On the day Ofcom hands out more community radio licences we're feeling decidedly upbeat about the changing shape of our industry. Suddenly, after the gloom and despondency of recent times, an awful lot seems right about the way things are evolving:
We think this 'New World Order' has the capacity for everyone to win.
Let's be honest, the brands are great. Be it Heart, Kiss, Capital or Smooth, each station is polished, distinctive, superbly executed and targeted to precision. The game changer for listeners is the ability to listen to their station-of-choice almost anywhere...except, it would seem, in Lincolnshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
But the sector with most to gain right now is Community Radio. As audiences continue to fragment, with migration by default to the brands, many listeners 'of a certain age' remember with fondness their local radio station.
Remember the 'brand' ILR? The radio format that, at its peak, achieved around the same share of listening as all BBC radio services combined. Now, though, with just a handful of exceptions, e.g. the UKRD and 'heritage' UTV stations, ILR is just a memory.
It's our belief that a huge vacuum exists where ILR used to flourish. Well-programmed, professionally-delivered Community Radio stations can fill that vacuum.
The key word, however, is 'Professional'.
Here at The Radio People we recently managed a promotion which ran across a number of community stations. In general we were very impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the people we worked with. Thanks to online analytics we also gained an insight on how stations are building up solid and responsive audiences. (More on this in a future blog).
So, our advice to Ribble FM, Radio Warrington, Beyond Radio, Radio Barnsley, Heritage Community Radio, Bury Community Radio and Radio Victoria is simple:
Delivering your Key Characteristics is a given. As is staying compliant! But, when it comes to the output, the 'essence' of your station, make sure you're paying attention to the really important things. We don't have space here to go into detail but you could do a lot worse than having a listen back to some of the giants of ILR in their heyday:
Trent, Piccadilly, Metro, Swansea Sound, Clyde, Hallam. Wonderful radio stations that remained true to their original remit until the homogenisation started. If Community Radio can continue to raise its game and superserve local communities in the tradition of early ILR it will truly become a force to be reckoned with.
The future's bright - the future's RADIO!
John Evington is a Partner at The Radio People
There’s been a great deal of debate over the years about the way in which ad breaks are structured and the optimum volume of commercial activity. Recently in Seattle, 107.7 The End announced their '2-Minute Promise'. The details of that promise are that the station, which, at times, was running two six-minute breaks will now only run three two-minute commercial blocks every hour. GM Jack Hutchison said: “We are proud to be the first station in the United States to offer this bold, innovative approach to radio. We know our listeners will be more than excited about this change and we are just as excited we can provide our clients an incredibly unique platform to showcase their message to our End listeners.”
'Incredibly' unique, eh, Jack? Yawn. This is nothing new. Back in 2004, Clear Channel introduced their short-lived ‘Less is More’ policy: “Clutter is a major issue in our industry and our decision to limit the amount of commercial time and length of breaks, while reducing promotional interruptions, will benefit listeners, advertisers and the industry as a whole,” said John Hogan, Chief Executive Officer of Clear Channel Radio at the time.
In the face of scepticism from the advertising industry Clear Channel and others have devised all manner of new options for advertisers, including the chance to buy an 'island' – that’s a solus ad message sandwiched between two songs. Clients can also 'dominate a pod', (I think we still call them ‘breaks’ here in the UK), using 'bookends', (that’s a top and tail ad), 'first in pods', etc. The US Media Economy Newsletter confirmed that after an initial expected downturn in revenue there was evidence that Clear Channel’s lead worked – with 'islands', for example, selling at a massive premium.
Meanwhile, in Australia, DMG Radio introduced a 'two ad focus' across their Nova network. Here the selling point for advertisers was based around the premise that the first ad in a break has the most impact on listeners. The next most impactful ad is the second in the break, and so on. So, the argument goes, with only two ads in any break no advertiser gets lost in a multiple ad environment. Compelling stuff.
