UK commercial radio sector revenues Q1 2011: local advertising hits 10-year low

Data published last week for 2011’s first quarter demonstrate that revenues of the UK commercial radio sector are still struggling to rebound from the previous two years’ ‘credit crunch.’

A large part of the problem is the coalition government’s swingeing cuts to its marketing budget since May 2010, which have afflicted commercial radio advertising much more significantly than other media [see my blog]. Additionally, and very worryingly, in Q1 2011, revenues from local advertisers fell to their lowest level for a decade, even at a time when local radio might be thought to be making client gains from the decimation of the local newspaper industry.

As has been suggested here previously [see my blog], the strategy of the largest commercial radio owner, Global Radio, to transform its local stations into ‘national’ brands would seem to be a recipe for disaster at a time when:
• the national advertising market for radio is shrinking so rapidly (down 34% in real terms between 2004 and 2010)
• the BBC continues to dominate the national radio marketplace with exceptionally well-funded, ubiquitous brands [see my blog]
• Ofcom’s market research points to overwhelming demand from consumers for more local radio rather than more national radio [see chapter 4(d)]
• many local commercial radio offices have been closed just as local newspapers have closed in many local markets.

TOTAL UK COMMERCIAL RADIO REVENUES:
• Q1 2011: £126.9m (£137.9m in Q1 2010)
• Down 8.0% year-on-year
• First year-on-year decrease since Q3 2009

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO NATIONAL REVENUES:
• Q1 2011: £69.2m (£78.6m in Q1 2010)
• Down 12.0% year-on-year
• First year-on-year decrease since Q3 2009

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO LOCAL REVENUES:
• Q1 2011: £33.7m (£35.9m in Q1 2010)
• Down 6.1% year-on-year
• Lowest quarter since Q1 2001

Although the quarter-on-quarter trend during the last three years appears to be relatively flat, once the data is viewed in the longer term, it is apparent that the commercial radio sector has been unable to grow its revenues back to the peak achieved in 2004. Adjusted for inflation, the ‘real’ peak occurred in 2000 and, by 2010, commercial radio total revenues had fallen by 33%.

Following the impact of the ‘credit crunch,’ the subsequent blow to the sector caused by the government’s slashed expenditure on commercial radio advertising from its Central Office of Information [COI] has been catastrophic. COI spend on radio in the twelve months to March 2011 was down 80% year-on-year. In the year to March 2010, the COI had been the radio sector’s biggest advertiser by a factor of eight but, only one year later, it had been diminished to almost par with the second biggest radio spender, Autoglass.

In June 2011, the government confirmed that the COI will be axed altogether, offering no respite to the commercial radio sector. According to The Guardian:
“Instead the government intends to run advertising and marketing activity out of the Cabinet Office, hiring about 20 extra staff to complement existing communications teams.”

With local advertising revenues having hit a decade-low in Q1 2011, and national revenues having fallen 34% in real terms between 2004 and 2010, surely it should be time for commercial radio to ask itself:
• is the current local-station-turned-national-network policy the appropriate strategy for the current advertising market?
• is the current local-station-turned-national-network policy the appropriate strategy to satisfy radio listeners?
• how much longer can the ‘slash and burn’ strategy (as pursued by GWR, then by GCap, now by Global Radio) be applied to the commercial local radio industry before there is simply nothing left to cut?
• how much more shareholder value can be destroyed in commercial radio before revenues fall faster than costs can be cut?

A question I was asked by one senior radio executive last week was: how will all this commercial radio ‘slash and burn’ end? I wish I knew. Of one thing I am certain: it must eventually end in tears once the net book values of dozens of commercial radio licences have to be written down by millions of pounds in the accounts of their owners.

This process has already started tentatively:
• Global Radio valued its licences at £333m on 31 March 2010, after having swallowed a £54m ‘impairment’ write-down in 2008/9
• in 2009/10, the Guardian Media Group suffered an ‘impairment’ of its radio licences by £64m and now values them at £68m
• Times of India looks likely to have to take as little as £20m for Absolute Radio, a national station it had acquired for £53m only three years ago.
We have to anticipate more write-downs like these.

At some point, even millionaires must not enjoy watching as their radio assets are reduced to dust by shrinking audiences/revenues. But what can be done when those same owners have already starved the goose that had once laid the golden local commercial radio egg?

