Andy Parfitt leaves BBC Radio 1 on a high: separating the man from the myth

Andy Parfitt’s departure from the station controller job at BBC Radio 1 after thirteen years marks a significant event for the UK radio sector. Parfitt’s accomplishments during his tenure were many, but did not extend to significantly turning around the station’s audience ratings.

At the time Parfitt took on the controller job in March 1998 at Radio 1:
• its share of listening was 9.4%, compared to 8.7% in Q1 2011
• its adult weekly reach was 20%, compared to 23% in Q1 2011
• its average hours per listener per week were 8.1, compared to 7.8 in Q1 2011.

One metric did demonstrate a healthy increase – Radio 1’s absolute weekly reach was up from 9.7m adults in Q1 1998 to 11.8m in Q1 2011. However, part of that increase is attributable to the UK adult population having grown by 9% in the interim. Certainly, more adults listen to Radio 1 now than in 1998, but for shorter periods of time, and so the station’s share of total radio listening has declined.

Given this impasse to the improvement of Radio 1’s ratings, I was surprised to read in the BBC press release announcing Parfitt’s departure that:
“Appointed Controller, BBC Radio 1, in March 1998, Andy has led Radio 1 and 1Xtra to record audience figures …”

… and surprised to read Parfitt’s boss, Tim Davie, declaring that:
“Andy has been a fantastic Controller and leaves Radio 1 in rude health – with distinctive, high quality programmes and record listening figures …”

The one person still working at Radio 1 who should know for sure that “record audience figures” had not been achieved during the last quarter, last year, the last decade or during Parfitt’s entire tenure is Andy Parfitt. Why? Because, between 1993 and 1998, Parfitt had been chief assistant to then Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister, a turbulent period during which the station’s audience was decimated by a misguided set of programme policies that failed miserably to connect with listeners.

Between the end of 1992 and March 1998, when Parfitt took over from Bannister (whom the BBC had promoted to director of radio), Radio 1’s:
• share of listening fell from 22.4% to 9.4%
• adult weekly reach fell from 36% to 20%
• average hours listened per week fell from 11.8 to 8.1
• absolute adult reach fell from 16.6m to 9.7m.

Radio 1 lost an incredible 58% of its listening, and 7m listeners, within that five-year period, a calamitous disaster from which the station has never recovered [see graph above]. Since then, Parfitt has kept the ship relatively steady, having been appointed in 1998 as a safe pair of BBC hands for Radio 1 after the tragedy of Bannister (who had come from Capital Radio via BBC GLR and had a fantastic track record in news radio, but not in music radio).

Never again will Radio 1 achieve a weekly audience of 17 million adults, as it had done in 1992. Those days are long gone. In recent years, fewer young people are listening to broadcast radio, and they are listening for shorter periods of time. Sadly, radio does not prove as exciting for them as the internet, games or social networking.

Of course, it would have been nice for any incumbent to leave the Radio 1 job on a ‘high.’ But, unfortunately, it was never going to happen with Parfitt, or probably with any successor. Radio 1’s ‘golden age’ was wilfully destroyed twenty years ago. Nevertheless, somewhere, somebody in the BBC must have decided to invoke the notion of Parfitt’s “record audience figures,” regardless or not of whether they were a fact.

What surprises me is that every BBC press release must have to pass through endless approvals – within the originating department, in the press office and in the lawyers’ office – before it reaches the public. Did nobody out of the dozens of people that must have checked this particular press release ask the simple question: can you substantiate this “record audience figures” claim?

RAJAR radio audience data are publicly available for all to see. Anyone from the BBC could have checked and found that, using every radio listening metric known to man, Radio 1’s “record audience figures” were all achieved two decades ago, rather than at any time during Parfitt’s tenure. Maybe they didn’t check. Or maybe they did, but pressed ahead anyway.

The ability to play fast and loose with numbers and statistics, particularly those that can be said to be at an ‘all time high,’ might appear to be endemic within the UK radio industry. I have highlighted similar instances of the industry’s abuse of statistics in other claims. Now that the consumer press only seems interested in ‘radio’ stories involving celebrities, and now that the media trade press has been reduced to recycling radio press releases, ‘myth’ can quite easily be propagated as ‘fact.’

I am reminded of a passage in my new book about KISS FM when, two decades ago, I had asked my station boss why an Evening Standard profile of him and his car had featured a vehicle that was not the one he owned or drove.

“It seemed to make a better story,” he told me.

Commercial radio: “so keen to hold back the BBC?”

House of Lords Select Committee on Communications
Inquiry on Governance & Regulation Of The BBC [excerpt]
22 March 2011 @ 1515

Baroness Deech: Listening to you, I am a bit puzzled about why you are so keen to hold back the BBC. Can’t Virgin Media and the local commercial radio stations stand on their own two feet? Why have they got to hold back the BBC?

Mr Andrew Harrison [chief executive officer, RadioCentre]: I would not characterise it at all as wanting to hold back the BBC; I would characterise it as wanting a level playing field for the commercial sector to compete. The truth is that, in radio, the BBC is hardly held back. It has 55% national market share, it has the vast majority of national FM spectrum and it has a huge raft of local radio stations, so it is hardly held back. We seek the opportunity to build our own commercial businesses, entrepreneurially and innovatively, without facing the elephant in the room that, every time we try to do something new, there is a BBC service that pops up to squash it before it has time to be established.

Mr Andrew Barron [chief operating officer, Virgin Media]: With great respect, I think we are in slightly different places. I would argue that Virgin Media is one of the companies pushing the BBC forward in many instances.

[This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and webcast on www.parliamentlive.tv. Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither Members nor witnesses have had the opportunity to correct the record.]

AM/FM switch-off of national radio stations? An empty threat whose expiry date has long passed

Some of Digital Britain’s radio recommendations were unworkable. However, the notion has remained that FM and AM analogue transmitters of the UK’s national radio stations will be switched off once digital radio listening passes the 50% threshold. This was never practical. It was a ‘threat’ propagated by government to the public in the hope of forcing them into buying more DAB radios, instilling fear that they would otherwise lose their favourite stations. The threat failed.

The problem with any threat is that, once it has failed, it remains difficult for the protagonist to climb down. So the threat continues to be propagated. For what reason now? So as not to make those who issued the threat look completely foolish. The need to save face has locked the government apparatus into a fiction that BBC and commercial radio will willingly throw away half their audiences by closing their FM/AM transmitters. This was never true.

THE BBC

‘Universal’ reception of the BBC’s core public services is mandatory. It would prove impossible to levy the BBC Licence Fee on every UK household if (almost) the entire population could not receive the BBC services for which they pay.

The BBC Charter & Agreement requires:

“12. Making the UK Public Services widely available
(1) The BBC must do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that viewers, listeners and other users (as the case may be) are able to access the UK Public Services that are intended for them, or elements of their content, in a range of convenient and cost effective ways which are available or might become available in the future.”

Would the BBC switch off analogue transmissions of its national networks once more than 50% of listening was attributed to digital platforms? Of course not. You would be a complete fool to slash your radio audience by half, particularly as such an action would contradict the BBC Charter & Agreement.

Could the government insist that the BBC switched off the analogue transmissions of its national networks? Only if it wanted a revolution on its hands. It would be difficult to think of a policy more likely to lose it the next General Election.

COMMERCIAL RADIO

The revenues of commercial radio are directly related to the sector’s volume of listening. If commercial radio switched off its analogue transmitters once digital listening had passed the 50% threshold, at a stroke it would risk losing 50% of its volume of listening and, subsequently, 50% of its revenues. Would it do that? No, of course not.