And here in 2005, Gcap introduced a similar policy for their flagship London station, Capital FM. Audiences collapsed spectacularly. But was that related to commercial content or, as seems more plausible, a radical new programming strategy?
Well, unlike our American and Australian counterparts, we British programmers have a clear choice:
"IF YOU DON'T LIKE COMMERCIALS GO AND WORK FOR THE BBC!"
Programmers are are often accused of "meddling" with things that 'shouldn't concern us', i.e. the volume, placing and quality of the commercial output. I have always stood my ground on this because, clearly, the ads are a key part of the product. My own personal thoughts on commercials have remained fairly constant over the years:
The UK is Unique
British commercial radio cannot be directly compared with the US and Australian models. Doing so is dangerous and can lead to some drastic mistakes. Fundamentally the existence of the BBC changes everything. In the US the idea of a ‘Commercial Free 60 minute music sweep’ is very appealing to listeners and is a strategy that can work well. Here, though, what’s the big deal? When the two most popular national music stations (BBC Radio 2 and Radio 1) never have – and never will – run a single advertisement!
Long Breaks V Short Breaks
This is a debate that has taken place between programmers and our sharp-suited colleagues in sales since the dawn of commercial radio. I would concede that long breaks containing multiple messages are not necessarily in the best interest of the advertiser. However, purely from an audience standpoint I strongly believe that fewer – but longer – breaks are better. Perception IS reality and I have gathered extensive evidence over the years, some of it through trial and error, that shows it is the number of ad breaks and not the duration of breaks that causes harm. I once ran a policy of 9 minutes of ads in 3 X 2-minute breaks and 1 X 3-minute break per hour. Research showed a high ‘ad-irritation’ factor. When I moved to an experimental 9 minutes of ads in two X four and a half minute breaks the jocks complained but the level of listener irritation fell like a stone.
Ads before the news?
In an ideal world you’d keep ads away from the top of the hour. However, if you HAVE to get a third – or fourth – set of ads away I believe that a (short) break before news is better than an additional break within the hour. Why?
These might include client-voiced efforts, irritating jingles, inappropriate messages, offensive copy, etc. Bad ads can not only drive listeners away but they can also backfire on the advertiser in the form of bad PR. I’m not saying that clients should NEVER be allowed to voice ads or that all jingles are bad. The skill here is knowing when to pull an ad once it has achieved its objective. The fatal mistake many stations make is to let the same irritating message run for weeks, months or, in the worst cases, years. Just as crazy is running an ad for a product of zero relevance to the station's audience. It happens. A lot. For example, I recently heard an ad for the new Michael Buble album on a heavy rock station. It's a bit like standing up in Church and shouting "Worship Satan!" You won't get many takers.
When a 'Great' Ad becomes a 'Bad' Ad?
I had a very interesting experience several years ago. It all began during a management meeting when our Head of Commercial Production was invited-in to talk about developments within his ‘magical empire’. He was on ‘cloud 9’ because a major client had just commissioned a new jingle. Not just any old jingle, though. The client had been talked into parting with thousands of pounds to re-create a classic 80’s pop song. Great idea. He then played the jingle to us and we were so impressed with the amazing production values that we spontaneously applauded. So far so good. The ad went on air and the initial feedback was excellent. Customers were singing the jingle back to the client and cars were flying out of the showroom. A 60 second version of the ad went to air – a kind of extended re-mix – and, because everyone was so happy with the quality of the production, the station threw-in plenty of bonus spots.
Three months on and alarm bells were ringing loudly in the Programming office. The ad had been coming-up in almost every break day in day out and, because it was a minute long, it was actually receiving more exposure than any song on the high-rotation A-List. Presenters had become “sick and tired” of the ad and listeners were commenting - not in a good way. During subsequent focus group research the moderator – a highly experienced individual – said she had never experienced such negativity towards a single advertisement.
When a song begins to 'burn' we either drop it or lower the rotation. The same thinking should be applied to all other aspects of the output.
Can the Ads Actually Help?