[Endnote: Historical data from some previous quarters have been revised marginally at source]

UK commercial radio revenues underperform the 2010 media market

Marketing magazine’s annual survey of the top 100 advertisers announced some good news:

“More than three-quarters of the UK’s top 100 advertisers increased their adspend in 2010, defying predictions that the year would mark a steep decline in marketing budgets. By channel, the biggest year-on-year increase was in TV advertising, with a 17% rise, according to Nielsen; print, outdoor and cinema spend also rose.”

So, good news for radio too? Marketing continued: “The only medium in which spending fell was radio, falling 6% on 2009 levels.” Oh dear.

Why was radio so badly hit in 2010? Partly because of commercial radio’s greater dependency than other media on public expenditure which, as Marketing explained, was cut drastically in 2010:

“The government’s commitment to slashing public-sector spending was reflected in the 50% year-on-year decline in the COI’s [Central Office of Information] adspend to £105.4m.”

And partly because the volume of commercial radio listening has been in decline for the last decade, and sector revenues are a product of listening.


Encouragingly, 2010 witnessed a 3% year-on-year increase in the total volume of commercial radio listening, the first increase since 2001. However, total radio listening (commercial + BBC) had increased in 2010 by 2%, making commercial radio’s gain only marginally greater than the total market.

As for the other issue of slashed public expenditure on commercial radio, although 2010’s loss of £24m seemed bad [see my blog], 2011 could prove to be worse. On Friday, the Cabinet Office recommended the scrapping of the 60-year old Central Office of Information:

“As part of the changes, the COI will be replaced with a new body, the Government Communications Centre, with a wider remit and responsibility for keeping a tight reign on advertising and marketing spend. … The report does not say how much the government might cut from its £1bn annual communications bill, or how much of the £540m spent on everything from TV, radio and posters to sponsorship might be reduced.”

This would prove a further financial blow for commercial radio, since COI expenditure on radio of £30m in 2010 still contributed as much as 11% to the sector’s national advertising revenues, even after having been slashed by the coalition government.

Although Marketing’s (Nielsen) data reported that radio’s national revenues fell by 6% in 2010, the commercial radio sector’s own numbers showed a 6% increase. This discrepancy is puzzling. Nevertheless, analysis of the industry’s dataset tells us:


TOTAL UK COMMERCIAL RADIO REVENUES:
2010: £522.6m (£505.5m in 2009)
Up 3% in absolute terms
First year-on-year increase since 2007
Down 1% at constant prices [RPI]

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO NATIONAL REVENUES:
2010: £276.2m (£259.4m in 2009)
Up 6% in absolute terms
First year-on-year increase since 2007
Up 2% at constant prices [RPI]

UK COMMERCIAL RADIO LOCAL REVENUES:
2010: £144.3m (£144.7m in 2009)
Down less than 1% in absolute terms
Lowest value in absolute terms since 2001
Down 5% at constant prices [RPI]
Lowest value at constant prices since 1992

This apparent collapse in local advertising revenues would appear to mask a dichotomy that is taking place in the radio sales market. For those stations in small groups or independently owned that rely almost entirely on local revenues, the market for local advertising has already rebounded from the recession. The closure of many local newspapers, the cuts to local council freesheets and the closure of many local radio station offices owned by large radio groups have left these genuinely local stations in an opportune position to hoover up more local advertisers.

On the other hand, local radio stations that have been transformed recently by Global Radio into ‘national brands’ (Heart, Capital) seem to be abandoning their interest in local advertising markets. If I owned a local business in Eastbourne, I would like to know how effective an advertisement would be on the local Heart FM station in my immediate area of Eastbourne & Hastings. This is no longer possible because Global Radio has done away with RAJAR audience data for many local markets. The smallest market that RAJAR can tell me about now is “Sussex” comprising 1.3m adults – much too big a coverage area for an advert for my one local shop in Eastbourne.

This new strategy seems inconsistent with the Heart FM licence for Eastbourne & Hastings which Ofcom insists is “A LOCALLY ORIENTED CONTEMPORARY AND CHART MUSIC AND INFORMATION STATION…” So, please will Ofcom explain how Heart FM can be a “locally orientated” station if, as a potential advertiser in Eastbourne, I can no longer determine how many people would hear an advertisement broadcast on the station?

RAJAR explained the changes to its data: “Campaigns transferred from Q3 2010 to Q4 2010 will contain the old station definitions and they will be visible Q4, however the data will not be accurate. Please re-plan the campaign using the new regional definitions available in Q4.” In plain English – audience data for local stations have been removed and merged into regional groupings from last quarter.

