Monday, 26 March 2007

Smooth Radio - First Impressions...


So… they chose Barbara Streisand to re-launch Smooth FM in London. "Welcome to Smooth Radio!" Hmmm...

How Smooth is it then? Decidedly Smoother?

Well, on dipping in to the their new sound today… yes it’s all very melodic and easy going as you’d hope and expect. But it does sound rather… well… rather Magic!

As expected, there are a lot of cross over songs with Magic. Today I heard the likes of Marvin Gaye, David Gray, Odyssey and ABC. All big Magic stalwarts. The biggest shift from Smooth’s point of view must be the inclusion of traditional rock based artists.

So come on down… Coldplay and David Bowie!!

The station promises listeners music from 5 decades. Well, they certainly do deliver that every hour and the noticeable point of difference with Magic (and perhaps similarity to Radio 2) is the inclusion of 60’s music.

Yes, there are the obvious timeless 60’s hits like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and Beach Boys, but also the very twee 60’s songs like The Cascades, Everly Brothers and even some of the early Beatles numbers. These certainly will appeal to the over 50’s as is Smooth’s stated aim.

The oddest thing about the station so far is not the music. It’s the positioning statement.

“Your Music. Your Life”

Fair enough. Looks fine on posters, logos etc… but hearing presenters deliver this line like it’s something natural they’d say just doesn’t work. How often do you use sentences consisting of 2 words… and 2 of them in a row!! The days of presenters delivering straplines on air must be numbered. And this particular line just sounds very artificial and forced.

There’s much more speech on the new service and you can see how they are trying to challenge Radio 2 with this type of stuff. Mark Goodier’s quiz this morning had a bit of a Ken Bruce / Steve Wright quiz about it, and Kevin Greening’s ‘talky bit’ with an entertainment journalist about 3D movies, was very ‘Vine-esque’ in it’s construction.

Let’s allow it a few weeks to find its feet, and revisit ‘Smooth Radio’ and see if any cracks appear or if they will be real challenger to the BBC in London.

Friday, 23 March 2007

A Smooth Transition?

The London radio market will have another 'new sound' from next week as Smooth Radio takes to the airwaves. OK - it's a rebrand / relaunch from Smooth FM, which was Jazz FM etc etc... so how as a station originally licenced for Jazz morphed into something completely different....but let's not get into all that now!

What will interesting is to see how the musical DNA of this particular Smooth station is made up. The PR puff says that...

"Music is at the heart of Smooth Radio. This is a brand that plays all of the classic popular music picked from a wider time span than most other national and local radio stations. While others may pitch their programming for a young audience mainly interested in chart or urban music, Smooth Radio is filling the gap.

Smooth offers mature listeners a relaxing experience, mixing new music with classics that will be instantly familiar. Every era of pop is represented. The playlist features artists from Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Diana Ross, The Eagles, and Smokey Robinson to Elton John, Rod Steward and Simply Red."

The real litmus test will be to see how it compares musically to BBC Radio 2, as they've stated that that's the audience they're after, particularly over 50's. One of the reasons Ofcom agreed was that GMG stated they would propose musical content that was different from that of existing stations.

One has a sneaking suspicion they wouldn't mind some of Magic's audience, and in their response to the Ofcom consultation regarding the change, EMAP were concerned and said that "...it was inevitable there will be overspill into neighbouring areas."

We shall see how much overspill there is next and week, and find out how much of a challenge to Radio 2, Smooth Radio will become.
Bet you it sounds like Magic minus Snow Patrol!!

Have Radio... Will Travel

I was travelling around the UK last week and got to do quite a bit of listening to a whole stack of stations.

There were some really good things I heard…. And some not so good things too!

Let’s start with one really good thing - Radio City’s “sense of place”.

Here’s a station that loves Liverpool and loves the North West. You can hear it pouring out of the speakers every time you turn on.

Liverpool will be the European Capital of Culture in 2008, and Radio City are a main media partner for this. And they own it big time on air. Promos, liners, news elements, adverts. It’s all there. It gives the station a real connection with the city and you feel like this is a station really made with its listeners in mind.

Their news is first rate and the local pride is tangible. They manage to sound like a contemporary radio station, but with all those “old fashioned” elements of traditional ILR presented in a modern and dynamic way.

If you want an example of how to do “local” really well – tune in to Radio City for the day. It reminded me again of the importance of localness and when done well, how it can still sound really good, whatever the format. Big thumbs up guys!

Newton’s Third Law applies to radio too. “For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction”. So there were a few dodgy things I heard on the dial as well.

In no particular order…

There are still too many clich├ęd DJ’s. They don’t talk to us, the listeners.… they bark, shout, and sing-song, and over project their way through shows. They start sentences with phrases like “All this week, we’ve teamed up with…”. They make you want to rip the radio out of the dashboard and then head butt the steering wheel repeatedly. Please stop!!

Listening to them this week, it’s shown me how there’s a huge opportunity for decent, honest, well-spoken communicators to shine through.

Century 105.4 have an OB from Caribbean hosted by Darren Parks currently on mid-mornings. It really blurred the line between programming and advertising for me. It was just one long ad for the resort he was staying in. It was really a case of massively over delivering for the client, and not really being focused on the listeners back home.

Darren’s a great presenter but there was a bit of a “I’m here having so much fun here on the beach… while you’re all freezing your arses off back home and queuing on the M6 at the Thelwall Viaduct. Ha Ha!” feel to the show.

Here’s the question. Foreign OB’s – Can they be interesting and relevant to listeners or are they just a money making exercise for the station?

Finally, Back to Radio City. Kev Seed, the breakfast show host does, this thing called a “Seedy Hug”. It was the strangest thing I’ve heard on the radio for quite some time!

Imagine a radio DJ equivalent of Baz Lurman’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen”… delivered live! That’s the nearest I can get to describing this... this "thing".

It’s kind of like a feature that designed to make you feel good on a Monday morning. There are stories will morals and happy endings. Rules for how to live your life, how to be good to others etc. It has a pseudo religious feel about it, and the one I heard this week felt like Kev was delivering a sermon from the pulpit of “The Church of Seed”. Just odd.

Just to give you a flavour, it ended with the lines…

“Remember, each of us is a vital thread in another person’s tapestry. Our lives are woven together for a reason. One of the best things to hold on to is a friend”

… and then it went into some mawkish song. All this at 8:20 on a Monday Morning!!

It was so bizarre!!

Kev’s been doing the show for ages and is very successful in Liverpool. He has a really good rapport with his listeners and is obviously still popular, but I just didn’t get this at all.

Judge for yourself by all means, (there are text versions here for you to read on the Radio City website) but it was the strangest bit of radio I’ve heard in a long while!

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

The Renegade Master


It’s really unfair to listen to a jocks first show on their ‘new’ station and judge it. So that’s exactly what I did on Monday evening!

Having blogged several times on Bam Bam joining Capital Radio (sorry… Capital 95.8), it seemed only fair to complete the circle, and comment on his first outing on air on his new radio home.

He did all you could ask for on a first show, and more! He sounded relaxed, confident (but not to the point of over confidence) and genuinely excited to back on terrestrial radio, as we know it. The production was very strong. There were some nice little ‘bits’, but nothing too tricky for the first night.

He introduced the listeners to his new “team”, one producer and one female presenter… who he’ll use principally to bounce things off.

There were some nice calls from listeners who were delighted he was back on the radio, and having seen at first hand the passion and loyalty this particular presenter evokes in listeners, I’m certain there were many, many more that didn’t reach the radio… and lots of texts / emails besides.

The most striking thing, which I believe is something all great presenters have (and it was a joy to hear on Bam’s first show back) was the sense of honesty about his broadcasting.

There was no smoke and mirrors. There was no hiding. No illusion. He told it as it was. If things were odd, coz he hadn’t done a show for a while… he shared that emotion with the listeners. If they asked where Streetboy was, he told them. “He’s a roofer now!!” And if he felt a bit weird broadcasting on the station he used to knock regularly… he shared that too.

For far too long, there’s been an over reliance on presenters being super-slick and bordering on the insincere. An honest presenter is far more potent, as the audience don’t feel they’re being conned in any way. Someone who tells the truth is just naturally appealing. Listeners can see the strings these days.

There’s a certain childlike innocence about presenters who speak the truth. By that I mean, young kids tell the truth. They say it as they see it. It’s refreshing. Some presenters could learn a lot from that. Without trying to sound like Roy Walker… “Say what you see”! Or for those who prefer a more cultured quotation, George Eliot once summed up the challenges with being honest by saying "Falsehood is easy... truth so difficult." I can't be certain he had radio presenters in mind when he said that though.

Think about all the great presenters you know. And I’m certain the vast majority of them, you trust to tell you the truth.

Verdict? A good debut and I’m confident this is a strong signing for Capital. The future of radio will be decided by presenters who have something to say… other than just the station name twice a link!

Monday, 12 March 2007

Capital Radio-ish

One of the biggest changes a radio station can make is change its name. But when’s a name change actually a name change… and when is it just a bit of tinkering?

Well – Capital Radio have just gone through another one. Just over a year ago, the station re-branded to “Capital Radio” and today they announced that they’re changing again to “Capital 95.8”.

Interesting.

To coincide with the re-brand, there’s also a shiny new logo. And a new TV ad as well! Now, we all know stations that have great logos and sound rubbish… and stations that have rubbish logos that sound brilliant, so I don’t think the change of logo will decide the fate of the station for the next few years. However, those cheeky monkeys at The Guardian had something to say about it!

And I quote:

“Is it just Monkey, or does the logo for Capital Radio's expensive new re-brand look disconcertingly like a length of old rope? Now we hesitate to suggest that's what GCap has paid for - money for old rope - but we should be thankful that the geography of the River Thames isn't more noose shaped. Now that really would have been inappropriate.”

Now now!

The TV ad has some great songs on it and aims to regain some musical credibility for the station. The ad does feel very “sub-30 male focused”, (with music from The Fratelli’s, Paulo Nutini etc… and a pair of bouncing breasts!)… It’s a difficult position to be in in the London market. Time will tell if it’s the right move.

As for the change to “Capital 95.8”, the inclusion of 95.8 seems a little redundant in the digital age, where more and more people are listening online and via DAB. Would just plain ole “Capital” suffice?

I took a listen today. The new production sounded great, and the music was excellent, and firmly focused at 15-30 year olds.

So, let’s see if this latest incarnation of a ‘youthful’ Capital will do the trick… and with the addition of Bam Bam too… but more on that later!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Xfm - Dodging the Meteors


Xfm launched its new ‘unsigned’ music initiative online this week. It’s called ‘Xfm Uploaded’.

The idea is simple. If you’re an unsigned band or artist that wants some exposure, stick up some songs, a band biog / photo on the site and hey presto… you’ve got more of a potential audience than you had a few minutes before you signed up.

Xfm can then pick the cream of the crop and play them out on their ‘Music:Response’ show, as well as including them in podcasts, and before long, you’re the next Artic Monkeys. Well, that’s the theory I’m guessing.

The concept works well (even if it seems a bit familiar… BBC Radio 1’s “One Music” anyone?!!) and the site is easy to navigate and once there are a few more bands on there, I’m sure it’ll prove popular. (If you’re in a band, I’d still get a lawyer to check out the rather onerous looking “The Artist grants GCap all present and future rights in perpetuity” clauses!!)

OK – its just Xfm trying to do a MySpace, who really own that whole area of new music online, but the philosophy behind it is an important one. As radio evolves (and needs to evolve) to become less linear, for a brand like Xfm, it’s about emerging entertainment powered by the audience being at the centre of the listener experience.

The radio brand provides the ‘assurance seal’ and acts as a filter to say to consumers, “This is a good place to find really new music”. The station benefits from the image that its supports new artists, plus generating a new online community. Oh….and did I mention the £250,000 sponsorship from Stolichnaya Vodka?

This is a good example of a radio brand embracing “Radio 3.0” (did I miss Radio 2.0??) and kitting itself out for a less linear future. Some radio stations and radio brands are a little like “dinosaurs dancing in a meteor shower” at the moment. Xfm doesn’t appear to be one of those.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Focus Pocus

I was conducting some Focus Groups for a radio client recently, and halfway through one of the groups (when a listener was describing her view of a particular show in great detail) it struck me how powerful this type of contact with listeners really is.

Focus Groups have their supporters and detractors alike. However, regular contact with your consumers, whatever industry you’re in, just seems to me so vital, particularly in the very fast moving world of media.

Those pre-conceptions (however small) we all hold about radio are being chipped away daily. ‘Listening at work’ isn’t about the old crappy radio on top of the filing cabinet any more. It’s about hi-quality streaming and listeners experiencing brand variants to match their mood while they work.

Interacting with the radio station isn’t just about calling in with a traffic update. It’s about joining that station’s online community and getting involved in station-led online initiatives, forums and webcasts.

“The public” are a very media savvy bunch these days and talk very naturally in terms of formats, playlists, research and positioning. The mythical dark arts of the media and its methods of working are gone. We’re in a new transparent relationship, where the line between producer and consumer is fainter than ever.

I think we can sometimes forget how media aware our consumers are, when we sit in radio stations and treat listeners like they’re slightly simple folk! I was pleased at the way in which this particualr group of listeners had embraced new technology and spoke about it in normal everyday terms. It’s not “New Media” anymore… it’s just media to them.

The groups reminded me of things I already believed in, and shone a light in a few areas that may prove interesting to look at in a bit more detail. But the point is this. If you work at, or run a radio station, when was the last time you sat in room and spoke to real listeners, at length, about your product? If the answer is “too long ago”, may I suggest you change that? I think you’ll find the process will be a magical one.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Bam Bam is Back

Congratulations to Bam Bam who annouced he was joining Capital Radio this week. He'll be hosting their evening show from March 12th.
It'll be intresting to see how the show develops over the next 6 months and how Bam takes to being on in the evening after such a long stint on mornings. I suspect the show will feel very much like a Breakfast show... but in the evening!

And let's hope that he's given the creative freedom to provide listeners with an engaging and entertaining product, and not overly formatted from Day 1.

Any show which drives younger listeners to have a strong relationship with the radio, is good for the future of the medium, and I really hope that Capital get this right.

A post script about the outgoing evening show host, Paul Gillies. (There's always a casualty in these situations) There's a guy who can execute CHR style, format radio in a great way. I'm certain it won't be long before we hear him back on the radio in a regular slot. You can't keep a good jock down!