.

In Birmingham, we’ve seen stations flick to Kerrang! then Planet Rock, then Absolute, only for that in itself to be ditched in favour of their latest strategy, The Greatest Hits.

For the record, Hits is NOT to be confused with The Greatest Hits.

“The Greatest Hits network has its roots in deep audience insight combined with world-class programming expertise targeted at an audience of reclaimers”.  

HITS radio listeners want banter while the older Greatest Hits audience wants an emotional and palpable connection”. 

You have to be a special kind of person to come up with stuff like that.

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Interestingly, none of this includes Scotland, an area widely known for not accepting with ease the sound of English voices or brands born south of the Border. There is a lot to lose by getting it wrong here, but strategy is about devising a long term plan so I’m not sure how long local station names can survive when it’s a national brand-led world.

If Bauer believes their future lies in the retention of local heritage names rather than the development of big national brands through their local outlets, then good luck to them. They may be right but the new rules that allow greater networking power would suggest the world is going in a different direction. It makes little sense (to me) not to drive the change you want for the future you need, as early as possible.

Then, we have the Wireless team, owned now by News UK, a company with a large war chest, strong leadership and ambitious people. You can see how ambitious they are by grabbing Evans and, with the benefit of owning a number of platforms that can support such boldness, you wouldn’t bet against them. It is moves like this that makes radio so exciting but it won’t be easy so they will come out all guns blazing to achieve more audience and revenue. Certainly, The BBC won’t let audiences simply drift across without a fight.

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News UK has not, as yet, announced their local plan but it’s not as complicated an issue for them, as it is for Bauer. Yes, they have good local stations that are making money with many enjoying market leading positions but it wouldn’t surprise me for them to take a more long-term view. They have the courage and cash to do that.

Leadership is knowing you may have to take a small step back before taking big leaps forward.

With new breakfast shows on so many different stations the audience will be on the move, trial will be enormous and this, alongside all the new regulation opportunities, underlines the importance of a solid strategy. Whether or not it all works out as planned, we will have to wait and see but what we know for sure is that there is always more than one way to win.

Whatever the plan, the growth and resilience of radio is wonderful to see.

john myers