Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum, Administrator

June 16, 2005 | 6 min read

BBC Radio Scotland’s new schedule was launched at the start of the week, to the fanfare of, well, at least some heavy promotion on the station itself. Last Saturday, Jackie Bird’s Choice Cuts devoted itself to trailing the revamped look and there have been frequent plugs elsewhere for the likes of MacAulay & Co and Gary Robertson, appearing not once but twice, at 9am and then three hours later.

The more cynical observer will argue that all that has happened is some superficial tinkering with a station that continues to have an identity crisis, not knowing whether it should be a Scottish Radio Four – with its flagship Good Morning Scotland a tartan version of the Today Programme – or a Scottish Radio Two, as evidenced by Tom Morton continuing to hold on to his 2pm to 4pm popular music slot.

Or, for that matter, a Scottish Five Live – in which case, Good Morning Scotland presenter, Derek Bateman, would need to develop a Nicky Campbell-style jauntiness. Were BBC Scotland to devote its medium wave broadcasts to speech only and its FM broadcasts to music only, there would at least be clarity of purpose.

The usual suspects certainly remain, but to suggest there has been no change would be to slightly misread what has been happening these last few weeks. Lesley Riddoch is on board but not in her previous incarnation, as host of the noon to 2pm slot; this time, she’s presenting a series of interviews. But it wasn’t that long ago that her no longer presenting her midday phone-in show was being viewed as an irredeemable breakdown in relations, a point of no return. But she’s back.

At the same time, Gary Robertson is being given new challenges, as is Fred MacAulay – he’s no longer riding solo. And then there are some new-ish voices, such as Muriel Gray and Clare Grogan.

Whether the new look reverses a recent dip in listener figures remains to be seen. But the truth is that the RAJAR numbers have, over the years, barely shifted. Under various heads of radio, they have hovered at around nine per cent of the total audience available.

When it comes to identity crisis on BBC Radio Scotland, it rarely got worse than on a Saturday afternoon during the summer. Without football to commentate on, there were all these hours to fill and seemingly little sport to fill them with.

Except that there usually was plenty of sport going on, it’s just that the station was nervous about them being so-called minor sports. Hence, previous abominations such as trying to mix sports results with music. Thank goodness, then, for the new courage shown last week and continuing tomorrow. Last week, a large part of the afternoon was given over to the Scottish rowing championships; tomorrow, it’s horseracing at Ayr. As Five Live has taught, there’s interesting programming to be found everywhere, not just in the bleedin’ obvious.

On Saturday, we learned that rowing has its share of interesting stories, compelling characters and fascinating facts.

So, congratulations are in order to those who have been pushing from within the Nation’s station that it really ought to fulfil its public service remit, but not in a patronising way, and get serious about all of Scottish sport.

A couple of years ago, a survey of Scottish sports revealed a huge – and wholly predictable – frustration with BBC Scotland’s coverage – on both TV and radio – of sport other than football.

Queen Margaret Drive’s relatively immediate response was to produce some late-night TV – midnight slots devoted to the likes of mountain biking and indoor rock-climbing – that will have doubly served the purpose of the BBC meeting an obligation to have a portion of its programming produced out-of-house.

Now, with the Main Event, you don’t have to be an insomniac. The next question is how Scottish sport will react to the opportunity. Can it deliver the story ideas? Crucially, is it prepared to programme its calendar to ensure a steady stream of events worth covering? Too often Scottish sport has been its own worst enemy when it comes to bunching events on the same – hopefully warm – summer’s day, at times that may be convenient to the competitors but are wholly impractical for the media.

Pity the poor reader of both the Sunday Times Scotland and Scotland on Sunday last week. On page two of the former, the claim that it was outselling its rivals. But hold on, wasn’t that what SoS was also claiming, on its page two?

It’s a classic case of the use and abuse of statistics. It really depends on what measure of circulation we’re talking about: those copies actively paid for, or those paid for plus those given away.

You know what I’m talking about: the give-aways to be found in a hotel lobby or by the aircraft door.

And the SoS figure – of 82,334 – includes those so-called ‘bulks’ – almost 2,500 – and, what’s more, also its sales outside Scotland. Meanwhile, the Sunday Times Scotland figure is Scotland-only and its bulks are so insignificant, it would suit it perfectly not to include them.

The ABCs provide succour for almost everyone. Most of us prefer the bulks stripped out of the figures; though – in its own puff – the Sunday Times Scotland deployed its own take on the numbers, by going for an average over the last six months rather than the last month.

Comparing like with like? You’re having a laugh. Meanwhile, only the other day, in the WH Smith at Heathrow airport terminal one, not only were copies of the Independent newspaper being given away at the counter, but anyone who accepted a free copy enjoyed the additional benefit of 65p – the Indy’s cover price – being deducted from the bill of whatever they were buying.

Mike Wilson is a director at the media website, www.allmediascotland.com


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