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