RadioCentre’s self-interested ‘policy’ has been to argue that the BBC national networks should turn off their analogue transmitters first, years in advance of commercial radio stations. Radio Chicken, anyone? Naturally, RadioCentre failed to mention that the outcome of this proposal would be likely to significantly increase its member commercial radio stations’ analogue audiences and revenues. There is nothing quite like trying to persuade your competitor to commit joint suicide … first.

Additionally, the value of commercial radio companies is vested in the scarcity of their analogue FM/AM licences. Because no new analogue licences are awarded by the regulator, each existing licence has a significant intrinsic value, even if the business using it is not profitable. The same is not true of DAB licences. Anybody can apply to Ofcom for a DAB licence by filling in a form and paying a relatively small fee.

An example of the value of analogue licences to commercial radio owners is Absolute Radio. In 2008, Times of India paid £53.2m for Virgin Radio, comprising one national AM licence and one London FM licence. Having re-launched the station as Absolute Radio, the company lost £4.3m in 2009, but its balance sheet still retains considerable value because of the scarcity of its two analogue radio licences. If Absolute Radio were put up for sale, someone would be interested in buying it because of that scarcity.

By contrast, when DAB commercial radio services such as Zee Radio, Islam Radio, Muslim Radio, Flaunt and Eurolatina no longer wanted their digital radio licences in 2010, there was no queue of potential buyers. They simply handed their licences back to Ofcom because those licences were not scarce.

This is why it would prove financially suicidal for commercial radio to switch off its FM/AM transmitters. It would have to write down the value of those scarce analogue licences to zero in its balance sheets which, at a stroke, would negate almost the entire value of the licence owners. Not a good company strategy.

So, when headlines such as ‘Absolute Radio mulls AM switch-off’ appear in the trade press, they should be read with a bucket of salt. The headline might as well say: ’Absolute Radio mulls destruction of shareholder value.’

And, when yet another DAB proponent appears on radio or television to persuade you, in all seriousness, that the UK’s most listened to national radio services – both BBC and commercial – will imminently be switching off their AM/FM transmitters, please feel justified to laugh in their face.

This is about as likely to happen as Tesco putting security guards at their store entrances to tell the public to shop elsewhere because they want fewer customers.

FOOTNOTE:

It emerged last week that, after the Norwegian state classical music station ‘Alltid Klassisk’ abandoned FM transmission on 1 July 2009 for DAB transmission, its audience contracted from 25,000 to 10,000 per day.

Now, consider that only 20% of listening to BBC Radio 2 is via digital platforms (in Q1 2010), lower than the 24% average for all stations [see Sep 2010 blog]. If that average ever managed to reach the 50% threshold, it might leave 60% of Radio 2’s audience still listening via analogue. That’s 8m listeners that Radio 2 would have to turn its back on as a result of FM switch-off. Time for the BBC to start erecting barricades outside Broadcasting House.

[thanks to Eivind Engberg]

David Blunkett’s opinion of DAB radio: BBC is “defending the indefensible”

‘You & Yours’
BBC Radio 4
28 March 2011 @ 1200 [FM only]

Julian Worricker, presenter [JW]
Paul Everitt, chief executive, Society of Motoring Manufacturers & Traders [PE]
Laurence Harrison, technology & market director, Digital Radio UK [LH]

JW: Now, car manufacturers have long prided themselves on arming their vehicles with the latest groundbreaking technology, but there’s one in-car gadget which has remained stuck in the twentieth century. Radios in cars, generally speaking, are FM/AM analogue, and not digital. Around 20% of all radio listening takes place in the car, that’s according to RAJAR, the organisation which counts these things. So, if the UK is to go all-digital and the analogue signal switch is turned off – and that, of course, is the plan – cars need to be equipped with digital radios.

JW: Well, car manufacturers are planning that all new vehicles will have digital radios fitted from 2013. And, now, Ford says it will make digital radios available in its cars a year earlier than that. This will all help achieve the target that 50% of all radio listening should be digital, which is one of the pre-conditions for turning off the analogue signal. We can explore this with Paul Everitt, who is the chief executive of the Society of Motoring Manufacturers & Traders, and with Laurence Harrison, the technology & market director from Digital Radio UK, which is the company set up by broadcasters to help with the switchover. Gentlemen, good afternoon. Paul Everitt, why is the car industry pushing ahead with installing digital radios by 2013?

PE: Well, I think there are two key reasons. The first is because that’s the agreement we had with government as part of the Digital [Radio] Action Plan. They recognised that listening in-car was a key part of radio listenership and, therefore, early introduction of vehicles with digital radio was a key part of the package that needed to be achieved. But, I think, increasingly, what we are seeing, and certainly the announcement from Ford that you mentioned slightly earlier, is actually about the consumer saying that this is something that we want. The consumer now has an increasing opportunity to experience both the listening quality of digital in-car, but also the content, the increasing content, and desirability of the content on digital, as well as gradually and increasingly improving coverage. So, it’s a combination here of ….

JW: [interrupts]: Right, right, I just want to ….

PE: …. both something that we have to do, or we have agreed to do. But I think, increasingly, this is a push that is now coming from consumers.

JW: Okay, I just want to scrutinise that a little, because I don’t doubt that Laurence Harrison will say the same thing because we are told this is consumer led. But, surely, the truth of the matter is that the consumer has been led because of what the government requires you and others to do, so consumer choice only goes so far here.

PE: Well, I think we can argue the finer points of this, if you like. But, from an industry point of view, we began to be involved in this discussion during the course of 2008, obviously the conditions during 2009 with the development of the Digital Britain report brought that forward, or conclusions from that report have been built into vehicle manufacturers’ plans. But, as I say, what we are actually seeing today is, you know, increasing interest in digital from consumers.

JW: Okay. Let me bring Laurence Harrison in on coverage because, as I understand it, at least 90% [population] coverage is a target. That’s part of the targets that will only allow the switchover to take place. Now, 90% sounds positive until you then think about the 10% who can no longer hear what they are listening to now.

LH: Well, I think the key thing on coverage is to become the equivalent of FM coverage. So the 90% figure you refer to is around local coverage. Actually, on the coverage of national services, we are already at just over 90%, and the BBC has just recently committed to build that out to 93% by the end of this year. And the target thereafter is to get to FM equivalence as soon as we can, so that programme is well underway.

LH: And, if we are driving from A to B a significant distance, can we be sure that that coverage will remain consistent over that distance?

PE: So, you’re absolutely right. Of course, for the car market, geographical coverage is vitally important. What we do know now is that the vast majority of motorways and A roads have got good coverage, and significant coverage on B roads and smaller roads. But we are working with broadcasters to try and prioritise the road network going forward.

JW: Paul Everett, what about those who can’t afford to buy a new car after 2013 with a smart digital radio inside it? When that switchover eventually happens, what happens to them?

PE: Well, this has always been our biggest – or one of our biggest – concerns, which is that how do we retro-fit the entire vehicle parc? We are currently looking at something between 25 and 30 million vehicles all up, so it’s quite a challenge. What we have seen over the course of the last year – 18 months – is relatively low-cost adaptors. I think now … I mean the prices vary, but certainly less than £100 to adapt your vehicle, and these are sort of a relatively basic unit, so not desirable for everybody …

JW: What does ‘relatively basic’ mean in terms of what it will actually do?

PE: Well, it means you get a digital reception but you have to kind of plug it into the cigarette lighter and have a bit of an aerial up and …

JW: It’s a bit Heath Robinson, isn’t it?

PE: We would agree with that. From our perspective, we’ve been very much focusing on what we would see as an integrated unit. So, something that you can put into your car or have installed in your car which would effectively mean that you could just use your standard radio to receive digital broadcasts. Now, we’ve seen … I’ve seen first kind of trials of that technology. We hope that that’s going to be available from sort of around the end of this year – the beginning of next year – so we’re already seeing a market begin to develop and, as I say, I think we … well, there are two ways of looking at the problem. One is that we must all prepare because this switchover is going to happen. Or the one which we are focused on is: the more consumers have experience of digital, the more they like it and want it and therefore that’s a market driver, rather than sort of an administrative pull.

