Radio Formats & Union Jack

I’ve just got back home after a lovely holiday in Bergerac, followed by a quick trip to Amsterdam for a RadioDays Europe production meeting. If you’re aren’t aware RDE is the biggest conference in European radio and is an amazing melting pot of different people and ideas.

I’ve been involved with the event for a number of years supporting what they do online, but this year I’ve been bumped up to the programme committee. Hark at me etc.

The committee is made up of a load of radio folks from all across the continent and we’re tasked with putting together around 50 sessions that reflect the diversity and vibrancy of the radio sector. We had a good kick off meeting and were joined by lots of other radio folk who were contributing ideas and thoughts. Oh – and if you have an idea for a session please email me – and I’ll suggest it too.

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Anyway, the thing I want to talk about is the dinner we had after the first meeting. At my end of the table it was me and new radio colleagues from Finland, Denmark and Switzerland. As I’m sure you’re aware, radio folk are never short of topics to talk about, so aided by some booze it was a good night.

What I was a surprised about were some of the UK radio things I got interrogated about and also how some general assumptions about radio formats and interest in show types was very different.

There was lots of interest in the new D2 stations and the performance of things like LBC. Many European public broadcasters are, often because of DAB, suddenly facing new formats competing with their heritage position, so they were keen to know what was coming next. They were also interested in finding out about Bauer – as the company has started to make a big splash acquiring stations in the Nordic countries and much of the reporting lines lead to the management in Golden Square.

The biggest surprise though were that none of my colleagues, later joined by a Swedish one too, could understand why you would want to talk about sport on the radio. Listening to sports – fine. But a discussion afterwards, they said there would be entirely no interest from their listeners.

Now, sport isn’t exactly my core interest, but I performed a spirited defence of 606 and talkSPORT. They knew it worked in the UK, but were adamant it wouldn’t work in their own countries – and a station like talkSPORT would have no chance whatsoever – their listeners cared about what the scores were not why they were.

Was it just received wisdom, assumptions or a deep understanding of their audience? Who knows. Though I did find myself volunteering to start a competitive sports radio station in Stockholm. Perhaps I’d had a little too much wine.

What is in no doubt is that in the UK, we forget how vibrant and developed our radio market is, something I think is a result of a very well funded BBC, a resilient commercial sector and the potential that DAB has brought to the country.

Indeed, another new station has just popped on the dial as of a few minutes ago – Union Jack – a new national radio station that’s taken the very last few kilobits on D2.

Union Jack is the brainchild of the guys behind Jack FM in Oxford and the original progenitors of Absolute Radio – Donnach O’Driscoll, Clive Dickens and Ian Walker.

The station’s based on the main Jack service – an irreverent classic hits format – but with a slight twist in that it’s only going to play British music. I think this is a neat concept and something that will lend itself to marketing and stunting pretty well. It’s also driven by Futuri’s Listener Driven Radio product. This allows listeners to vote up songs (from a wider database than would normally be on a similarly formatted service) to get them on the radio.

In reality it’s got some clever rules around it to stop it being, er, Boaty McBoatfaced all the time, whist still giving the perception of being listener-controlled. It’s also a good way to engage listeners and build a database.

No doubt it will be another format our friends in mainland Europe are interested in and I wish all the Jack guys success with their new radio station.