At 8.00am on 15 March, in front of a fleet of excited staff, media luminaries, chilled out musicians and an Adline journalist (who couldn’t quite believe what time it was) XFM hit the airwaves in Manchester. The city, famed for being the birthplace of some of the UK’s most celebrated bands, now has a station that promises to embrace the musical heritage of the past and ensure that new and current bands get the airplay they deserve.
But what will this mean for Manchester? Will XFM pull in an audience that’s big and wide enough to attract the most lucrative advertisers in the UK to spend big on airtime?
XFM won the licence on 9 June last year, fending off competition from 18 other bids, after it was felt that the station provided a genuine alternative to what was already on offer in the city. The decision mirrored the one made for the West Midlands licence bid in 2004, when rock music station Kerrang! Radio was chosen to broadcast to the region.
“Advertisers and listeners are increasingly looking for diversification, choice and a move away from any product that is homogenous in its nature,” remarked Ed Chalmers, head of agency sales for GCap Media. “I am sure Kerrang’s success did not harm our own bid.”
Rohan Lightfoot, a director at Mediavest Manchester, also believes Kerrang’s success may have been a factor in XFM’s win, however he doesn’t forecast it being easy to emulate Kerrang’s achievements. “In order to succeed commercially XFM has to attract a wider audience than the Manchester Music Mafia. Kerrang! has proved what rock fans already know, which is that a rock station can attract an affluent audience that spans a number of age groups from young hardcore live music fans through to aged dad rockers worrying about their Bon Jovi tickets for Wembley.
“There was clearly a massive void in the Manchester market for a station with the music remit that XFM could offer, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they will offer. The London station has never quite delivered the volume of audience to which it aspires and it won’t be any easier in Manchester if they get the music wrong.”
However, Chalmers believes the choice of XFM was a natural one and should prove successful given the musical ancestry of both XFM and Manchester. “XFM has its heritage deeply rooted in strong guitar-based music. If ever there was a brand match made in heaven it surely has to be XFM and the city of Manchester. Manchester has played a huge role in the development of British music over the last 20 years. XFM is the natural vehicle for this talent and was thus an appropriate choice for this licence.”
Initial feedback has reportedly been very positive, which will be music to the ears for media buyers and planners. Claire Garner, head of radio for MediaCom North, said: “The station sounds brilliant and delivers a real alternative to the listeners of Manchester. It’s great to have a station that really focuses on the city and the music it has produced and influenced. I think most of the stations in Manchester will be more than a little concerned about the effect it will have on their audiences.”
Mick Style, managing director of Mediaedge:cia, agrees wholeheartedly. He remarked: “The station sounds great on air and judging by the coach-loads of London media buyers at their launch party it should be a firm favourite amongst media buyers, which always helps the station’s potential.”
Chalmers reports that initial ad sales have been very encouraging for the station. “Initial ad sales have been very strong as advertisers look to hook into the excitement and feel-good spirit that has dominated the launch of this station.
“Advertisers are increasingly looking to buy into brands and the attitudinal attributes that this environment offers them. XFM provides an audience that is non-mainstream, upmarket, and increasingly credible. With a strong presence in London, Manchester and Scotland, advertisers are now in a position to buy into these values on a national scale.”
As well as catering for a largely untapped market within the city, XFM will be looking to steal listeners from other stations; namely the BBC. MediaCom North board director Paul Gibbon, who works on the firm’s broadcast accounts, said he and the team “...fully expect the station to arrest the flow of commercial audience over to the Beeb.”
Likewise, Style commented: “Few commercial radio station launches succeed in denting the BBC’s leadership in radio listenership. However, we do believe that XFM Manchester does have the ability to shave listeners off the BBC. It has a strong local feel, a music policy which has become more mainstream in appeal and in Paul Tonkinson, a personality who could well draw listenership from Chris Moyles!”
It’ll take time to see whether BBC Radio One’s dominance will take a hit as a result of XFM’s arrival, however there’s no doubting that XFM does diversify the offering in the city. The popularity of the music style on the station’s playlist, particularly in Manchester, should ensure that it finds an audience that advertisers will be delighted to be able to reach and media buyers keen to utilise.