At one struggling small-scale station there were very few commercials on the air when I became responsible for growing the audience. The station Programme Controller was quietly pleased, seizing the opportunity to go music intensive. The station was a slick, uncluttered alternative to the metropolitan, regional and national commercial-heavy competitors. To my ears, though, the station sounded clinical and robotic. Something important was missing.
Some months later, the station in question staged a highly successful ‘Seminar Sales’ initiative and, almost overnight, dozens and dozens of small businesses in the core towns started advertising on radio for the first time. Three important things were achieved:
When analysing your commercial inventory never, ever look at ‘average’ daily or weekly volumes. As Group PD I once had to intervene when made aware of frequent 17 minute hourly ad loads on a station during the critical Breakfast period. The Programme Controller and I knew that it was killing the station and successive Rajars confirmed this. I was making a lot of noise at Group level and the Chairman was listening….until he received a report prepared by a financial colleague of mine that showed only very minor increases in the ‘average’ volume of ads. In defence of my colleague, he was new to radio and only doing his best, but the report was misleading, suggesting that we programmers were ‘crying wolf’ and, as a consequence, things didn’t change. That once mighty station is still in recovery 11 years on.
The ‘average’ weather conditions where I live are very mild but my fence blew down last week in a freak gale. And that’s my point….it’s the ‘spikes’ that do the damage. If your ‘average’ hourly ad load is 9 minutes but the parameters are 2 and 16 – and you’re getting 16’s during Breakfast – you will lose listeners. Especially if your commercial competitors exercise strict inventory control.
As the battle for share of listening grows ever fiercer, there is increasing pressure on management to find the ‘magic solution’. The positioning of breaks is an obsession in other markets with stations constantly looking for ways to out manoeuvre the opposition. Here, though, because of the BBC’s commercial-free heritage I would suggest that it’s less of an issue. Call me old-fashioned, but I remain quite comfortable with 9, even 10 minutes of ads in three breaks at, say 20 past, 40 past and up to the hour.
The PRODUCT has to come first. A station with a flawed music policy, poor production values or bad presenters running no ads will fare worse than a well-programmed station carrying 9 minutes of well-produced and skilfully-scheduled ads.
John Evington is a Partner at The Radio People
Let it be known that We LOVE Radio 3!
As the most recent BBC Trust Service Review concluded:
"Radio 3 is greatly valued by a relatively small but loyal audience who appreciate its intelligent, thoughtful and passionate tone and content. Radio 3 contributes significantly to the BBC’s public purposes through its focus on high-quality classical music and its breadth of output covering jazz, world music, arts and culture".
However, the key words above are "relatively small...audience". Astonishingly Radio 3 is only listened to by 4 per cent of the population each week giving it a market share of just 1.2 per cent.
'No More Room' says Ofcom...
At the beginning of the latest community radio licensing round Ofcom made a general statement about frequency availability:
"Identifying suitable FM frequencies in some areas has been difficult and, as stated when we invited expressions of interest, there are many parts of the UK where we will not be able to invite applications for FM licences due to the lack of suitable frequencies".
This situation has led to frustration and resentment amongst applicant groups in many areas and, as is often the case in the radio industry, members of the public are mystified by something for which there seems to be an obvious solution.
Has the time come to free up space for scores of new stations by removing BBC Radio 3 from FM?
Here's why we think this is the way forward:
Whenever change is mooted Radio 3 listeners tend to kick and scream. However, it is difficult to justify an argument in favour of preserving the status quo. How can it be right to willfully deprive hundreds of dedicated, passionate groups up and down the nation of realising their dream of applying for - and winning - a licence to serve their community?
We offer this to the DCMS for serious consideration in the belief that the beneficiaries would massively outnumber those inconvenienced. It would unburden Ofcom and help Community and small-scale Commercial Radio.
BBC Radio 3 would continue to do all the wonderful, culturally-enriching things it does as a digital only station. Ofcom could then get on with licensing new stations, providing a voice for local communities across the UK. This 'new force' in radio can then truly fill the vacuum left by the evolution of what was 'ILR' into quasi national brands.
