lbc

Eddie Mair on LBC

So now we know. Eddie Mair will be taking over drivetime from Iain Dale on LBC, broadcasting 4-6pm Monday to Friday. He settles into his new desk next Monday, while previous incumbent, Iain Dale, shuffles into the evening 7-10pm slot.

Interestingly, this also means that Mair has the “pleasure” of handing over to Nigel Farage at 6pm which is where Farage’s show lands in the new schedule. I feel certain that there won’t be any droll back-handedness to any of those links. (LBC’s late night presenter Nick Abbot was perhaps the master of these. Years ago, at Virgin Radio, when he had the afternoon slot, his handovers were something to behold.)

I think like many others, I had been perhaps anticipating that Mair might move into breakfast, since Nick Ferrari has been doing breakfast shows for an awfully long time now. But Ferrari’s obviously not ready to stop yet, although this safely lines up Mair for such a time as Ferrari is ready to stop. Drive presenters are regularly first in line for the breakfast throne.

A lot will be made of the fact that Mair is up against his old programme, however it doesn’t necessarily follow that thousands of Radio 4 listeners will follow him over the parapets. 

The chart above shows the overall station overlap between Radio 4 and LBC. It shows that around half a million people listen to both stations in any given week. But, perhaps more relevantly, it means that while 24% of LBC’s audience listen to Radio 4, only 5% of Radio 4’s audience listen to LBC, at least in the course of a week.

There will be a myriad of reasons for that disparity, not least that the stations offer very different things. But in part this can also be explained by the loyalty of listeners to both stations.

That loyalty can be measured in a couple of ways. First of all, there are average hours per listener. According to the latest RAJAR and based on 6 month weighting:

  • Radio 4 listeners spend an average of 11.2 hours per week with the station
  • LBC listeners spend an average of 9.6 hours per week with the station

Both of these are high figures. In other words, listeners to those stations love them and spend many hours with them. Every hour they spend with their preferred station, is an hour they’re not spending with another station.

And then there are station repertoires – the number of different stations a listener hears over the course of a week. The lower the number, the more loyal the listener.

  • Radio 4 – 3.4
  • LBC – 4.1

Radio 4 listeners are slightly more loyal than LBC listeners.

If your station has a high listeners per hour figure and a low repertoire figure, you’re in heaven. Your listeners are going nowhere else, and they’re listening to hours of your station a week!

Finally, to examine the overlap between the stations, you can also do something called a Switching Analysis. RAJAR measures when listeners switch from one station to another, or indeed where they turn on and turn off their radios. 

Looking at the data, there’s nothing very conclusive about Radio 4 and LBC listeners. The biggest gain by Radio 4 from LBC comes at 1pm Monday-Friday, when 4,000 LBC listeners switch over to The World at One, and 3,000 come over from LBC for The Archers instead of staying for, er, Nigel Farage.

On the other hand LBC gains 8,000 listeners from Radio 4 at 9.00am when Start the Week, In Our Time etc begin, tuning for the final hour of Nick Ferrari. A further 4,000 head off to James O’Brien instead of staying on for Woman’s Hour.

But these are all trifling numbers in the scheme of things, when you consider the overall respective stations’ sizes.

And Eddie Mair’s new programme on LBC, and PM on Radio 4 are likely to be very different beasts. The LBC show is twice the duration, although it will have to accommodate 10-12 minutes an hour of advertising. LBC doesn’t anything like the resource the BBC’s news operation has, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be hearing very carefully constructed packages from teams of producers and reporters. On the other hand, Mair will have more time for his interviews, and to engage with listeners.

None of this is to say that there aren’t some enormous fans of Mair, so his personality alone is likely to see some giving him at least a trial. LBC would love to gain a few more Radio 4 listeners, even if only for a couple of hours a day. It will be interesting to see how much marketing Global gives LBC to promote their new signing.

And while that awkward 6pm junction when he’ll have to hand over to Nigel Farage is not perhaps a natural one for Mair, the rest of LBC’s daytime output of James O’Brien in the mornings and Shelagh Fogarty in the afternoons, probably makes Mair a natural fit for the early evenings.

In any event, Mair’s show comes at the start of RAJAR Q4, so don’t expect any reports on the relative audience changes until the end of January next year.


Note #1: I do hope Global does something interesting with Mair and a podcast. Although they publish a number, I’m not sure that they’ve fully adapted to podcasting, still earning a few quid selling complete shows behind a paywall. It’s notable that Mair is going to continue to present the BBC’s Grenfell Inquiry podcast until the end of November.

