Radio Forth

By The Drum, Administrator

February 10, 2005 | 9 min read

Adam Findlay, Forth's MD

It’s safe to say that Radio Forth is in the blood of the Findlay family. When Radio Forth 194 (now Forth Two) first went on the air in January 1975 it was programme controller, Richard Findlay, who was the first voice on air. Some thirty years on and, after a career which has already covered Scotland and London, son Adam has now taken the reigns of Forth One and Two.

Findlay (Adam, that is) was only one when his father launched the station, and subsequently found himself growing up with Radio Forth. Still, as Findlay takes time out from his own paternity leave to speak to The Drum about his new role, it emerges that radio was not always his planned career.

“Radio Forth was launched in 1974, and I was born in 1973,” he recalls. “Forth celebrated 30 years last month, and I celebrated 31 just a few months earlier, so I’ve literally grown up with Radio Forth. And with my father working at the station, and working with radio, it’s almost like part of the furniture in my house. I never actually intended to go into radio. I actually had a position at Sandhurst lined up after I left school. I was schooled in Edinburgh and joined the Cadet core, and I thoroughly enjoyed that.”

However, killing time between the end of school and the Sandhurst intake, Findlay was sent by his parents to work at Central FM. “I was really annoying my parents, lying around the house and not doing anything constructive, so my father sent me off to Central FM to go and ‘help’, just to keep me occupied. I was literally just gofering and then one of the sales reps resigned, and I got chucked her keys and asked to go into the sales area to make sure that it was being looked after, and be a face there while they recruited somebody who was more capable and more skilled than I was.

“I did quite well at it, I was actually a natural people-person, and I enjoyed what I did and was very passionate and enthusiastic about it. Two years later I was still there. I haven’t regretted it ever, unsurprisingly.”

After a couple of years at Central FM, Findlay moved north to Radio Tay in Dundee, before relocating to the big smoke and working for a London advertising agency.

Subsequently moving back into radio, Findlay worked for US-owned company Katz, before Clear Channel acquired the company and took control.

By 2000 Findlay was head of Clear Channel’s sponsorship and promotions department. He was also married and looking to move back to Scotland, which coincided with an opening at Aberdeen-based Northsound.

Findlay joined the company as advertising director at a particularly challenging time. He explained: “I was appointed to the position in the wake of Northsound's largest local advertiser having gone bust that year. Anderson Cars were one of Scottish Radio Holdings' largest local advertisers, and it just happened to be that 90 per cent of it was spent on Northsound. So I took over as advertising director with the brief to make sure that the business proposition of Northsound was strong and robust, and we didn't have to be too reliant on any one source of revenue. We entered into a period of diversification in radio up at Northsound. In Aberdeen oil and gas is a big, big player and recruitment is one of the things that people spend a lot of money on. So we entered into the recruitment market and did different things. Then about 18 months later I was appointed managing director of the station, having got the business back on track. The brief was to relocate the business into new state of the art digital premises.”

A successful move later and it was time for another change, when Scottish Radio Holdings chief executive, David Goode, called Findlay and asked how he would like to “be dealt a curveball.” The curveball, of course, turned out to be the managing director’s chair at Radio Forth.

It’s a role, according to Findlay, which has many similarities with his previous position at Northsound.

Findlay commented: “The changes or the challenges, or the attributes that are required, aren’t wildly different from either role. I think there are differences with the stations, as opposed to the roles, and the differences in the stations is that Forth is obviously operating in a bigger, more competitive market.

“The Edinburgh audiences tend to be very highly demanding; they’re very transient by their nature. There’s lots of coming and going, with head offices being there, financial institutions basing themselves in Edinburgh, or at least having very strong representation still in Edinburgh. So the challenges that Forth presents, in terms of running a radio station, are different from Northsound; but the role is very similar.”

Forth is the market leader in its broadcast area, but it’s fair to say that the station is facing tough challenges from its competitors. The recent RAJAR audience figures revealed a further dip for Radio Forth, and the onus will now be on Findlay to turn this around. In his first few months in the job the new managing director has already made some changes. Findlay explained: “For a start Forth, uniquely, operates four-hour daytime shows. Which means that you’ve only got, between six in the morning and six at night, three presenters. I think that people’s apathy can be very quickly achieved, if you’re becoming very repetitive, or sound like you’re not doing anything that different.

“I can tell you that, for a start, we’ve changed the show structure in the daytime line-up of Forth One from four-hour shows to three-hour shows, which means we’ve now got four presenters on air. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s 25 per cent added-proposition to daytime, and I think that’s going to have an impact. I think people need to be entertained, not just informed. Reading out the time and the temperature is fine, but then everybody else is doing that. So we need to be doing something different.”

As well as increasing the number of shows on-air, Findlay has also changed the presenter line-up, introducing Paul ‘Greigsy’ Easton from Radio Clyde as the drive-time presenter and moving Sam Jackson from her previous late-night slot to a mid-afternoon show. Easton and Findlay have worked together before at Northsound, and he is not the only ex-Northsound alumni to be signed on by Findlay. The managing director has also poached, former Northsound programme controller, Luke McCullough to the Forth team, replacing Nik Goodman, who left for Capital Radio late last year.

Findlay is keen to point out that the station will continue evolving, and that future appointments will be in addition to the existing Forth team, not replacing it. However, he also points out that central belt stations could learn a lot from their regional counterparts.

“Northsound, as a station, has 56 per cent weekly reach. Forth has 29 per cent,” said Findlay. “So there’s a lot to be learned from the medium-sized stations. In the central belt, stations, in the past, have had a very aloof perspective: ‘We’re the big boys, in the big cities, and there’s nothing we can learn from the smaller stations.’ Well, most of the smaller stations have a higher market share than the central belt stations, so I think there’s a lot to be learned by looking elsewhere for staff. And there’s no shame in that, absolutely no shame in that, whatsoever.”

Despite an increasingly competitive market, however, Findlay has no immediate fears on the advertising revenue front. He said: “Advertising revenues within Edinburgh, and I think most of Scotland’s major cities, remains very strong. I’ve now got very close experience of two of Scotland’s major cities. They’re both very affluent, and I would say that advertising revenues in most of Scotland’s major cities have been very buoyant for some time. Edinburgh is no different. The thing that I least concern myself with when I wake up in the morning is advertising revenues.”

And despite the ongoing battle for audience figures Findlay claims he is also not worried about the newest entrant to the Edinburgh arena, Dunedin FM, expected to go on air later this year or early in 2006.

“Anyone that comes into the market and offers any alternative is going to have some sample pick-up; people are going to try it,” explains Findlay. “But I think the format that Dunedin FM won their license with is so different from what we are that they will be looking at other stations to get their audience from. The natural hunting grounds for Dunedin FM will be Radio Scotland, Five Live and, interestingly enough, Talk Sport. And it’s, of course, Kelvin Mackenzie’s consortium that won the Dunedin FM license.”

2005 is going to be a potentially tumultuous time for UK radio. With the relaxation of the ownership rules last year the landscape could be set for several major changes. Findlay believes that consolidation is the way forward for UK radio. He remarked: “If you look at television, TV generates something between £2.5 – 3billion of revenue in the UK. With the amalgamation of Carlton and Granada, and the remaining existence of Five and Channel 4 and Sky and so forth, in terms of actual sales people in London to chase £3billion worth of revenue you only have around 40 sales people. In radio we have had, until recently, circa 400 chasing half-a-billion pounds worth of revenue. So anyone who’s into bean-counting and abacuses will work out that radio could achieve greater profitability as an industry through consolidation.

“I think consolidation is something that has major benefits to the industry. We’ll wait and see, but I think the economic benefits and the operational benefits are very obvious.”

With a proven track record in London and Aberdeen, Forth’s new boss certainly seems to be qualified for the job. And with sights set on turning around declining audience figures in Scotland’s capital, he could very well be ensuring that the name ‘Findlay’ remains synonymous with Scottish radio.


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