This week’s blind date marriage on Birmingham radio station BRMB
was, as a spokesperson admitted in what must be the understatement of
the year, ’something to get the station talked about’.
As a publicity stunt it was amazingly successful, mainly because of its
sheer tackiness. Indeed, it is the kind of stunt I’d have expected to
find on, say, Live TV, not BRMB, which happens to be the fourth oldest
commercial radio station in the UK. It once used to be quite staid. But
it also underscores the point, unthinkable until a few years ago - I’d
date it to when Chris Evans erupted on to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show in
1994 - that radio has become both an extraordinarily competitive and
There are a number of factors at play. First, BRMB, owned by aggressive
Capital Radio, is fighting a fierce ratings war with Heart FM for
dominance in Birmingham. In all urban areas of Britain, competition is
intense.The UK now has some 225 commercial radio stations. Capital is
still riled at losing the takeover battle for Virgin.
Second, although radio is a genuinely buoyant sector, with advertising
expanding well above the rate of inflation, it desperately needs
creative PR because stations cannot afford to pay for the promotion
This applies, not just to once obscure players like BRMB, but to big
national stations such as Classic FM, too.
Third, in smallish operations, big fish and strong personalities count,
therefore the antics of Kelvin MacKenzie at Talk Radio - who has
basically engineered a smallish media takeover of pounds 27 million -
command column inches well outside the business pages.
The comings and goings of Kirsty Young and Danny Baker take on a soap
opera feel, as have Chris Evans’s past struggles at Virgin against
officious parking wardens. In this context, even fines from the Radio
Authority for programme breaches have a publicity value.
Finally, the higher profile of radio has affected the authority itself,
which has moved from being a minor bureaucracy to a body generating a
lot more comment. Sensibly, it has boldly started publishing its reasons
for making licence awards and modernised the way programme format
obligations are expressed.
Authority members are in the public eye. The reason of course is that
three or four new licences a month are being dished out. The larger new
regional licences are valuable: 14 groups are competing for the central
Scotland licence to be decided next week, an asset worth up to pounds 15
The appetite for smaller licences is intense, too. Fourteen are queueing
for a new Solent licence. Disappointed applicants can be very
But that’s a fact of media life. As BRMB is proving, radio is no quiet