MEDIA ANALYSIS: Local radio with an Original slant

In its native Canada, CanWest MediaWorks has a diverse array of media interests spanning television, radio, newspaper and online brands.

In the UK, where its first venture launched last year, it now has three commercial local radio stations operating under its Original brand name.

The original Original, as it were, covers the Solent area of the south coast, while the most recent franchise addition, in Aberdeen, kicked off less than two weeks ago on 28 October. In bet­ween the two, on 20 May 2007, came the launch of Original 106.5FM Bristol.

The station moved into a market that is already well-served. GCap Media’s GWR Bristol is firmly established and other independent local radio (ILR) brands include Star and Emap’s Kiss 101.

But Original is marking itself out by targeting a more mature age group. While GWR opts for a staple of youthful chart fodder from pop acts such as Mika, Sugababes and Kanye West, CanWest has positioned Original to appeal to a more adult audience of 25- to 54-year-olds with a playlist that promises ‘not to bore or irritate’. It also pledges not to air the same song twice within any six-hour period.

Room for news
All of Original Bristol’s content is locally produced and presented. Alth­ough music predominates, it also offers a 24-hour local news service run by a five-strong team, with brief bulletins throughout the day and an extended 15-minute news bulletin each weekday afternoon.

‘We are a quality contemporary adult station that plays a lot of album material, with 7,000 records on rotation,’ says managing director Tom Hunter, an ILR veteran. ‘There’s a consistency to our sound. We are a commercial radio station for people who don’t usually like commercial radio; we limit ourselves to six minutes of advertising every hour.’

This cap on advertising airtime, says Hunter, creates opportunities for strong PR partnerships. Examples of this so far have included an outside broadcast from Bristol International Airport to mark the introduction of new Ryanair routes and previews of forthcoming attractions at Bristol Hippodrome theatre.

Aime Southgate, co-founder and creative director of Bristol-based PR agency Montage Communications, says that in September her company participated in a series of meetings with the Original team to get a keener appreciation of its approach, ethos and view towards working with the local community and businesses. Her team was very impressed with Original’s professionalism and in particular its CSR agenda.

‘We have since set up a media partnership with the station and our client West Country Crimestoppers,’ says Southgate. ‘The station now runs a monthly 20-minute live interview with the development officer for West Country Crimestoppers and Original presenter Faye Dicker.

‘The news team has a genuine interest, energy and passion to find out about local issues and agendas and seems very keen to support a range of South West initiatives.’

It is possible to listen to the station’s content live online at www.originalbristol.com. The website also contains pithy news stories, a ‘what’s on’ events guide and some podcast material as well as the obligatory background on Original and its DJ talent.

Original breaks its audience down as 58 per cent ABC1 and 63 per cent male, which sets it apart from other local stations that tend to focus on younger audiences with a higher proportion of female listeners.

According to Hunter, within six weeks of launch the station was reaching 13 per cent of its target audience. Local agency JBP lent PR support to Original on a project basis at the time of the launch.

Programme manager Ricki Lee – who also presents a show between 6.00pm and 10.00pm on weekdays and on Saturday afternoons – says the station is aimed firmly at those who want more than top-20 hits. Presenting style is intended to be ‘adult’ rather than tabloid and there are specialist slots dedicated to local music, interesting cover versions, rock and dance.

Content policy is to avoid appealing to the lowest common denominator and to shun presentation that is crass, juvenile or overly laden with sexual innuendo. Luring upscale listeners away from the BBC is a major aim.

‘We have a good relationship with a lot of the record labels and we thrive on doing interviews with artists about their music,’ says Lee.

‘We have Mark Ronson [whose album of covers featuring stars such as Amy Winehouse has been a huge success] coming in for an interview and we may turn that half hour of talking into three hours of programming for Christmas featuring lots of his music and the music that inspired him. We are an intelligent listen so we want to interview people that have interesting things to say.’

Quality mix
Sara Lewis, Berkeley PR regional director, South West, says she enjoys Original’s mix of quality music alongside local, national and business news. The presentation of the news, programmes and music ‘resonates with a considered adult audience’ and she feels that this sets Original apart from other commercial radio stations in the region.

‘Considering it has only been on the air since May, the impact has been good,’ adds Lewis. ‘The credibility and experience of the presenters has given the station kudos and awareness has been raised with regional advertising. I’m impressed.

‘Its extended news programmes give PROs the opportunity to pitch the wider angle, looking at a particular issue in more detail. The station is open to a wide variety of promotion ideas, but PROs need to discuss and plan with the station well in advance.’

Golley Slater PR Bristol managing director Liam Herbert adds that the arrival of Original, taken together with the debut in October of Insider Media’s magazine South West Business Insider – which began with a cover feature on the South West Rich List – shows the vibrant nature of media in the region.

Until Original’s first Rajar audience figures are in it is hard to assess how well the fledgling station is performing, but locally there is a sense that it has found its niche and is delivering on its licence promise.


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