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In my day job I speak to A LOT of people who would like to launch a radio station. We broadcast stations on our multiplexes and we sometimes provide consultancy advice to new startups. Probably over the last twenty years, I must have talked to 500 people who were keen to get a station on air.
Olivia, who used to work with us, and would often get to the phone before me, started to have an almost mystical ability to tell whether a group were going to make it, by chatting to them for 20 seconds before putting them through.
So if you don’t have Olivia’s supernatural insight, what’s the key to being able to launch a radio station?
For me it’s a combination of “why the hell is anyone going to listen to you” and also whether you have an executable business model.
The potential operators that tell me they’re going to “bring back local radio like the big boys have abandoned” and that their model will be “loads of people will tune in, and then we’ll sell some ads” are usually destined for failure.
I often tell new stations that the radio programming is the easy bit. Well, actually, it may not be easy, but it’s certainly easier than everything else that you’ll have to do.
My mantra of content, marketing and platforms remains essential, but that is all predicated on you having enough money to to do all three.
When one Station Manager told me that his business model was re-mortgaging the house to get going, I suggested perhaps that wasn’t the best way to start.
With new projects, I’m often taken back to the line: “is there a gap in the market and is there a market in the gap”. I wasn’t sure who said it, and some Googling sees it pop up a few times, but oddly it was mentioned by Bob Worcester (founder of MORI) at the Radio Festival in 2006, which I guess I would have been at.
Interestingly, in a Guardian live blog, about the session, it describes Bob’s thought that the combination of an ageing market and digital radio’s development meant that a station for over 45s would seem a good bet.
Phil and David have been around the block. Phil created Heart and won its first two licences and ran Chrysalis’ radio operation whilst David’s had senior management stints at Virgin Radio, Galaxy and LBC. Together they ran Orion Media before selling it to Bauer.
They’re also a good team, with different skills. Phil’s more spreadsheets and David’s more programming, but they both have a love of the medium and lots of experience too. In my discussions with them they’ve also raised enough money so they don’t have to re-mortgage their house. Always good.
Radio does pretty well with older audiences - Radio 2, BBC local, Classic FM, Radio 4, Smooth - but those stations do seem to have fallen out of love with their key demo, keen to attract younger listeners or to broaden the range of who tunes in.
There’s clearly a gap in the market for a station that’s happy to target 55 plusses without wanting to ‘go younger’ .
I am amazed that the BBC has abandoned this audience for both Radio 2 and Local Radio. 55 plusses have shown to be big fans of those stations and they listen to the radio a lot. With a demographic that’s growing it would be the perfect way for the BBC to maintain huge amounts of reach and share. Moving their stations younger will annoy the older audiences, whilst at the same time it’s going to be hard to rehabilitate the brands to get younger ones to tune in.
Listening to Ken Bruce get excited about the latest Dua Lipa record always seems a bit odd.
So, for Boom Radio, there’s definitely a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?
Boomers certainly have a high disposable income, but historically the view has been that they’ve already made their brand decisions - toothpaste, cars, washing powder - they know what they like, so advertising isn’t going to change their minds.
But with people living longer, a 65 year old today, does not seem like one 20 years ago. Perhaps 55 to 74s are more like the 35s to 55s of years gone by. Holidays, activities, cars, experiences could all be fertile grounds for revenue. Additionally COVID has definitely prompted that group to engage with online shopping more than before - maybe a new opportunity too.
The trick for the station will be to try and be contemporary in voice and attitude, whilst playing nostalgic hits and current accompaniments. It needs to be in tune with its audience so they can get them to tune in.
And maybe have a word with Olivia too.
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