JW: No, and that’s a fair point because I read some surveys, Laurence Harrison, that I know you were quoted in in recent weeks. But the point that has just emerged from the last comment, surely, to put to you are that whatever we do here, it is going to cost us and we do not have any choice over that.

LH: Well, I think the stage we are at at the moment, as Paul said, is that we have not got a confirmed switchover date now, so what we are trying to do is build momentum.

JW: But it will happen one day.

LH: It will happen one day, but what’s going to drive people towards digital radio is the great content we’ve got. The same happened on TV. So if you look at the offering now on digital radio, you’ve got the soon to be launched BBC Radio 4 Extra on Saturday, 5 Live Sports Extra, 6 Music, Absolute 80s [and] 90s, Planet Rock, Jazz FM has just announced it is going onto the digital network, so the content offering has frankly never been better and what we do know about people that have digital radio is that once they’ve tried it, they love it.

[The programme was followed with a Yours & Yours blog which invited comments from listeners on their experiences with DAB radio in cars. David Blunkett MP submitted a comment to the programme about his experiences with DAB, upon which listeners made further comments.]

……………………………

‘You & Yours’
BBC Radio 4
1 April 2011 @ 1200 [FM only]

Peter White, presenter [PW]
David Blunkett MP [DB]
Lindsey Mack, senior project manager of digital radio, BBC [LM]

PW: Now, you’ve all been writing in, telling us about your frustrations with digital radios, after Monday’s report on how Ford is planning to install DAB radios as standard in some new cars from next year. Steve told us about his A370 journey between Cardiff and North Wales: perfect listening for 30 miles outside the Welsh capital, then nothing for 150 miles. By contrast, over on Anglesey, Steve tells us the only place that silences his DAB car radio is the Conwy Tunnel. Another correspondent was former Home Secretary, David Blunkett. He’s had trouble getting a DAB signal at his home in Derbyshire. So we brought him together with a senior digital manager for the BBC, Lindsey Mack, and David started by challenging the main claim of digital supporters that DAB achieves 90% coverage.

DB: My thrust was that there are not 90% of the population with access to digital [radio], and many of those who claim to have access have intermittent or interference with the access. And I’m a classic [case] because I can just about get digital radio in North Derbyshire, where I rent a cottage, if I hold the radio up to the roof, or I find one particular spot on the kitchen window sill. Get it out of kilter and either the signal goes or, as quite often I get, even in London, it breaks up.

PW: Right, let me at this point bring in Lindsey Mack. A lot of our e-mails mirrored what David had to say, and particularly this point: that the quality isn’t adequate for many people, even if they’re … it’s said they have reception, and in that so to talk of [FM radio] switch-off at this stage, you know, seems wrong.

LM: Over the last sort of two years, the BBC has been very committed to building out its DAB coverage. We actually are at 90% of the UK population, but that doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to always get a very good reception. A lot of it does depend on the device you have, as well. There are some receivers that are a little bit more sensitive than others. And, in fact, we’ve actually just been doing some tests on the last sort of bestselling sort of ten or dozen receivers in the market.

PW: But what a lot of people said to us, and I suspect David will reiterate this, is that FM, which digital is going to replace, that has a much more stable signal and that, even if you start to lose that signal, you don’t lose it altogether in the way you often lose the digital [signal] or it just goes into sort of burble.

LM: Yes, and with DAB, you usually either get it or you don’t. I mean, looking in Derbyshire, we’ve actually got very good coverage, especially North Derbyshire, so perhaps after this we could actually talk to David about the device he’s actually got, as well, just to see which one he’s actually using. Whilst the BBC has been very committed to DAB and extending the coverage, we are now actually having to make the existing coverage more robust, and that’s actually what we haven’t been doing as much before. What we’ve done before, we’ve concentrated on just rolling out DAB. Now we know we’ve got to really look at the whole way we’re measuring DAB. We’re looking at indoor coverage in particular. You know, originally, when we launched DAB, we actually based all our coverage on car listening and then, obviously, car listening didn’t take off the same way as people are actually listening indoors.

PW: Well, it couldn’t because there weren’t [DAB] radios in cars.

DB [laughs]: Absolutely.

LM [laughs]

DB: It is a problem, Peter, actually, that if you can’t get it and you can’t hear it, you can’t appreciate it. I’ve got no problem with the extra reach and the way in which [BBC] Radio 7 is now going to become Radio 4 Plus or, whatever, Extra. My problem is that there’s a big over-claim for this. Let’s take it steadily, let’s try and get it right, let’s not claim that people have got a service when they haven’t and, particularly, let’s not say – which was what the sell for DAB was – that this is going to be higher quality when, as you’ve just described, the burble, the break-up, the lack of a good sound… I have three DAB radios up north. I’ve tried them all in different places, so it’s: please don’t do to me and to the audience what always happens, which is: it is not the fault of the deliverer, it’s the piece of equipment you’ve got, and they’re pretty good pieces of equipment.

PW: But, David, it was your own government who published Digital Britain and it was your own government that set the 2015 date.

DB: Yeah, and I criticised them at the time. Everybody wants everything now. They want it faster, they want to claim it as the greatest quality. I mean, everything is always ‘the best ever.’ And, frankly, it isn’t and if we just accept that and say ‘lets take it steady and lets try and get it right,’ we’ll all be on the same page.

PW: So it isn’t the principle that you’re against. It’s the practice, really.

DB: Yes, it is. I mean, if FM is better than DAB, let us continue for the time being with FM and, in many parts of this country, it is.

PW: Lindsey Mack, 2015 is supposed to be dependent on, you know, the state of digital [radio listening] and the public’s attitude to it. There’s a report in the papers this week that, in fact, digital sales of digital radio have actually fallen, and fallen for the second year running.

LM: They did fall slightly down last year, compared to the year before but, to be very honest, over the last sort of quarter, the consumer electronic market has been hit very badly. Not just in terms of radio sales, but other consumer electronics as well. You know, the BBC is working very closely with commercial radio and doing a lot of sort of joint promotions. We have to get our messaging right on this.

PW: A lot of our listeners said ‘if it ain’t broke,’ you know, ‘don’t fix it.’ In other words, okay, people quite accept that you’ve got, that you should move on, and that digital probably is the next thing, but why get rid of FM before … in some ways, some people said ‘why get rid of it at all’? Why can’t they exist side by side?

LM: But we’re not getting rid of FM totally. What we’re saying is that the BBC services – the national services – are on FM and DAB, and also we have our digital-only stations on DAB. By 2015, we have to … hopefully, we will have reached 50% digital listening. That’s not [just] DAB. It’s digital listening across all platforms. But there’s a lot that has to be done by, you know, at 2015, and beyond that.

PW: Are you happy about that 2015 date?

LM: 2015 is just … is a date that the industry can focus on. It is not a switchover date. What we have to achieve by then, though, if we can, is obviously digital listening up, we have to have good coverage rollout which has to be robust. People have to be able to turn on their radio and it has to work.

DB: Well, just one final message, Peter, which is that Lindsey’s done a pretty good job at defending the indefensible …

LM: [scoffs]

DB: … and I commend her on it, but don’t get carried away by the anoraks. They’ll tell you anything is working, even if it isn’t.

PW: So what would be your … what’s your solution? What would you want the BBC to do, David?

DB: I’d want them to be absolutely clear and honest and to say: there are problems with this, we’re resolving them, we want people to buy the [DAB] radios because they’ll get the extra coverage of different channels, and we want to keep FM as long as it’s necessary for people to be able to listen to Radio 4 properly.

