Making Money Out of Audio

All content businesses have seen huge changes over the last ten years. Much of this is driven by a combination of the advertising market and changing consumer behaviour. Radio and audio is no different.

In the radio market, for thirty-odd years, the revenue has been split between local and national advertising. If you’re a station in Weymouth, you’ll have your own sales team who will make calls and knock on doors to tell potential customers the benefits of advertising on your station. Aware that national advertisers will also want to advertise on your station, but knowing they don’t really have the ability to negotiate deals with over 100 radio stations, you delegate some space on your station to a national sales house.

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Picking Songs for the Radio

I don’t think I’ve met a person, of any age, who isn’t up for a spirited chat about songs on the radio.

Radio’s pretty pervasive in the UK. 89% of the population listen to at least five minutes a week and even 82% of 15-24s tune in at some point. Music makes up a large proportion of what’s played, so it’s no surprise everyone has an opinion.

So what’s the best way to pick songs for the radio?

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New York Times Buys Serial

News last week that the New York Times had bought Serial Productions, the podcast producer of Serial and S-Town for around $25m to $35m.

Serial came into being as a spin-off from syndicated radio show, and popular podcast, This American Life (TAL). That show was created by Ira Glass with WBEZ, a public radio station in 1995. In 2015, Ira took full control of TAL after agreeing to share some ongoing profits from it, and Serial.

Serial’s radio connections are sometimes forgotten. The first episode of the show ran on TAL (to its 2.2m radio listeners) as well as its podcast. It acted as a sampler and teaser that encouraged people to log on and listen in October 2014. Serial’s appearance, and radio promotion, alongside the default installation of the iTunes Podcast app in 2012 all together really kick-started mainstream podcasting.

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Apple Makes Its Own News Podcast

Apple have launched their own daily news podcast – Apple News Today. Their description:

Join Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino every weekday morning as they guide you through some of the most fascinating stories in the news — and how the world’s best journalists are covering them.

Apple, like many internet mega co’s, get all confused when they get into content. The clunky transition from arguing that they’re just a platform – helping others to be successful – to content publisher, means they have to contort themselves by suggesting that this too is a platform to push to other journalism. “Hey we’re just surfacing other people’s great work”, whilst at the same time adding a new well-marketed competitor, putting even more pressure on regular journalistic endeavours.

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As you may have noticed, I’m publishing these at Matt on Audio now. Sign-up to the free newsletter there to get the full text of these posts in your inbox each Tuesday morning.

British Podcast Awards Thoughts

It’s been a busy old time with one of my side projects, the British Podcast Awards. We had our big ceremony on Saturday – the culmination of around 9 months work. Of course, our plan – The Roundhouse had booked and paid for – wasn’t meant to be, so we did a very fun livestream instead.

In the middle of April we had a chat with our production company, Create, suggesting that we’d like to do a stream that includes all the nominees on-screen and handing out the awards live on winners’s doorsteps. It wasn’t bad for a less than three months turn-around in a pandemic!

So here are some things that popped into my head, which are hopefully interesting for anyone doing events or organising a big project.

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Black Information Network Launches

To us Europeans, the flexibility of broadcast radio formats in the US is quite different to our very regulated environment. Here, on FM it’s very difficult to change your station’s format between rock and urban, whilst in America the ‘format flip’ is something that’s always been an option.

Is your Country station under-performing? Don’t worry! Tomorrow it could be Smooth Jazz!

Of course in the digital world – both online, but also DAB (our broadcast digital radio) – it is a little easier to pivot and change direction. And in 2020 all media, regulated or not, needs to be more fleet of foot to better represent the changing world and new business opportunities.

In the US, last week, the largest radio operator – iHeartMedia (previously ClearChannel) blew up 15 broadcast radio station formats (in Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, GA, Detroit, Greenville, Macon, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Riverside, San Francisco and Seattle) to launch a new mostly-national speech service – BIN – the Black Information Network.

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How to Launch a Media Project: Watching Times Radio Take to the Air

30 years ago, a launch of a radio station was a big thing. Guaranteed coverage in the local newspaper (balloons, wide grinning faces) and the regional TV would turn up to film the board room champagne toast, a DJ doing the opening link, and then raising an eyebrow and light questioning of the economics.

Today, of course, a new media launch is a regular affair – hard to generate noise and awareness, let alone encourage sampling.

Monday’s Times Radio launch got a wrap-around newspaper front page, it did however need to own the newspaper to get it.

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RAJAR Q1/2020

This RAJAR period covers the first three months of the year, so as people started to change their routines for the last two weeks of March, it will include a little of this change – but with a RAJAR week averaged across 13 weeks of data, it’s unlikely to have much of an impact.

A common theme on these blog posts over the past few years has been about change. The radio, and broader media sector, have changed as consumer behaviours have altered. For me, radio’s luck was to develop a digital broadcast platform, doing the heavy lifting of launching a sector-specific device – a DAB radio! – and new stations before broad digital choice became an essential part of consumers’ media lives.

The result of this early work, was that in the digital future we all live in now, the sector has a broad range of channels from new and existing brands, that it can deliver on the modernised version of it’s heritage platform – a radio box – but also now has the material to distribute on any device that has an internet connection and speaker.

Indeed, radio (a curated linear feed with plenty of human involvement) has ended up dominating new devices like smart speakers – even if it shares them with new shouty upstarts like music streaming services. Oh, and asking what the temperature is, before your government mandated exercise.

Looking at the splits – are ‘owned’ platforms of AM/FM and DAB now account for 41% and 40% respectively of total radio listening. Our piggy-backed platforms of DTV and Internet account for 4% and 14% of radio listening.

Collectively the digital listening of DAB, DTV and Online now represent 58.6% of radio listening, up from 56.4% a year ago – with DAB providing the lion’s share – accounting for nearly 70% of the digital listening total.

A lot of this digital growth has come from the commercial radio sector’s aggressive expansion of stations. It’s working audience-wise, the sector’s average listening is up year-on-year, to 13 hours per week, and its share of listening is up too, from 45.7% in Q1 2019 to 47.8%. It’s also got its highest ever total reach – 36.3m (vs the BBC’s 33.5m).

Perhaps someone can tell the Radio Times of this commercial radio strength. In a feature this week they got ten celebs to pick their lockdown listening. They only managed to pick Radio 3, 4, 4 Extra and the World Service (plus an embarrassed mention of Classic FM). Looking at the contributors, perhaps a more representative bunch of people may have given them a more representative range of stations.


The battle for the London airwaves has always driven a lot of discussion, much to the chagrin of the successful local stations in the rest of the country. It’s also a good way to describe what changes and what stays the same in consumer behaviour.

If we look at the market share of the top 25 stations in the capital, it looks like the left column today, and the right column 10 years ago.

BBC Radio 414.6
BBC Radio 213.7
BBC Radio 210.6
BBC Radio 413.7
Capital London6
Magic (London)4.5
Magic (London)5.9
Classic FM4.4
LBC London5.1
Heart London4.4
BBC Radio 15
BBC Radio 5 live3.6
BBC Radio 5 live4.8
Capital London3.5
Classic FM4.7
BBC Radio 13.3
Heart London4.7
Absolute Radio2.8
Kiss (London)4.1
BBC 6 Music2.7
Absolute Radio2.6
Kiss (London)2.7
BBC Radio 32.6
BBC Radio 31.9
Smooth Radio London2.4
BBC Radio London1.5
Radio X London1.3
BBC Radio 4 Extra1.5
Smooth Radio London1.3
Radio X London1.5
BBC 6 Music1.1
Capital XTRA (London)1.4
Capital XTRA (London)1.1
LBC News (London)1.2
Gold London1
LBC News (London)0.7
BBC Radio London1.1
Planet Rock0.7
Gold London1
Premier Christian Radio0.7
Virgin Radio0.8
BBC Radio 4 Extra0.5
Absolute 80s0.7
Jazz FM0.5
Magic Soul0.7
1Xtra from the BBC0.3

On the right, the digital stations were just starting to appear – Planet Rock (already on air for 11 years by this point) hits a 0.7 share, and today has, checks notes, a 0.7% share. Jazz FM, a couple of years into a digital rebirth gets a 0.5% share, compared to a 0.4% share now. Easy to sniff at, of course, but these stations have kept steady whilst competition has tripled.

Other stations though have flourished. 6Music now number 11 in London, just above Kiss and their FM licence. Kisstory, Virgin Radio, Absolute 80s and Magic Soul now make their mark too.

As the number of stations has exploded, its music that’s been the differentiator. There haven’t been many new speech stations on the block, and for the one that has appeared, Talk Radio, it’s been a bumpy ride. R4 has managed to grow, whilst LBC has moved up the chart, steadily growing and maintaining its share. 5Live occupies the same chart position, but not the same market share.

Magic, Heart and Capital are still top 10 but are finding their audiences salami sliced, not just by competition, but by their own spin-offs too.

Year on Year Reach Changes

Looking nationally, stations that have done well over the last year, reach-wise, including Virgin Anthems (more than doubling) and talkRADIO up 25%. Virgin Radio’s seen a 15% increase year on year (to a smidge under 1.5m) – good, but I’m sure they’d hoped for something a little larger.

Free Radio in the Black Country has doubled and its sister station in Coventry is up over 40%, the Birmingham branch – down 30%. That’s RAJAR for you! Radio Essex, having pocketed the old Heart Essex breakfast team have been growing, up 50% year on year.

What was Touch and is now Capital is up 76%, albeit from a low base. Digital station Dragon Radio in Wales has seen steady growth now with 60k listeners and nearly doubling over the past year, whilst our own Fun Kids has seen a 50% reach bump.

XS Manchester which was going to be closed due to poor audience figures has seen its year on year figures now increase 40% to 131k. Now saved (by the regulator), lets see if they keep it! In fact it’s good rock news in Manchester generally, with Radio X Manchester up to 191k – a 20% year on year increase.

At the other end of the spectrum, Capital Brighton hasn’t really chimed with its audience, seeing a 70% drop from 52k to 15.7k. Town 102’s regulatory-imposed analogue switch-off has seen it now just at 10k reach. It’s replacement Ipswich 102 has had its worst book of its first three – at 30k – but doing better than Town had done for the past few years.

Not a great result for Hits Radio Manchester down 23.4% year on year from 301k to 230k.

I’ve touched on the problems of heritage ILRs many times over the years. I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with the programming on Hits Manchester – I think the new Breakfast show has been good, the music is fine and the line-up are solid. It’s problem, like many new launches in super-competitive markets, is market fit. Can a station find a gap in the market, can it push that gap and make it bigger?

When listeners are spoilt for choice, a traditional mainstream offer has a lot of work to do to establish itself. It’s hard to drive passion when you’re playing pop songs and you don’t have heritage on your side. The challenge is to build talkability – with talent, stunts and marketing – on top of solid, well-tuned and researched programming.

Hits Manchester currently has a 3% market share. As the Hits TSA market share table below shows, older stations dominate, whilst many local stations are in a knife-fight around the 3% share mark. It’s easy to give Hits a kick-in but look at BBC Radio Manchester, it’s doing all the things people say Hits should do – play the local card – but it doesn’t seem to be doing it much good.

Fundamentally Hits faces too much competition in its format from R1, R2, Capital and Heart with specialist sport, dance and indie stations also getting in the way of any other hours growth. To break out it’s going to need to do something special.

BBC Radio 215.1
Smooth Radio North West9.4
BBC Radio 49
Classic FM5.9
BBC Radio 15.3
Capital Manchester4.6
Heart North West3.5
BBC Radio 5 live3.5
Hits Radio (Manchester)3.1
BBC Radio Manchester2.9
Radio X Manchester2.9
XS Manchester2.9
BBC 6 Music1.9
Gold Manchester1.4
Absolute Radio0.7
Greatest Hits Radio (Manchester)0.6
Planet Rock0.2

A slightly different table below, this is 10+ Reach in London. Usually 15+ is what’s generally published, but it’s actually people over 10 that are measured by busy RAJAR diarists. It’s always the one that I look at, as it makes comparing my station, Fun Kids, with our peers easier to do. Of course our core audience is under 10, which RAJAR doesn’t measure, so just think where we’d be on the list if they were measured too!

Still though, it’s good to be above all the Virgin and Smooth spin-offs, Hits, Greatest Hits and Country Hits, Heart Dance and Heart 90s, Scala, talkRADIO, some of the Absolute stations and many more too. However, just like all the data up to here, nothing stays the same – new competition in your format, your demographic or a talent change can make all the difference – good and bad. So enjoy it whilst you’ve got it, whatever it is!

Q1 2020
BBC Radio 42921.1
BBC Radio 22278.6
Heart Network (UK)2077.6
Capital Network (UK)2051.9
BBC Radio 11483.6
LBC (UK)1403.7
Classic FM1362.3
BBC Radio 5 live1186.8
Smooth Radio Network (UK)886.6
BBC 6 Music859.6
Capital XTRA (UK)808.3
Absolute Radio807
BBC Radio 3649
LBC News (UK)505.6
BBC Radio 4 Extra487.2
Radio X Network (UK)419.9
BBC World Service398.2
Virgin Radio367.7
Gold Network (UK)306.5
Absolute 80s285.7
Jazz FM268.3
1Xtra from the BBC258.9
Heart 80s247.5
Mellow Magic221.1
Kiss Fresh205.8
Sunrise Radio National194.9
Planet Rock194.7
Magic Soul187.9
Absolute Radio 90s160.3
Absolute Classic Rock150.9
Premier Christian Radio122.8
BBC Radio 5 live sports extra113.4
Fun Kids (London)108.3
Smooth Radio Chill106.7
Hits Radio98.6
Smooth Extra98.6
BBC Asian Network UK97.4
1458 Lyca Radio93.4
Magic Chilled83.8
Heart 90s80.3
Greatest Hits Radio79.5
Capital XTRA Reloaded77.2
Panjab Radio75.1
Absolute Radio 70s68.8
Heart Extra64.1
Scala Radio56.9
Heart Dance53.1
Absolute Radio 00s42.2
1035 Dilse Radio42.1
Smooth Radio Country39.2
Chris Country Radio38.7
Asian FX36
JACK Radio33.4
Heart 70s30.8
Country Hits Radio23.4
Absolute Radio 60s21.8
Virgin Anthems21.4
Union JACK17.1
Virgin Chilled17.1
Virgin Radio Groove7.3
Nation Radio London3.4

Me and my RAJAR blogging colleague, Adam Bowie, are going to do a live stream later today, Thursday 14th March at 1pm. Keep an eye on Twitter for the link. If you have any questions, send them over and we’ll have a go at answering them!

edit: here it is

Want more? Radio Today generally has pretty comprehensive RAJAR coverage.

Positioning Times Radio

Times Radio made their first announcements this morning (27th April) outlining some of the key shows which will launch their new radio station (Guido Fawkes rumoured who’s next, last night).

There’s lots of talk about whether Times Radio will be a success, or a draining money pit.

Most of the analysis is about whether it will get ratings and how it will fare ‘up against’ Radio 4. Even in Matthew Moore’s Times article this morning there was reference to “taking on the BBC” and “seen as a direct rival to BBC Radio 4″.

If its core aim is to ‘take on the BBC’ then it will absolutely be an unqualified failure.

The aims for what I guess we’re still terming ‘commercial radio’ are more varied than they used to be. When the sector first started the planned business model was to get some listeners by doing the things that will get the largest audience and then to sell ads around them and try and make some money. This simple model wasn’t very easy to achieve for many of the first ILR stations for quite a while, additionally the incremental, Sallie, licences rarely achieved that objective in their lifetime. The old adage that to make a small fortune in commercial radio you just needed to start with a large fortune has been a truism.

Digital spectrum, and more space for new stations, has meant that commercial radio’s model, objectives and tactics have changed significantly.

Not every radio station needs to strive to be ‘number 1’ to be successful. Niche operators have created models that serve smaller audiences. Limited costs can reap solid (if not super) profits.

The religious broadcasters’ businesses are often fascinating. Some are really mail order firms using broadcast as a way to help position and sell product. Others use it as a loudspeaker to generate significant direct debit donations. Third party ads may be in there, but it’s not a big part of their business plan.

At Fun Kids we have a suite of products – radio, podcasts, web, email, video, social – that reach parents and children and we monetise, generally with ads, this attention. The broadcast station is important, particularly for marketing the brand, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of what we’re doing.

The Times have talked about the main objective of the radio station being to drive Times subscribers. Times digital subs are £15 to £26/month. If you generated 10,000 new subscribers you’d probably easily cover the costs of running the radio station.

The subscription business is also about reducing churn – the people who stop subscribing. With a content subscription like The Times, I imagine churn is all about perceived value. “Am I reading the written content?” is obviously a key thought, but if you’re consuming, albeit free, Times media like the radio station and podcasts, I’m sure that all goes into improving the perceived value too.

So, if you’re reducing churn and adding subs – that’s a great model to have. And a great reason to launch a radio station.

However, the danger, is mission creep and forgetting your objectives.


I think I must have had discussions with at least 50 people serious about launching radio stations over the past few years and probably another 100 time wasters. In addition I’ve got friends at all the radio groups and have talked briefly, or in detail, about most big group launches. This ranges from production staff on some to the bosses on others.

Thinking about it, it’s amazing how few of these people have had experience launching any product from scratch, and for many, even less experience running a business.

For people new to the industry, it’s the curse that a lifetime of radio listening makes them think they’re experts in producing. Similarly there’s a difference in running an established, formatted station and creating a new one.

Creating a successful radio station, and cutting through in a market where listeners can get over 60 on their digital radio requires art, science, marketing and luck.

Now Wireless, themselves, have probably had the most experience in launching new radio stations – two speech ones with talkRADIO and talkSPORT2, along with a launched and re-launched Virgin Radio, so you’d hope they’ve got the experience to make a decent fist of this or at least learned something about the process along the way.

With any project, but definitely with radio stations, the biggest problem is drifting away from core objectives to do what you want to do, rather than what you need to.

If ‘competing with the BBC’ or ‘taking on Radio 4’ ends up being the core aim. I would say the strategy is officially, batshit mental.

Radio 4 has an annual budget nearing £100m a year, perfect FM and digital distribution, free cross-promotion on some of the nation’s favourite TV stations and over 50 years of heritage. Its listeners are happy to drift through hard news, a soap opera, and a programme about poetry without causing much channel changing. Its scale is such that 200k leaving a show is basically a rounding error.

Radio 4 currently has 10.9m listeners. Other speech stations in the UK have significantly less, with 5 Live on 5.4m, LBC with 2.7m (even with a London FM licence) and talkRADIO on 433k. After four years.

As another example, the relaunched Virgin Radio with the nation’s most popular DJ, Chris Evans, who swapped from Radio 2 to Virgin Radio with, to all intents and purposes, the same show, could probably be held as the high water mark of what can be done quickly on digital radio – in a year he’s added 1million listeners to take that station to 1.5m.

To hit those numbers would be unexpected – and a triumph, but would still have you at 15% of Radio 4.


The biggest issue for the Times Radio team is being distracted from the very sensible endeavour of adding new subscribers to the business.

The problem is that it’s not sexy or fun. It’s, of course, much more interesting going on the attack. But being focused on a competitor, like Radio 4 or the BBC, means you end up playing to them, rather than concentrating on your own objectives.

The amazing opportunity of being all about converting 10,000 new Times fans is that you can embrace this fortunate position you’re in of not worrying about the ratings. How liberating that would be? Indeed, why do you even need to publish your RAJAR figures?

Converting people to subscribers means a two pronged strategy. The first phase is listener acquisition. I imagine there’s probably two groups to appeal to:

  1. (easier) Attracting listeners that are occasional or semi-regular readers
  2. (harder) Identifying the types of people who would like The Times brand if they experienced (more of) it, by including programming that appeals to that target’s interests.

The second phase is turning this group of people into proper fans – to make them feel like the Times environment is one that interests them, represents them, entertains them.

Working out subscription conversion is difficult, but 2% of a station with 500,000 listeners would hit that 10k.


For me the interesting thing to learn from NewsCorps’ existing research with Times subscribers is the interplay between news and non-news content. What’s the combination of content that makes people part with their money?

If I was mapping out the radio market, there’s a lot of delivery of news within speech content – big parts of Radio 4, most of 5 Live, LBC and talkRADIO. Of course I’d expect Times Radio to cover news, but it’s a brand with a strong features background, how do you weave that into the schedule? Podcasting has shown there’s a huge appetite for non-news speech, with the latest RAJAR MIDAS survey saying podcasting has now reached 10m people in the UK.

To create a tribe of listeners where you’re trying to build connection, Coronavirus or Brexit all of the time isn’t going to cut it. It also doesn’t differentiate in the market. Why fight for LBC or talkRADIO listeners by doing the same thing?

In a Buzzfeed News article last weekend, the reporting talked about the bringing together of The Times and Sunday Times (they’re currently run separately) and to “transform it into a premium, politically liberal brand like the New York Times”. Radio could definitely help with that.

Maybe it’ll be there when there’s more detail released, but if I was looking to create Times Radio I’d be drawing on far more built content – short and long form. I’d be drawing on the kinds of content in Red Box, Stories of our Times, The Game and The Ruck, Giles Coren and even Postcards from Midlife, Walking the Dog and Tales of Silicon Valley. These well made podcasts would reach newer audiences on a linear radio station and would provide texture that isn’t available on other speech competitors.

Indeed, if you are trying to re-think Radio 4, don’t get obsessed with the Today programme, remember that much of their schedule is actually built, well-thought out shows.

The word that keeps appearing in Times promo is ‘warm’. I think that’s a good word – and something that’s much more connected to the idea of building a group of listeners who you can activate to do something – subscribe.

Update: From the Launch Director, Stig Abell: