The Drum Radio Authority

By The Drum, Administrator

September 11, 2003 | 12 min read

The Drum Radio Authority assess the reports.

The 3c bid is the best application for Glasgow’s new FM licence in the eyes of the Drum’s radio authority, which has been scrutinising the bids for four weeks. katy archer reports on the panel’s meeting. Photography by Basharat khan.

Since The Radio Authority began inviting applications for the new FM radio licence to cover Glasgow, The Drum, as the voice of Scottish media and marketing, has been courted by bidding groups asking for its support. Until now, The Drum has declined to lend its support to any individual bid until it gauged the views of the wider Scottish media community. That process has now been concluded, adfter more than six weeks, and a letter outlining the findings of a panel of Scottish media experts, has been sent to The Radio Authority.

Printed below are the findings of The Drum Radio Authority, a special panel put together, to debate this licence award. That panel consisted of Scottish media industry leaders from the programming, editorial and commercial sides of the fence and included Ken Garner, a senior journalism lecturer at Glasgow Caledonian University; Steven Walker, managing director of The Scotsman Publications, Lillian Foote, media director at The Guy Robertson Partnership, Maurice Smith, managing director of TVI Public Relations; Brian Crook, managing director of The Bridge; Andy Jones, managing director of Advertising at Barkers Scotland and Leeann Dempster, account director at Feather Brooksbank, who replaced her colleague who couldn’t attend the ropund table discussion Stuart Bell . Morven Gow of The Media Shop, who was due to attend, could not make the session and the chairman for the discussion was The Drum’s editor, Richard Draycott.

Each panel member had a month to read and digest all the details of the 13 bids and to draw their own conclusions, then during the course of an afternoon, the bids were whittled down from the initial list of 13, to a final five, which then made way for the top three applications and, after much discussion, The Drum Radio Authority’s eventual winner was decided.

Meeting at Barkers Advertising, the panel sat down to discuss the bids and were asked to keep the following four criteria front of mind - would the bid would be financially viable in the long term; would the station offer something not currently available in Scotland; would the station cater for the needs of the local environment; and would it have support from the local community.

The judging panel was also briefed that it was not there to second guess The Radio Authority’s eventual decision, but make its own decision on which bid would be the best for the Scottish radio industry and listeners alike.

The panel decided that during the first phase of the process they should eliminate the bids that they felt were not in contention for the licence, in order to narrow down the field.

First to be eliminated was Base FM. The panel believed that it did not offer anything new, compared with other stations that were already broadcasting in Scotland. Garner commented: “From a broad perspective it is not a competitor. Also, I do not think it is financially viable.”

The panel agreed and moved on to Clyde Asia Radio, eliminating this one on the basis that, compared to the other Asian Radio bid, Sunrise, it was not sustainable or realistic based on projected listener figures.

Next up was the Glasgow Gold licence. Whilst the panel agreed that the bid itself was a very sound one, they felt that the proposal brought nothing new to the table, or to Scottish radio, and therefore had to dismiss it.

Magic FM was dismissed for much the same reason as Capital’s bid. In particular, the panel did not think that the research offered reflected the listening choice of the West of Scotland audience.

Steven Walker was critical of this bid, saying: “There was surprising naivety shown with this application. It appears that they thought all they would have to do was put down some ideas and the listener would say, ‘Oh, bugger that. I am going to stop listening to my normal radio station and start to listen to something new.’ I find that astonishing.”

Next up on the list was GO FM, the radio station launched by Scottish media stalwarts Kirsty Wark and Alan Clements, amongst others. The panel was somewhat disappointed by this application, expecting more from the board members who had written it. They were also critical as to where the audience would come from and how they would keep hold of it.

Andy Jones commented: “The thing that struck me was the lack of confidence in this bid. They say that the reach they aim to get is six per cent, which to me is not very good. If I were an advertiser, I wouldn’t be very excited at a six per cent reach. How many unique users are they going to get from that?”

My-FM was the next station to be debated. This bid was dismissed on the basis that it resembled the EMAP bid and, as Andy Jones pointed out, EMAP’s application had more to offer. He added: “The My-FM bid was so similar to EMAP and, if you compare like with like, EMAP has more experience. It simply is not as strong as the EMAP bid.”

The Arrow, the Chrysalis-backed bid, resulted in a more positive reaction, with Lillian Foote commenting: “I like the live rock stuff. They have given something different. They have given attention to local bands, but that does come up in another bid. But I don’t think that it is very Glasgow orientated.”

The panel agreed with this, but maintained that while the bid was well written, it did not compare to some of the other bids that focused more on the area it covered as opposed to being part of a national network.

The last bid to be discarded was Sunrise Radio. While the panel believed that the bid was very strong and professionally put together, with accurate research, they had to question whether an Asian radio station would be commercially viable in Glasgow.

