Is that your final answer?
Chris TarrantChris Tarrant has been a household name since he launched his first custard pie at Sally James on Saturday morning kids’ TV programme “Tiswas” in the 1970s. Then he switched to late-night TV to host OTT and in the late 1990s, he became the face of ITV1’s smash hit “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”. Throw in a few silly foreign TV ads presented by him after the watershed and a breakfast show on Capital Radio and it is easy to see why Chris Tarrant is one of Britain’s most successful TV and radio presenters.
So, why on earth should someone who clearly has a “few bob” in the bank want to come to Edinburgh to try to win the Edinburgh radio licence currently up for grabs?
I plan to put this question to him ... and resist asking him if that was his final answer as soon as he answered. I am waiting in the reception area of the Glasshouse Hotel in Edinburgh as Tarrant sweeps in to town for an evening event at which he will officially launch the bid by 4LifeFM. As he makes for his room to change and freshen up, I am escorted to the hotel’s roof terrace garden. Suitably attired, Tarrant arrives a few minutes later and I hit him with my opener: “For £100, why on earth do you want to launch a radio station in Edinburgh?”
He answers: “Paul Smith, who is Mr Celador, has always been a big fan of radio. When we would have meetings and we were supposed to be planning a television show we would find ourselves talking about radio and radio stations. When Celador became a successful company we really started talking seriously about moving into radio.
“The timing was also good for me. I was about to leave Capital Radio after 20 years, so I was interested in doing something new and different.”
So, will Tarrant be presenting on 4LifeFM, should the bid be successful? “I do not know if I will be on air yet. I have absolutely no plans to do the breakfast show, for instance. I really hope that there is no need for me to be presenting on the station, because this station is more about Edinburgh.”
The 4LifeFM bidding consortium boasts some big names, such as Tarrant, Celador’s Paul Smith, Jim Moir, former controller of BBC Radio 2, and Tim Blackmore of Noel Edmonds’ media company Unique, but it also has a strong local contingent, such as Jim Faulds, founder of Faulds Advertising, Phil Anderton, chief executive of the Scottish Rugby Union, and Ken Lewandowski, chairman of Hibernian FC.
So, what kind of station can a consortium such as this offer the people of Edinburgh? Tarrant says: “This is not an attack on Capital, but stations like that say that this is the brand that works in London so we will just repeat that in Norwich or wherever. We will make the Celador sound work in Edinburgh for Edinburgh. We are not going to come up here to Edinburgh with the tried and tested London sound.”
For £400, I ask if Tarrant can name a commercial station that he would like 4LifeFM to replicate? He loses his millionaire king of cool exterior and becomes rather animated. I sit back and scribble furiously to keep up with him: “I have no role models in commercial radio for how I want 4LifeFM to sound. Commercial radio is in a dire state at the moment. It far too formatted, de-personalised and predictable. That is a shame. Radio is about people, it is about personalities.
“Sometimes you listen to people on the radio that you hate and detest. My father-in-law listened to one radio presenter for 15 years and absolutely hated him and disagreed with most things he said. But he had a reaction to him. Radio is about reactions to people. 4LifeFM will get that across through its presenters and its broad mix of music.
“Commercial radio at the moment does not cater for older people. It has become about middle-aged men saying ‘this is what the young people want’, when they don’t have a clue. You only have to look at what has happened to Radio 1 since Trevor Dan said that the station would not play the Beatles any more. Young people still actually like to hear the Beatles now and again. That is why Radio 2 has become the UK’s biggest radio station.”
So, can a relatively small media group beat the large radio groups, such as Emap, GWR, Guardian Media Group, Scottish Radio Holdings and Virgin, to the prize?
Tarrant is, as always, very confident: “Of course we can. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could. If we win this licence, it will be because we are good, we will be fresh and we will be original. Of course we believe we can beat the bigger groups going for this licence. Our aim here is not to become a niche station; we want to become Edinburgh’s station. That is where the gap is.”
Along the M8, Saga Radio has recently launched its new Glasgow station. Saga boss, Norman Quirk, has made no secret that he wants the Edinburgh licence too, which would present a certain synergy. Is Saga a threat to 4LifeFM?
Tarrant says: “We dismiss Saga as a serious threat to us as we do the other bids being made by the English radio groups. We consider ourselves as a local bidder and we believe that another local bidder, Castle FM, is our main competitor. They are certainly the closest to what we plan to do with this station.”
With this the interview is ended. I skulk off, disappointed with myself for not having the nerve to actually say ‘Is that your final answer?’ at any point during the interview. If 4LifeFM does win the bid, then maybe I’ll get my chance again.
This feature in no way suggests that The Drum supports the 4LifeFM bid. For reasons of fairness, The Drum will not lend its support to any individual bid until the final decision of The Drum’s Ofcom panel is published later this year. The Drum’s Ofcom panel will receive copies of the bid documents submitted to Ofcom within the next week. Our panel will then spend a month digesting the bids and will meet to discuss which bid would ultimately be the best for Scotland, Scotland’s radio sector and Scotland’s radio listeners.