Absolute Radio

Shutting Down AM

Today, Ofcom published a short consultation based on a request from Absolute Radio to shut down a number of AM transmitters and reduce the power on some others.

In essence the request, which I confidently expect to be quickly agreed to, has three main details:

  • They want to close down completely 12 AM sites, and reduce the power of another 5 transmitters, leaving 20 transmitters in total.
  • These closures and reductions in power will see national AM coverage fall from 90.5% of the population to 85.4% of the population.
  • This would save Bauer Radio, Absolute’s owners, just over 50% of their costs.

So for a relatively small reduction in coverage, Bauer saves a lot of money for a service that is largely also available in one or more of DAB, FM, digital television or the internet in all the affected locations. I think it’s only fair to note that there are FM alternatives wherever the BBC is shutting down an AM station. But the point is still valid, especially with regards to music stations.

Bauer points out that the BBC has been shutting down a number of AM transmitters across its local radio network, and that AM music listening in particular is in massive decline.

This all seems eminently sensible to me. Indeed there’s a fairly incendiary line in Ofcom’s consultation:

“Absolute Radio has made these proposals in the context of declining listening to AM radio and increasing transmission costs and noted that, if it is not able to make these changes, it may have to consider shutting down Absolute Radio’s entire AM network and surrendering its national licence.” [My emphasis]

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that when I was previously employed by Absolute Radio, I too looked very closely at the AM transmitter issue, and we were also very close to shutting down the AM network and handing back the national licence.

While that might seem dramatic, in reality the business is driven by digital and FM. At the time FM was only in London, but Bauer switched its West Midlands licence to FM as well. And it had always been in the interests of first Virgin and later Absolute to transition its listeners to DAB as quickly as possible.

For me, the larger question is whether the entire AM network shouldn’t be shut down, allowing Bauer to make savings of those other 50% of AM costs?

Lots of stations are on lots of platforms, but there is a cost to every additional platform a station goes on, and most stations will try to break down those costs to come up with some kind of cost per listener-hour by platform.
For the average local station, for example, FM is relatively cheap. In many cases it’s a single transmitter somewhere on a hill, and the kit and running costs are relatively. For any transmitter you also have to factor in electricity costs, and these are also relatively low for FM.

AM transmitters require vastly more power, and the costs can be significant. DAB is relatively cost efficient, but it usually requires more sites than FM, with the advantage that digital transmission lets you “fill in” gaps without causing interference. You can’t do that with AM or FM, hence secondary analogue transmitters have to be on different frequencies.

It’s not always easy to figure out those costs per listener-hour since RAJAR doesn’t break things down to quite a low enough level. For example, if you broadcast on both AM and FM, RAJAR can’t really differentiate beyond making assumptions using geography. Similarly, there are several TV platforms (Freeview, Freesat, Sky, Virgin Media etc), but RAJAR just reports “Digital Television” in general. If your favourite station isn’t on your preferred TV platform, it might well be because the station can’t really work out whether it’s worth going onto that platform.

Returning to AM, and Absolute in particular, there are some interesting things in the consultation document. The sites that are proposed to be closed are largely in rural areas, those close to FM coverage, or those with high DAB penetration. Obviously Bauer has done a fair bit of analysis to come up with this list.

They estimate that 19,000 current listeners on AM will lose access to the AM signal following these changes. A small cost in listeners compared to monetary savings.

Ofcom notes that this represents 4% of the total AM audience of 472,000. But I think that Ofcom’s figure is slightly misleading, and it’s to do with the way that RAJAR is measured.

I would hypothesise that the actual number of AM listeners is much lower than this for a few reasons:

  • All local London stations, including Absolute Radio, report with a common London transmission area (TSA). Think of the area as essentially being that encompassed by the M25. But anyone who lives just outside the area knows that FM signals actually reach much further than that. It’s possible to just about listen to a London FM station all the way to Swindon as you drive down the M4. So an Absolute Radio listener, somewhere in the commuter belt around London, who listens on an FM radio, has to tick the FM/AM box in a RAJAR diary. And from a reporting perspective, they’ll be thought of as an AM listener. (You might ask why London stations don’t change their TSAs to accurately reflect their coverage, but these things are complicated – all the more so with the fact that London FM stations all use the same TSA to make it easier for London advertising agencies to reach the valuable audience. Outside of London, stations are far more likelier to fine tune their TSAs according to actual geography.)
  • RAJAR determines your listening dependent on where you live. That’s fine in areas where people don’t travel too far to work. But think of someone who lives in, say, Cambridge and commutes into London. If they listen to Absolute on an FM radio all day at work, analysis of their RAJAR data will that listening must be AM because of where they live. You might think this is an edge case, but London has a substantial commuter belt with hundreds of thousands coming into Greater London daily.
  • There will be similar, if less extreme, patterns around the West Midlands.
  • Finally, we know that respondents aren’t necessarily fantastic at filling out RAJAR diaries correctly, and while there are lots of checks to ensure that platforms are correctly recorded, I strongly believe that some listening recorded as AM/FM should actually be recorded as DAB. Most people don’t think about radio transmission formats as much as the average reader of this blog!

When you take into account all of that, I think you could substantially reduce the number of true AM listeners that Ofcom suggests Absolute has. Indeed it’s notable that Bauer doesn’t make this claim itself.

That’s not to say that these closures and reductions won’t have any affect. In rural areas, particularly those with lots of hills, AM (and LW) signals are about the only ones that get through. While the DAB has been built out to reach a large part of the population, there are still pockets with either only the BBC DAB multiplex or perhaps no DAB coverage at all. While satellite TV can fill in the gap at home, that’s not much use if you’re in a vehicle – especially one without DAB.

So turning off the AM network entirely would lose some listeners. But I suspect that it’s far fewer than the RAJAR numbers Ofcom suggests.

Finally, if Absolute was to hand back its AM licence, what would that mean? Well probably not a great deal for the station. It would continue on DAB and all the other platforms. It wouldn’t affect its FM listening in London or the West Midlands. Those are entirely separate licences.

But I believe that Ofcom would have to re-advertise the licence. I think primary legislation would require them to, whether or not they really wanted to. And I suspect that there would be a taker or two. The most obvious would be a Christian station – they often crowdfund their running costs. But there are others who would have a look.

This wouldn’t be a cheap option. Those electricity costs alone are significant. And it’s true that having that licence does allow the owner to get onto the D1 national DAB multiplex. That might be problematical in itself, since the mux is basically full!

And then there are the kit costs. One of the reasons Bauer gives for shutting down many of these transmitters is that the transmission kit is now very old. It dates from BBC ownership prior to the launch of independent national commercial radio, when those frequencies belonged to Radio 3. Replacing that kit is going to cost money, and it seems like an odd investment to be making in 2018.

