Evans and Grimmy on the Telly

Lots of telly news for radio folk as Radio 2 Breakfast host Chris Evans takes the helm of Top Gear whilst Radio 1’s breakfast boy Nick Grimshaw joins the judging panel of the X Factor. But what does it mean for their jobs on the wireless?

Personally, I think it’s good news. One of the main things I’ve been banging on about is that in a crowded media world the biggest challenge to establish programmes and stations is how you drive awareness.

“If you build it, they will come” is bullshit. Doing a great job on-air isn’t enough to ensure success any more. Presenters need to ensure their content and personality transcends the show and station. Great content, word of mouth and advertising can definitely help do the job – but there’s a million other ways to do get the message out – newspaper columns, social media, YouTube or getting on a big TV show.


Three years in, Grimmy has found it hard to make his mark on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. For me, it’s a combination of production issues, coaching and lack of promotion. I still think, fundamentally though, he was the right choice. It’s also much easier to fix content than personality. Given the right material and promotion he could totally deliver.

X Factor is the perfect place to communicate his personality, massively raise his level of fame and provide lots of reasons for new, target listeners to sample the show. Being on the inside of the biggest pop culture programme for his radio show’s core demo puts Nick in an amazing position. The challenge is now to ensure that the other bits of the show deliver the wow that turns these samplers into regular listeners.

I think there’s also a brilliant opportunity to make it a more family-friendly programme. If you want 15 year olds to listen to the radio, it helps if the Mums are on-side as they’re the ones tuning in in the kitchen and car. If Mum’s more comfortable listening after spending her Saturday nights with him on the sofa, that will only turn out to be a good thing.

There is, of course, a knock-on effect of putting the Radio 1 Breakfast host on the X Factor – and that’s whether commercial radio will stop talking about X Factor. But you know what? I’d happily swap Global talking about the show to get R1 talking about it everyday. Easy.

Chris Evans

Evans is in a very different situation. He presents the biggest radio show in Europe with nearly 10million people in the UK tuning in each week. He does not have an awareness problem.

Whilst TFI’s excellent ratings were partly down to people’s fondness for the format, the extensive cross-promotion on Radio 2 (and popping up on Radio 1 and 6Music to talk about it as well) didn’t do it any harm. You see kids, radio advertising does work! Though it would have been nice if Channel 4 had paid to advertise on commercial radio rather getting it for free on the BBC. Anyway, I digress…

The BBC has been in a terrible state over Top Gear. How do you manage a Globally-successful brand when the core presenter is radioactive in the UK. Even with the awful things Jeremy Clarkson did, the show still had huge goodwill from viewers. High production values, humour and three likeable presenters made it look like it would be impossible for the BBC to reboot.

I think with the appointment of Evans the balance of power has shifted away from the three ex-presenters back to the BBC. Chris is a popular choice but has also, cleverly, had the endorsement of the old guard. Getting their blessing massively helps the show move on. Today, on the One Show, Evans announced that they’re having open auditions for his co-hosts. Another masterstroke. They will, of course, pick who they want, but tipping it towards being “the people’s show” is a canny move. I’m sure they won’t be shy to mention that Hammond and May were both appointed through auditions too.

As well as losing the three hosts, they also lost the key producer – Andy Wilman. Bringing in Evans as Presenter and Exec Producer also gives them an entertainment-genius to provide creative renewal and a new leader for a group of people no doubt significantly demoralised.

As the success of Evans’ TFI promotion shows, the new Top Gear will also have a ready-made platform to reach the right demographic every morning.

Will his new TV duties affect the radio show? It shouldn’t, but that’s not to say it won’t. At the Evans level, TV and radio are team sports. If you are supported by the right people it should be fine. Where I think it’s harder is that Top Gear requires lots of international work. Whilst Evans does have nine weeks of holiday a year, it’s going to be hard work to combine the two jobs.

One person to perhaps look at though is Ryan Seacrest in the US. He does successful local and national radio shows alongside American Idol and a lot of TV projects (he produces the Kardashians). To achieve this, his show literally follows him around the world. When he’s doing Idol auditions in Wichita, the radio show are there, pop up studio and all. He’s created a machine to support what he does. There’s no reason Evans can’t do the same.

RAJAR Awareness for Evans, 6Music and Absolute 80s

The good thing about RAJAR is that there’s at least four times every year where my medium, radio, gets a go at getting some media coverage. This quarter there’s been a change to the reporting rules which focuses that even more. For the first time results are coming out just after midnight (stations get them at 1.30pm the day before) which means the results can all be in today’s morning papers.

