Friday, 25 July 2008

RAJAR Qtr 2 2008; "Now That's Magic!"

I‘ve spent quite a lot of time recently talking to radio stations about ‘doing the basics really well’. My belief is that getting these ‘basics’ right accounts for at least two thirds of the total ‘job’ a station must do in order to perform well. Take a listen up and down the dial in any market in the world, and you’ll find some stations that do the basics really well, plus a whole of other good stuff that set them aside from the competition. But there are also stations that haven’t quite mastered those basics yet, which is always frustrating to listen to, as they could be so much better than they are.

The latest listening figures to come out in the UK yesterday from Rajar, reinforces the point in spectacular fashion. In London, Magic 105.4 is the undisputed number one commercial radio station whichever way you want to slice it. It’s got the top spot in reach / cume, listening hours, market share, and it also has the number one breakfast programme with Neil Fox and his ‘More Music Breakfast Show’. The station has now topped 2 Million listeners a week and sits on a 7.4% share. Well done to all the guys at Magic on this brilliant result.

So how have they pulled this off then? Take a listen and you’ll soon realise that it’s a fantastic radio station, not because they throw lots of bells and whistles at the audience… quite the opposite. It’s because they get the basics right, all of the time. And what are these ‘magical’ basics then, and if it’s so easy, why aren’t more stations doing them? Well, the good news if that lots of stations are… but I think it’s always useful to revisit them. Let’s use Magic 105.4 as our example:

Clear Branding and Positioning
Magic 105.4 own the powerful position of ‘More Music, Less Talk’. It’s been that way for quite some time now! You can’t listen to Magic for any length of time without having this reinforced by very clear and concise branding and a strong jingle package that fits superbly with the sound of the station. They don’t confuse the position with too many different ways of saying what they do. And more importantly, the really deliver on their promise. They do seem to play more music, and certainly have less talk than other stations on the dial.

Well Researched Music
There is no doubt that Magic’s active database is very well researched with exactly the right sample makeup helping to shape the list. Magic is glued together by a very federating sound where artist and song are more important than era, and where compatibility and fit are the driving factors. Every single song is a winner. You don’t hear a bum song on Magic… ever. How many stations can claim that? Sure, they run a tight database and songs roll around quite often, but that doesn’t matter… coz they’re playing great songs. Take a look at their Top 25 most played artists:

Take That
Michael Bublé
Elton John
Leona Lewis
James Blunt
Phil Collins
Robbie Williams
Bryan Adams
Whitney Houston
Will Young
Cyndi Lauper
Bee Gees
Richard Marx
Snow Patrol
Righteous Brothers
Carly Simon
Lionel Richie
Savage Garden

Interesting list huh? Era-wise, there’s 60’s right the way through to currents. But again, the songs selected from these artists all fit together really well. Compatibility of sound is one of the most overlooked areas of music research, but an absolute necessity and Magic demonstrate how to make it work and look effortless at the same time!

Neil Fox completely reinvented himself when he moved from Capital to Magic. He’s a warm and genuine presenter who’s really connected to his audience. He doesn’t try and be funny, (but occasionally can be) and understands who’s listening, the type of life they lead, and what kind of show they need from him in the morning. It’s a very different show to the other ‘personality’ shows that are available, but perhaps that’s its secret… it sounds like it’s not trying too hard.

Understanding the Audience
Magic really know who they’re aiming for and who listens to the station, and the type of life they lead. Everything from the music selection and the type of content they do, right through to the commercial partners they work with are expertly targeted. Just look at some of their current key feature / show sponsors: Dove Cream Oil Body Wash, Galaxy Chocolate, The Science Museum; Any chance this is a station aimed at women with kids?!!

All good stations have some strong programming sub-brands. Magic is no exception. Mellow Magic (relaxing songs from 8pm every evening), The Test of Time (10 songs from one year each morning at 9am) are two of the strongest, but there are others. They all give excellent hooks into the station and reasons to tune in again and again.

Strong Style Guide
All the presenters on Magic sound like they have been cast from the same mould, but still with some of their own personality allowed to cut through. Remember, this is the more music, less talk station… so we’re not looking for guys and girls who can talk the hind legs off the proverbial donkey. However, they all understand the style guide of the station, and stick to it religiously, and the result is a clear and consistent sound.

Magic 105.4 currently defines consistency in UK radio. Every time I hit the button, I get what I expect… a soft and relaxing AC sound, seamlessly blending artists and eras with little interruption. Consistency is one of the most fundamental of basics. Define what you’re going to do, and do it… repeatedly. Ensuring you’re delivering on your listeners expectations at all times is essential to long term growth and long term success.

Magic have got the basics right… really right. And their patience and persistence have been rewarded with a fantastic set of audience figures. Suddenly, doing the basics well seems like a pretty good idea, doesn't it!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Radio Festival - Glasgow 2008 - The Verdict!

So, as the whiff of ‘vats’ of mass-produced Haggis subsides, and the unmistakable hangover that cheap Scotch gives you is a now all but a distant memory, we can collectively stand back and admire the event that was ‘The Radio Festival – Glasgow 2008’.

For our international readers, although the word ‘festival’ implies images of tents, mud, pyramid stages, fire-eaters, strange pagan rituals etc… I can assure you that if you substitute the word ‘festival’ for the word ‘conference’, you’ll get more of a sense of the occasion!

Some of the more interesting stuff that occurred included the findings from the Digital Radio Working Group, much of which had been publicised in advance, but nonetheless made for quite an interesting listen. You can read the whole report for yourself here, but some of the most salient bits included the recommendation for a full migration to digital radio in the UK. When? Well – that’s the $64,000 question they dodge by saying… ‘When the market is ready’, but at latest by 2020!

With 7 Millions sets in the UK, DAB is doing quite well. But we seem to be in a bit of a no-mans land currently. We’re too far away from the tipping point to set a date for full migration, and far too far down the road to say ‘Let’s ditch DAB and go with something else’. Certainly, a lot of clever minds are on this one and it was nice to see them demonstrate that they’re thinking about it. Getting it right is the most vital thing the UK radio industry has probably ever faced.

A debate about ‘rights’ and the current agreements in place regarding PRS-MCPS and PPL, although sounding fairly dull, was actually pretty interesting. Although the guys from the collection societies stated that they “weren’t coming to get us”… I think they are! With declining physical sales and the number of illegal downloads outnumbering legal ones by a factor of 10 to 1, the record companies and artists are going to squeeze as much as they can out of anyone who uses their content, and radio is no exception. I did feel like pointing out that there are territories like the UAE, (where I work in the Dubai market), where there are no copyright agreements in place and big media organisations are paying absolutely nothing to artists for using their copyrighted material to make large profits. Meanwhile in the UK, PRS are chasing the owners of sandwich shops making sure they’ve got a licence! Perhaps they should try and recoup some money from these territories? Back at home, the ‘promotional value’ that radio offers is still a good argument, particularly in light of some interesting research that shows radio is still the most significant factor for people in discovering new music. Expect fireworks on this topic soon!

The session on the future of music radio seemed to conclude that the answer was…. speech! Well… actually it was the importance of personalities and DJ’s within the music radio setting to be honest with you. And new music, of course. People reassuringly still use the radio to hear new music. But it was nice to see some recognition of the role of the DJ as personality or ‘trusted guide’. Otherwise, we’ll all become jukeboxes with different bit of production, which anyone can replicate these days.

Other sessions worthy of a mention include the ‘Showbiz news’ session, where some argued that we’re all obsessed with the cult of celebrity and it has no place on the radio. Well at least on Radio Scotland! Rod McKenzie from BBC Radio 1 was eloquent and considered in his view on this topic and others, which is probably why overall, BBC Radio 1 News is in such a good state. He wrote some interesting thoughts about this session on his Editors Blog.

And Matthew Bannister reminded us why he rose to the dizzy heights of Director of BBC Radio and went on to become Chief Executive of BBC Production and the Corporation's first Board-level Director of Marketing and Communication. This is because he’s bloody good at getting a point across, and his view that ‘compliance is stifling creativity’ was made with both wit and gravitas. He touched on something that everyone in a creative role should remember. Don’t ‘not do’ something because you might get in trouble, or too many rules may prevent you. "Fortes fortuna adiuvat” (I knew that Latin GCSE would come in handy one day!)

Finally, a couple of less so positive points; If you’re going to have a debate about ‘localness in radio’, please get people who actually understand something about local radio on the panel! The GMG debate that kicked the festival off was really quite terrible in the choice of speakers and in the arguments that were presented. And without sounding unkind, the Community Radio sector, valid as it is, seemed to be an unnecessary distraction in the programme of sessions. I suggest that there should be a separate day for community radio, as sitting though a detailed analysis of why ‘Celtic Music Radio’ is such a success in certain parts of Glasgow, made me want to stab myself repeatedly with my cheap, disposable, ‘delegate bag’ pen.

All in all though, a worthy trip north of the border and The Radio Festival continues to be a good forum for debate of some of the key issues that face UK radio currently.

Right – I’ve had enough of rainy Britain. I’m off to Dubai to form a royalties collection agency…