By the way, have you actually tried to buy an AM radio recently? It’s not that easy…

D2: All Coming Together

US 2014-90

NB. This is not a DAB radio. The picture above is of possibly the most beautiful radio I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Nocturne, made in 1935 by a US company called Sparton and designed in Art Deco style by Walter Dorwin Teague. This one sits in the Wolfsonian museum in Miami. If you want one, there’s a YouTube video showing a 2012 auction with one going for $34,000, so you may have to start saving. This radio has a whole website dedicated to it, where you’ll notice that teaser adverts for forthcoming new models are nothing new!

In my recent RAJAR post, I wrote a little about the second national commercial multiplex – Sound Digital – which is due to launch from the 29th February (with some services launching across the following month).

The full line-up of services has been announced, and we’re now getting a drip-feed of more details about who will be on those services.

First properly out of the gate is the new TalkRadio. I’ve long thought that UK radio is under-served by speech, with essentially four national speech services currently available. LBC was very late in the day in going national, but it has made a good fist of it, and in particular has delivered a lot of publicity by making a virtue of giving politicians of all hues their own shows.

TalkRadio looks like it’s going to be quite similar, but perhaps a little lighter in tone. Paul Ross, who seems to have had stints on just about every station going, but most recently on BBC Radio London’s breakfast show, will helm TalkRadio’s breakfast. Then comes Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has previously done a similar show on LBC. Sam Delaney moves over from TalkSport, and then there’s Iain Lee, who recently had a run-in with BBC Three Counties and left, with a return to late-night on TalkRadio being the obvious gig. However, I really could do without George Galloway though who I find abhorrent, and who has a tendency to take cash from the Iranian and Russian governments via their state broadcasters as well as say obnoxious things.

With LBC filled with ex-politicians like Iain Dale, occasional Newsnight presenter James O’Brien, former Five Live breakfast presenter Shelagh Fogerty and of course, Nick Ferrari, it feels like a slightly more current affairs driven service than TalkRadio.

The proof will be in the pudding of course, and with Dan Walker off from Five Live to BBC Breakfast, listeners may be exploring their dials to find something new to listen to.

Of course Five Live and TalkSport do have the advantage of analogue carriage. If you want TalkRadio, or LBC outside London, you do have to listen on a digital platform. That will affect audiences – particularly in-car because while new cars now nearly all come with DAB, the vast majority on the road don’t have it. But late nights in particular are going to be really interesting.

Next out the block is UTV’s other big new station, the reborn Virgin Radio. Considering I spent much of my working life at the original Virgin Radio (It launched in 1993, and I worked there from late 1996 until it re-branded in 2008), you might think that I have mixed views about this, but to be honest I don’t.

The big questions for me were always going to be: What kind of service would UTV offer, and was the Virgin Radio brand a bit passé in the UK? The new version of the station is interesting because UTV is a partner with Bauer Media (and Arqiva) in the multiplex, and Bauer’s Absolute Radio is the evolution of Virgin Radio. Christian O’Connell, Geoff Lloyd and Leona Graham are still there from the Virgin days, all in key shows. You would imagine that many of those legacy Virgin Radio listeners are now Absolute Radio listeners.

And whisper it, but I’m not sure Virgin is quite the sexy brand it once was. It’s a transport and finance brand these days, rather than record label and record store. Yes Virgin Atlantic is aspirational, and Virgin Media does a decent job. But it does feel a bit tarnished. Even the potential of Virgin Galactic has not been achieved.

Then there’s the marketplace for where a Virgin Radio music service might fit. While Virgin Radio isn’t a prescriptive service that comes with a set playlist – stations in Dubai and Thailand show that local Virgin Radios can be whatever the market dictates there’s a space for – there was a serious question about whether a relaunched Virgin should be recognisable from before, or something new. Should it just be Virgin Radio about ten years older? Well eight years on, anyway. Or do you disregard what Virgin Radio meant as a brand to listeners in the past, and do something new? If you choose the latter, what is the point of retaining the brand? I suppose the thinking is that like a movie studio relaunching a popular franchise for a new generation, the same can be true for a radio station.

Although I did see a UTV presentation recently that noted the continued strength of the Virgin Radio brand, that perhaps wasn’t surprising given the station’s previous life, and the fact that it had a very successful run with Chris Evans at the helm. And anyone who’s been through a station re-brand will know that old brands live on much longer in listeners minds than marketeers might perhaps hope.

Then there’s the question of the wider radio landscape and a new Virgin Radio’s place in it. As well as Absolute, in broadly the same musical area, there is the new Radio X with its massive marketing budget and big-name presenters, and BBC 6 Music which gets larger all the time and is undoubtedly the “cool” station of the day.

The announcement of the new Virgin Radio line-up suggests to me that they’re actually trying something a bit different! I will admit that I was surprised that UTV let Johnny Vaughan up and leave for Radio X, when they’d had him on contract for TalkSport, but budgets are always finite, and UTV will undoubtedly hae some realistic audience targets that take account of their distribution. So instead it looks like Liam Thompson, Virgin Radio’s Programme Director, is trying something much more interesting.

Having former Radio 1 presenter Edith Bowman at breakfast almost seems like a direct response to the “male-ness” of Radio X, or at least the marketing surrounding that station’s launch.

And putting Kate Lawler in the afternoon slot – formerly of Capital, Kerrang and more recently Bauer’s Big City network – compounds that feeling. National radio is certainly too male, remaining the Achilles heel of Radio 2. Of course it’s disappointing that it should even need to be noted that 2 out 4 daytime presenters are women, but that’s a reflection of our industry today.

Also in the line-up are people I’m less familiar with like Jamie East and Matt Richardson, neither of who’s output I’ve ever seen. This also suggests, that I’m outside the target market for the new Virgin.

Rounding things off is Tim Cocker, who many were disappointed to lose when Xfm rebranded, as he lost his Manchester breakfast slot.

Overall, this is a much more interesting Virgin Radio than I’d envisaged. Again, my fear is that there could be too much congestion for audiences, so marketing for this and the other new stations will be imperative. Cross promotion on Talk branded services might not be enough.

I’m still curious to see exactly what TalkSport 2’s schedule ends up looking like, and whether it’ll be closer to Five Live Sports Extra (some extra programming, but lots of filler/repeats when there’s nothing new), or whether it’ll be more of a full-service. The next UK radio rights package for the Premier League has yet to be announced, and TalkSport might try to take a little more to put something on their new service. But Championship football might be more affordable at a time when the company is making a lot of investment in UK radio, and ridding itself of television.

What press there has been for TalkSport 2 mentions cricket, football, golf, horse racing, tennis, rugby and US sport. They launch at the Cheltenham Festival, and that might suggest that afternoons will have a lot of racing. Putting US sport on overnight might be a smart idea. Five Live Sports Extra covered the NFL this season, and in the past, the World Series has been broadcast. The radio commentaries exist, and with baseball, NBA and NFL (maybe even MLS), it could be as simple as retransmitting those commentaries. I speak as someone who once upon a time used to tune into distant Armed Forces Network programmes on AM to drift off to sleep listening to baseball.

Overall though, UTV should have a much healthier network offering to sell to advertisers, and given that most of the market is driven by large “share deals” for Global and Bauer, this is imperative for them.