The stories that I think are interesting:
1. Chris Evans has 9.5million listeners (up from 8.4m)
2. 6Music has jumped from having 695k to 1,023k listeners
3. Absolute 80s crashes onto the scene with a very respectable 264k listeners and 1.4m hours
4. Big jump for digital – 38.5% of the UK now listens to digital radio (that’s DAB, DTV and online) each week, this collectively accounts for 24% of all UK radio listening. I’ll take that as half way to switchover!
5. Capital back to London’s Number 1.
6. All Radio reach is up – 91% of the population now listen to the radio each week – that’s over a billion hours of listening.

I think many of these stories are a good reminder of the importance of awareness and i’m going to use the first three as examples.

Everyone is busy. Everyone is assaulted by hundreds of messages everyday. Everyone is consuming information on multiple platforms. Everyone has very fixed firm favourites.

It is difficult to tell people that you exist, a reason they should consume you, how to encourage that first trial and then persuade them to come back and spend even more time with you.

In the old days, to make someone aware of your new radio station was quite easy. Just existing on a frequency generated trial and some promo on launch day in the local paper and on the local telly would get you to most of your county. Provided, of course, you had a cheesy DJ wearing headphones and holding a balloon!

Nowadays, people aren’t so starved of media that they scan for new stations on FM, they probably don’t read the local paper (if it hasn’t closed) and likewise for local TV too (do you know who presents your local TV bulletin?). The choice explosion has also now been with us a number of years. Many consumers are used to navigating Sky+, iTunes or the broader internet to seek out media to consume. In radio there’s probably less people who stay tuned to the ‘least worst option’ than there used to be.

Short version – just being ‘new’ is no longer the best route to growing an audience.

So… back to our top stories.

Chris Evans taking over the breakfast show on Radio 2 has been a big, sustained story for months and months. It kicked off from the rumours of him getting it, to the announcement, to the end of Wogan, to the talk-ups on Drive, to the announcement of Moira, to a TV advert on BBC channels, to the launch of the show, to the backlash. Oh, and it also being on-air and being quite good as well! This is sustained coverage from all media – reminding a big chunk of people that Chris Evans (remember, that bloke you quite liked) is on Radio 2 and is going to be doing a new Breakfast Show. There was also big coverage on Radio 2, from Wogan calming his fans to Chris talking it up – it’s the biggest station in the country – a great captive audience to remind people about the change and also a great platform to explain the benefits of tuning in too.

It’s interesting to compare Chris’s additional audience with that of the station as a whole. In total Radio 2 has added 1.096m listeners and the show has added 1.101m new ones. I’d wager this means Chris has managed the double whammy of bringing a load of new people to the radio station AND retaining the same number of old Radio 2 listeners as well. Now, i’m sure these weren’t all TOGs, but it looks like he’s added more existing Radio 2 listeners to his show than he’s lost from it. That’s quite a feat – not just for Chris, but also for Radio 2, who’s seemingly managed to replace a breakfast show at the right time, with the right DJ.

Another massive radio story has been 6Music. The BBC Trust report that predated by a few days the announcement from the management that they would like to shut it, showed that only 20% of the UK were aware it existed. Now, you need to be aware of something to trial it so it’s no surprise that their audience was small.

Well, one thing that certainly spiked people’s awareness of 6Music, was the threat to close it down! The result has increased its audience by 50%! What’s also interesting about the change is that normally when a station increases its reach, its average hours drop, as the newer people are lighter listeners compared to the older ones. 6Music’s managed to do the opposite, increasing its average hours from 5.5 to 7.7. It could be interesting to look at whether the threat of losing something has brought people closer to it and encouraged them to consume more (or, of course, whether there’s some over claiming of listening).

Finally, it’s great to see Absolute 80s do so well both in reach and hours. Not only because it’s been around for just a few months but also because it’s only on DAB in London (though nationwide on DTV and online).
I think the success is down to three main things – format, brand and distribution alongside using different channels to drive awareness.

Anyone who’s carried out radio research in the last ten years knows that 80s has been a format that ‘scores well’. Why has no one done it? God knows. The format is easy to understand, there’s loads of great tunes and it manages to be ‘gold’ without being ‘old’.

Secondly, by christening it Absolute 80s, TIML have done two things. They’ve aligned it to something people already know – Absolute Radio – which has been slowly growing its own brand values about ‘real music’, allowing it to be an 80s station without being too cheesy. They’ve also got the word 80s in its name. If you haven’t got serious money to spend on marketing, you need to have a Ronseal name – one that instantly explains what it does.

Finally – distribution. Digital TV and the internet can only get you so far – especially with listening hours. A good base in London on DAB means it can be a true radio choice for many listeners and launching an iPhone app means that it can be mobile for many more as well.

Using iPhone apps has also been a great way of driving awareness. As well as there being a stand-alone iPhone app, the station’s also appeared on the other Absolute iPhone apps too. This means that a large number of people are going to be made aware of the new station. Additionally as a stand-alone app they will have driven awareness as it’s climbed the iTunes Store charts.

The other thing that they did was actively promote on Absolute Radio and Absolute Classic Rock the fact that the station exists! They did a big on-air push towards the launch with tags on 80s tracks as well as simulcasting the launch show on Absolute Radio too.

It’s amazing how radio groups rarely use their own radio stations to promote their other radio stations. They’re all scared. There’s too many unknowns. I spent a long time hearing something along the lines of “But why should we move a listener from a stations that generates £8 per listener to one that generates 50p?” The answer, should anyone ever ask you, is “they don’t just listen to your station, you dummy”.

You also have to begin by admitting, even with the best will in the world, that it’s going to get harder and harder to maintain your audience. Your best option is to keep existing listeners happy and bring new listeners to your family of radio stations. You want to be fighting for your group’s share of a listener’s hours – you already know they spend time with other people – use a portfolio approach to make sure they listens less to the other people and keeps/grows their hours with you. Also, use the fact that they listen to two of your stations to give them lots of reasons to flick between them and not over to the competition.

Is that the time? Well, in summary, being successful is all about awareness. This can be generated lots of different ways, but it does need to be generated. If your product is right (and the three examples above all start from the point of being a good product) you need to use your entire armoury of weapons to ensure you get your message out there because just existing is definitely not enough. Even if you have a DJ with headphones and balloons.

Chris Evans: Getting Up Early for Britain

Apparently there’s a new breakfast show later this morning.

Chris Evans taking over the Radio 2 Breakfast show is the big headline, but what’s fascinating is the knock on it’s going to have to other radio stations and to Radio 2.

Firstly it means a change to a third of daytime on Radio 2. The introduction of Evans means a new Drivetime show – Simon Mayo. This means Breakfast, Afternoons, Drivetime and the Late Show now sits with ex-Radio 1 presenters – Evans (1995 to 1997), Wright (1980 to 1995) and Mayo (1986 to 2001), Mark Radcliffe (1991 to 2004) and Stuart Maconie (1995 to 1997). These were some of Radio 1’s star performers and they were on-air not very long ago.

A significant chunk of this old Radio 1’s audience (today’s 35 pluses) have already moved across to Radio 2, but there’s a significant number that remain with Radio 1.

Radio 1’s line-up change last year was a recognition that the station was starting to trend older and they took the easy decisions to alter the mid-morning/afternoon line-up. What it didn’t do was tackle the main problem – Breakfast. Moyles continues to produce an excellent morning show, the problem is that the show’s seeing declining in listeners under 34 and growth with over 35s.

The arrival of Evans will make many of these listeners, a good deal of which listened to him the first time around, reconsider their morning preset. This bodes well for Evans and will help Radio 1 trend younger, but will likely leave Moyles in a precarious position come July.

Radio 2 have already played a good game to indicate to existing listeners that this won’t be much of a change. It’s important to remember that Evans has spent more time on Radio 2 Drivetime than any other job he’s ever done and he leaves the show with 6million listeners (compared to Wogan’s 8 million at Breakfast). On top of that I don’t expect the new show to change the music at all, it’s also got continuity with Lynn Bowles and a clever hire, in the seemingly universally liked Moira Stewart. Of course it’s also got Chris Evans too.

The show’s also been quite clever in its marketing. Firstly it’s had a very long handover. With an older audience it’s important that people get used to the idea of what’s coming. This has given time for lots of trust earning statements from Wogan, other presenters and from Chris himself. The existing Drivetime show’s also had months of talking about the new Breakfast show. Many of the Drivetime listeners may have other Breakfast choices at the moment, this work will ensure they’ll now have a new one with Chris. Commercial radio always seems to eschew this tactic and surprise listeners (and normally the old presenters) with a brand new line-up one morning – and then wonder why it takes 18 months for them to settle in.

As well as this activity, it also gets a BBC TV ad campaign, kicking off after an episode of Eastenders. We’ll skip over whether it’s appropriate that the BBC runs TV spots for the UK’s most popular breakfast show on the UK’s most popular radio station about the most well known change of presenter ever.

There’s a view that Evans at Breakfast will mean Radio 2’s listeners become even younger. I’m not sure the station’s going to massively drift – it did its main move in the 90s. The interesting threat for commercial radio is that Evans may extend the average listening of 35 to 44s to Radio 2 as they start to consume a breakfast show that they didn’t used to choose.

It also cements an on-going process that’s been happening since the early 90s, when Radio 1 had its ‘big shift’ and in the late 90s when Radio 2 had something similar. Now, for really the first time you have the two BBC mainstream commercial networks side by side – one for under 35s, one for over 35s. Great for the BBC, not so good for commercial operators. The last part of that puzzle will be who Radio 1 picks as the next Breakfast show host or hosts.

What is good about Evans at Breakfast is that it continues to mean that UK radio has some of the best talent on the air and keeps everyone on their toes.