In short, this could herald the renaissance of independent local radio. A diverse and engaging network of stations reflecting a mix of cultures and interests up and down the land.
As always, we welcome your comments.
The Radio People
Happy RAJAR Day!
Yes, today, July 31st is RAJAR Day. Four times each year radio programmers up and down the nation receive official confirmation of 'how they are doing'. As always we should expect some truly erratic and seemingly inexplicable results.
Below you'll find my thoughts on RAJAR, together with some background on what is one of the world's biggest ongoing research studies, plus a few tips on how to use the data productively.
Years ago, my routine on RAJAR day would begin with a long drive down to the offices of Research Services Limited in Harrow. The results were made available at 2:30pm prompt. I remember the agony of peeling open the brown envelope and taking my first glimpse at the latest results. "We're up .... yipeeee!" or "Oh b***er.....we've taken a hit". (Generally back then, in those Halcyon days before the airwaves were opened up, my station, Signal Radio, enjoyed strong, stable results).
Then, arriving back at base it was out with the graph paper and felt tip pens for some serious graph drawing! (I'm really showing my age here!) I would often stay up all night preparing my 'Weekday and Weekend Trends Over Time' which I would share with my team the following day.
These days it's all much quicker and, somehow, far more clinical. A small file download at 10:30am provides subscriber stations with all the raw data they need in order to start processing graphs and preparing News releases.
What Is RAJAR?
RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research Limited) was established in 1992 to operate a single audience measurement system for the radio industry - BBC and commercial stations. Previously the BBC had their own system and commercial radio used something called JICRAR, so it was commonplace for the two sectors to 'rubbish' each others results. RAJAR brought all that to an end......at least that was the plan!
The first RAJAR survey was in Quarter 4, 1992. That was a 'bumpy' transition, with some isolated cases of major variance between audiences measured by the two systems. At least three Programme Controllers and several presenters lost their jobs at this time. Both Viking and TFM suffered terribly and, at Signal, we saw an apparent 38% decline in listening. What an introduction to RAJAR for me! I was lucky, though. My Managing Director at the time, Barry Machin, was extremely research-literate, with a logical, common sense approach meaning he simply didn't, couldn't believe that in the space of just three months over a third of our audience had gone away. Of course he was right and, sure enough, as things stabilised the station recovered fully, going on to make big increases becoming the Number One AM/FM combo in England and Wales, (in terms of audience share). Barry went on to chair the Commercial Radio Association's Research Committee for a number of years.
In common with the current system, the first RAJAR research was based on seven day self-completion diaries, personally placed and collected by interviewers. Respondents complete their diaries using a list of relevant stations which are listed across each diary page. Diaries are then placed with respondents who are selected according to specific criteria to meet pre-defined sampling quotas.
Having spent four years in close proximity to the most outspoken critic of diary-based research, Kelvin MacKenzie, (I was his Group Programme Director between 2001 and 2005), you may be surprised to read that I am, in fact, amazed by the consistency of RAJAR over time. However, the interpretation of RAJAR and any tweaks to output based on apparent performance are areas fraught with danger.
Before you open the Champers....or jump off a high building, come to that....read on about the risks of taking your audience research at face value.
Rather than focusing on RAJAR as one specific research study, let's look at statistics in general:
The table to the right sets out the 'confidence intervals' which can be given to percentages based on the size of sample used. The larger the sample, the narrower the band and the closer the observed percentage is likely to be to the true figure. Taking this to its extreme, if every member of the population is questioned, and they all tell the truth, the survey should, in theory, be 100% accurate.
For example, taking a sample size of 650, and an observed percentage at around 20%, the table shows that there are 95 chances in 100 of the true percentage lying between 15% and 25%; in other words, the sample percentage of 20% is estimated to be accurate to plus or minus 5%.
So, if your station's reported reach is, say, 24%, it could, in reality, be anywhere between 19% and 29%. That's a simple statistical fact.
Obviously, once you start drilling down into the demographics or half-hourly numbers, (as we all do), these confidence limits are exaggerated and this is where many programmers have made big mistakes with knee-jerk reactions to apparent huge swings within dayparts and/or demographics.
RECALL V REALITY
One of the major recurring issues is based on the fact that people generally find it difficult to remember what they listened to and when. Furthermore, how often do you find yourself 'exposed' to radio without actually knowing what the station is? Diary research tends to favour the established 'heritage' stations as these are more likely to be front of mind than lesser brands. Kelvin MacKenzie famously went out on a limb and challenged the establishment, putting forward a compelling case for electronic measurement. The bitter war of words is now history, but RAJAR did commit to a move away from the paper diary system and now online diaries are also used. The online diary station selection is carried out by the respondent, each person is asked to look through a set of station names onscreen that are available in the area and invited to select all the stations which they might listen to or hear in various situations.
THE PROBLEM WITH RECALL
Here's a true story concerning a former senior manager at one of the stations I used to programme. We'll call him 'Mr. X'. The individual in question is a total radio enthusiast, extremely tuned-in to the medium. Shortly after he had parted company with the station 'Mr. X's wife answered the door to somebody from the research company Ipsos/MORI. They wanted to place a diary with the household but, before doing so, had to check that no-one in the home worked in radio. Well, having just left the station 'Mr. X' could honestly declare no vested interests and accepted the diary, relishing the prospect of spending time painstakingly logging his listening patterns over the next seven days.
A week later 'Mr. X' was putting the kids to bed when the door bell rang. 'Mrs. X' answered the door again and it was the same Ipsos/MORI fieldworker who had come back to pick up the completed diary. Of course, 'Mr. X', despite his best intentions, had completely forgotten about the survey and shouted downstairs, "....I won't be a minute...", then hurriedly spent five minutes scribbling in the diary, desperately trying to remember what he'd been listening to over the course of the week. And this is an ABC1 radio professional. Imagine what goes on in 'ordinary' households!
Oh, and a question I often get asked is "how much do RAJAR respondents get paid?" The answer is nothing, although they do receive a pen!
RAJAR Analysis and Reaction
There's a real skill to RAJAR analysis. My advice is as folllows:
RAJAR DAY AND KELVIN
Kelvin MacKenzie is on record as having no confidence whatsoever in RAJAR. He passionately believed that his company was being denied millions of pounds in revenue because the diary system disadvantaged his national ‘flagship’ station, talkSPORT.
Strangely, though, four times a year something very odd occurred. I would ring Kelvin on his mobile with a ‘heads up’ on RAJAR, expecting him to say something like, “….ah, we all know it’s a load of b****cks….”, but instead, he would want to know every minute detail. “Where are we up…..WHY?”, “Where are we down….WHY? What are you gonna do about it? And WHEN?" Suddenly, for a few moments at least, RAJAR had become the Holy Grail!
It was a similar story at The Revolution with Steve Penk. Steve, like me, has become a cynical 'old soldier' and, bears deep scars from his time as a presenter when RAJAR was a matter of life or death. But now it's really important! As the sole owner of the radio station Steve's horizons have broadened and commercial performance is now uppermost in his thoughts. RAJAR is crucial because it has a major impact on national revenue. In fact there is a direct correlation between audience - as measured by RAJAR - and the share of national advertising revenue the station receives.
So today I want to pass on my best wishes to Steve and all my other radio friends for a kind set of figures for Q2 2013.
Draw a Line and Move On
When you examine your RAJAR results today, please bear in mind that you may have had a larger than usual change in POPULATION, This is due to the incorporation of the 2011 census data, for the first time. This may impact on your reach '000's and your percentage reach figures.
Whatever your results today remember, this is just a moment in time. There's nothing you can do to change what's going to be published at midnight so celebrate, commiserate or whatever, then move on. There'll be another set of results along in three months time. Bet you can't wait!