Elsewhere, it’s very sensible that instead of the originally planned TalkBusiness, UTV has done a deal for the slot with London station Share Radio. Their challenge will be finding that business niche and monetising it.

From Bauer, we have not one, but two Magic spin-offs. Mellow Magic (or, as it was briefly, and bizarrely known, “Magic Mellow”) is to be joined by Magic Chilled, perhaps a little bit of one-upmanship against the upcoming Heart Extra back on Digital One. I confidently expect these to work precisely as Absolute Radio’s digital brethren work with its main brand. While it remains to be seen whether that includes changing the breakfast show music as Absolute does for Christian O’Connell, I would expect the same Magic presenters to be voice-tracking some more specialist versions of the Magic oeuvre, with perhaps a couple of new names helping out. The Absolute Radio Network model has proved itself.

The rest of Bauer’s services are either stations shifted from Digital One, to a perhaps more cost-effective platform, or moved up from local DAB multiplexes, where Bauer has a substantial shareholding.

Nearly all the rest of the DAB services on D2 are spin-offs of existing services. So Premier gets a second service, Premier Praise, as its main brand shifts multiplexes too. UCB 2 is another Christian service, previously available in London, while Sunrise and Panjab move up to a national platform.

The only other completely new service seems to be Awesome Radio (previously called British Muslim Radio), coming from the people who run Asian Sound Radio in Manchester. You would imagine that they will be able to utilise existing studios and personnel to keep costs reasonable.

Finally there are the two other new DAB+ services. When Sound Digital won the multiplex, they only talked about a single DAB+ service, whereas rival bidder Listen2Digital was talking of offering 4 DAB+ services. The fact that the Sound Digital bid won without a named service in place, and that subsequently it was advertising for services willing to run in DAB+ was perhaps a little concerning.

DAB+ has always been a chicken and egg situation in the UK. Because DAB has been around since the end of the nineties, many radios in UK homes do not have DAB+ compatibility. In territories where digital has been adopted more recently, DAB+ was offered from the outset. While more recent models have included DAB+, if only because the radios were built for more than just the UK market, it isn’t clear what proportion of radio sets in use today are DAB+ compatible.

So while I’ve no doubt there’ll be some rough numbers kicking around, produced with the help of manufacturers, it’s still a leap of faith for a broadcast who wants to go DAB+ only. Some radios might be upgradeable, since the choice about whether to include the DAB+ codec was really more about the intellectual property licences payable rather than the hardware required. But how many consumers will actually seek out that information, and go to the effort of plugging memory sticks into USB ports?

Sound Digital’s solution is to offer two existing relatively niche services in DAB+, as well as the new Magic Chilled. Jazz FM’s was once available on Digital One, but latterly it was largely available online, with only some local DAB coverage. Getting national coverage is good for the service.

It’s a similar story with Fun Kids. They target an audience that even RAJAR doesn’t properly measure, and so they need to be careful about how they spend money on broadcast transmission.

You would imagine that all three services are getting a “good deal” from Sound Digital, with everyone watching with interest to see how successful the services are. Because if DAB+ is actually available more widely than previously realised, then we can expect more services to switch to it. It’s a more efficient use of the limited data available in DAB multiplex, and can offer – shock – stereo sound at a more affordable price to stations. Stereo is especially important to Jazz aficionados!

For what it’s worth, I’ve been retuning some of my own DAB sets at home, which are largely Roberts models, to receive the test Waves and Waves+ test stations. All three of my main radios are DAB+. But none of them are especially old. Other, older radios await a retune.

[Updated to reflect that Magic Chilled is also in DAB+]

[Update: I’ve now tested all my radios and the results are here.]

RAJAR Q3 2015

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 8 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis in association with it. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

The end of October brings Halloween, and also the latest set of RAJAR numbers. Insert your own joke about the two of them here.

Let’s have a canter through the numbers and see how stations have done.

National Stations

At a time of intense scrutiny over Charter Renewal, BBC radio has had a really good RAJAR with increases nearly across the board.

Radio 1 has seen its second increase in reach in a row, heading over 10.5m listeners again, and even seeing a fractional year on year increase. Hours are very marginally down, and I fear that it will be this measure that people should really be looking at, or average hours per listener (currently 6.3) rather than reach itself.

Radio 2 has also recorded a second consecutive rise, and is heading back towards the dizzying heights of 15.5m listeners. Listening hours have fallen a little this quarter, but are still up on the previous year. The average Radio 2 listener listens for 11.8 hours a week.

Radio 3 experienced its traditional Proms uplift, and is once again just north of 2m listeners. While Radio 4 has also had a a decent result with 10.8m listeners, although like Radio 3, saw some listening dropoff over the summer.

Radio 5 Live is also looking to finally recover a bit from its big schedule changes, now a year ago. It’s back to 5.5m reach, although it’s still down on last year.

But it’s the BBC’s digital channels that really bear some examination, as they continue to grow massively. Radio 4 Extra has just broken its own record reach of a couple of months ago, with 2.2m people listening a week. Over on 5 Live Sports Extra, Ashes cricket would seem to have been the catalyst for yet another record reach for that station, with 1.7m listeners and nearly 7m hours (also a record). And 6 Music has also had record reach and hours with just fewer than 2.2m listeners a week, and it has passed 20m hours for the first time.

All of that means that BBC Radio accounts for 53.3% of all radio listening in the UK (with Radio 2 accounting for 17.5% on its own).

Does that mean commercial operators have had a dreadful quarter? Well not exactly.

Classic FM has had a very decent quarter, up 4.0% in reach to very close to 5.5m, as well as a similar increase in hours.

Talksport has also had an excellent quarter with a 3.9% increase in reach, taking it very close to 3.2m listeners. Indeed, both Classic and Talksport are very consistent players.

Absolute Radio has had an excellent quarter. It’s reach is up to over 2m for the first time since 2008 – in other words, for the first time since it rebranded from Virgin Radio. Hours are down a fraction, but that needs to be put into perspective with the network performance (see below).

Absolute 80s had a slight fall from last quarter’s record reach. On the other hand, Absolute 70s saw its reach climb to a new all time high.

Kiss had a good quarter, up 5.2% in reach, although listening hours fell. Like Radio 1, I fear that these need to be monitored very carefully.

Kiss Fresh did well getting over 500,000 again in reach, while Kisstory was flat at 1.3m.

Capital Xtra saw a big jump this quarter, up nearly 25% in reach, and nearly 20% in hours. I can’t really explain that change – although in the London market we’re used to that sort of thing.

LBC was flat in reach with just shy of 1.5m listeners – still equalling its record reach since turning truly national. Hours did dip a little however.

Xfm became Radio X on 21 September, the day after the end of this RAJAR quarter. As such, although Radio X appears in the survey for sales purposes, in actuality, it was recorded by listeners as Xfm at the time. But the impending closure of Xfm perhaps piqued listeners’ interest because reach across the network surged up to over 1m – a 14% increase on the previous quarter. Otherwise there’s simply no information in this survey as to how Radio X is performing.

Networks

As alluded to above, the Absolute Radio Network achieved a new all-time high of nearly 4.2m listeners. Hours dropped off a little, but the strength of digital performance has been key to Absolute Radio’s success.

The Capital Network has performed well this quarter up 4.9% in reach, and also seeing an increase in hours. In this period, Capital’s owners, Global Radio, bought Juice FM in Liverpool from UTV. The rebranding is apparently due for early next year, so look for the Capital Network to continue to grow.

The Heart Network also had a good quarter with its reach up 3% to just over 9.1m for the first time. It’s a new record for them.

Overall Global Radio now reaches 22m people a week listening for 194m hours.

Bauer Radio reachs 16.7m people listening for 146m hours. Both major groups are up. It’s a competitive landscape out there.

It’s worth noting that both Global and Bauer actually sell even larger audiences since they operate as sales houses for some other groups.

UTV is the third biggest group, and following the sale of the television assets to ITV, and that of Juice FM to Global, I would expect a corporate rebrand will be forthcoming, particularly with their D2 services due to launch next year. They did suffer a little unlike their big competitors, down 2.5% in reach, although broadly flat in hours. They reach 4.4m people a week delivering 32m hours.

Overall Radio Listening

Overall, radio listening is down a fraction on last quarter, but flat on the year. 89% of the population listen to the radio at least once a week, spending 21.6 hours doing so.

Breakfast

It’s breakfast that gets a lot of people excited, so here are a few highlights from this quarter.

Nick Grimshaw has seen his audience fall a small amount, with a 1.0% drop from last quarter, set against an overall increase for the station.

Chris Evans has also seen a a drop, losing about 275,000 listeners on the previous quarter.

The Today Programme on Radio 4 is of course the second biggest “breakfast show” in the country, and it has increased a little to nearly 6.8m listeners this quarter (up 1.2%).

In the commercial world Christian O’Connell saw a big jump, up 6.2% to 1.8m listeners across the entire Absolute Radio Network of services.

Aled Jones on Classic FM has nearly 1.7m listeners, up 1.8% on the last quarter. But Alan Brazil has seen his reach drop to just below 1.4m listeners on Talksport (again, against an overall station rise).

The Kiss breakfast nationally has fallen nearly 10% this quarter, and LBC will be disappointed with Nick Ferrari falling 12% this quarter to just over 900,000.

London

London listening is always interesting, with a competitive marketplace and a surprising degree of change from RAJAR period to RAJAR period (disturbingly).

The chart above shows the reach of the main commercial stations in London, as well as BBC London (or BBC Radio London as it is now known).

What this chart shows in particular is that Capital and Kiss are neck and neck in reach terms. In fact, Kiss shades Capital by 3,000 people this quarter. But Capital will also be able to say it’s the biggest [commercial] station in London with more listening hours than Kiss.

This chart also illustrates to what extent Heart’s reach has bounced around over the last few quarters. From a record low in Q3 2014, they bounced up in Q4, bak down in Q1 2015, then surged in Q2, before falling down again this quarter. You could make a decent rollercoaster out of Heart’s performance chart.

Otherwise LBC and Magic have had disappointing reach perforances this time out, with Absolute flat, and both Smooth and Xfm seeing increases – the latter again perhaps because of its imminent demise towards the end of this period.

Finally BBC London got its best result in a couple of years just ahead of its rebrand. There’s a new schedule coming there soon too, so it’ll be one to watch.

Finally, because people tend to forget it, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Radio 4 is actually the biggest station in London with 2.7m listeners and 31m listening hours (i.e. 3 times what the largest commercial station gets!). Radio 2 is actually number 2, while Radio 1 slots in behind Kiss, Capital and Magic.

Digital

The big news here is that 41.9% of listening to radio is now via a digital platform. This figure had been threatening to creep over 40% for a while, and it’s now onward to 50% which is what gets people talking about digital switchover in radio.

At the same time, those who say they listen via AM/FM has fallen to below 50% for the first time (The difference is made up of people who don’t state their platform).

Both DAB and internet listening are up to record levels with 27.7% of listening being via DAB, and 6.9% of listening via the internet, including mobile apps.

The chart above really makes clear the growth in internet listening, although broadcast DAB is still much more important.

The chart below shows listening through the day (Mon-Fri average) by the different platforms. AM/FM listening is the most normalised, while the morning and evening drivetime peaks for DAB aren’t as clearly defined because we’re less likely to have DAB in our cars.

Internet listening tends to be a post-lunchtime thing, with a peak at around 5pm. One could surmise that a lot of that is at work, but the listening on that platform continues into early evening.

On the other hand, digital TV has a clearly defined daytime trend.

Listening Location

It’s a while since I last looked at this, and although it rarely changes much, I thought it was useful to put some updated information out there on where people listen to the radio.

It doesn’t move around massively, with listening at home making up the vast majority of listening.

But with the growth of digital in-car offerings, as more and more people connect their smartphones to their car’s entertainment system (Or “infotainment” system as the manufacturers would have it), I thought it was worth seeing the extent to which internet listening in-car is growing.

We know that services like Apple Carplay and Android Auto are coming soon, and already in select models, so this will be something to keep an eye, particularly given the range of audio options the connected car will offer the driver.

The numbers are a little “fuzzy” since some of the sample sizes, particularly for 15-24s, are low. But this shows that digital is beginning to make an impact in-car, with nearly 20% of in-car listening being via a digital platform. That drops to just 1.0% for internet radio, although it’s 3.0% for the younger 15-24 demographic. Something to keep an eye perhaps, as people get better data plans, and they find it easier to hook-up their phones to their cars.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for analysis including London
Matt Deegan has some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s site.
Global Radio’s site.

[Updated to correct a 1Xtra/6 Music figure]

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 20 September 2015, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Super-serving Men 20-44

Today we finally heard a few details* about the relaunch of Xfm as Radio X. The much mooted re-branding sees Chris Moyles take over breakfast, with Vernon Kay on mid-mornings and Johnny Vaughan on drive.

Jon Holmes will move to weekend breakfast, when Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs (and The Voice) will have a show. While I’ve not seen the full schedule, it’s clear that some people will be staying and others going – Eddie Temple Morris will be taking his long-running The Remix show to Soho Radio for example.

The station will also be going onto the national D1 DAB platform – albeit another mono station – where it’s replacing Teamrock.

Re-brands are never easy, since audiences hate change. A quick glance at Xfm’s Facebook page shows that. But Global know what to expect – they’ve re-branded much of the UK’s commercial radio output over the last few years, as they built the Heart and Capital networks.

But sad though it is for those who love the station as it is now, something really had to be done with Xfm. Essentially it has been a bit of a basket case for a while, not getting to a million listeners in a while, and suffering especially in the London marketplace. And it’s notable that the small Paisley FM licence has been handed back to Ofcom.

That’s not to say that those that listen don’t love it. They don’t want changes as they like it as it is. But with lack of investment and a resurgent 6 Music becoming the “cool” station, it couldn’t easily carry on as it was.

