MEDIA: Radio is rapidly gaining market share and it’s largely through PR

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’.

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

high-profile medium.



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

they’d like.



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

million.



The appetite for smaller licences is intense, too. Fourteen are queueing

for a new Solent licence. Disappointed applicants can be very

bitter.



But that’s a fact of media life. As BRMB is proving, radio is no quiet

backwater.



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