[thanks to Darryl Pomicter & Luke Shasha]

Digital Radio UK meets BBC Radio Northampton listeners in a DAB black hole

In October 2007, Ofcom had awarded the DAB local multiplex licence for Northamptonshire to NOWdigital Ltd and had required “implementation by September 2008” to put it on-air. The multiplex was to carry BBC Radio Northampton along with commercial stations. More than three years after this licence award, the DAB service has still not launched. As a result, BBC Radio Northampton is not yet available on DAB.

NOWdigital Ltd had been owned by GCap Media, the UK’s largest commercial radio group, which was acquired by Global Radio in 2008. In 2009, NOWdigital Ltd was sold to Arqiva, the transmission specialist which owns the lion’s share of DAB commercial infrastructure in the UK. In its application for the Northamptonshire licence in 2007, NOWdigital had boasted:

“GCap … has invested more into digital radio than any other UK operator. This investment has driven the industry forward and is helping build radio’s digital future … Having launched and operated multiplexes since 2001, NOWdigital is in an excellent position to successfully launch and operate the Northamptonshire multiplex.”

So what has Ofcom done to make this licensee comply with the stipulation that the Northampton DAB multiplex had to be launched by September 2008? Nothing. Does the commercial radio industry have a masterplan that includes a specific date for the launch of the Northamptonshire DAB multiplex? No. NOWdigital states disingenuously that its on-air date for Northamptonshire is “awaiting launch”.

Northamptonshire is one of 13 local DAB multiplex licences that Ofcom
awarded in 2007 and 2008 that have failed to materialise by their required launch dates. In 2007, Ofcom also awarded a national DAB multiplex licence to a consortium, led by Channel 4 television, that similarly failed to launch (all trace of which has been erased from the Ofcom web site).

Despite three years of broken promises to the people of Northamptonshire by Ofcom, NOWdigital, GCap Media, Global Radio and Arqiva that a local DAB radio multiplex will be launched for their area, they were not excused from this year’s Christmas radio industry campaign to sell more DAB receivers. DAB marketing organisation Digital Radio UK was interviewed by BBC Radio Northampton last week, though it was unable to offer even a vague date when either the local DAB multiplex for Northamptonshire will be launched, or when the signal of the existing DAB national multiplexes will be improved.

Although Digital Radio UK is funded jointly by the BBC, commercial radio and Arqiva, these heavyweight stakeholders could offer nothing more concrete to the people of Northamptonshire than platitudes and more promises about DAB … always in the future tense.


BBC Radio Northampton,
lunchtime show
15 December 2010 @ 1223 [excerpts]

Stuart Linnell, presenter [SL]
Jane Ostler, director of communications, Digital Radio UK [JO]

SL: You said, Jane, that the coverage and the reception is pretty good in most parts of the country. From my experience, and from what I hear people saying, where it’s good, it’s great. Where it’s not so good, it’s blooming awful.

JO: Yes. That is absolutely right, and we know that organisations like the BBC actually have a plan in place to make sure that coverage improves. And that’s not only building more transmitters, but it’s also increasing the power on transmitters, so that you don’t get the drop-out of signal that you will get in some areas. However, we know that when people do have a good signal, they absolutely love digital radio and everything that it brings …

[…]

SL: Rod in Daventry has got a question about the DAB signal in Northampton. It’s not specific to any one radio station, this question, I don’t think. It’s come in on a text. He just says: why is the DAB signal in Northampton so weak?

JO: Yeah, there are variances around the country in the signal. And, as I say, you know, there are plans in place, over the course of the next few years, to improve coverage for national radio stations and local radio stations as well. It’s one of these things that we are used to with other electronic devices like mobile phones and even Freeview signals. You know, there’s a course – an engineering programme – that’s taking place over time that will allow the signal to improve. So, if it is weak at the moment, it will get better.

[…]

JO: We believe that DAB will … is the broadcast backbone for the country. It’s free to air, it’s becoming increasingly available, and the signal is getting better all the time…

[…]

John in Corby [caller]: My question is that I watch this, I’ve been doing radio for sixty years, I’ve watched this very, very carefully, and the thing is that there are some very attractive radios which carry DAB which are available now. I take all the magazines, every magazine that’s related to radio and high fidelity in this country. And the point is this. What the $64,000 question is, dear Stuart, is: when shall DAB radio be available on Radio Northampton? Can the lady guesstimate that? That’s what’s important – all the things that have been broadcast about it – I won’t buy a DAB radio until I can get it in my locality, my local station, which makes commonsense to me.

SL: Okay. We get the point. Jane, do you know the answer to that?

JO: That is a very good question from John because I know that BBC Radio Northampton is not available on a local digital multiplex. Obviously, around the Northampton area, you can get – and Corby, you can get – the national stations but not the local ones. There are plans in place to build local coverage, and that includes BBC services by the time …

John [interrupts]: This is what will be needed and this is what will sell the radio … this is what will sell the radios, in my view. [When] this fine station in this fine county has its own DAB service.

JO: Yeah, we completely support that and we understand that. What’s happening is: there is a plan in place to develop local coverage in time for the digital radio switchover, and these plans are being worked on right now. So I can’t give you an exact date, but it will be over the next few years that local radio will be more available on digital.

SL: Because we must make it clear that John’s question is a valid one, but it’s not just BBC Radio Northampton that’s not on DAB. There are other stations as well who have not yet migrated to that platform.

JO: That’s right. The local stations in your area aren’t available. They are in some, but not in your particular area. But you can, subject to doing a postcode check, you can still get all the national services that are available …

[…]

Peter [caller]: What exactly is going to happen to existing car radios and also hi-fi stereos at home and also alarm clock radios? Is there going to be an adapter?

JO: If I deal with the car question first. That is also a very good question. There are lots of cars, there are lots of lorries and vehicles on the road, and only a small percentage of them today can actually receive digital radio. But you will start to see – and it’s starting already, and over the next few years – an increasing number of adapters coming onto the market, which you can either fit yourself or which you can get fitted by stores such as Halfords, for example. And then that’s with existing vehicles. With new cars, the motor manufacturers who import and make vehicles in the UK have committed that all new cars will have digital radio as standard by the end of the year 2013. So more and more adapters will come onto the market that are available …

SL [interrupts]: Can I just push you on that a little bit, Jane, because I heard – this is going back probably about 18 months now – that one of the largest motor manufacturers in the world, manufacturing two major brands – luxury brands – in this country, had actually withdrawn their DAB digital radios from their cars, as an optional extra even, because they said it just wasn’t working – the technology wasn’t good enough. Have all the manufacturers now signed up?

JO: They have, into the UK, of getting DAB as standard in cars – in new cars – by the end of 2013. And part of this target date that we talked about earlier on has got the motor manufacturers moving, and it’s also got other manufacturers coming up with new devices which you can fit into your existing car alongside your FM radio.

SL: And that really answers Peter’s point that, whether he has got his clock radio, his hi-fi in his lounge or the car radio, there are going to be adapters that will covert them to take DAB as well.

JO: Not, not the alarm clock. No, the alarm clock example is one where … I think, if you did want an alarm clock that had DAB radio built in, you’d have to get a new alarm clock.

SL: Buy a specific one, okay?

JO: Exactly, exactly. They are increasingly available in stores and they are becoming more affordable all the time.

SL: But for the hi-fi and for the car radio, there should be an adaptor at some stage.

JO: The hi-fi is an interesting question actually because obviously you can get digital radio tuners for hi-fi’s now which can plug in as a separate device. Quite often, a radio might be built into something like a large amplifier where the primary use is actually the amplifier rather than the radio. Ultimately, it would be down to the listener. But these devices are becoming available all the time and, if you go into any electrical store, you’ll start to see more digital radio devices.