One place that Xfm has actually always done well in is the advertising community. Advertisers love being involved in cool brands. And over the years, despite poor listening figures, Xfm was able to captialise on that. The audience may be small, but it was passionate and otherwise hard to reach. So like those strange magazines that seem like bastard children of Nathan Barley’s Sugar Ape, selling virtually no copies but being very profitable, so was Xfm able to get by. But following its threatened closure, it was 6 Music that had the kudos. And that’s what Global needs to get back.

It’s been reported that Moyles want’s to double Xfm’s audience. To be honest, that should be achievable considering the starting point. And it doesn’t actually have to do as well as 6 Music in audience terms to be a success. The BBC can’t take advertising, but Radio X can.

The wider question is what this means for its target audience. The press release for Radio X says that it will be “a completely new national music and entertainment property for 25-44 year old men.”

Well that’s essentially the same demographic that Absolute Radio is already targeting and has been for many years.

And there’s there the forthcoming version of Virgin Radio, from UTV and the Virgin Group in the new year. We are again promised a service that will target 25-44 year olds.

That’s suddenly a lot of stations all targeting the same people.

But just because you’re targeting the same audience, it doesn’t mean that the music will be the same. The Radio X press release says they’ll be playing: “Florence And The Machine, Mumford And Sons, Blur, Arctic Monkeys, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Maccabees, Radiohead, Nirvana, The Smiths, Royal Blood, Kasabian, Catfish And The Bottlemen and Kings Of Leon.”

Except that all bar five of those artists appear in the top 40 most played artists on Absolute Radio according to Comparemyradio. And of the remaining five:

– Absolute Radio plays Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds more than any other service on Comparemyradio
– Absolute Radio is the third biggest player of The Maccabees and Royal Blood
– Absolute Radio is the fifth biggest player of Nirvana after stablemates Absolute Radio 90s, Absolute Classic Rock, Kerrang! and Planet Rock

Only Catfish and the Bottlemen haven’t been on Absolute Radio is the last 30 days. But then, of the stations Comparemyradio measures, they’ve only had a handful of plays on TCR and Radio 1 period. (Note that Xfm isn’t currently monitored by Comparemyradio).

In other words, this isn’t going to be an entirely unique sound.

And as a commenter on Digital Spy noted, there is some disparity between the a station who’s character of service claims its targeting 15-34 year olds, and one who’s commercial aim is to target men 25-44.

So Global is starting over. From the characters of the presenters in the key drive slots, you’d imagine that speech will be as important as the music they play – and that’s ever more true amongst an audience that is perfectly able to find music on its own without the help of a radio station.

To go for a full rebrand would suggest that they feel the need to leave the Xfm brand behind. It just isn’t cool and can’t regain that coolness. I think what’ll be important is how they market the station. Global isn’t scared to spend a lot of money on marketing and we’ve seen big and bold commercials for the Heart and Capital brands. Radio X will be harder. For example few stations truly advertise nationally on television, even if they’re national brands like Global’s because it’s very expensive to do that. I would imagine that much of the Radio X budget will go towards its FM sites in London and Manchester. While both are highly competitive radio markets, it’s the obvious starting point (and the ad agencies are in London which is important). But digital marketing will also be key for this audience.

Anyone looking for Moyles to repeat what he did at Radio 1 would be foolish. That audience has moved on. I wouldn’t expect to see anyone too worried at Radio 1. But it will be interesting to see what Bauer does to combat the threat, particularly to Absolute Radio. It does have its successful Absolute Radio Network to support it, but this probably represents the biggest direct competition the station has had in its history. I wonder if there will be any marketing budget released to compete a bit.

* Incidentally, Global really needs to redesign its corporate site. It’s just dreadful for navigation, and not remotely responsive in design.

Farewell One Golden Square

Today is my final day at One Golden Square.

After more than 17 years of Virgin Radio and Absolute Radio, I’m off to do new things. I’m not going to be able to begin to tell you what a great time I’ve had. In all that time, nearly every single person I’ve worked with has been excellent.

I joined Virgin Radio in November 1996 at a time when Russ and Jono were on breakfast. People like Robin Banks and Mark Forrest were also on the station. Alan Freeman did the Friday Rock Show and Paul Coyte presented the London only show that our FM licence required us to run.

I came from local newspapers and besides being an assiduous radio listener (I’d listened to Virgin’s test transmissions back in 1993), I knew nothing about how it worked – how programmes were really made, how radio was sold, or how ratings – RAJAR – was compiled. I was actually quite shocked that a team of around 70 was all that was needed for a national radio station when it took several hundred people to produce and print a local evening newspaper.

For those of you who’ve never been here, One Golden Square is an eight story building including the basement. At various times, the station has been tenants of some or all of those floors. When I started, you had to get in the lift and head to the second floor for reception. The company had floors 2-4 and 6. There was a TV edit facility on the first floor, and a certain H Bauer had the fifth floor.

Over the years, the station has been sold four times. Capital Radio tried first of all, but then Chris Evans’ Ginger Media Group gazumped Capital while the competition authorities did their thing. Chris cashed out with a sale to SMG (now STV), although that all famously ended a bit disatrously for him with a big and expensive court case. Then the Times of India came along, bringing with them, Clive, Donnach and Adrian. And Absolute Radio was born. And now, from the start of this year, Absolute Radio is part of Bauer Media.

In all that time One Golden Square managed to maintain a certain atmosphere. Partly because of its nature, and partly due to its size, it meant that most people knew most other people. And quite often you’d drink with them in the same pub after work – The Midas Touch is sorely missed. This isn’t just a social thing, it means that diverse teams of people talked to one another even if they wouldn’t ordinarily have much to do with one another inside the workplace. And that sparks some great ideas.

While for the most part I’ve sat alongside the sales team, helping out with commercial research alongside my other responsibilities, I’ve also sat alongside programming – having a desk adjacent to Brian and Roque when they worked on the breakfast show together was an interesting experience. Maybe it’s because I’m innately nosey, but it’s proved really useful trying to tie together disparate parts of the business and create some of those links.

There are way too many stories to tell right now, but here are two of my favourites.

Sometime around 2001, we’d done a deal at Virgin Radio to let Levis make a weekly radio programme called Global Sound Kitchen. It was dance music – definitely not something that Virgin Radio would ordinarily play. But in fact, the show wasn’t being broadcast on our transmitters. Instead, we’d licenced some space from Merlin Communications, the company that by then ran the BBC’s overseas transmitter network for the World Service. So this dance music show was being broadcast on shortwave. Anyway, a trip was pending to Cuba – being both a holiday and a stag do (yes – that does make it the most outrageous stag ever). We had some credit with Merlin, so I made a half hour radio show featuring Virgin out-takes, some favourite songs, a message from the “hen” and other bits and pieces. I put it onto Mini-Disc as required by Merlin. And so it came to pass that in the Hotel Nacional in Havana, we crowded around a shortwave radio with antenna hanging out the window, and listened to our very own programme beamed into Communist Cuba!

