Radio 2 is an amazingly successful radio station. It has the biggest stars and it’s a great listen. They do however spend £37million on content, something that tends to help, as well as having access to cross-promotion on BBC TV, radio and online. Something actually i’m quite supportive of. I think cross-promotion is valuable and an important part of the armoury at their disposal to educate licence fee payers about BBC services.
I believe, however, that Radio 2 has a unique problem. And that’s that it’s too popular.
Radio 2 is the BBC’s most mainstream service, has national FM and digital coverage and garners the UK’s largest radio audience – 13.2m people. It offers deals for talent that commercial operators are unable to compete with and has a budget that everyone else dreams of. Historically it has had no format restrictions which meant it could re-position itself from an over 50s to service to one catering for 35 pluses with no trouble and in the last year the network’s biggest audience growth (in reach and hours) has been for 15 to 24s. It’s in a incredibly privileged position, but also a dangerous one, with some attention recently starting to be paid to its increasingly mainstream activities.
What I don’t understand is why Radio 2 doesn’t slow down a bit. Why doesn’t it (even privately) acknowledge that maybe some of the things that it’s doing aren’t very public service. That its music and brand positioning is sitting solidly in commercial radio’s heartland and that (maybe even inadvertently) its activities are a little uncompetitive. Radio 1 has historically been in a similar position, but somehow it manages to not completely take the mick. It does a good job at pitching its specialist music as a key part of the station’s output, its news is high-quality and the social action campaigns are varied.
So with Radio 2 in its privileged and dominant position what does it do? It does more high-profile things that serve to highlight its departure from its core aims! Recent campaigns included an excellent tier 1 (ie lots of showings) ad campaign with a re-animated Elvis singing along with (commercial radio favourites) Oasis, Sheryl Crow and the Sugababes with a tagline “What an amazing line-up, all day every day”. Surely that’s just taking the piss and rubbing people’s nose in their success?
Tonight its been pushing (on TV) a red button service that lets people see Radio 2’s concert with The Kooks. The Kooks! It’s hardly a core Radio 2 act is it? Should it really be seen to be driving sample with The Kooks fans, who in no stretch of the imagination are popular in Radio 2’s supposedly key demo of 35+. And don’t even get me started on whether there’s any need to trumpet big signings like Russell Brand.
I am torn a little in my worry for Lesley and Radio 2. My commercial head gets angered by what they do, but perhaps really I should just keep schtum. Really I should be wanting them to keep going with their current strategy, keep my fingers crossed that they’ll keep highlighting the glaring inconsistencies in output, keep boasting about a line-up that plunders from the commercial sector and keep cross-promoting mainstream activity outside of their core demos. Indeed, whilst they spend all their time looking ahead to what they can achieve, they’ll be gradually producing more and more rope to hang themselves and give a very easy win to government, regulators and the commercial sector when they decide to take it on and do it some real harm.