Garner commented: “It does tick all the boxes, but I am not convinced that it would be able to work up here on that kind of scale in the long term. This is clearly a serious bid from a national radio brand, but I just do not think that it is the right one for the Glasgow licence.”

From here in in the judging began to get somewhat fraught with the shortlist of five – SAGA, Smooth, The Storm, 3C and Virgin Radio - all being singled out for high praise.

Indeed, it was noted by many around the table that any of the finalists would be worthy winners of this licence and would operate a professional and commercially viable radio service. The panel went to great lengths to judge each of the bids, and believed that it had to be somewhat ruthless in the assessment of them.

The panel had high hopes for the Smooth FM bid, which comes from the same stable as the Real Radio brand. They were, however, disappointed with certain aspects of the bid that had been submitted.

Steven Walker was critical, stating: “It is almost as if John Myers does not expect to get this bid, come hell and high water. I thought that as a company they must be seen to go for it. But it did feel like they didn’t really fancy their chances in getting it just because of what they did when they took over Scot FM. I think that GMG might be thinking that the bid they have presented is too close to home, and that it happened too recently. I have a feeling that, no matter what, they would make a success of it, especially with Jay Crawford, his programming must compete with Radio 2.”

The bid was eliminated on the basis that it simply was not as strong as some of the other bids still in the running.

Next up was the GWR and DF Concerts-backed bid for Storm FM. All judges thought that this was a very strong application, although concerns were raised as to the amount of experience there was when it came to programming the station.

Brian Crook commented: “They certainly know about music but, I have to ask, what do they know about programming a radio station? It does, however, give something different compared to what is already available in Scotland.”

Maurice Smith added: “It is certainly a different proposition. But I am not too sure if it is adding something different to this area – the people that they want to target are already pretty well served. They still have a lot to demonstrate on the speech side of things – it lurches a bit between music and speech.”

The bid was highlighted by the panel as a potential winner, although at this time the board believed that there were certain areas of the bid, in particular the programming side of things, that could be provided by a stronger application, such as the Virgin bid.

Discussion soon began to centre on the final shortlist of three – SAGA, 3C and Virgin.

All three were seen as very worthy winners – they added something new to the mix in the West of Scotland, they would provide listeners with a choice and take away from its competitors, they had extremely strong programming skills, coupled with a strong working knowledge of the market they were aiming for, and they were also financially viable.

The panel was also surprised that the final shortlist of three contained Scotland’s two biggest media groups - SRH and SMG. But they all concurred that these groups clearly knew the Scottish market well and had put together very well researched bids.

However, the authority was there to decide a final winner, so after much debate it was dicided that the first of tyhe three to fall at the last hurdle was to be SAGA.

The panel was keen to add that, while the SAGA bid might not agree with their own personal tastes, the work that had gone into the bid was extremely high, with the programming being an attractive proposition for the panel.

“As much as I hate to say it, I think that SAGA is a good prospect. It’s well funded, well presented and has a demographic that is increasing. It certainly ticks all of the boxes,” commented Andy Jones.

But Brian Crook was critical, saying: “I think that the demographic is fragmenting rapidly. You have the 55-year-olds that act like 75-year-olds and the 55-year-olds who act like they are 25. This is a hugely important market, but I don’t think that it is appropriate to put the market in a whole chunk like this. If you do that then there is going to be a difference in the music and what people want to hear.”

Garner was quick to point out that a good radio station can solve that type of problem with its programming. “The trick with radio programming is how you manage to marry all the problems together so that you can get the best for the listeners and the station as a whole.”

The final two bids – Virgin and 3C – were closely matched throughout the proceedings. Both offered something that was new to the transmission area in terms of the programming, and both applications were strongly written and well researched the panel acknowledged.

Leeann Dempster said: “I think that there is a real interest for country and western music fans and 3C can offer it. But, at the same time, there is an element of complacency in the Scottish radio market. If Virgin was to be rewarded then it can only be a good thing, as people might have to buck up their ideas and actually make some changes.”

Lillian Foote, however, added: “3C is the only bid that really answers all of the questions that have been raised for me. It is a genuinely new station that would at the same time offer something new to its audience.”

There had to be one winner and that accolade finally went to the 3C bid by Scottish Radio Holdings after a number of tied votes. There was some concern and surprise by the panel that the final two were both from media stables that would be greatly helped if they were to win the licence. But the judges were convinced that the station that wins this licence should offer something new to the airwaves of the West of Scotland, and by giving the licence to 3C this was achieved.

Brian Crook summed up the voting procedure, saying: "If I was voting with my heart I think that I would like Storm to win, to shake things up. My heart tells me to go for something that is more radical, but at the same time, I have to choose one that will survive. The safe option would be to go for SAGA, the conservative option is Virgin - it ticks all the boxes - but the one that offers real choice within this marketplace would have to be 3C.”

And, with that, The Drum Radio Authority’s decision was made. But what will the real Radio Authority decide? Public consultation closes at the end of September, and a decision is expected by the end of the Year.


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