Commercially in tune

By The Drum, Administrator

October 29, 2003 | 8 min read

For a long time, radio has been judged a poor cousin to television, not being able to compete with the multitude of channels presented by the influx of satellite, cable and digital TV and offering a limited opportunity for advertisers to reach large niche groups. While, in recent years, the Radio Authority has endeavoured to shake this image, handing out licences to specialist stations like Saga and Jazz FM, the balance had not been completely addressed. While Saga had proved a major success in the West Midlands with advertisers and listeners, by granting the licence to such a specific group, there was still a large number of people in the region whose tastes were not being catered for by the stations on air. Acknowledging the problem, the Radio Authority set about finding a new ILR station for the region that would help to counter the balance and in doing so provide advertisers with a unique window of opportunity.

With criteria for the licence resting heavily on a bid’s ability to distance itself from the existing radio stations in the region, the Radio Authority had to choose from 11 contenders, all of whom believed that their offer was perfect to tap into the potential 2.3 million listeners and enjoy the much hyped £25 million value of the licence.

Beating off bids from Virgin, GMG and GWR, the years of planning and research paid off for Emap, as its Kerrang! Radio bid was chosen by the panel as the winning pitch. Sharing its concept with Emap’s rock music magazine Kerrang! and the satellite music television station of the same name, the radio station has been commissioned to broadcast to the West Midlands on an eight-year licence.

Explaining all on how the race was won, and what the station promises to deliver, are Emap’s Anthony Gay and Shaun Gregory, both of whom can hardly hold back their delight in winning the bid. Gay takes the reins as programme director, while Gregory is director of group development for Emap Performance.

Any agencies thinking they have it tough developing pitches should be relieved they aren’t battling to secure an ILR station. As Gay explains, the process has been a long and fraught affair. “The main criterion the Radio Authority was looking for was to offer something different from what was already on the radio. We’ve been doing research in the Midlands for about two years and ran an RSL, broadcasting out of Birmingham City Football Club to the Birmingham area. We had a tremendous response to the trial and through hosting several public consultations we were able to find out what people wanted from the station.”

The Birmingham City Football Club broadcast came as a result of the club’s chairperson, Karen Brady, and her association with the station. Brady is officially the chairperson of Kerrang! Radio and has been very vocal in her support for the station’s dedication to bringing a new line of entertainment to the West Midlands, which caters for a younger market than the other existing stations.

The presence of a local celebrity like Brady was a trend adopted by many of the bidders. Jasper Carrot and Ozzy Osbourne were two West Midlanders who gave their support to stations in the race. Osbourne’s support for the Virgin bid may not have been successful, but the Prince of Darkness is part of a rich heritage of rock legends in the region – a heritage that, it would seem, did the Kerrang! bid no harm.

Gay explains, “The West Midlands is sort of the birthplace of rock – so many major rock legends have come out of the area, I think that helped our bid. There’s a lot of pride regarding the area’s heritage and I think Kerrang! Radio will be met by an enthusiastic audience.”

While the London-centric argument appears to dictate so many media and marketing issues, the decision for the Radio Authority to bring a major national brand to the West Midlands deserves praise. With huge inward investment and many more projects in the pipeline, Birmingham is fast restoring its second city legacy, a legacy that had looked under threat with the emergence of Manchester. But by deciding to cast the region its third ILR station, a feat not matched by any other area, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and the surrounding West Midlands area has been shown the respect it deserves. The Kerrang! team are keen for the brand to grow from within the West Midlands, even though the facilities on hand in London would’ve made it an easy choice to run parts of the station from out of Emap HQ. Gregory commented: “We’re building a team to form a local operation for advertising. It will all be done from the West Midlands but will have some support from the London base. It’s ideal for clients to know the work is being done locally.”

Gay is buoyant on the brand’s future and is dedicated to maintaining the local feel to the station. “The Kerrang! brand is going to go into orbit – we’re extending it without diluting what it stands for. The nature of the medium means it will be approached differently from the national magazine and TV station. For instance, news will play a big part, especially local news. We see it as our responsibility to let people know what’s happening within the region, whether it be news or events we’ll get it on air.”

Gay added, “We’re busy gathering talent at the moment, making sure we have the right people in before we launch. We are keen to bring in local talent too – it’s vital the station keeps its regional outlook while delivering the Kerrang! brand values.”

This search for talent, along with finding suitable premises, is the determining factor on when the launch will take place. Gay told Adline of the station’s desire to find an iconic building in the Birmingham area, and added suggestions that next summer looks a good bet for when the station will hit the airwaves.

And where will the listeners emerge from? Gay believes there are two likely sources: “I suppose we will take some listeners from Radio 1, but we’ll also be bringing people to radio who perhaps haven’t been listening because there was nothing out there for them – I think this was one of the main reasons the panel thought Kerrang! Radio would be the best choice.”

The station is officially pitched towards 15- to 34-year-olds, although Gay admits 15-24 is perhaps a more accurate observation of the station’s target audience. While communicating with a teenager is often like trying to draw blood from a stone, the new station will offer the perfect platform for reaching what is a vital market for many companies. Advertising agencies will be firmly in tune with all the possibilities radio can bring. In the August edition of Adline, agencies and clients alike sang the praises of radio’s ability to communicate on a more intense level than other media. And now, with the opportunity to reach the elusive youth market, the radio industry is looking at a positive future. Gregory is convinced advertisers can benefit from Kerrang! Radio. He commented: “I think Kerrang! Radio will give national advertisers the chance to make use of the power of radio advertising while reaching this niche group of people, which is something that was previously not available.

“The target audience is a lucrative market for advertising and having this youth-led station will allow advertisers to plan campaigns directed at a large, yet specific, group.”

Kerrang! Radio will have an in-house operation for writing and production, and will be working with clients direct and via agencies. With Saga providing advertisers with the opportunity to reach the over 50s and Heart FM reaching the biggest audience of all of the West Midland stations, Kerrang! Radio will complement the radio scene well and will give advertisers locally and nationally a new and fantastic opportunity. While rock music in all its many forms may not be everyone’s cup of tea, few within the media and marketing industries are likely to argue with the Radio Authority’s choice.


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