Then there was the time that one of my favourite bands, the Cowboy Junkies were coming in to record a session for Nick Stewart’s Captain America show on Sunday nights. Essentially, it was just the band, a producer, and me listening to the short session. Afterwards I got an album signed and was very happy. Unfortunately, the entire show got cancelled a day later, and as a result the session never aired anywhere. I do of course have what is probably now the only copy!

It’s obviously all change now. The difference between this sale and those that have gone before it is that Bauer is already a major player in the radio marketplace. I’m sure in due course, we’ll get certainty over who’s working in what building. But change was inevitable, and I hope that as much of the Virgin/Absolute Radio ethos can be carried through.

UK radio is going through a lot of change. We’ve now got certainty for the future of the stations that Global was prevented from fully owning by the OFT. I know it’s been a tough time for those working at Real and Smooth over the last few years. There’s been the growth of digtial sub-brands – led by Absolute 80s. From Kisstory to CapitalXtra, these are helping to drive digital listening and providing commercial impressions for those stations to sell (I love radio, but there is an imperative to make money – otherwise the stations just won’t exist).

Then there’s the challenge of new “radio” services. As Spotify, Blinkbox and Rdio co-opt our terminology, this is undoubtedly the biggest struggle that radio has ever had to face. Where once there was a delineation between music a listener bought and music they listened to on the radio, today those things are merged. Anyone who believes otherwise just needs to spend some time with teenagers to see how they use various services. And look for a radio in their bedroom while you’re at it. Getting younger people to listen to the radio is going to be a challenge. And we’re waiting – perhaps not with bated breath – for Apple to launch iTunes Radio in the UK. It’s going to happen – and probably very soon!

But we’ve also got the continued growth of DAB. Certainly it could be faster. Yes, I wish more services were in higher quality. However FM is full, and without DAB we’d not have Absolute 80s, 6 Music, 5Live Sports Extra, or a national LBC. And I also know that listeners love the new services. And while the internet will at some point usurp broadcast, we’re a way off that. You have to pay for the internet, and it’s not universally available – particularly in cars where 20% of our listening happens. Poorer people and those in more rural areas either don’t have it at all, or struggle to receive decent connectivity. Broadcast is here for a while.

2014 will see Ofcom advertise “D2” – a second national commercial multiplex. This is an opportunity for smaller services to step up nationally and for new stations and formats to launch. Hopefully it’ll provide some price competitiveness and keep the costs as low as possible for services.

So it’s still an exciting time for radio. There will be challenges, but also opportunities. In many respects, I think of the On/Off switch on a radio as the “Entertain me” button. It takes little effort on the user’s behalf, but they get hours of free music, speech, information and above all, entertainment. The cost base will always be challenged, whether from a new round of Licence Fee negotiations or from digital interlopers trying to reduce the advertising spent on commercial services. But that’s a fight I think most are ready for.

Finally, to give you an idea of the spirit of One Golden Square, I put together a little “best-of” video as a sort of leaving gift. Apologies to Bob Dylan for co-opting his song. The video doesn’t include nearly everybody, and while I shot a lot of it, I didn’t shoot everything (notably the ads).

One Golden Square – 1996-2014 from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

As for me?

Well in the very short term, I’m spending a month touring the US. I shall almost certainly be listening to a lot of radio and audio while I’m out there. They make the miles fly by. This blog is highly likely to take a change in direction towards being a travelogue while I’m away.

But it will of course be continuing in its slightly odd radio/photography/video/media/cycling/rants form once I return.

Once I’m back in the country I’ll be looking for something new to do. Feel free to get in touch.

If you want a bit more on the history of the place, I’ve written quite a lot in the past.

Here’s a Virgin Radio star that I made in 2008:

I collated many Virgin Radio ads together here and here.

I put together a brief history of Virgin Radio over for the One Golden Square blog, which I republished a day or so ago

And I wrote a piece on the history of Golden Square itself also republished this week.

A Brief History of Virgin Radio

[Republished from 2008 after first appearing on the One Golden Square blog]

So as the lights come down on 15 and a bit years of Virgin Radio, I thought it might be worth giving everyone a whistlestop history of Virgin Radio – how it came about and some of the things that have happened here over the years.

virgin-stars

1990-92

Virgin Radio really started with the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which for the first time allowed national commercial radio services to come into existance. Up until that point, there’d only been local stations, with regional ones to follow. The BBC was the UK’s only national broadcaster.

The Broadcasting Act wanted to introduce a diversity of services, so of the three services that were to be licenced “one is a service the greater part of which consists in the broadcasting of spoken material” and “another is a service which consists, wholly or mainly, in the broadcasting of music which, in the opinion of the [Radio] Authority, is not pop music.” This restriction is still in place and these services are today known as TalkSport and Classic FM.

Entertainingly, the Act defined “pop music” so that no wily service operator should later turn Classic FM into a rock or pop format. It was defined as including “rock music and other kinds of modern popular music which are characterised by a strong rhythmic element and a reliance on electronic amplification for their performance (whether or not, in the case of any particular piece of rock or other such music, the music in question enjoys a current popularity as measured by the number of recordings sold).” So now you know.

The licence that was to become Virgin Radio was to broadcast on the old Radio 3 AM (or Medium Wave) frequency. In those days, it was also used to broadcast cricket commentaries during the summer.

In total there were five bidders, including Virgin Radio which at the time was a 50/50 joint venture with TV-AM. The bid wasn’t the highest, but Virgin Radio got the nod when the company that bid the most was unable to come up with the cash they needed to launch the service. Virgin Radio moved from temporary offices in TV-AM’s Camden Lock building to No. 1 Golden Square where studios were built, and where the station has been since day one.

1993-4

On 30 April 1993, Virgin Radio started broadcasting at 12.15pm from the Manchester Virgin Megastore. Richard Branson launched the service and back in London Richard Skinner played a cover of Born To Be Wild which had been especially recorded by INXS.

Other DJs who broadcast on that initial schedule included Russ Williams who presented the breakfast show on his own, Mitch Johnson in the afternoon, and Tommy Vance on drive. Nick Abbot was on late nights, and on Saturday mornings Chris Evans presented The Big Red Mug Show. Over DJs on that first schedule included Kevin Greening, Emperor Rosko, Graham Dene and Jono Coleman.

Image

Fairly soon after launch Chris Evans had left the station, and Jono had joined Russ on breakfast to form the Russ ‘n’ Jono breakfast show. But at a managerial level, the fight was on to get Virgin Radio onto FM in London. The only national commercial FM service had been awared to Classic FM, but the Radio Authority was still licencing new services in London and elsewhere.

russ-and-jono-and-kylie

1995-6

By 1995, the campaign had born fruit and Virgin Radio was launched on 105.8 FM from 10 April that year, beginning with a message from David Frost at 6am followed by the Russ ‘n’ Jono breakfast show. Part of the licence requirements for the London service meant that a daily London “opt-out” was broadcast on FM, presented initially by Roland Rivron.

roland-rivron

In mid-1996 Virgin Radio launched its first website and began streaming – making it the first radio station in Europe to be available to listen to via the internet.

