Next week sees the 25th anniversary of commercial radio, marked by
the inevitable photocall of celebrities at the UK’s first station
But the proof of the sector’s difficult march towards maturity was more
accurately on display last week, in a wonderful spat between Classic FM
and Radio 3.
If you recall, Radio 3 interviewed one of the music industry’s most
rated talents, Roger Lewis of Decca, for the vacant post of controller.
But the jittery BBC opted instead for its own home-grown head of
orchestras, Roger Wright, sending out a clear message that Radio 3 was
not ’dumbing down’. The process was hit by presentational bungles.
The national press predicted, over several days, that the wrong Roger -
Roger Lewis - would land the job. Then, even as the BBC was wheeling out
their Roger (Wright) in a ’meet the controller’ session with
journalists, Classic FM’s board pulled a PR coup, announcing Roger Lewis
as its director of programmes and board member. In the past, before
credible competition, the BBC often asked high profile outsiders like
Lewis to apply for jobs, before handing htem to the favoured
Lewis was hugely attractive to Classic too, and was playing both sides
of the industry ... although it is not clear that the BBC knew this. But
the bigger question is why Classic, ably overseen by chief executive
Ralph Bernard, needs a Lewis figure.
Here we come straight to one of commercial radio’s ongoing problems.
It has few creative leaders of distinction. It’s odd how little kudos
Capital Radio has reaped for its bid to woo children with a new format,
Fun Radio. Attempts at lobbying to allow greater concentration of
ownership don’t seem to have scored either.
Classic FM, after its takeover by GWR two years ago actually revamped
its schedules on advice from its advertising agency: it worked. But it
clearly feels the need for a leader, someone to step into the gap left
by ex-programme director Michael Bukht, to front up its record label and
magazine and to lead the ratings war.
In fact, commercial radio has been denuded of big names, as the first
generation of pioneers retreats. Capital Radio’s Richard Eyre, the
sector’s cleverest operator is now rescuing ITV. Chris Evans is
preoccupied with safeguarding his investment at Virgin Radio. And Talk
Radio’s future (as I write) is uncertain, due to the massive instability
caused by owner Luxembourg CLT’s decision to sell.
Sure commercial radio can now boast a five per cent advertising spend
share, but at the age of 25, it is not stunningly successful.
The lead over the BBC is not as wide as it should be. And, for all the
hope raised by the switch to digital, the rise of competition, through
new satellite-audio digital channels could nibble into home-based radio