Rajar Focus - A Hain in the neck?

By The Drum, Administrator

February 14, 2003 | 8 min read

Video killed the radio star. The song might not be as prophetic as previously thought. In the next year the Radio Authority will announce two new licences on both the east and the west of Scotland. But, with already established names such as Clyde, Beat, Real and Forth, what degree of variety can they offer, and what difference will this make to the overall scene in Scotland?

One of the main contenders in this hotly contested field in Glasgow is Virgin Glasgow. Headed up by Bobby Hain, whose CV reads like a roll-call of the main stations in the west of the country – programme controller of Clyde, managing director of Beat 106 – the station aims to give its listeners something different to what is on offer at the moment.

He says: “Glasgow has always had a great tradition of radio stations, but I do feel that there is a need for the type of programming that we will provide. We aim to give the same type of feel as Virgin 1215am, although we will remain a completely separate station, and offer local news, weather, something that will separate us from the national station.”

Being part of the SMG stable also has its benefits, concedes Hain: “The variety and tie-ins that we offer will also help set us apart. During the RSL that we have just finished we managed to get people in to talk about what was happening at parties. It seemed to gel with the listeners and also added a variety to what the other stations are offering at the moment.”

The licences are yet to be handed out, and whilst there are undoubtedly short odds placed on SMG’s Virgin Glasgow, the gambling man might walk away from this with a bob or two more.

During the entire course of our interview there is a quiet confidence in the man who has already done this in the past few months in glamorous Wolverhampton, yet the Radio Authority is a notoriously fickle organisation.

“We have effectively bought in a radio station that has lasted one month. We managed to pull together a great deal of good talent and, hopefully, offer the listeners something different to what they are getting at the moment. It is all about the music, really, with the station. We offered something distinctive and in terms of the advertisers that we got – both on a national and local level – I think that we have shown that we would make a worthy competitor to any of the other stations that are currently broadcasting.”

Ross McFadyen, programme controller of the Radio Clyde network, believes that there needs to be variety when it comes to the issuing of a new licence. “I would be a fool to say that I supported any other station save SRH’s bid, 3C Classic Cool Country – I would probably be risking my job if I were to say anyone else! But I do believe that the Radio Authority needs to be aware that in this market we need to have something that is different from what is on offer at the moment. Not just a station that pretends to be something else and is largely doing what the rest of the West of Scotland is doing. There needs to be an element of diversity, and the question has to be asked, with a bid like Virgin Glasgow what are you bringing to the table with this offer?”

Nik Goodman, programme controller at Radio Forth, maintains that all competition is good competition. “This is a very interesting market up here. In terms of Radio Forth’s position, we’re number one in this area, with a fantastic reach, including both Edinburgh and east central Scotland. Everyone really wants a piece of us, but we are already established and very distinct, and I think, in terms of people getting listeners from us, it will be a tough job.”

The latest RAJAR results were published at the beginning of the month, and both east and west coast stations fared well. But no prizes for guessing that SRH was the real winner of the day, with both Clyde and Forth holding on to their monopoly of listeners. But, with the advent of digital radio and the number of channels that have come with it, are the already overcrowded airwaves becoming fit to burst?

Speaking of Clyde’s gains, McFadyen said: “Once again we are adding listeners to both the Clyde One and Two brands. Of course we are always looking at what we are doing, and are always adjusting our programming so as not to seem complacent, but I am very happy with the sound of the stations at the moment and with what we are doing on air. We have managed to hold on to our market share and we are still the market leader and I am very confident that Clyde will remain top for some time to come.”

Radio Forth is top in the east for Scottish Radio Holdings. For programme controller Nik Goodman, who joined the station three months ago, the results are pleasing, but there is more to come.

He says: “Our reach stayed the same this year, but the listening figures went up by 15 per cent. I didn’t come in here and make great changes when I first started; instead I sat down and listened to the competition. There are going to be changes on both stations. I have looked at two different areas – developing the existing talent that is on air, and also identifying other talent elsewhere. I think that the changes we make will consolidate our existing image of being the most listened to radio station in the east coast area.”

New kid on the block Real Radio has once again shown that it means business, with yet another gain in the results. “I think that we have the great honour of being the only station in the UK to have consistently risen in terms of share over the past four quarters. The results have been breathtaking, really,” says programme controller Jay Crawford. “It really has been a great morale boost to everyone working at the station to see such unprecedented results, and all the hard work has really paid off in the long run.”

Hain, however, believes that the success of Real Radio was due to the existing brand loyalty. “The thing that you have to remember about Real Radio is that it was an existing brand before it re-launched and therefore it had a certain amount of listeners who were willing to go with it for the change. It might have had a chequered past, but it really is coming into its own at the moment. In many ways, setting up a branded radio station is a far easier task, as listeners are aware of what has gone before. The west of Scotland, I personally think, is not a market for beginners. We are at the moment on target to reach the proposed bid and, hopefully, we will be successful with it.”

Beat 106 has been quiet in terms of marketing the station over the past 12 months. But the Capital-owned station has not remained complacent. With both a distinct change in music policy and programming and with a new ad campaign, produced by The Leith once more, they are hoping to steal away even more of the core listening base that Clyde has steadfastly held on to for a number of years. Managing director Hugh Murray believes that Beat’s audience is slowly coming back, after being seduced by other stations’ heavy marketing campaigns. “At the moment that marketplace is very cluttered with advertising campaigns and promotions. Our target market is the 15 to 34-year-olds and they can be a very fickle audience. But they are starting to come back to us and this is before we have even done any advertising.”

But why has it taken them this long to follow up Leith’s award-winning fireengine campaign? “We didn’t want to really compete with the other stations. Instead we thought that the best tactic would be just to slow down, take our time and hold off on the advertising. Now we are back with yet another brilliant piece of work, which shows a very real identity of the station and will, hopefully, help us add on even more listeners.”

“Clyde has always traditionally been the market leader in the West of Scotland,” says Hain. “But things are changing and there are some good stations nipping at them so you can never say never in this industry. I am sure that Clyde is aware of that fact.”

Crawford agrees with this, saying, “The TSA of the proposed station is the same size as Clyde. Whoever manages to win the bid, whether it is an Asian, country music or jazz station, will undoubtedly take a slice of the cake and I think everyone is aware of that. We obviously are very hopeful that the Guardian Media Group get the bid, but really it is anyone’s game at the moment.”

Never has a truer word spoken.

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