I must admit, I wasn't looking forward to my second meeting with John Myers. The first one, roughly a year ago, had ostensibly gone well enough, with the Guardian Media Group Radio MD agreeing to pen a piece concerning a recent government paper on the radio industry. This touched down in my inbox in swift and articulate fashion, potentially cueing what should have been an amicable relationship.
However, when the piece in question appeared in the magazine it had miraculously acquired a headline that contained the word 'shite'. The author was, unsurprisingly enough, less than pleased and more than miffed.
The 'White Paper or Shite Paper' heading (the culprit has since moved on) threatened to tear down our recently constructed lines of communication and had me fearing for the future of my rather spindly lower limbs. (Mr Myers is not, by the way, a diminutive figure.) Therefore, when the Real Radio interview became a real possibility I was keen to get the chance to wipe the slate clean, but not so keen on leaving the meeting with my Dictaphone lodged somewhere dark and uncomfortable.
Thankfully, my vision of forever pressing 'play' when I take a seat did not become a reality. Myers, the man responsible for launching more radio stations than anyone else in the UK, was too enthused by the imminent arrival of Real Radio in Yorkshire to waste time with misplaced retribution. Sitting in the new £1m GMG Radio HQ in Leeds, he is itching to unleash the Real Radio brand into England after successfully establishing the station in both Wales and, earlier this year, in Scotland.
Aimed at the 'middle youth' market (a very flattering way to describe those of us between 25 and 54), Real has a flexible format of focused regional news, lively chat, established DJs and appropriately toe-tapping hits. All seemingly designed to halt the inexorable rise of Myers' apparent nemesis - Radio 2.
"Radio 2 is the biggest threat to commercial radio in the UK," he admitted in his amply windowed office (which, incidentally, sports a nice view of Radio Aire's transmitter - "Good for air rifle target practice" - allegedly). "Unless something is done to stop the march of Radio 2, commercial radio is in danger of taking a big step backwards and we're not prepared to let that happen."
Of course other operators have tried, and largely seem to be failing in their attempts to derail the continuing popularity of Auntie's favourite radio station. But Myers believes that in Real Radio, he has a genuine contender: "Everywhere we have set up the station we've halted the move of our key demographic to Radio 2. Theirs is very much the audience we're going for, we're not here to cannibalise existing commercial stations, we want to bring the local audiences back to regional broadcasting and that's what we seem to be achieving."
If anyone is qualified for this task, it is Myers. After a career that started at BBC Cumbria with local radio news reporting, Myers progressed to launch the Century brand for Border. He left when it became inevitable that the stations were due to be sold off to Capital (a move that saw him secure a starring role in BBC2's 'Trouble at the Top') and was subsequently recruited to head up the ambitious GMG. He now claims to have built up Real Radio as a 'fun brand for adults' and is currently in the running for the vacant East Midlands licence to create the new 'Smooth FM' proposition (see news story). He is clearly a driven man buoyed by considerable resources, but how does he think he can win new commercial friends?
Interestingly enough, by appearing non-commercial. "People often switch to Radio 2 because they get annoyed at the frequency and level of advertising on commercial radio. But we only play 16 ads an hour, whereas existing stations will play 30. That means there's only about half the number of ads, which is better for the advertisers and better for the listeners. It means we don't have to shout at our audience."
Fewer ads would normally mean less revenue, which again appears to be non-commercial, although this time not in a good way. Myers, however, has come up with a formula that capitalises on the very fact that ads are few and far between. "There are only ever four ads in each break which gives clients a better platform for stand-out. We tell clients, 'Don't worry about the duration, let's just get a good idea, develop it and get the creative right.' We also guarantee exclusivity on products so, for example, if you were a motor dealer you'd be the only motor dealer there. It's an improved model at a competitive price and this is something that clever planners and buyers are coming to terms with."
The formula certainly seems to be bearing financial fruit in Wales, where, according to Myers, the station is already two years ahead of schedule by recording a profit in Year 1. It's early days in Scotland but, again according to our man, it looks buoyant. "The station only opened in late December and we've hit our sales targets for January, February and we're well on course for March."
The Yorkshire licence provides Real Radio with the capability of hitting an audience of three million listeners, with Myers aiming for a 12 per cent reach in the first year, rising to 14 per cent and then 16 per cent, in line with his three-year plan. However, as he bullishly assessed, "But everywhere we go to seems to do better than that."
If this trend continues, more of the UK's radio stations will soon be facing some 'Real' competition as Myers continually focuses on fresh opportunities for expansion. If his coruscating presence causes other commercial stations to raise their respective games, you still get the feeling that Myers' confidence as a broadcaster would remain bullet-proof. As I get ready to depart, he concludes, "I never worry about anyone else, they spend all their time worrying about me." A statement I'll later consider as I desperately search for a non-offensive headline.