The Real Billy Anderson

By The Drum, Administrator

October 21, 2004 | 8 min read

Billy Anderson

A booming voice echoes down the corridor to reception, where I’ve been waiting to interview Real Radio’s recently appointed managing director. “Has he gone yet?” bellows the voice along the hall. “Tell him I’m busy, or something.”

I shuffle my newspaper uneasily, hoping that the voice is not referring to me. Then there is laughter. Seconds later Billy Anderson bounds around the corner into reception, grinning ... it was aimed at me.

Meet Real Radio’s new managing director. Despite being “absolutely loaded with the cold” Anderson is in good spirits. And why shouldn’t he be?

He’s been at Real Radio since it launched two-and-a-half years ago, when he joined as sales director. This month, following a short tenure juggling both the sales director role and the assistant MD role, he was appointed to the hot seat vacated by Shaun Bowron, who has moved to concentrate on the GMG Radio Group function.

Actually, when I say he’s taken on the seat left vacant by Bowron, that is only a part truth – in the literal sense. As Anderson steers into his newly inherited office, he motions for me to grab a seat. Bowron still has his stamp all over the MD’s office. Anderson jokes that he’s yet to sit in the leather-backed chair that he will inherit from Bowron. But it’s evident that he’s not joking as he grabs another chair, pulling it round the desk to sit opposite me. “I’m a traditionalist. It’s not officially my office yet.”

Right, down to business. The receptionist brings in a huge pot of tea and a chocolate-biscuit-laden plate. A cluster of ripe strawberries garnishes the dish – presentation that any Michelin star chef would be proud of.

“Fresh strawberries,” accentuates Anderson into the running tape recorder. Just for the record.

As the receptionist leaves the room, Anderson thanks her and pours the tea. “Fire away ...” he says, leaning back into the seat as he enthuses over his new job.

“It was, perhaps, a surprise to move as quickly into the MD’s chair,” he says glancing over at it.

“I thought that it would be over a 12- to 18-month period if I was doing a good job, but obviously things are starting to happen in radio now and we, as a business, need to equip ourselves for that.

“There are a lot of new licences going up for grabs and we will be going for them. Not all of them, but we are going for the Edinburgh licence. We are looking at the Belfast one, and I think we’re going for Blackburn as well. Cornwall, perhaps, too? Shaun will now be able to concentrate fully on such group developments.

“Also, the Capital and GWR deal is in the process of going through. EMAP seems to be penning in with SRH. There is a consolidation taking place. We will be involved but to what extent, I’m not sure.

“Our restructure lets us put our cards down in the right place.

“Besides,” he continues “this [the MD’s role] is certainly something I wanted to do: moving from sales director to more general management. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the more commercial aspect of the business – far from it. But I always wanted to push myself forward.”

Anderson gained his stripes working his way up through the media industry. He started out as an office junior at Auto Trader, working in sales and promotions, becoming circulations and promotions manager at the title over a ten-year period. He then moved to Scot FM for its launch, before moving to London, where he was involved in selling “neural-networking marketing products” – predictive modelling, in short.

He returned to Scotland to get married and got the opportunity to set up free sheets in both Inverness and Lanarkshire, before moving to the Carnyx Group (The Drum’s parent company) for a couple of years, leaving for the launch of Real Radio. The rest is history, albeit recent.

“I’ve always been one to just try and get on with the job (this is exemplified by the flu-induced coughing fit that muffles the sentence). Rather than being a big media figure, I’d prefer to be known as someone who gets the job done and develops good relationships with individuals within the organisation, helping the individuals develop. I’d say I was probably a very average sales director, but I’d hope that I was a very good people director. You have to find strengths in people and make sure that they excel at these strengths ... as long as that is what the business needs.”

As Anderson has already indicated, his appointment comes at an interesting time for the radio industry. As well as the consolidation that is commencing and the raft of new licences that are up for grabs, Glasgow has a new player in town – arguably the most recent to appear in Scotland since Real took over the broadcasting from Scot FM.

“SAGA had a very strong bid. And a very welcome one,” says Anderson. “Anything that strengthens radio as a medium is good.

“I feel very passionately about radio as a medium but I don’t think that it gets its place because of the history of radio. That’s no criticism, because I think that we have some fantastic brands and some fantastic stations. But I think, in general, radio has been bought and sold on price and possibly not on the value in the past.

“And, while I think everyone is working towards providing great value and not just great cost, the big opportunity for radio is in the money that goes to press and, to some extent, television, without the flexibility and adaptability that radio offers. The intimacy, the opportunity to promote and brand positioning – as well as practical messaging – is not the same on any other medium.

“It would be great to see radio stations working together. I’m very keen to meet with the MDs of radio stations in Scotland, and I’ve already sounded out a few – with a very positive response – about looking at how we can develop the proposition.

“Radio sales isn’t just about giving two spots and drive time, or two spots and breakfast, with a chunk at the weekend. It’s about adding value, and I think radio has very big part to play in adding value that other media cannot offer.

“Radio has to raise the bar a little. I noticed (in The Drum’s last issue) the getting together of the press industry in Scotland. It’s good to see people putting aside personal agendas for the good of the medium. Radio needs to do that too, and I will be pushing for that, as we need to look for ways in which we can improve.”

Easier said than done, perhaps? Scotland has always had intense media rivalries – just look at the Scotsman and Herald, the Sun and the Daily Record ... and now Real and Clyde/Forth/Beat (delete as appropriate).

However, Anderson – despite sitting in front of a plaque on the wall that reads, “First we’ll be the best. Then we’ll be the first” (presumably Bowron’s and not his) – is dismissive of such rivalry.

“I think our rivalry with Clyde has been blown out of all proportion. For too long, radio stations have competed against each other. An idealistic world where we all join happily together wouldn’t work but if we could work for a common goal, in regards to radio, that would be great to see.

“Perhaps people want to see us get embroiled in a fight with Clyde? Perhaps people want to see the Sun and the Daily Record fight? But I don’t want a fight with Clyde. More importantly, I’m sure our listeners don’t want to hear about it ... just in the same way that I’m sure the readers of the Sun or Record don’t want to read about the in-fighting. It gets tedious. In many cases the advertisers don’t really care. They only care about the return on their investment, and the difference it makes to their business.”

So, over the next week, as Anderson ships his files and motorbike memorabilia (he’s a big enthusiast) across the hallway to the MD’s office, what plans will he be hatching for the future of Real Radio in Scotland?

“There is nothing that needs to change. At this point in time I still view Shaun as my stabiliser. We just need to develop.

“The most important thing behind Real is not what is pumping out the speakers, but it is the people behind the speakers, the people who make it happen. We have a great team. They work for each other and, hopefully, have fun doing so. I think this translates in the quality of output we produce. Perhaps the most important thing that I’ll do here is to develop the people around me – because they’ll only make the job easier for me.”


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