Classic FM is about to reinstate music instead of chat at
lunchtimes in a bid to finally make some profits. Radio 4’s new
controller is reviewing every slot in its hallowed, but stale line-up.
Virgin Radio is losing audiences, as is Atlantic 252.
Talk Radio’s relaunches are working, but the station has yet to become
talked about as the station to tune to. Everyone is waiting to see how
damaging Chris Evans’ stormy exit from Radio 1 will be, and which rivals
Study the audience and even advertising data covering the sector and it
becomes clear that radio, whether the commercial variety, or the BBC
version, is hardly a cosy place to be these days, except perhaps if you
work for Radio 5 Live’s sports department, or for slick ’grey power’
station Radio 2, which has emerged with the largest audience share of
There is a lot of rethinking of formats going on at last, and it is
being done out of sheer necessity. The basic point is that all operators
are uncomfortably aware that despite the stream of new licences issued
by the Radio Authority the sector is losing listeners, rather than
adding to them.
The most recent RAJAR figures published this month showed weekly reach
down by around half a million people compared with the year before. In
contrast TV is having a much easier time. Further, there is a stubborn
set of people, some 15 per cent of the population who simply don’t
This is because they choose to do other things: listen to CDs in the
car, watch MTV at home, play computer games or surf the Internet.
These factors affect both the BBC and commercial radio, but the
Corporation’s five national stations, increasingly targeted, are helping
it sustain a clear majority - 49.6 per cent of audiences, compared to
commercial radio’s 48.3 per cent. There is no sign of commercial radio
reaching for the 60 per cent share until recently thought easily
achievable. Its best news is that it has the major share of listening
among working professionals under 40.
Even the explosive rise in advertising is slowing - after three years of
annual income growth at well over 20 per cent, 1996 settled down to a 14
per cent increase. Radio is still the fastest growing sector, but it is
getting tougher by the day. Is there an answer? Well, the sector could
market itself far better. Have you ever received a direct mail letter
from a commercial station?
Second, practical audience research needs to be stepped up. Ralph
Bernard, chief executive running Classic FM, spent months researching in
fine detail what audiences want. Conclusions range from a reduction in
commercial minutage to a schedule which flows, rather than provoking you
to switch off.
He has emerged an optimist. It will be interesting to see if 1997 proves