Note #2: Global’s press site is incredibly hard to navigate. It looks like some junior web designer was allowed to run away with themselves building without any thought as to visitors. It’s user unfriendly. I’m pretty sure it’s not accessible. And criminally, it’s not responsive. Seriously – try looking at it on your phone!

Read more on the challenges faced by LBC on this move over at Earshot, where Steve Martin has written more about the issues.

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.

LBC Going National

LBC Scores First

The news today that LBC is going to be broadcast nationally from next month is really good for lots of reasons. Here are just a few:

– It’s good for LBC. The station must be a reasonably expensive service to run since speech is always more expensive to do well than music. And a greater reach means that the service gets heard by more people and Global are better able to invest in it. Yes – I know that LBC did use to broadcast on regional digital multiplexes previously, but what’s clear now is that this won’t be a re-broadcast of a London-focused service, but a nationally aligned service. A nice way to celebrate their 40th year on air.

– It’s good for digital radio and DAB in particular. Here’s a unique service that is offering something new to listeners up and down the country. There are always discussions about the popularity of DAB, but the new services we’ve seen come onto the platform are offering choice. Yes it was disappointing to many that a specialist music service like Jazz FM came off, but that was obviously a financial decision they had to make. LBC offers listeners a genuinely new service on a broadcast platform.

– It’s good for speech radio. Although we have some very strong speech services in the UK – predominantly Radio 4 and Five Live – we are actually under-served in this country with speech radio. While as a listener, I don’t particularly relish the idea of those right wing speech stations that fill up so much US airspace, having a proper outlet for a wide range of views and broadcasting styles in healthy. The costs of good quality speech services means that local stations have struggled or failed. National is the obvious way forward.

– It’s good for commercial radio. I listen to a lot of BBC Radio Five Live, but that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be healthy competition. Five Live will now have to fight on two fronts – against Talksport for sport and against LBC for news and current affairs. I hope that means everyone raises their games and we end up with better radio as a result. We’re also now in a position where the two biggest commercial groups in the UK – Global and Bauer – own between them eight services (or nine if we include Smooth which may or may not have to be sold). That shows genuine commitment to the platform from the leading commercial players. That’s good for listeners, and it’s great for advertisers who support those services.

It’s also an opportunity for BBC London which you sometimes feel is the unloved part of the BBC Nations and Regions network. They can fill the mantle of being the go-to London station for breaking news in the capital. Not that for one moment I think that LBC won’t continue to work hard in London.

It’s probably not bad for Nick Clegg if Call Clegg continues on a national platform. But then he probably needs all the help he can get.

OK, “Leading Britain’s Conversation” feels a bit of a forced acronym, but I’ll let that pass. And in any case it’d be foolish to attempt a rebrand at this juncture.

LBC at Forty – Memories

LBC Scores First

Happy Birthday to LBC which is forty years old, and was the first – legal – commercial radio station in the UK, launching on 8th October 1973 just a few days ahead of Capital Radio and Radio Clyde.

I’m not going to write a history about it here, because others will do that, and they’ll be a lot better than anything I could cobble together. LBC’s own site has a nice section here.

But I thought instead that I’d share my early memories of LBC as a listener, because it was probably the first radio station that I adopted as “my own”. We’re talking about a period from perhaps 1982 until 1988 when I headed off to university (And where I very quickly got bored of the “new” GWR that remained “new” for most of my four year degree course! But that’s another blog).

In reality, the first radio I’d have listened to when I was young was Radio 4. That was because it was omnipresent in our kitchen when I was being brought up. And it’s why I still fondly remember theme tunes like Sport on Four’s or Breakaway from Saturday mornings. And why voices like those of Brian Redhead, Libby Purves and Cliff Morgan still resonate with me.

But sometime around the age of 8 or 9 I got a radio – a small Hitachi AM/FM model, that came in a leatherette case with holes punched in it to let the sound come through the speaker grill. And in those days of a single household TV in the living room, and certainly no such thing as the internet, having a radio in your bedroom was probably your first chance to experience your own choice of media. I might have had control of the “remote” (except we didn’t have a remote) between 4.00pm and 5.30pm, but after that we watched what our parents wanted to watch. Otherwise my own media choices were more a question of whether you were going to spend your pocket money on The Beano or Whizzer and Chips.

In London we were theoretically spoilt for choice. But in reality there were relatively few stations that spoke to me as a youngster. Radio 1 was fine, and even had Tony Blackburn doing a Saturday morning kids show – something I now know he loathed doing. But the rest of the BBC was off-limits. This really was the era of Mantovani, and Family Favourites on Radio 2. Radio 4 wasn’t for me at the time, and Radio 3 was another world away. There was no Radio 5 yet, and although I heard the odd Radio London programme, Radio 1 was probably it for me as far as the BBC went.