So, it would seem that the ‘nationalisation’ of the content on Global Radio’s Heart and Capital brands has been accompanied by ‘nationalisation’ of advertising sales. If ever there seemed like a wrong time to be pursuing national advertisers for commercial radio, surely it must be now [see my blog]. In real terms, national advertisers spent no more on commercial radio in 2010 than they had in 1997. However, in 1997, there were only 200 commercial radio stations, whereas now there are 300.

I am reminded of a meeting in 2007, just weeks before EMAP was sold, with its chief executive when I asked him if he felt there was anything that the group’s radio division should have done differently. Local advertisers, he told me. We neglected local advertisers in pursuit of the larger amounts we could earn from potential national advertisers. But we turned our backs on previously loyal local advertisers who quickly lost interest in our stations without regular contact from our salespersons.

Here is a lesson to be learnt from the UK’s second largest commercial radio group. Don’t look your local cash cow in the mouth.

Public spending cuts impacted commercial radio 2010 revenues by £24m

Who was UK commercial radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010? British Gas? No, it was second. Autoglass? No, it came third. Volkswagen? No, it was fourth. Unilever? No, it came fifth.

Radio’s biggest advertiser in 2010 was the government (in the guise of the Orwellian-sounding Central Office of Information [COI]). Not only was the government the biggest advertiser on radio, but it was far and away the biggest advertiser by miles. The government’s £30m expenditure on radio in 2010 exceeded the sum total of British Gas, Autoglass, Volkswagen and Unilever.

After the coalition government was formed in May 2010, it immediately executed Conservative Party strategy to cut public expenditure on commercial advertising by 50%. Before the election, I had predicted that this Conservative policy would have a disastrous impact on commercial radio revenues [see my May 2010 blog]. It did.

Although the coalition had been in power for little more than seven months by year-end, COI expenditure on radio was quickly slashed from £50m in 2009 to £30m in 2010. Additional (non-COI) public expenditure cuts reduced radio’s revenues by a further £4m in 2010. This £24m total was a significant loss to commercial radio, and represented 9% of national revenues, or 5% of total revenues.

Did radio suffer greater cuts from the COI than other media? Seemingly not. Radio’s share of COI ad spend was 27% in 2010, slightly higher than the previous year. The reason the impact was so great for radio was the sector’s much greater dependency upon public money than competing media (television, the press, billboards).

In June 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau had said bravely: “We are optimistic that radio’s strengths will be recognised as COI budgets come under ever greater scrutiny.” Evidently, radio strength’s were not.

By September 2010, the Radio Advertising Bureau said that it was “working with a wide range of advertisers to bridge the gap” left by public expenditure cuts. What was the outcome?

There were some impressive gains for radio from other clients in 2010:
* British Gas increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (particularly impressive since it had only spent £2m on radio in 2007);
* Autoglass increased its expenditure on radio from £5m to £9m year-on-year (50% of its ad budget);
* Gocompare.com increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £5m year-on-year;
* More Than increased its expenditure on radio from £2m to £4m year-on-year;
* Mars increased its expenditure on radio from £1m to £4m year-on-year;
* Asda multiplied its expenditure on radio eight-fold to £3m year-on-year.

The problem was that even these gains combined did not match the loss from government spending cuts. The huge challenge the commercial radio industry still faces is its history of increasing dependency upon one very large advertiser.

Additionally, there were other clients that either spent less in 2010, or might in 2011:
* Blockbuster Entertainment was radio’s sixth biggest advertiser in 2010 (spending 50% of its ad budget on radio), but filed for bankruptcy in the US in September 2010;
* Sky TV reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year;
* BT reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £7m the previous year;
* Proctor & Gamble reduced its expenditure on radio to £4m in 2010 from £6m the previous year;
* Specsavers had been the second biggest spender on radio in 2009, spending £8m, but dropped out of the top 20 in 2010.

However, these single-digit losses were dwarfed by the £24m reduction in public expenditure on radio advertising in 2010.

In terms of product sectors, motor vehicles rebounded from the recession and led the field in 2010 with £90m expenditure on radio. The finance sector similarly rebounded to £52m in 2010. On the other hand, the property sector did not rebound and its spending on radio of £8m in 2010 was down 42% compared to two years earlier. Likewise, online retailers spent only £2m on radio in 2010, down 55% from two years earlier.

