Monday, 19 February 2007

Radio 2 - The next step?

BBC Radio 2 have a new Head of Music. It's Jeff Smith, former Head of Music at Radio 1, Capital PD and most recently the Director of Programming at Napster.

He has a big job ahead of him. Radio 2 is riding high. The station is as popular as ever... and is probably the most eclectic it's ever been. Organ music, soft religious programming, show tunes, country music and light classics... right the way through to specialist reggae, cool new wave Brit bands, and the finest live sessions around. You can't get broader than that!

The charge that Radio 2 has moved it's music younger and attracted the traditional 'commercial radio' audience is one that is always levelled. It just doesn't add up though. Yes, the station has increased it's reach of 30-44 year olds. Since 2000, they've gone from 2Million to 3.5 Million and the share has almost doubled from 7.5% to around 15%.

But at the same time, the share of 60+'s, that demo that commercial radio just doesn't seem to want, has stayed around the 20% mark for the last 7 years. The most hours on radio 2 are still generated by 60+ women! A shift implies growing one area at the expense of another. However, Radio 2 haven't shifted, they've just grown overall!! (Still a problem for commercial radio). But when times are tough, it's easy to point the finger elsewhere.

A lot of this Radio 2 growth has been put down to former controller Jim Moir laying some solid foundations, Lesley Douglas continuing the good work and outgoing Head of Music, Colin Martin, chosing a great (and evolving) set of songs to play week in week out. From the latest successes of Mika and James Morrison, back through to Norah Jones and Katie Melua... Radio 2 has been instrumental in defining the singer / songwriter sound of the 2000's.

But where next? That's the challenge for Jeff. With the wave of new UK music swinging back to a slightly harder rock sound and the cycle for pop and dance music due another burst, can Radio 2 hang on to the contemporary music position it has carved out for itself, or will the current music swing away from the Radio 2 sound, making it feel a little like James Taylor performing at an '18-30' welcome party? Will the younger end of it's audience stick with it? Will the older end of the audience stick with it? A difficult balancing act is about to be performed and Jeff Smith will be walking along that particular musical tightrope.

I wish him well. A strong BBC Radio 2 is ultimately good for commercial radio (despite what they say!) as it will ensure that investment in good content and a less formulaic approach to music programming will be adopted in the months and years ahead.

In a fragmenting world, is "extreme variety" still an option? Over to you Jeff....!

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