Then there was Capital Radio which still had Kenny Everett. I could never get into the weirdness of that show, but the station was good for pop. And of course it was massive in London. I once headed out to some distant shopping centre (they weren’t yet “malls”) to collect a free target tuner. Travel half-way across London for a free FM radio? Of course I would!

However, without older brothers and sisters to give me a lead into popular music, and parents who had bailed out sometime around the time of The Beatles, music radio was never going to be the be all and end all for me. Our “music centre” saw more action from “TV Times Record of Your Top TV Themes” by Jack Parnell and his orchestra or “Greatest Science Fiction Hits” by Neil Norman and his Cosmic Orchestra!

Which left LBC. And that’s where, in the end, I found myself. So instead of listening to Mike Read or Graham Dene in the morning, I found myself enjoying the AM Programme with Bob Holness and Douglas Cameron.

It was a very strong breakfast show with proper news, reports and discussions. I don’t even remember it being that London focused, although there tended to be a live broadcast from somewhere around the city each morning. In tone, you have to think of its direct successor today, the 5 Live Breakfast show. Bob and Doug came across as two old friends, but with plenty of gravitas. It was immensely listenable. Philip Eden did the weather, and he always seemed to make a huge point of not being employed by the Met Office as nearly all other weather reporters at the time were. It was essential listening for me.

This was the time of Charles and Diana, so another regular voice was Dickie Arbiter, their royal correspondent. And Tim Crook, the legal correspondent was also omnipresent.

Elsewhere in the schedule you had Steve Allen and Clive Bull, both of whom are somehow still with the station.

I have a particular fondness for the latter of the two because he presented LBC’s Sunday afternoon show – Young London. This was their kids/youth programme, and it seemed to regularly come from shows and events around the capital. Considering that they didn’t really play any music elsewhere in the schedule, they’d still review new records as well as talking about films and books. But perhaps closest to my heart, they were getting into the new technology that was emerging.

With the BBC Micro and the Vic 20 being released in 1981, and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum following in 1982, this was the time of the home computer revolution. Judicious use of savings from an aunt’s bequest meant that I got my hands on a 16k Spectrum soon after it came out. I remember having to travel as far afield as Wood Green Shopping City to find a WH Smith with stock.

Kids everywhere were getting into microcomputers, and Young London began what still seems the strangest thing I can imagine any radio station ever doing – broadcasting computer games over the air. More specifically, they were broadcasting games written by listeners. They just asked that you kept the program to be one minute or less in duration.

To put this in perspective, imagine a radio station broadcasting one minute of this.

Young London would rotate the models of computers they’d broadcast games for. Some weeks, it’d be a Spectrum, but other times it might be a BBC, Vic 20, Dragon or whatever.

And when I say “games” I don’t mean Manic Miner or JetPac. LBC’s listeners weren’t up to that – or if they were, they weren’t giving them away free on air. Invariably they’d be a wordsearch, a quiz, or something simple. There’d be limited amounts of interactivity, and the quality could vary wildly. Indeed my first submission to LBC, which was broadcast, was simply a display of a wordsearch alongside the words you had to find. I forget the entry mechanism, but I suspect that it involved sending a postcard in.

At home you used a radio cassette player (I’d by now upgraded to a double-cassette JVC model, that until very recently still acted as my kitchen radio, and still gives superb sound) and recorded the games off-air from FM. Then you played it back into your computer and you were away.

What’s more LBC sent me a pile of stuff for my trouble. A load of singles I’d never heard of, some books, car sticker, and furry head-phoned bug. Free stuff! I was sold.

In 1983 a program called The Quill was released for the Spectrum. It was really smart. Adventure games were taking off, with releases like The Hobbit and Colossal Adventure. I loved these. They were mostly text, and you simply typed in what you wanted to do and where you wanted to go, with the narrative unfolding like an interactive novel. The programs had text interpreters to try to understand what you’d written. I’d had a bash at writing my own games, but I realised that the language interpreter bit was quite hard for someone of my very limited coding abilities. The Quill removed the need for all that, and allowed you to concentrate on the creative elements of game writing and design. The program handled the language interpreation. Three of us shared the £14.95 cost to buy a copy. And it was to lead to my biggest programming success!

I wrote a locked house mystery in The Quill and sent it into LBC where it seemingly hit the right note with Young London listeners. The following week when a winner was chosen, Clive Bull said on air that it had been the most popular download competition they’d ever run. That was good enough for me! I got another batch of singles and books I’d never heard of and was very satisfied. I’d love to say that I still have a copy – but I don’t. All I remember now was that one room in the game was called “The Greek Room”.

In the wider world, Clive Bull is perhaps more famous as the overnight LBC presenter who took calls from the Norwegian fisherman Sven – aka Peter Cook. While my listening did regularly stretch into the small hours, I’m not sure that I could honestly claim to have heard “Sven” on-air live, although it’s entirely possible. I certainly wasn’t in the know enough to realise it was a comedy legend phoning in. But the overnight phone-in programme certainly had a very clubbish atmosphere with regulars all the time.

Probably the biggest show on LBC at the time was their nightly phone-in from 10pm-1am. The first hour or two would usually be about a specific subject, while the latter part of the show would just see the lines opened up to talk about anything. Most famously there was the sex phone-in with Philip Hodson (who also performed the role of Agony Uncle on Saturday Superstore, and who can currently be seen on Channel 4’s “Sex Box”). All quite illuminating for a young teenager. Then there was the legal phone-in, full of neighbourly disputes about parking and overhanging trees. A friend from school claims it was listening to this that made him choose a career in the Law!

But perhaps my favourite broadcaster was Brian Hayes who had a no-nonsense approach to handling callers. He didn’t have time for fools, and if they made a stupid point, it didn’t bother him one jot to just hang up on them, or cut them off mid-flow. Extraordinary! This wasn’t something I’d ever heard before!

Sometimes, he’d have an “open line” when he promised listeners a chance to use a fixed period of time without interruption to make whatever point they wanted. Oddly enough, even callers seemed to feel uncomfortable if Hayes kept silent while they were talking. They’d lose their thread and go quiet. Tommy Boyd’s and later, Iain Lee’s shows, couldn’t have existed without Hayes leading the way.

LBC tried some different things on occasion too. Tim Crook, their legal reporter, also ran a production company that produced serialised drama. They’d make productions of Sherlock Holmes and Dickens stories. I suspect today that some would find it extraordinary that commercial radio ever did drama – but it did.

Then there were the advertisers. It’s still the case that whenever I hear Diana Ross singing ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I think of those omnipresent DHL ads that used to fill LBC’s airtime. But I think the most iconic LBC ad for me will always be Currie Motors. I’m pleased to see that they’re still “Nice People To Do Business With.”

And LBC was really the first “breaking news” station we really had in the UK, even if nobody was using that awful term. Indeed, it was probably the only place you could go for live updates outside of scheduled news bulletins, short of the time Radio 4 turned into “Scud FM” during the first Gulf War.

In 1984, the IRA bombed the Grand Hotel in Brighton where the Conservative Party conference was taking place. The bombing took place at 3am in the morning, and I remember waking in the middle of the night to hear reports on LBC of what was happening (I used to sleep with a radio on). In 1987 when fire took hold in Kings Cross, LBC was again my go-to station to find out what was happening.

And in 1992 I was at home from university and up late at night when I heard a distant, but loud boom. It was another IRA bomb – this time at Staples Corner, probably ten or more miles away. My bedroom at the top of the house actually shook. Again, the first thing I did was switch on the radio and listen to other callers confirming what I’d heard – that a bomb had gone off near Brent Cross. Only a few hours earlier, another bomb had gone off at the Baltic Exchange in the City, so it was a nervous time for IRA attacks.

Today we might switch on Sky News or the BBC News channel to get instant coverage, but even they have to rely on phone calls from the scene for at least a few minutes, and radio can still compete there just as well.

LBC had some tough times of course. As I was living away from London, it was seemingly regularly changing hands, rebranding, and trying different things before sensibly returning to simply calling itself what Londoners have known it as for forty years.

I’m still not really sure what value its rolling news service on AM is, but I imagine it costs minimal amounts to operate, and as long as it delivers listening hours, it’s of value to current owners Global Radio.

I wouldn’t pretend that I listen all that much to LBC these days, although I think they still do most stuff pretty well. Nick Ferrari, Iain Dale (when he’s not brawling at the seaside), and Nick Abbot are all excellent, although I can leave Julia Hartley Brewer to be honest. And of course Clive Bull and Steve Allen are both still there.

I do think Global is missing a trick with LBC though. Surely the UK is crying out for a truly national commercial non-sport speech station, and LBC should be it.

Yes – you and I know that the “L” stands for London, but to be honest most of the programming could be national as well as London. Getting a 64k mono slot on D1 wouldn’t have cost all that much if there was space. Voila! One national commercial speech station that isn’t all about football. It’d give 5 Live a run for its money. Given the addition this week of Capital XTRA on D1, it’ll be interesting to see if Global expands its national digital radio footprint in the future.

Oh, and that poster at the top? Have I really hung on to a Football League wallchart for all those years? Not really. I used it to mount some old photos on the reverse, and found it stuffed in the back of a photo album.

Happy Birthday LBC!