Public expenditure on radio fell from the number one product sector in 2007, 2008 and 2009 to fourth place in 2010. Inevitably, given that the coalition was only elected mid-2010, the cuts to public expenditure are likely to have as much impact on radio in 2011 as they had in 2010. Neither is there any prospect of these cuts being restored under the present government.

Total radio sector revenues for 2010 are likely to be up slightly year-on-year [see my Oct 2010 blog]. This is not something to shout about, given that Q2 and Q3 in 2009 had produced commercial radio’s lowest recorded revenues this millennium. However, it is an achievement in an environment where expenditure by commercial radio’s biggest advertising client fell off a cliff (as the graphs above demonstrate visually).

Unfortunately, in the longer term, unless commercial radio succeeds in improving its performance with listeners, both in absolute terms and in comparison with BBC radio, it cannot expect its revenues to return to levels recorded a decade ago. By 2009, UK commercial radio revenues had fallen by 32% since 2000 in real terms. Radio’s revenues from national advertisers had fallen by 47% during that period. That will be an almost impossible expanse of ground to regain.

[data source: Nielsen Media Research]

UK commercial radio’s growing reliance on public sector funds

The UK radio industry divides into two main sectors: BBC radio and commercial radio. BBC radio is funded by the Licence Fee, whereas commercial radio is funded by advertising and sponsorship. Each adult (aged 15+) pays around £13 per annum for BBC radio via the household Licence Fee. What is not so obvious is that each adult also contributes financially to commercial radio by around £2 per annum via their taxes, which are then used by government and public bodies to buy advertising time on commercial radio stations.

Commercial radio’s largest advertiser is neither BT (ranked second), nor Sky TV (third), Specsavers (fourth) or Unilever (fifth). It is the Central Office of Information [COI], the government’s marketing and communications arm, which spent £58m on radio advertising (25% of its budget) on UK commercial radio in the 12 months to February 2010. To illustrate just how significant the COI has become to the revenue base of commercial radio, it now spends twice as much on radio advertising as the aforementioned BT, Sky TV, Specsavers and Unilever added together. In 1999, COI expenditure had accounted for only 2% of commercial radio revenues whereas, by 2009, it was 10%.

The COI’s financial support of commercial radio is not the whole story. Additionally, other public bodies such as local authorities, health authorities and development corporations also spend money on radio advertising. In 2009, the public sector in aggregate spent £88m with commercial radio, 18% of sector revenues [see graph]. The growth over the last decade has been enormous – in 1999, public sector spend was only £17m or 4% of commercial radio revenues.

This massive increase in public expenditure on commercial radio advertising during the last decade creates three issues:
* The commercial radio sector has become more dependent on the continuing input of public funds: public bodies now spend more on commercial radio than the car industry, or retailers, or the finance sector;
* It becomes harder for commercial radio to argue about the public funding of BBC radio, when the commercial radio sector itself has become increasingly reliant upon public funds;
* Governments change, government budgets change, government policies change, making this revenue stream more unreliable for commercial radio in the long term than commercial advertising.

The issue with revenue reliability is particularly pertinent now. The Conservative Party pledged in its manifesto to reduce advertising expenditure by government departments, if elected. The planned cuts would be significant, 40% of the COI 2008/9 budget of £540m, according to one press report.

This policy is nothing new. In 2008, Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne promised at the Party Conference that he would more than half the COI budget from £391m to £163m. In 2005, then Conservative Shadow Chancellor Oliver Letwin promised to cut the COI advertising and marketing budget by more than half from £308m to £108m.

For commercial radio, the impact of such cuts would prove disastrous in the wake of its recent structural and cyclical revenue declines. A 50% budget cut to COI expenditure on radio would lose commercial radio £26m to £29m per annum, 6% of total sector revenues. A 50% budget cut to all public sector expenditure on radio would lose commercial radio £44m to £48m per annum, 9% of total sector revenues.

In 2009, commercial radio revenues were down 10% year-on-year. A year earlier, commercial radio revenues had been down 6% year-on-year. A further 9% cut to sector revenues would reduce them to the level they were ten years ago. Already, once prices are adjusted for inflation, commercial radio revenues are at their lowest annual level since 1997 in real terms.

Commercial radio’s growing reliance on national advertisers, of which government advertising is now the most significant part, has increased the sector’s economic vulnerability. In 1993, local advertisers had still constituted the majority of commercial sector revenues. By 2009, local advertising was down to 29% of total revenues.