And Russ & Jono won Virgin Radio’s first ever Gold Sony Radio Award for a music based breakfast show. Virgin Radio also won the On-Air Contest/Competition Award for a competition based around the opening of the film Apollo 13 in cinemas.

4x4s-and-helicopter

1997

Then in May 1997, it was announced that Virgin Radio was being sold to Capital Radio, the group that owned the flagship commercial radio station in London and a number of other cities including BRMB in Birmingham, and Red Dragon in Cardiff. Because of the size that the new business would be, the merger was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) in July that year, before the deal was actually allowed to go through.

In the meantime, Virgin Radio scored something of a coup by signing up Chris Evans to present the breakfast show with his old team from Radio 1. Evans had previously presented Channel 4’s Big Breakfast before presenting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show from where he’d been fired at the start of 1997. Now he was being brought to Virgin Radio on an initially limited contract basis.

chris-evans-broadcasts

Quickly realising that he liked the relative freedom Virgin Radio offered him, he entered into discussions with Virgin Group and agreed to acquire Virgin Radio for £85m via Ginger Productions the company through which he was also making TFI Friday for Channel 4. He was able to do this because the MMC investigation had effectively put Capital’s merger on hold. But there was nothing Capital was able to do, and the deal was completed ahead of the MMC report that said that Capital would either have had to divest itself of Capital Gold or Virgin Radio FM on completion.

On-air, the station briefly split its AM and FM services during daytime, but by Christmas 1997 they were back together as a single service. 1997 also saw Virgin Radio win a Sony Award for its On-Air Station Image, and was the joint winner of the Themed Music Programme award for Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s Friday Night Rock Show.

fluff

1998

1998 saw Johnny Boy’s Wheels of Steel show start, and the on-air positioning statement was changed slightly to “Classic Tracks & Today’s Best Music” – dropping “Album”. Jonathan Ross began his radio broadcasting career on Virgin Radio in March 1998, and the following August Rock ‘n’ Roll Football began on Saturday afternoons.

wheels-of-steel1

The autumn of 1998 saw another first for Virgin Radio as Sky One started simulcasting the breakfast show each morning for an hour between 7.30 and 8.30am. When a track was played on the radio, viewers would see a video at the same time. Remote-controlled cameras were installed in the studio as well as a roving cameraman. Chris Evans was a Bronze Sony Award winner for his breakfast show, but he won the overall Gold Award that year as well.

virgin-football-team

1999

Pete & Geoff joined Virgin Radio from Key 103 in January 1999 presenting their evening show at 6.45pm if you lived outside London and from 7.30pm if you lived in it (Paul Coyte was by now presenting the London opt-out show). Jonathan Ross’ time at Virgin Radio came to a finish at the end of January, and Gary Davies joined as a late night presenter in March that year. Meanwhile Harriet Scott started presenting TFI Nightly as the London opt-out show.

terry-venables

By July 1999, the Virgin Radio website had reached its third major version with new streams being introduced, and the start of the new football season in August saw Terry Venables join Russ Williams in a show that would precede Rock ‘n’ Roll Football.

In November 1999, Digital One launched which meant that for the first time, Virgin Radio was available nationally on DAB offering a superior sound quality to those outside London. Although initially radios were very expensive, they’ve gradually come down in price over the years, and as they’ve done so, more people have been able to listen to the station via DAB.

At the end of 1999, with the TV programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire having not given away its top prize, Virgin Radio became the first radio or TV station to make a listener a millionaire as it gave away £1m to 35-year old Clare Barwick at the culmination of “Someone’s Going To Be A Millionaire.” A week later, someone won a further million on TFI Friday.

millionaire

2000

Then in January 2000, Scottish Media Group announced that it had reached agreement to takeover Ginger Media Group including Virgin Radio. As well as owning STV and Grampian in Scotland, they then also owned Pearl & Dean, the cinema advertising company, a poster company called Primesight, and the Glasgow Herald newspaper group. The takeover was approved in March of that year and the new owners moved in. March also saw The Radio Authority fine Virgin Radio a then record £75,000 for a breach of impartiality following Chris Evans’ support of Ken Livingstone as he ran for Mayor of London.

In April, Leona Graham joined the station, taking over from Gail Porter who had been covering weekend evenings.

In June 2000, the second London DAB multiplex formally launched including Virgin Radio Groove as the first digital spin-off service. The first song played was ABC by The Jackson Five. This was also important because Radio Authority rules meant that services that broadcast on DAB had FM licence extentions automatically added. By November 2000 Virgin Radio Classic Rock had launched as an initially online service.

2001-2

On the 28th June 2001, Virgin Radio confirmed to the media that “Chris Evans is no longer a presenter at the station.” Following widely reported media coverage of his absence, the management felt unable to keep him on as a DJ.

Steve Penk, Virgin Radio's new breakfast show host.

Steve Penk joined Virgin Radio in July that year, and began his stint on the breakfast show, and June 2001 also saw Ben Jones join Virgin Radio.

ben-_and_chad_kroeger

Daryl Denham joined the station in January 2002, initially presenting the drivetime show, but then was parachuted into breakfast a few weeks later. Also in January 2002, the third London DAB multiplex, DRG, launched, including a service owned and operated by Virgin Radio called Liquid.

team000

2002 also saw Jezza – aka Jeremy Kyle – joined Virgin to present his late night Confessions programme. And Jon Holmes was sacked, and the station fined £75,000 for playing a late night game on-air called Swearword Hangman with a child. Meanwhile Pete & Geoff won the Gold Sony Radio Award for Music Programming.

pete-geoff-paul-mccartney

2003

January 2003 saw Pete & Geoff move into the breakfast show slot, with Daryl Denham moving across to Drive. In the meantime legal proceedings were moving apace, and in June 2003, Mr Justice Lightman ruled that Chris Evans was not entitled to any damages for being sacked by Virgin Radio. Indeed at a hearing the following month, the court ordered him to pay Virgin Radio’s court costs.

The internet was moving apace, and a fifth version of the Virgin Radio website had launched by November 2003. Meanwhile Liquid was replaced by Virgin Radio Classic Rock on DAB in London and online. The first record played by the station was the original version Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf. Richard Skinner was once again the first voice of the station, with Leona Graham presenting the following show.

leona-graham-in-studio-3-june-2003

Dominic Mohan won Virgin Radio a Gold Sony Award for his Who Special, while Ben Jones won a Bronze for Virgin Superstars.

2004-5

In June 2004, Jezza’s Confessions programme ended. Then in April 2005, it was announced that Fru Hazlitt would become Virgin Radio’s new CEO. In September that year, Virgin Radio Xtreme launched, and on 16 December, Pete & Geoff presented their final breakfast show by inviting listeners off the streets and into the studio. Many took up the opportunity!

img_8408

2006-7

The 23rd January 2006 saw Christian O’Connell present his first Virgin Radio breakfast show having joined from Xfm, and Geoff moved to a new late night slot. In July, Virgin Radio launched on Freeview meaning that the service was now available on all the digital TV platforms as well as many other platforms.

christian_studio_06

In August 2006, SMG confirmed that it had received a merger approach from UTV plc, owners of TalkSport amongst others, in which SMG shareholders would receive a 50% interest in the merged entity. By September, merger talks were off, but following a profits warning from SMG in October, the merger talks between the two were back on.

In February 2007, the merger talks were off once more, and there was a major reorganisation of the SMG board as a new Chairman and CEO were put in place. SMG now announced that there would be an IPO of Virgin Radio.

Meanwhile, Christian won a Gold Sony Award for Who’s Calling Christian.

2008

The 2008 Sony Awards saw Geoff win a Bronze for Music Personality of the Year.

On 30 May 2008, SMG announced that it had agreed to sell Virgin Radio to TIML UK Ltd, a division of the Times of India group of companies. This sale was completed on the 30th June 2008, with a new management team in place comprising of Donnach O’Driscoll, Clive Dickens and Adrian Robinson. The sale did not include the rights to continue to use the “Virgin” name, and so 1 September 2008, the new name of Absolute Radio was announced.

This Monday at 7.45am, we officially become Absolute Radio (as well as Absolute Classic Rock and Absolute Xtreme). So that brings us up to date. From this coming Monday morning, the start of the new era of this station begins as we become Absolute Radio.

[Obviously there are another five years’ of history to be added to this story at some point!]

A Brief History Of One Golden Square

Republished and slightly updated from 2008 on the One Golden Square blog.

Absolute Radio is based at One Golden Square, and Virgin Radio has been based at the same address since its launch in 1993. Golden Square is in the heart of Soho, and it actually has some fascinating history including a wonderful musical past in this very building.

Today when you head into London, you may well head towards the West End to shop or visit cinemas or theatres, but of course, London grew out of the City which is east of where we’re based.

There’s a great book called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson about the last great cholera epidemic in London, in the part of Soho surrounding Golden Square, detailing how the disease was finally understood to be spread by contaminated water.

An early paragraph in the book sets the scene:

In the middle of the Great Plague of 1665, the Earl of Craven purchased a block of land in a semirural area to the west of central London called Soho Field. He built thirty-six small houses “for the reception of poor and miserable objects” suffering from the plague. The rest of the land was used as a mass grave. Each night, the death carts would empty dozens of corpes into the earth. By some estimates, over four thousand plague-infected bodies were buried there in a matter of months. Nearby residents gave it the appropriately macabre-sounding name of “Earl Craven’s pest-field,” or “Craven’s field” for short. For two generations, no one dared erect a foundation in the land for fear of infection. Eventually, the city’s inexorable drive for shelter won out over its fear of disease, and the pesthouse fields became the fashionable district of Golden Square, populated largely by aristocrats and Huguenot immigrants. For another century, the skeletons lay undisturbed beneath the churn of city commerce, until late summer of 1854, when another outbreak came to Golden Square and brought those grims souls back to haunt their final resting grounds once more.

In other words, Golden Square is built over the dead bodies of four thousand people who died during the plague 340 years ago.

The map extract below from 1658 shows the edge of the city of London as it then was. Golden Square is somewhere near the windmill in the top-left hand corner of this image – a field in countryside. The crossroads just below it is now Piccadilly Circus, while the bottom right hand corner shows Charing Cross.

map1658-450x360

Having been known as Pesthouse Field following the burying of the plague-bodies, it then became known as Gelding Close because horses had been kept thereabouts. It’s also thought possible that there was a tavern called the Gelding.

But as the area was divided into plots, the new residents thought that Gelding Close wasn’t refined enough for them and the name had been changed to Golden Square by the early eighteenth century.

The map below shows how all the plots were divided up, and it’s thought that Sir Christopher Wren might have had a hand in determining how this happened. Buildings on the plot had to be of high quality, made from brick or stone. There had to be “substantial pavements” and “sufficient sewers”, while “noysome and offensive trades” would not be tollerated (In Soho? Never).

As you can see, plot 1, was then, as it still is, in the top right hand corner of the square.

goldensquaremap-330x450

One Golden Square was one of the last sites to be developed with the first building going up in 1705/6.

The first occupant of the building was Lord Maudaunt, but he spent most of his time fighting wars in the Low Countries with the Duke of Marlborough’s armies. Then the 4th Lord Byron – an ancestor of the poet who would be born a hundred or so years later – lived here for a while, before the building and several adjoining ones were bequested to a foundation that provided scholarships to children of the poor. The Bishop of Salisbury also resided here temporarily.

Between 1794 and 1861 a certain William Stodart took up residence – beginning the site’s musical heritage. His firm made harpsichords and pianos; there were a number of makers and manufacturers of the instruments based all around the square including the famous Broadwood firm who had a warehouse at number 9.

stodartgrandpiano

Stodart’s father, Robert, patented the first “Grand” piano a few years earlier, while William Stodart patented the “Upright” piano.

stodartpiano

Stodart’s piano was described by a competitor as “a new mechanism which combined the utility of a bookcase with the musical use of this odd piece of furniture.”

stoddartglab

There’s still a heritage of musical instruments in the square with Foote’s music shop at number 10 [2014 Update – this has now moved to Store Street].

Charles Dickens used Golden Square as the home of Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’ antagonistic uncle in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby which was published in 1838/9. Dickens also reflects the square’s musical links in this description of the square from the novel:

Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practising vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.

By the turn of the twentieth century Golden Square was at the heart of the textile trade with a tweed manufacturer taking residence, Henry Ballentyne & Sons. But in October 1913 the building was badly damaged by fire and was finally demolished in 1927 before being rebuilt as it is today.

[2014 Addition]

During the Second World War, the poet, Dylan Thomas, worked on scripts for propaganda films at a company called Strand Films. He sometimes took a turn on the roof of 1 Golden Square looking out for fires during the raids. Although it seemed he had other reasons to be up there.

Adam

For more information, as well as the book mentioned above, you can read about the history of Golden Square at British History online. And thanks should also go to an un-named local historian who wrote into the station many years ago with some background history. And thanks to Lee Price for the photo of the Stodart piano detail.

#radiodetritus

This week is my final week in One Golden Square. More about that anon.

However, one of those things you have to do when you leave, is have a bit of a clear out. One way or another, I’ve accumulated quite a pile of “stuff” over the years. My already cluttered flat has a pile of old Virgin Radio photographs. And a browse through my YouTube channel will reveal a load of old Virgin Radio adverts scraped from a variety of sources.

As well as Virgin Radio and Absolute Radio material, there’s also a pile of Capital bits and pieces. Not because I’ve ever worked there – I haven’t – but because when Virgin was being set-up, copying the Capital model was probably the sensible thing to do.

Anyway, today I posted a pile of stuff on Twitter with the hashtag #radiodetritus, and I thought it’d be nice to repost it all here: