Moyles and the Clutter Battle

I think it’s impossible to review a new show from the first edition. This morning’s Chris Moyles show was basically a ‘special’. However, there were a few things that I noticed about structure.

The bedrock of commercial music radio is structure. There are a number of things that you have to broadcast in an hour and the flow can be made or broken on how those elements are put together.

Commercial radio is always handicapped by the fact it has to make money. We have to insert interruptions into the programming to pay for it. The trick is to balance how much there is. Not only can you vary how many spot ads there are, you can decide how many sponsored features there are – things like weather, travel, whether there’s paid-for contesting and even if you’re pushing premium rate competitions.

As businesses are generally designed to make money, it can be very tempting to take as much money as you can in the good days. The problem, like a good game of buckaroo, is that if you load too much on, the whole thing collapses and no one wants to listen.

This is connected to the reason that there isn’t much speech on commercial radio, which, generally, is 2-fold:
1. It’s a point of difference to the (relatively) large amount of speech in BBC music radio
2. If we’ve already got 10mins of interruptions an hour from the ads, let’s not add more interruptions in the form of speech

Moyles therefore potentially is a problem as ads+heavy speech on a music station would traditionally generate tune out. Or more accurately, the people who like heavy-speech music radio already listen to the BBC, so heavy speech+ads means we’re on a hiding to nothing from the people who quite like the other type of music radio.

The difference, I think, is about the definition of interruptions. Moyles’ background and heritage means that the audience already knows that he likes to talk. The attraction for Radio X of Moyles is that they’ll be attracting people who understand how he works and what he does.

If you look at fans of the previous XFM Facebook page about how they feel about him, compared to his new show page, you can see the difference in understanding. The old listeners care very much about the amount of music, the new ones, not so much.

Interruptions to a Moyles audience is not about interruptions to the music, it’s interruptions to entertainment. A Moyles listener sees him as a bigger part of the music and speech that make up a show.

Back to structure

Ads aren’t the only interruption to the core being of a show – news, travel, weather, unnecessary sponsored features – these can be interruptions too. Another word for interruptions is clutter. Clutter are the things that get in the way.

What’s great to see with Moyles is how much the clutter’s been minimised.

First no traffic news. Traffic would usually be twice an hour and is likely to run:
Traffic jingle, sponsor credit, traffic bulletin, sponsor credit, traffic network ad. Loads of clutter for a normal breakfast show and here it just doesn’t exist.

Secondly, News. Usually something that’s delivered twice an hour, with Moyles it’s just once an hour. It’s also all delivered by a single voice and one that’s a core part of the team. There didn’t even seem to be an IRN Newslink ad either. Edit: The ‘solus’ Newslink ad, as Sophie Law points out, is actually wrapped into the break with the old “News is next” trick. However, with that and Dom doing it tightly packed and only once an hour it seemed a very clutter-free break.

Ad breaks. In the 7am and 8am hour there were three – 2mins, 1m30sec and 2mins. 5mins30secs an hour is incredibly light. Bauer breakfast shows will be crying on reading how long his run. Sponsor credits run into the breaks – just three times an hour before other commercial messaging.

The only other bit of clutter was a sponsored competition to win tickets to Muse. This was a text when you hear with some premium rate terms (voiced by Toby Anstis) and it was resolved straight after the break. It didn’t overtake the show by being opened and closed quickly.

All that was left was the entertainment – the speech content and the music. There were 4 songs in the 7am hour and 8am hour, 1 in the first half hour and six in the 9am hour. I imagine this is a little lighter than a normal show, but then they did have an exceptional guest in Noel Gallagher.

The entertainment works as it’s high quality, but also because it’s supported by having discarded so much clutter and the show’s fortunate by having shorting ad breaks.

Clearly Moyles is in a privileged position when discussing his show format with his bosses, but to me it really highlights the importance of flow and minimising clutter. If you’re doing breakfast, now really is a perfect time to review clutter and ask if all your show elements are entirely necessary and whether they’re delivered in the most efficient way.

The only structural negatives I felt were:

1. Long comedy production bits. There were a couple of longer than 30sec joke bits of production. I felt if these aren’t REALLY good there’s the danger that these drift into the clutter zone.

2. Talking about ad breaks. Moyles’ listeners are used to there not being ad breaks, when he talks about them, I know they’re coming and therefore feel the content-free discussion is just extending the inevitable. Chris is really lucky his ad breaks are so short, he shouldn’t being adding anything to them by going on about ads.

Overall though, minor quibbles. I’m really happy that Moyles is on commercial radio, I think the show’s going to make a real impact and be a big success. I’m also fascinated to see where the audience comes from.

However, as the show gets popular I imagine it’s inevitable that the demands for greater ad loads will increase as will the desire for more promotions. It’ll be interesting to see how Global balance keeping the existing inventory at a premium versus extending the amount of commercial minutage and whether they can keep doing the excellent job of keeping the clutter at bay.

Simplicity and Confusion

It’s been a busy week. I got back from holiday last weekend, had Next Radio on Monday, started test transmissions for our local multiplex in Lincolnshire and have been trying to catch-up on all the day-to-day stuff I’ve missed. Of course I’m not alone in being busy, we all have busy lives trying to combine work, family and fun.

One of the great things about radio, and one of the reasons I think we’ve done so well for so long, is that it’s brilliantly simple. You turn it on, it plays the last thing you were listening to. Marvellous. If you like a few stations you might use presets, scrolling by name on your digital radio, or remembering those frequency numbers. It’s a bit more complicated, but most people cope. Or at least teach themselves how to get to something that they need.

Changing a channel? But that’s not difficult, is it? No, it’s not difficult, but it’s another level of complexity in people’s busy lives. People, on average, listen to about three stations. That’s it. Radio contrary to our own belief, isn’t that important in people’s lives.

They consume what’s familiar without really thinking. It’s part of the reason that people get SO ANNOYED when we change something. Or someone leaves.

It’s fascinating to look through the tweets and Facebook comments to Chris Moyles and Radio X. There are a multitude of themes, questions and opinions. Lots are positive, some are negative. What I think it reminds me is the value in clarity and providing simple, easy to access information.

Away from X, I was talking to a colleague this week asking how his radio station re-brand went. He sighed and relayed bumping into a successful businessman who loved the old station, but hadn’t listened to the new one. The new name wasn’t familiar, and even though the programming was pretty much the same and it was broadcasting on the same frequency, he’d now gone elsewhere.

If you build it they may not come.

What helps, of course, is throwing lots of money at it. Many of Global’s re-brands have gone well because they’ve been well supported by above-the-line marketing that very clearly tells people what’s happening.

With Radio X we haven’t had that yet – it starts any day now, and in its place we’ve had below-the-line stuff of web and social, the messages on the existing XFM, press reaction and B2B messages.

In the absence of public information, it’s interesting to see how the B2B communications are so readily jumped on.

Radio X talked about being a male-focused station in its release. As an industry-insider I see nothing wrong with this. Radio is a demographically targeted product, it helps sell advertising. It makes it simpler for brands who do want demographically targeted outlets. It obviously doesn’t mean women can’t listen or aren’t wanted by the station, but having a particular skew is a good thing for the business.

However, that, alongside Popbitch talking about internal chats about whether positioning should be all Yorkie Bar Men Only, the hiring of an entire male daytime line-up and the (what I think is an incorrect assumption) of Moyles being a sexist pig, then it’s easy to see why the commeteriat have gone all Sexist FM on it.

Most of the articles and tweets about this are actually based on their being little information about what the station will really be. There are more women on the station than it seems (though of course room for more), the presenters aren’t sexist pigs, they are going to be welcoming to everyone and it’s not going to be some 90s retro throwback.

The trick is how, as a new brand or product, you can communicate what you are. I think it’s key that you do what you can to stop people jumping to conclusions. A vacuum of information, in a social media world, is a danger – as assumptions end up becoming truth. The more information you provide, the more you’ll find that consumers will correct each other. It’s also harder for someone to argue one thing when all the other information points in another direction.

Would 10 videos online, with a 50/50 gender split talking about the radio station have helped X’s coverage? What about someone laughing at the concept of banter? What about a video of the playlist meeting showing it’s not going to be Oasis FM. Positioning is much bigger than branding.

The other big question people have been asking is “How Do I Listen?”. Radio X is on the old XFM FM frequencies, has changed from having around 50% UK digital radio coverage to around 90%, is on Satellite and Cable, but not Freeview and is available through the old XFM apps, until they were updated to the new Radio X apps this week.

How do I listen again? On the Radio X twitter: “Radio X will be available all across the UK on the digital radio platform D1, as well as on 104.9FM in London and 97.7FM in Manchester from 21 September.” What the hell is the ‘digital radio platform D1’? D1 is a B2B brand that never needs mentioning. Is ‘digital radio’ DAB? Is it internet only?

I think we’re often so close to it, we don’t think and simplify enough. Now, the trouble for Radio X and for many of us is that our radio products are on a million different platforms – some are ones people can get, some they can’t. Oh to return to just being able to read out one frequency!

Tweets, and their character limits, don’t really help! You publish an iOS link and people are grumpy there isn’t an Android app. Can I get digital radio where I live? Again, I think more information is better than less. Is there a single page, with a good URL that explains it all? When someone asks ‘How Do I Listen?’ can it always be replied to with the same link?

Make these big questions ones that ANYONE can answer. If someone tweets their mates with ‘How do I listen?’, make it easy enough that their mate can find that one link so they can tweet it back.

I’m picking on Radio X as it’s new, but for your radio station, today, can someone easily find out how to listen? Is it obvious?

On the Radio 1 homepage, other than a listen live button, there isn’t any obvious link that tells you how to tune in. Looking at the last five videos on Radio 1’s YouTube channel none of them mention how to tune in to Radio 1 or give any information – in video, annotations or description – when the shows from Matt Edmondson, Grimmy, the Live Lounge or Scott Mills are on or how to listen to them on the radio. In the 1 day those videos have been up, they’ve lost 110,000 opportunities to tell people about listening to Radio 1 on the radio.

And when they do understand how to listen to something new, that they’re interested in, real change happens. Look at these tweets!

I think Radio X is going to be a big success, it’s position at the moment, is the ultimate in simplicity – it’s the radio station with Chris Moyles at Breakfast. If you want that, Radio X is the only place to find it. Most stations don’t have such a strong place to start.

So much of radio’s success has come from the platform’s simplicity. We’ve historically had a single device that everyone has access to. But radio’s becoming a multi-platform beast, 60% of UK listeners listen to radio on a device that isn’t a regular AM/FM set. Competition is stronger than it’s ever been before.

If someone shows a bit of interest in what your station is doing, are you making it simple for them to understand you, sample you and keep listening?

Radio X – Moyles, Johnny Vaughan and Vernon Kay – The New XFM

One of the things that I admire about Global is that they’re not afraid to make big decisions. Whilst the control the three key executives have over the business is sometimes unfortunate for those underneath, it does mean that they’re able to do dramatic things. The XFM change to Radio X is a great example of this.

XFM has been troubled since the beginning. Launching on the day Princess Diana died was unfortunate. Whilst they had an enthusiastic fan base created through RSLs and their pirate days, a combination of a dead princess and launch marketing with the ridiculous “9 out of 10 listeners prefer Capital” strap-line – thank you Saachi and Saachi – didn’t really help it get going. If you ever want to hear an entertaining story, XFM founder Sammy Jacob on the launch’s first weeks is a great one.

It took the Capital Radio Group a little while to work out that doing their own version of Virgin was going to be troublesome before it found its feet with Christian O’Connell, Adam and Joe, Ricky Gervais et al. Whilst critically acclaimed, it still didn’t really generate the audiences everyone felt it should deserve.

Into the GCap days, XFM had too many bosses, most of which lacked the clarity to understand what to do with the radio station, resulting in the ridiculous attempt to do XU. XU – a kind of Jack-esque production and callers plus music mix wasn’t designed to save money. It was a genuine attempt to respond to the changing ways people were consuming music. The thinking was flawed and it didn’t last long.

Interestingly, the recently launched XFM Manchester, did XU too where it was better received (and produced). Partly this was because it lacked the heritage/baggage (delete as appropriate) that 104.9 had.

Indeed, over the years XFM has been caught between a rock and a hard place. Poor marketing and an alternative name – XFM – scared off people who would like a guitar/new-ish music station and those who would revel in the alternative would tune in and be mortally offended by Kings of Leon.

The trouble has often been around being ‘cool’.

I’d spent my time at GWR trying to bid for FM licences with our rock radio station The Storm. It was an early DAB station and whilst it shared quite a bit of musical overlap with XFM it wasn’t positioned as cool. It was pop and modern rock guitar-based music and presenters having a laugh. We spent a ridiculous amount of money bidding for licences and often coming close but achieving nothing. It was worse as we’d lost out to XFM in Manchester and Kerrang! in the West Midlands. In different ways, they were cooler and the regulator probably thought they had a better chance of success.

Then, as is the way, just as I lost the Manchester licence I was merged into GCap and now responsible for growing XFM’s footprint. We’d decided that XFM was the stronger brand when compared to The Storm, and we didn’t need two rock stations, sadly The Storm was despatched to the radio graveyard.

In the rubbish way evil conglomerates work, the Capital people were responsible for much of the planning of the licence bids, but it was my budget. As an ex-GWR person I was unknown and untrusted by their team who thought I was a parochial tosser and I thought they were all posh-o spend-heavy idiots. Neither, of course, was true. I remember however thinking, as I was given the responsibility, that I had to make my mark fast. A request came through to agree for the Newcastle RSL team to stay at Malmaison. I made them all share a student house. We weren’t really all on the same page.

It did get better though. Working on XFM you really did understand the power of the brand. It made everything much easier. It was cool and credible, it had an instant perception. The problem was that it scared off lots of people who’d like what it did on the air. Any other companies who wanted to work with us were obsessed with the cool-end – it’s why pretty much all of XFM’s ad campaigns have been crap – the ad agencies fell in love working on a cool brand without understanding the people who (should) be listening to the radio station.

Oddly, I did then win a FM licence for XFM in South Wales (now Nation Radio). Part of the reason I think we won was that I’d stripped back most of the bullshit elements. It was sold as a rock radio station that would be different to (then) Real and Red Dragon in the market and would share a lot of the back-office resource of Red Dragon, where it would be based.

I’d left by the time it had been won. By then mad Fru Hazlitt appeared, did a load of mental things to ‘save’ the company, including off-loading XFM South Wales, and then what was left was acquired by Global.

Out of all the brands, XFM hasn’t seemed to have had much love from Global. I don’t think this is particularly out of malice, but more that there were better places to spend the money.

Indeed, it’s always suffered a sort of third child syndrome. I remember when Johnny Vaughan was getting a multi-million pound ad campaign singing and dancing around London for Capital, Christian on XFM meanwhile got a couple of grand for some branded beermats.

Product-wise there’s always been a few options with what you do with XFM. Do you go very new, very pop rock, or something in between. Going very new would please the die-hards, but would be unlikely to be successful. New music fans are miserable bastards at the best of times – it’s almost impossible to satisfy them, there aren’t that many of them and you’re now sharing their listening with blogs, Spotify etc.

If you go the pop-rock end then you’re competing with Virgin/Absolute and the people who like guitars who listen to Radio 1.

Musically the middle position isn’t that bad – but without heavy marketing to define it or an anchor breakfast show, the incorrect perceptions, not helped by the name, are always going to hurt you.

What works well overseas is a slightly heavier more rock alternative. Kerrang! has a bit of that position, and a brand which supports it (even if it, too, over the years has been a bit all over the place musically).

The other issue that XFM has faced is 6Music. 6Music is really the evolution of the original XFM concept, a decent budget many times that of what X could afford, and with many of the presenters that X made famous. No ads also helps too. With 6Music creaming off the 20-40 AB web-designer crowd it was only a matter of time before XFM had to change.

Looking at the new Radio X that’s been announced they’re tackling many of the problems that XFM faced with some aggressive changes. The new Radio X is not really that connected to the old XFM. Of course it will aim to scoop up some of the old listeners but its main aim is to aggressively bring in new ones. Doing a 6Music-lite was never going to be sustainable.

Changing perceptions about a brand is hard. Marketing is essential to educate/re-educate people about what something is. This generally takes money. X I’m sure will have some cash to do this, but its DJ hires will also help it break through to non-listeners and, probably since launch, be the fire power needed to give new brand values to the name.

I imagine Radio X is going to be a male rock station – Absolute Radio with some newer records, but it’s not the music format, or music passion, that’s going to make Radio X a success or not. It’s Moyles, Vernon and Vaughan.

These are big, popular, mainstream personalities who will have no trouble being passionate about modern, accessible rock music, appealing primarily to men, but will be eminently listenable by women too.

As a radio fan, I’m excited that Global are building a radio station around personalities. I regard Moyles as one of the most talented radio presenters in the country, with a strong following, who I hope will be incredibly hungry to take a small station much larger. JV is a very funny, very intelligent guy – who, with the right team, will be able to do something very special.

I am surprised JV’s turned up at XFM. As a talkSPORT presenter, I thought he’d be an easy pick to put on the new Virgin Radio which talkSPORT’s parent company will launch in April. Indeed the new Radio X is seemingly doing very much what was planned with Virgin but with a more stellar line-up and doing it first. It’s also going to prove to be a tough challenge for Absolute. If Radio X is a slightly younger sounding, more personality packed station it could cause them some trouble.

With Radio X taking up a national berth on Digital One and launching before the 2nd national multiplex next year, Global are out of the blocks faster to build a national station that will grow from a decent proportion of its existing audience, as well as attracting new people from Absolute and Radio 1.

Digital Radio works well when strong, focused programming is delivered well, nationwide. We’ve seen it with 6Music, Absolute 80s, 4 Extra etc – XFM backed by real talent has a great opportunity too. It’s also much closer to our idea for The Storm – I knew we deserved those licences!