Furthermore, if a government were to return to the post-War COI policy of using public broadcasters to air its Public Service Announcements, rather than paying commercial rates for airtime, up to 18% of commercial radio revenues would disappear at a stroke.

It must be a major concern that, in these times of inevitable government budget cuts (whichever political party is in power), the commercial radio sector’s reliance on public funds has never been so great.

Marketing DAB radio: misleading listeners only damages the medium

The radio medium’s loyalty amongst consumers derives substantially from the trust engendered between the on-air presenter and the listener. Research has demonstrated that radio is trusted more than any other medium, and that its audience feels a much greater affinity than it does with less intimate media such as television and newspapers.

In view of the importance of this ‘trust’ between radio and its audience, it seems a remarkable own-goal for radio to be promoting itself in a misleading way in advertisements carried on its own medium – radio. If listeners cannot trust radio people to be truthful about radio on the radio, then does it not undermine the bond that exists between a radio station and its listenership?

A recent radio advertisement placed on commercial radio stations by the Digital Radio Development Bureau, the agency tasked with persuading the public to buy and use DAB radios, stated:

“This is an advert for DAB digital radio. If you were listening to me on a conventional analogue …” [the sound of radio interference interrupted the speaker momentarily. The voice-over then continued:] “… radio you might very well hear strange noises …” [further sounds of radio interference followed. The voice-over continued:] “… which would ruin your enjoyment of your favourite programme …” [more interference sounds were audible. The voice-over continued:] “… meaning you might miss out on the crucial …” [radio interference sounds could be heard once more] “… but, with a DAB radio, you can enjoy crisp, clear digital sound. To find out more and discover loads more stations, visit getdigitalradio.com. Prices start from £24.99. Digital radio, get more from your radio”.

Listeners complained to the Advertising Standards Authority [ASA] that this advertisement was misleading because, when the DAB radio signal is inadequate, the audible broadcast signal is interrupted.

The Digital Radio Development Bureau responded that:
* because DAB is a digital technology which is either ‘on’ or ‘off’, the signal is always the same right up to the coverage limit;
* DAB uses single-frequency networks technology where the same programme is transmitted from a number of sites, and DAB receivers add the signals from all the transmitters together, reducing gaps whereas, in an analogue radio network, gaps between transmitters cause the signal to fade in and out as the listener moves around;
* a digital radio receiver is not subject to the background hiss and interference that might be audible with an analogue radio, and it is only when the listener is not in a digital station’s coverage area that the signal drops out;
* electrical interference from fridges, thermostats, motors or light switches can cause crackle on analogue radio, whereas digital radio is not susceptible to this;
* the other interference referred to in the advert is intrusion of pirate radio broadcasters that listeners might hear on analogue radio. Because there is no low-grade, cheap equipment available for DAB, pirates are not able to broadcast on digital radio;
• the advert sought to promote the fact that DAB radio was hiss- and crackle-free, which the Bureau believed was reasonable and responsible.

The ASA believed otherwise. It said it understood that “if listening to digital radio whilst travelling, the digital signal could drop out when entering a built-up area or walking between tall buildings,” whereas the adverts “gave the misleading impression that listeners would never experience any interruption to a DAB signal, when that was not the case.” The ASA banned future use of the advert.

This was not the first occasion on which advertisements promoting DAB radio have been found to be misleading. In 2005, the ASA had similarly banned a radio advert which had stated:

“If you’re someone who thinks an iPod is something you might keep your contact lenses in you probably haven’t heard about DAB digital radio. With a new digital radio costing from as little as £49.99, not only can you hear all your current favourites in crystal clear sound, you can switch on to a dial-full of digital-only stations specialising in everything from classic rock to books that talk. The future is here today with distortion free DAB digital radio: taking the hiss out of the way you listen to the radio. Message provided by TWG EMAP Digital.”

On this occasion, the ASA decided that “not all DAB digital radio listeners would receive ‘distortion free’ and ‘crystal clear’ sound and concluded that the claims were misleading,” it having “received no evidence to show that DAB digital radio was superior to analogue radio in terms of audio quality.”

On another occasion, in 2004, Ofcom banned an advertisement broadcast on London station Jazz FM which had claimed falsely that DAB radio offers consumers “CD-quality sound”. Ofcom concluded that “some listeners, in particular listening circumstances, would perceive a difference in sound quality between services using lower bit rates or broadcasting in mono compared to the quality attainable on CDs.”

There is a recurring theme here of DAB radio marketing campaigns repeatedly being found to be misleading listeners. Their response: just try and try and try again. Perhaps there should be a ‘three strikes, then you’re out’ policy. Do not pass go. Do not advertise DAB radio misleadingly on the radio. Do not continue to abuse the trust between the radio medium and its listenership.

UK Commercial Radio Revenues Q3 2009

Commercial radio revenue figures for 2009’s third quarter have been published.

Q3 2009 DATA
£120.2m total revenues.
£35.7m local revenues.
£59.8m national revenues – lowest quarter since Q1 1998.
£24.8m branded content.

YEAR-ON-YEAR
Total revenues – down 12.5%.
Local revenues – down 3.8%.
National revenues – down 16.5%.
Branded content – down 13.3%.

QUARTER-ON-QUARTER
Total revenues – up 0.4%.
Local revenues – up 2.6%.
National revenues – down 0.3%.
Branded content – no change.

FOUR-QUARTER MOVING AVERAGE DATA
£497.5m total revenues – lowest since Q1 2000.
Down 14.6% year-on-year (last quarter: down 13.4% year-on-year).

Have we hit the bottom yet? That is the thorny question. The answer is not easy. Yes, this most recent quarter’s revenues have halted their recent terrifying decline, demonstrating a tiny 0.4% improvement over the previous quarter. But one ‘okay’ quarter does not necessarily signal a turnaround. You would be risking your shirt to announce that the radio advertising market is going to improve from now on.

The one bright spot was local advertising, which accounts for 30% of total radio revenues. It improved quarter-on-quarter by 2.6%, although it was still down 3.8% year-on-year. Nevertheless, it is local advertising which has held up better during this recession, exhibiting only single digit percentage declines year-on-year. If you are looking for ‘green shoots’, you might find them here.

By contrast, national advertising (50% of total radio revenues) continues to be an unmitigated disaster. This was the sixth quarter in succession to record double-digit percentage declines year-on-year. National radio advertising in Q3 2009 was at its lowest point for eleven years (longer, if you factor in inflation). Neither is this a purely cyclical phenomenon – out of the last 20 quarters, only six have exhibited year-on-year growth. In aggregate, during three and a half out of the last five years, radio has suffered declining national revenues.

Where does that leave the UK commercial radio industry? Well, for the small local stations that have continued to fulfil the remit of their original licences by serving local listeners and local businesses, if they have survived this far, they might yet live to see another day. It is impossible to predict that ‘the worst is over’, but it might be that ‘the worst of the worst is over’. Local advertising is never going to migrate wholesale to digital TV or to the internet, and the yields that a successful local radio station can extract remain high.

The outlook is not so good for group owners of local stations who started to spend less on the shoe-leather necessary to secure local advertising contracts in the 1990’s, dazzled by the lucrative opportunities presented by big-name national brands. Unfortunately, the national advertising market is fickle and media buyers now have a longer list of options than ever before, at more competitive prices than ever before. It’s all very well for some current owners to be busy ‘transforming’ local radio licences into national brands, but the market for national radio advertising has shrunk by 40% over the last six years. Now, a much smaller cake has to be divided by a greater number of national radio brands.

The revenue data also contradicts the message repeatedly broadcast by Ofcom in recent years that national radio brands represented ‘the future of radio’. Betraying a lack of understanding of the radio advertising market, Ofcom ignored double-digit declines in national advertising revenues that were evident as early as 2005, instead insisting that national brands on digital platforms were what listeners and advertisers wanted. To date, not one commercial digital radio station broadcast on DAB has produced an operating profit, and consumers’ preferred source for national radio remains the BBC. Commercial radio used to be good at genuinely local radio, so deliberately giving it up was never a sensible idea.

One characteristic that too much of UK commercial radio presently lacks is ‘excitement’, for both listeners and advertisers. More so than ever in these days of media overload, you have to create a distinct ‘buzz’ around your product to attract attention. Being in the marketplace is simply not enough. I only realised how much I have missed that kind of radio excitement when I stumbled across a local commercial station this week that entertained me enough to make me stop what I was doing and listen intently. It even played three of my all-time favourite songs in a single hour.

Unfortunately for the financial health of the UK radio industry, that station serves Lafayette, Louisiana – metro population 257,000. Deservedly, it ranks #2 in the market.