Capital Radio

In 1990, I was working for the Bath Evening Chronicle, which at the time was a daily paper. Locally we competed for advertising with GWR which had a Bath opt-out, and to a much lesser extent HTV West our local ITV company.
Then in 1990, along came a new big station broadcasting across Bristol and Cardiff (and a bit of Bath) – Galaxy 101. Their first media pack was an expensive affair fashioned to look like an album cover – LP sized. I still remember being very impressed with it.
By the start of next year, none of those brands I’ve just mentioned will still exist in their previous guises. ITV long ago subsumbed local TV stations; the Bath Chronicle stopped coming out daily and dropped the word “evening”; GWR has become Heart; and Galaxy is shortly to become Capital. I should point out that Galaxy 101 long ago stopped being called that in the Bristol/Cardiff area, and is these days Kiss 101, which is true to its original format.
But this rebrand really is quite significant.
Not only are Galaxy Radio stations in Birmingham, Manchester, the North East, Yorkshire, South Coast and Scotland, all becoming Capital Radios, but additionally Cardiff’s Red Dragon will become Capital Wales, while RAM, Trent and Leicester Sound all merge to become Capital East Midlands.
None of this is unexpected. Global has been set to go down this path for sometime, with its massive Heart rebrand over the last year or so, including co-locating stations together and merging others. Ofcom’s rules dictate a certain amount of “local” programming, so like the Heart network, the new Capital stations will all have their own local breakfast and drive shows, with nearly all the rest of the stations’ programming coming from London where it’ll be shared with the mothership.
Ashley Tabor says that “Capital will be the first proper national commercial competitor that Radio 1 has ever experienced,” which to an extent is true. Virgin (and now Absolute Radio) was never a Radio 1 competitor – sitting between Radio 1 and Radio 2. And Capital is a very powerful brand name. While some might have believed that the plan might have seen the new name for the network to be Galaxy, that would have been devastating in London, where the brand has existed since 1972. The commercial radio market is vital with significant revenues being derived, so London does matter in this instance.
But there are some potential headaches with the name which will have to be carefully dealt with. How well known is the Capital brand recognised outside of London today? I can believe that fifteen or twenty years ago, visitors to London might have been keen to listen to a station like Capital with massive big-name DJs that they’d heard tell of. Don’t forget that this was a station that was once listed in those old BT Code Books – you could dial a number and listen to Capital Radio if you were outside London or even abroad! A very expensive way of getting your radio fix.
However, I’m not sure about the resonance of the name now.
In a Five Live interview this lunchtime on the Gaby Logan show (featuring one James Cridland as a contributor), there wasn’t a great deal of recognition of the Capital brand in Huddersfield.
More problematic is how the station might be received in Scotland or Wales. In Scotland, the station will be the latest in a long line of rebranding operations for a service that started out as Beat before changing to Xfm and finally Galaxy just less than two years ago. First there’s the fact that the majority of the station will come from London and almost certainly won’t have Scottish DJs during those time periods. The name “Capital” might be seen to refer to London, which won’t necessarily go down well with Scots. Don’t forget that Galaxy is already a station that shares much of its playlist with a national FM competitor that does come from London in Radio 1. Yet despite the adverts some listeners prefer Galaxy Scotland – although it’s perhaps not the most successful station in the current Galaxy network.
The other issue in Scotland is that Scotland has a capital city – it’s Edinburgh. Yet the vast proportion of the new Capital Scotland’s TSA is in Glasgow. There is just a small rivalry between the two cities. So will Glaswegians listen to a service that is a) perceived to reference Edinburgh or b) seem to come from London? That’s the significant challenge Global faces.
To a lesser extent, the same is true in Cardiff where Red Dragon – a station that references something on their national flag – is also going to be called Capital. It’s true that Cardiff is the capital of Wales, and I’m sure that positioning can refer to that. But again, the Welsh take pride in their locality, so it’s not a done deal.
Elsewhere, it should be a smoother transition since the music is identical anyway, and as the Capital and Galaxy brands have shifted over time.
But this does give Bauer, GMG and Orion some seriously good options. I’d expect that Forth and Clyde will shout out their 100% Scottishness. Orion will make more of its locality (although it doesn’t crossover completely with Global services) while GMG has kept Real, thus far, very localised, unlike what they’re doing with Smooth. And there are lots of smaller stations that can also shout about their localness and look to make gains.
Will they take on Radio 1 with this move? Well thew new combined Capital network will have 6.7m listeners compared with Radio 1’s 11.8m reach (Source: RAJAR, 6M weighting). So not quite, but certainly a significant size. If Global repeats the Heart trick, then it’ll work out well for them.
As for where people starting out in the industry go to learn their trade? Well that’s something I do worry about…
There’s lots to read elsewhere on web about this. But I’d point you towards Paul Easton, Matt Deegan and James Cridland who all have worthwhile things to say.

5 Comments

  1. I think this is really going to alienate a lot more of their audience than they think. Heart worked because it is really all-encompassing brand that can work anywhere, plus in a good few places the slick London content was replacing some dire local stuff.
    Here though you have a big problem firstly with the name, you mention the problem in Scotland and Wales but the fact a station in Leeds is going to be called ‘Capital’ makes no sense. Even if you think of it as the capital of the capital of the TSA then you’re going alienate those in the Sheffield’s and Middlesbrough’s of the country.
    I wouldn’t say that stations feel Northern at present but taking them from their massively successful Leeds base and transplanting them to London is going to change the sound of the station and will weaken the Capital in London because they won’t just be able to mention London casually without splitting links etc.
    You’re losing a massively popular brand in Galaxy which is already slick and perfectly targeted to start (what most will see as) a completely new brand in Capital.

  2. We have interesting precident in Capital Gold. At the time the AM frequencies were being networked, EMAP and GWR went for generic brands such as Classic Gold and Magic, while the Capital group went for Capital Gold. While the demise of the AM signal has seen general decline of all of these service, by far the worst performing following the rebranding was the ‘Capital Gold’ stations, often believed to be down to the London centric nature of the output and the obvious London-ness of the branding. Heart/Real/Smooth/Galaxy are non specific brands that could be from anywhere and relevant to all… Capital as a ‘brand’ doesn’t have that generic nature… unless of course your are from the 1930’s and you believe it’s a capital idea…

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