The success of a radio station is usually down to a combination of music selection, talent and marketing. You don’t need all three to win, but it sure does help.
Historically, radio stations have generally been able to have the upper hand with talent as the limited supply of frequencies meant there were only a few places to go if you were a presenter that wanted to make it ‘big’!
Of course our now nearly infinite radio dial, both linear and on-demand, means that isn’t always the case any more. It’s definitely not entirely gone away – there are still limited numbers of big outlets – but what’s new is that there are companies where seemingly business rules don’t apply – who are happy to open their chequebooks.
Whilst more premium opportunities for talent is good, the danger is that taking the money, or jumping to somewhere new that’s fun – may also result in you disappearing to a media no man’s land and the value you have as a star wanes.
Since Charlie Sloth and Dotty left Radio 1 for Apple Music 1/Beats 1, have they been part of the cultural zeitgeist?
The challenge for talent is balancing a home that gives them fame, money and allows them to grow and develop their act. The downside is that it will almost be impossible to find a perfect fit – your new home will always want you to do things that, given the choice, you wouldn’t want to do.
For some talent, their own accumulated scale means they can create their own new home.
Adam Buxton, Peter Crouch, Fearne Cotton have made their main audio homes podcasts rather than radio stations – staying front of mind with consumers whilst defining their own brand and doing the content they want.
Other previous radio stars like Danny Baker have done this too. Danny’s show now exists purely for Patreon subscribers – 1,800 of them subscribing for between £5 and £7. It probably nets him, after fees, about £8k a month. The challenge though will be how he brings new people into his subscription treehouse. There’s no free version, and he lacks much media oomph to bring him to new audiences. I imagine he may not care and that he finds it worth it for the control.
The chart above looks a little more dramatic than it probably is, as the y axis is quite truncated, but it does show the problem dealing with expiring credit cards and unsubs. In this space, as a creator, you have to do the marketing as well as the content.
The big recent radio shift is that Helen Thomas, the Head of Radio 2, has decided to pull a key plaster off, by replacing the erstwhile Steve Wright in the Afternoon with Radio 1’s Scott Mills.
The big show started on Radio 2 in 1999, though after a run from 1981 to 1993 on Radio 1. He had a good innings on daily national radio. It may seem odd to retire Steve when his figures are still strong. As the chart shows, his numbers generally rise and fall with the station.
Where it is different though, is around average age. Radio 2 is keen to re-position with more appeal to 35-55s, but since 2004 the station’s average has creeped up from 50 to 54. Steve’s average age exceeds the average of the station, so is gradually pulling it even older. For Radio 2 to re-align the station, it has to make some big changes.
For Steve this raises an interesting question. His audience scale would make him an in-demand person, but does he want to give up his remaining Radio 2 shifts (things for BBC Sounds and Sunday Love Songs) to pick up a bigger gig at somewhere like Smooth? Whilst it would definitely salve the ego, it would probably push him closer to the end of radio’s relevance conveyer belt.
Over at Virgin Radio, Chris Evans isn’t the boss, but all the bosses are forced to listen to him (on air and his corporate ideas). Chris was keen to extend an invitation for Steve to join the station. There is some form with this, obviously Chris moved from Radio 2 and pulled Graham Norton over as well. Their audience additions – 1m for Chris, 500k for Graham are solid, but probably at significant salary cost. Kisstory manages the same hours as Virgin at, I imagine, far less than the cost of a Mr Norton.
Will Virgin want to do their talent grab again for Wright? I’m not convinced it’s great for the Virgin Radio brand which still retains something of the risk-taking/rule-breaking Branson genesis, but would be further diluted with Steve joining the ship.
Whilst I’m sure a lot of Steve’s listeners will be grumpy, Scott Mills actually shares many similarities with Steve – particularly the focus on content and ‘show’ – rather than style. It won’t be such a big transition as many think. Radio 2 whilst losing some die-hards will probably attract some older Radio 1 listeners as well as some lapsed Radio 1 listeners who hadn’t found their way to Radio 2 yet. It’ll almost certainly help drag their average age younger.
Scott over the last ten years, has been presenting on Radio 1 with Chris Stark. Chris is a talented presenter and ideas generator and has contributed hugely to the Radio 1 show and acted as a youthful foil as Scott gets older. His persona though would make it difficult to transition with Scott to Radio 2.
Chris is also the co-host of one of the country’s most successful podcasts – That Peter Crouch Podcast – as well as doing a few other podcast things. I was a little surprised to see him announced as a producer-presenter for Global. He’ll be appearing on Capital Breakfast with Roman Kemp where he’ll be the “Creative Executive Producer” alongside some work growing Global’s sports podcasting output.
He’s a very talented producer, but it will be interesting to see how they integrate him into the show and how he’ll find the more structured commercial radio output.
Radio 1 meanwhile have not gone for a big hire to replace Scott, instead plumping for Dean McCullough and Vicky Hawkesworth – both relatively new presenters at Radio 1, and without much media profile. The challenge is to balance the opportunity of renewing the station with presenters living a lifestyle closer to the listeners, whilst hoping that the cocoon of Radio 1’s music and brand counter-balances the lack of familiarity that listeners will face when deciding to tune into the pair.
It also means that Radio 1 has transitioned to a very content-heavy daytime schedule with Rickie, Melvin and Charlie in the mornings, Dean and Vicky in the Afternoons and Vick and Jordan at Drive – double or triple headers all day.
What it certainly does do is mark Radio 1 out as being different from commercial radio’s output, which is pretty much all music-intensive during the day. However, combining that with a new music position, makes it difficult to attract and retain mass audiences. But does it matter if Radio 1’s audience drops a little, if it’s doing something different?
Moving the talent around radio’s chessboard generates big opportunities for the stations in the middle if it. However, by forcing listeners to make decisions about what they should listen to, now that their old faves have swapped around, it also generates opportunity for everyone in the audio sector. Using the shift to sell your own benefits to listeners with their fingers on the dial could also create decent returns.
A return to in-person discussions on The Media Podcast this week as I talk to the Press Gazette’s Charlotte Tobit and radio producer/technologist Ann Charles at a rooftop bar next to Television Centre. We catch up about the merging of the BBC’s news channels (and whether Five Live should have been part of that) plus how the PM machinations will affect the media bills and even a quick look at the Nation Broadcasting changes. Take a listen!
What’s happening on radio’s chessboard?