SL: Okay, does that answer your question, Peter?

Peter: Yes, it does. I just hope that … I think it’s going to be a big sledgehammer to get a DAB adapter to fit in an existing car. There’s not a lot of room underneath dashboards.

JO: That’s absolutely fair. You can get some now which actually fit onto your windscreen and plug in around the dashboard. But soon, towards the end pf next year, when we anticipate that digital radios in cars will double during the course of next year, you will start to see these devices more hidden away in the glove compartment and that sort of thing.

[…]

SL: It’s Mike in Northants who says: digital reception on Radio Five Live for me, he says, was dreadful, so I just switched back to AM and FM and rejected DAB. No more problems.

JO: Right, well that’s … I don’t know precisely where he lives but, obviously, doing a postcode check would tell him whether he should be able to receive a good signal or not. And there are currently … until the transmitter improvements happen, there are other ways of listening to Radio Five Live, for example on the internet, and on digital television platforms as well, in fact. But, as I say, these coverage improvements are happening all the time. He should check his postcode at our web site.

[…]

Graham from Whitehills [caller]: I’m a communications buff so, as soon as DAB came out, I went and bought myself a mains portable one before I found out I couldn’t get Radio Northampton on it. The big, big problem is that it roars through batteries. It uses batteries at twice the rate of anything else I’ve ever owned.

SL: And I had a letter about this from somebody a while ago, Jane, asking why … is digital radio really environmentally friendly, because it uses up so much power?

JO: Yeah, you will find this is absolutely true for older radio sets that, you know, have been bought a few years ago, that they were quite power hungry and used a lot of batteries all the time and many people chose to operate them from the mains. But there’s been a report out in the last few months that government’s done about the battery consumption and the energy consumption of digital radios. And you’ll find that all the main manufacturers now are making really amazing claims about the battery life of the radios, that they will last for, you know, in some cases, hundreds of hours and use less power than an energy efficient lightbulb and that sort of thing. So, as technology progresses, the energy consumption gets better as well. So I’m afraid that some of those older radios do use quite a lot of energy and the new ones don’t.

SL: You need a new one for Christmas, Graham.

Graham: Yeah, eighty quid down the drain, that was. Thank you.

JO [laughs]: You can get them … you can get them from around £25 now, so you needn’t spend that much.

Graham: Yeah, but I paid eighty. Bye.

[…]

SL: Somebody’s asking: why is it that, when you’re listening to DAB, sometimes it can suddenly cut out altogether or just go to an absolutely garbled signal that sounds like it is underwater?

JO: Yeah, that’s … that’s something that happens when you’re on the edges – or on the fringes – of a reception area and, like other digital media, it can also happen during periods of high weather pressure. So you will find that, if you’re on the edges of a reception area, the signal does cut out rather than degrade gently, which is what it does with FM. So, again, as the coverage improves and the signal strength improves, that should stop happening.

DAB radio & switchover: the British public speaks its mind

Q. Who will decide if/when digital radio switchover ever happens? The public. Who says so?

In July 2009, BBC ‘head of radio’ Tim Davie had
said:
“… the idea that we would move to formally engaging [digital radio] switchover without talking to listeners, getting listener satisfaction numbers, all the various things we do, would be not our plan in any way.”

In August 2009, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons had
said:
“It is an extraordinarily ambitious suggestion, as colleagues have referred to, that by 2015 we will all be ready for [digital radio switchover]. So you can’t move faster than the British public want you to move on any issue.”

In July 2010, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey had
said:
“If, and it is a big if, the consumer is ready, we will support a 2015 switchover date. But, as I have already said, it is the consumer, through their listening habits and purchasing decisions, who will ultimately determine the case for switchover.”

Q. What is the BBC’s strategy for digital radio switchover?

In July 2010, the BBC Trust
told the BBC Executive that it:
“should draw up an overarching strategy for digital radio.”

Q. What is the public’s opinion of DAB radio?

Research published this week by the BBC Trust for the Strategy Review collated opinions voiced in 20 focus groups held in September 2010 in ten locations. Below are excerpts that relate consumers’ experiences with DAB radio and the BBC’s digital radio stations. They make sobering reading ….

Key Findings

The availability of radio services on the move (especially in-car and for those working outdoors) was felt to be of continued high importance. People expect radio to stay portable – at least the range of stations they currently have available on analogue, including local stations which are critically important in-car for their local travel information. In this context especially there was strong resistance to the idea of analogue radio switch-off, and considerable scepticism as to whether or not this will actually happen.

4.2 The range of services provided by the BBC

“Rather than spending money on Radio 57 or whatever, invest more money on the core main programmes.”
35-44, Male, C2DE, Crowthorne

4.3 Attitudes to DAB radio

Many of the distribution issues we set out to discuss in the groups related to the availability of DAB (or of certain stations on DAB). However, what became clear in the groups was that, although we did speak to some real fans of DAB, most licence fee payers we spoke to do not yet view DAB as an essential service in the way they do Freeview, for example. This certainly coloured their reaction to some of the trade-offs they encountered between funding distribution and content.

“I think they should improve the Freeview signal before they start worrying about the radio. Radio is fine.”
18-24, Female, ABC1, Inverness

These attitudes were coloured by a number of factors:
· Limited awareness of what DAB is and what it offers
· Limited awareness and uptake of the BBC’s digital-only radio stations (most digital radio listeners within the groups were using digital radio as a means of listening to stations they would otherwise be able to receive via analogue)
· Most DAB set owners we spoke to had received them as presents – they hadn’t necessarily had a compelling reason to buy one
· Many trialists of DAB in the groups had been frustrated with their experiences – e.g. intermittent/non-existent signals, limited range of their favourite stations available
· Some doubts as to whether DAB technology will be around in the long term

“I did have a DAB radio but I didn’t notice it being any better”
18-24, Female, C2DE, Cheddar

“I find DAB radio can be quite troublesome although that’s not BBC specific. The signal seems to interrupt quite regularly”
45-59, Female, ABC1, Crowthorne

“I don’t find that DAB radio is achieving a lot for me. It’s supposed to be better quality, but because of the size of the set I’ve got, it doesn’t really make any difference.”
55+, C2DE, Derby

“Aren’t we the only ones to use DAB? Europe uses a different system and America too – I don’t see the point of it now so many people have the internet as it’s as cheap to get an internet radio as it is a DAB radio and you can listen to far more stations on it”
25-44, ABC1, Fort William

“You can’t get much [on DAB in the car] – no Radio 1, no Radio 2, no Radio 5 live, no Radio 4, you just get a message saying ‘no reception’. You need to be on top of a mountain to receive it. It’s a complete waste of time.”
55+, C2DE, Derby

There was real confusion and in some cases concern about the idea of a digital switchover for radio, and some debate as to whether the mooted date of 2015 was realistic or not. Certainly in the current circumstances there would be much resistance among participants in these groups to the idea of switching off analogue radio, especially those for whom in-car listening was an important (or the dominant) part of their radio listening.

“They can’t switch off analogue radio – people are really not going to be happy with that”
18-24, Male, C2DE, Belfast

“The idea of making all radios into digital is just ridiculous… It’s not persuading you – it’s just pushing you”
18-24, Female, C2DE, Cheddar

“What about all the car radios – surely we’re not going to replace all those?”
25-34, Female, ABC1, Caernarfon

“Are you telling me my radios will be totally obsolete if they do this? That’s outrageous”
60+, Female, ABC1, Newry

5.1 Availability of services

“I’m going to sound old fashioned but the core product is BBC One, BBC Two and Radios 1 to 5”
35-44, Male, C2DE, Crowthorne

The digital-only radio stations were considered of significantly lesser importance (awareness of these was limited, and listening to them was quite sporadic through the sample). In fact in several groups it was suggested that one solution to the complex problems of making access to digital radio more easily available to people would be to get rid of the stations altogether!

“I don’t think anyone really cares about the digital channels and they won’t until all the non-digital signals have been turned off”
25-34, Male, C2DE, Newry

“It’s limited because digital radio hasn’t really taken off.. they’re talking about changing over in 2015… if it’s half the hassle of the digital [TV] switchover, it will be a dead loss”
45-64, ABC1, Merthyr Tydfil

6.1 Availability of platform choice

There was also a general consensus across the groups that, although the convergence of platforms has started to offer useful additional means of consuming ‘broadcast’ services, as a minimum the BBC’s television services should be available via a television set, and the main radio services via a radio set.

“It’s good enough to be able to get main stations on analogue radio and the others through the TV – I don’t think they need to be able to get all these radio stations on radio only.”
25-34, Female, ABC1, Caernarfon

Lack of availability of BBC Radio Derby on DAB

Local radio was considered to fulfil an important community service, particularly by those in the older group, who remarked that there had been a decline in the range of local media available (local newspapers closing, and the ITV regional television coverage now being focused on Birmingham).

As such, BBC Radio Derby was felt to be important to giving the city a sense of identity. Sports coverage was an integral part of this (for the men especially), and Derby-specific coverage was felt to help ensure that they don’t live in the shadow of nearby Nottingham. Frequently, they felt, Derby is treated like a poor relation next to Nottingham; the availability of BBC Radio Nottingham (but not BBC Radio Derby) on DAB was yet another manifestation of this, they believed.

A number of them had bought DAB radio specifically with the intention of listening to BBC Radio Derby and had thus been extremely disappointed not to be able to find it.

“I asked for a DAB set for Christmas, specifically so I would be able to listen to Radio Derby, nice and clear, around the house – not realising that you can’t get Radio Derby on DAB at all… I only found out when I pressed the ‘auto-scan’ button… Leicester, Nottingham, loud and clear, but no Derby… I felt really let down.”
55+, C2DE, Derby

“My wife bought me one for Christmas. It wouldn’t work next to the bed – we thought it was broken. We ended up just using it as an alarm clock. It never occurred to me that it might not work depending on where you live.”
40-54, ABC1, Derby

There was little awareness or understanding of the reasons why this is the case (the lack of a local commercial multiplex operator), so some participants were upset that the BBC appeared to be viewing Derby as a lower priority than neighbouring areas. Others had assumed that this was a technical issue (reception problems), rather than the station not being broadcast on DAB. (There was some awareness of a promised launch date of July 2010, but they claimed that this date had been and gone with no further update on what was happening.)

“What makes me angry is that Radio Derby comes out as one of the best local news stations in the country, but it’s not available on the latest technology.”
55+, C2DE, Derby

“If you can get the others, you’d just assume that you can get Radio Derby as well. Whose decision is it not to have it?”
40-54, ABC1, Derby

Some of the participants had experimented with some of the BBC’s digital-only stations on DAB. Radio 7 in particular was well-liked by some of the participants in the older group, and some of the younger men had used 5 live Sports Extra, but their overall impression with DAB was one of disappointment. The absence of BBC Radio Derby was a significant contributor to this, along with poor reception quality.

“The way they sell DAB it was going to be the be-all-and-end-all of radio listening, but it’s just been a great disappointment.”
55+, C2DE, Derby

Although many were disappointed with DAB in general, the absence of BBC Radio Derby from DAB was not felt to be a major problem for them as long as the station remains available on analogue (many were listening out of home in any case – traffic reports in the car, or match commentary when out and about at the weekend).

However, in line with most other groups, these participants would be extremely upset if the analogue signal were switched off and BBC Derby only then available online.

Radio Foyle on DAB

Many participants felt that they get a better reception with DAB than on analogue (in the home). Many of the older group in particular claimed to have experienced reception problems with Radio Foyle in particular on analogue, especially in bad weather. However it was not a case of a having had a desperate need to get a digital radio because they got no analogue signal previously, more that the sound was not always great and they sometimes experienced reception problems.

“DAB radio… I got it out of curiosity… everybody said it was better than analogue… the analogue sometimes you can’t tune in because you have got high pressure or rain or wind. The DAB you can pick it up.”
50+, ABC1, Londonderry

Most assumed that Radio Foyle was already on DAB, as they insisted they were listening to it on their DAB radios – it is not entirely clear whether this is confusion between DAB and analogue signals on the same set, or they have been experiencing the ‘dynamuxing’ test.

“No I didn’t know that because when I press it comes up on my DAB radio so I thought it was. I just took it that all the stations I can pick up on my DAB are digital.”
50+, ABC1, Londonderry

“Foyle on an ordinary radio is still poor I think. I am right in Derry. On the digital they do both seem clear to me.”
30-49, C2DE, Londonderry

When it was explained to them that ‘dynamuxing’ the two stations would result in two mono (as opposed to one stereo) stations, reactions were somewhat mixed. Although some participants were adamant that going from stereo to mono would compromise their listening experience, particularly when listening to music, others admitted that they were not sure what mono sound is, and probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference! It is also worth noting that, from the description they gave of their DAB sets, the majority of participants in the groups were listening to DAB on mono-only sets anyway.

On balance, all participants would prefer both stations to be available, even if this meant mono-only broadcasting. The younger group, who were more loyal Foyle listeners, were happy enough with the availability of Foyle on analogue only, but would be concerned by the prospect of an analogue radio switch-off, in which case continued availability of Foyle would be vital.

Poor DAB coverage (in Fort William)

Most of the participants in the groups are used to struggling with coverage issues. Lack of DAB coverage is just the latest manifestation of issues they have experienced historically with analogue television and radio signals.

“I live over in a rural area completely surrounded by hills so there is no radio reception at all so all our radio listening is done through the TV box or the internet”
25-44, ABC1, Fort William

“I tried a DAB radio but it wasn’t very good – it would go for a bit then completely cut out and we have no FM signal at all out in the glens where I am”
45-64, C2DE, Fort William

As a result, satellite (by which most really meant Sky, as awareness of Freesat was very low) had become the default standard for most to receive television, especially for those outside the main town of Fort William itself, and many were increasingly using the good broadband services that are now available to them as a more reliable means of accessing media content.

“We’ve been up there seven years now and when we first moved we had a reasonable medium wave signal for Radio Scotland but then that tailed off but we get no FM and there was no TV until satellite came on stream… We had very young children at the time and they were happy just watching DVDs… There are about 250 people in our village and many of the surrounding communities have the same issues… There used to be a mast for the TV but that was turned off and now everyone has a satellite dish… satellite has been a godsend for us – especially for the radio – but we are now even more likely to be listening online. Our broadband is excellent – 8Meg – and now we even have wi-fi radios in the house.”
25-44, ABC1, Fort William

Some participants in the groups had been drawn to DAB, but left frustrated by the experience.

“I won a DAB in a Radio Scotland competition and I was really excited about being able to listen to 6 Music but there was absolutely no signal so I gave it to my dad down in Glasgow and he’s really happy with it”
25-44, ABC1, Fort William

Limited availability of Radio Wales and Radio Cymru on DAB

In common with many of the research locations across the country, issues surrounding the lack of availability of Radio Wales and Radio Cymru were caught up in other issues around the quality of DAB signal in general.

While some participants (for example, one lived near a mast) were experiencing extremely good reception via digital, others were having problems based on their location and even the prevailing weather conditions.

“If you get a rain cloud overhead, or worse than that the snow, you might as well chuck it in the bin.”
45-64, ABC1, Merthyr Tydfil

“People who live in the dips – they can’t get any kind of digital radio reception at all… they’ve got to do something to help them.”
25-44, C2DE, Merthyr Tydfil

This frustration was a manifestation of a broader dissatisfaction with digital reception in general. Many were experiencing problems with their television reception (especially, but not exclusively through Freeview). Lack of a reliable television signal was seen by most as a more significant problem than lack of a reliable radio signal.

“They said the digital signal was going to be better – that you’d be able to get S4C and Channel 4 – but it’s actually worse.”
25-44, C2DE, Merthyr Tydfil

“Wales has always got problems, we get worse service with the digital, the broadband, the post… We pay the same, we have a right to the same service.”
25-44, C2DE, Merthyr Tydfil

As a result many in the groups considered themselves to be disgruntled licence fee payers.

Most could understand that there are diminishing returns in terms of building out the transmitter network, and that those in the more mountainous parts of central Wales (for example) might not be able to have access to the same choices as people in more densely populated areas. However, in these groups the argument was most strongly made that people in these areas should have some kind of discount from their licence fee in recognition of the reduced service they receive.

“They [the BBC] can’t please everyone, they’re doing the best they can, but If people can’t get the service, why should they pay the full money.”
45-64, ABC1, Merthyr Tydfil

“You shouldn’t be penalised for living in an area where they can’t provide these services, because we have to pay extra to get Sky, for example, to be able to receive it.”
45-64, ABC1, Merthyr Tydfil

BBC head of radio: “I’m not going to give you a date” for digital radio switchover

Feedback, BBC Radio 4, 26 November 2010 @ 1330 [excerpt]

Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Tim Davie, director of BBC audio & music [TD]

RB: Tim Davie is the BBC’s director of audio and music. I asked him if the campaign to get decent DAB coverage in 90% of the country by 2015 is still realistic.

TD: I think 2015, and I’ve said it before, is highly ambitious. The BBC would not want to see any [digital radio] switchover unless you had clear evidence of mass listening to digital, and good penetration of digital devices. I think the idea that we force a lot of listeners to a situation where they have to get rid of FM devices and not have something to listen to on digital is clearly not in the interests of the head of BBC radio [laughs].

RB: When would you say, without doubt, we will have digital switchover …

TD: [interrupts] I’m not going to give you a date. I’m not going to give you a date. I’m …

RB: … not ten years, not fifteen years, not twenty years?

TD: I think there will be a switchover. I think it’s been extremely helpful to put a stake in the ground and say ‘could we get to 2015?’ I say that’s ambitious. I quite like ambitious targets. We’ll see how we go.

RB: And there’s concern about coverage. What about quality? Because there are still a lot of our listeners who are not persuaded that the quality [of DAB] is superior, in that digital is actually sometimes worse than FM.

TD: In terms of the areas that are covered by a digital signal, I would be the first to say that we’re not there yet. So, you know, I know some of the listeners out there will say ‘well, I just can’t get a good signal’. Let’s be clear. Before the radio industry would say to people ‘we’re moving away from FM’, we must have full coverage of a DAB signal …

RB: And yet, despite this, you are running a campaign, or rather supporting a campaign, which says ‘digital radio: more to love’ [and] pushing it hard. You’re pushing something …

TD: [interrupts] Absolutely.

RB: … which you have reservations about.
TD: When you say ‘reservations’, I don’t think it’s quite the right word. I’m saying we’re building out coverage. I would not endorse a switchover unless coverage were as good as FM. At this point, I think it is utterly appropriate for me, as the BBC head of radio, to say: those people in areas of coverage – and it is important, by the way, when people buy radios, they check that they are in an area of coverage, we absolutely say that repeatedly – but, if they are in an area of coverage, I would absolutely say ‘buy a digital radio’ because you can get Radio 7, the joys of 6 Music, etcetera.

RB: But, in terms of this campaign, let me quote something said by William Rogers, the UKRD chief executive – part of the commercial radio network. He says it was ‘fundamentally immoral and dishonest to run the campaign, knowing that DAB infrastructure is not good enough, and knowing full well that when people buy a DAB radio, it may not work when they get it home. The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for running this ad. They are telling their listeners to buy something which they know isn’t ready for us yet.’

TD: Well, I mean, it is one voice, and I say ‘one voice’ among many in commercial radio and …

RB: [interrupts] And there are quite a few others who, again, refuse to run the ad.

TD: Absolutely. And, well, I think their beef is, by the way, slightly different to that articulated by William, but it’s really straightforward. 88% of the people in the country can get a signal. If you can’t get a good signal, I wouldn’t recommend digital radio. If you get that coverage, we would absolutely recommend – I think it’s utterly appropriate – to say to people: ‘go and get a digital radio to enjoy the full range of services.’

RB: But the commercial radio sector, or some of it anyway, is saying ‘this is precisely the thing the BBC should be doing. It should be investing and spending so that everybody can get digital coverage.’

TD: Mmm. We’ve said, in the last few weeks, and part of the BBC [Licence Fee] Agreement with the government was to build out national coverage of DAB services. The debate with local radio – just to be clear, and this is a bit complex, so apologies, but – is around the local layer of DAB. And we are negotiating out those costs at the moment. While that negotiation goes on in pretty tough financial circumstances for the BBC, it’s understandable that people say ‘well, we need a bit more clarity.’ I agree with them.

RB: Can I ask you, though, whether the BBC’s enthusiasm for the potential of digital, in terms of stations, is waning. For example, you did propose the closure of 6 Music and the end of the Asian Network, at least as a national station. Are you still in love with digital?

TD: It’s a fair point. The idea around looking at the line-up of stations was never about taking money off the table for digital. We want to keep investing in digital and, I think, in terms of our commitment to digital, this not just about DAB, this is about internet services. We’ve just said, on Radio 3, we’re launching HD sound, which will be a wider signal through internet radio. I think, as the head of BBC radio, I really want to see radio develop into a more competitive marketplace so that it can grow. The idea that the BBC just sits on FM spectrum, and there’s no growth in radio, to me, seems a pretty limited vision of the future for the industry.

RB: So there’s no doubt about the destination, only the amount of time, the speed of getting there?

TD: Radio’s going digital.

DAB radio lies: lobbyist claims 40% of listening to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ show is via DAB

The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 22 November 2010 @ 0735
Ford Ennals, chief executive, Digital Radio UK [FE]

Q: Doubts persist over this particular digital standard [DAB], don’t they? Let’s just go through some. First of all: that it’s a stop-gap and that we’d all be better off with internet radio, which will become possible in cars and all over the place, and that there will really be no need for DAB at all.

FE: Well, look, what is certain is that the future of radio in the UK, and right across Europe, is digital. And what that’s going to bring is more choice, more competition, and more innovation …

Q: [interrupts] But your particular ‘digital’ is DAB digital, isn’t it …

FE: [interrupts] Well, no. It’s …

Q: … and there are other technologies available?

FE: No, not at all. We’re here to support and promote the transition to digital radio in all its forms, whether it be online, whether it be on TV, or whether it be DAB. DAB is one of those platforms. But, what we do see is great certainty that DAB is, if you like, the broadcast transmission backbone of radio, not just in the UK, but in Europe. There are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio. And, I think, the simple fact is that, if they were all listening online, it couldn’t be supported and the internet would crash. So, right now, IP, as you call it, or online, just isn’t the right technology. It can’t sustain broadcast transmission of radio, and it’s not cost-effective, and it isn’t an option in the short or medium term.

Q: [incredulous] 40% of our listeners are listening on digital? Does that include listeners in cars, because I don’t know a single person who has got a digital radio in their car, I don’t think?

FE: Well, I think you have highlighted the real opportunity here. Car manufacturers have been slow to put digital radios in cars but, since the passage of the Digital Economy Act and the launch of the Digital Radio Action Programme [sic], they’ve now committed to having all new cars with digital radios in by 2013, and we’ve started to see Ford and Vauxhall and Mini putting them in. And I think that’s very important because …

Q: [interrupts] The ‘40%.’ Sorry, though. The ‘40%’ figure – did that include people in cars?

FE: Yes, urm. The 40% does include people in cars …

Q: Really?

FE: … and the targets that government have set also includes people in cars. So, what government is saying is, and I think supported by industry, is that we want to see 50% of listening to a digital platform, including DAB, before we take a firm decision about a switchover date.

Q: Mmm. Last quarter, digital listening was actually down, wasn’t it? It sort of implies that the message isn’t getting through.

FE: Well, actually, as I said, 40% of listeners are listening on digital. That’s over 20 million people every week listening to digital. This year, we’ve seen it grow by 20%. So, typically, what we see is growth in the first half-year, it slows down in the second half, and then steps up again in the second half [sic]. So, actually, quarter-on-quarter, we’ve seen moderate growth, but 20% growth year-on-year, and we’re looking for a major step at the beginning of next year. And, what I would say to people, if you’re buying a radio for a present this Christmas, make sure it’s a digital radio.


…………………………………………………..

Dear ‘Today’

I was shocked to hear Ford Ennals, chief executive of lobby group Digital Radio UK, proclaim on your programme that:

“there are 40% of all your listeners this morning listen to this programme, are listening on a DAB radio.”

This statement is not merely an exaggeration, it is wholly untrue. The radio industry’s audience data (produced by RAJAR, published by Ofcom for Q1 2010) show that 27% of listening to Radio 4 is via all digital platforms, which include digital television, the internet … and DAB. See graph below.


In-car listening accounts for 19% of total radio usage, but this proportion is likely to be considerably higher during the morning commute period. Because DAB radios are installed in less than 1% of cars, it is probable that much, much less than 27% of listening to the ‘Today’ programme is via DAB.

Ford Ennals’ untruthful statement is only the latest in a long line of disinformation perpetuated by commercial forces that will gain financially from DAB take-up, and which are designed to mislead the public into buying DAB radios.

Yours

Grant Goddard

BBC Licence Fee settlement: for radio, where will the axe fall?

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport
20 October 2010

“In the end the deal we got [for the BBC Licence Fee settlement] was tough but fair. Tough because the BBC, like everyone, is going to have to make demanding efficiency savings. But fair because it allows them to continue to make the great programmes that we all love and licence fee payers won’t have to pay any extra for the privilege. The assurances I have secured on magazines, local and online activities will also give some comfort to the BBC’s commercial rivals that the licence fee will not be used to blast them out of the water.”

——————–

Feedback, BBC Radio 4, 21 October 2010 [excerpt]
Roger Bolton, interviewer [RB]
Sir Michael Lyons, chair, BBC Trust [ML]

RB: Does that mean that you would regard any significant cuts in the domestic radio services as something you could not go along with?

ML: I think … that’s rather a sweeping assurance that you’re asking me to give …

RB: Well, it’s people who listen to Radio 4 and to Radio 3 and who value that greatly, and Radios 1 and 2, want to know, as a result of this settlement, will they see major economies made in their networks?

ML: Well, let me be very clear, as I said before. The Trust is clear on the importance to Licence Fee payers of the family of BBC services. The care that we take in reflecting on those radio services is, I think, reflected in the decision that we took on 6 Music – a very careful balancing of the public value that that service provides against its cost. What I can give you assurance on is that the Trust will continue to demonstrate that care across the range of BBC services.

——————–

Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music
Interviewed by Beehive City, 20 October 2010

“I don’t think anyone is proposing taking £300 million [for the BBC World Service] out of the Audio & Music budget. There wouldn’t be a lot left.”
“Obviously this is a decision taking place at a pan-BBC level rather than just looking at radio services. As the guy in charge of Radio I would say that our portfolio delivers value for money for the licence fee. I think Radio stacks up very well.”
“I don’t want to go into detail about discussions at this point in time. It remains speculation until we see what comes out in the Comprehensive Spending Review.”

——————–

The Tony Livesey show, BBC Radio 5 Live, 28 October 2010 [excerpt]
Stephen Nolan, interviewer (presenter, BBC Radio Ulster) [SN]
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music [TD]

SN: Interesting times for the BBC, Tim, aren’t they, because, with the Licence Fee freeze over the next six years, how’s that going to be felt by radio listeners? What are they going to miss, what are they going to lose?

TD: Well, I think it’s too early for me to say ‘oh, we’ve just had a settlement, this is what it affects’. I would say, as an overall principle, the last thing that people want – me or others want to do – is do things that affect the quality of listening. I think that one of the things the BBC has done pretty well over the last few years is: we have taken out quite a lot of costs. But the truth is our radio services, I think, are in fine shape. That’s for the listeners to decide but, actually, the numbers are good, I think the quality of programming is – frankly, it is quite easy to do cheap radio. The issue is that we also want to do the investigative journalism, we want to do the big stuff, and I think listeners care about that stuff. I would say that, of the Licence Fee, radio is only, at most, 20%. So, in terms of good value for money, as the head of radio, I would be arguing our case pretty hard.


SN: You say it’s quite easy to do cheap radio. Do we do cheap radio?

TD: I think, you know, overall, we do good value radio which is – I’m choosing my words carefully there – because, I think, cheap radio, what I meant by that was that it’s quite easy to have one person playing records. We don’t do that. You know. We get people like yourself, who have a point of view….

SN: [interrupts] Yes, we do! We don’t have one person playing records? Chris Moyles plays records. Radio 1 plays records and the commercial sector could do that any day of the week, couldn’t they?

TD: Well, I think Radio 1 is … that’s a big debate. I’m very clear that Radio 1 does something very different to commercial radio. An average commercial radio station would play probably about 200 records a week and Radio 1 … our records … we may get up to 900. We’ll be playing a lot more new music and, actually, we do a lot more speech. Nine million people are listening to news on Radio 1, with something like Newsbeat, and that’s important.

SN: BBC Radio 2 and the commercial sector will argue until the day they die –and I spent ten years working in the commercial sector – that Radio 2 should be given to the commercial sector. Give them a chance because that’s [no more than] very good presenters playing music.

TD: Well, I don’t think they would do what we do. Radio 2 is currently just about 50% speech so, if you listen … on a day in Radio 2, about half of it is speech.

SN: And define ‘speech.’ Are you including presenter links in that? Including monologues and all?

TD: I’m including everything in that. I’m also including Jeremy Vine doing Poetry Week last week. I’m in ….

SN: [interrupts] But it is a bit of a con to suggest that 50% is speech when that includes a presenter saying ‘good morning, it’s ten past ten’, because the commercial sector can do that.

TD: Well, of that, there’s a bit of speech which is those pure links. Point taken. But I think, if you listen to, as I say, Jeremy Vine, you also … It’s not just about music versus speech. You take the Folk Awards, you take Jamie Cullum doing jazz, I think Radio 2 can be pretty proud of what it does, and its playlist versus a commercial station… All I would say – and this is a very simple request, and a strange one by the head of BBC radio – but have a listen to commercial radio for a while and have a listen to us. I think that listeners know the difference.

SN: What is the difference? If someone was listening to commercial radio?

TD: I think we’re a lot less dictated to by a fixed playlist. We do have a playlist but it makes [up] a lot less of our output. I think we give our presenters, as you know, quite free reign and we allow them to do their stuff. And I think … there’s great commercial radio, by the way, and it would be remiss of me to say anything otherwise. But I would say the BBC – the great thing about having fixed income – is that we can do stuff. We can say go and do your stuff and, sometimes, as you know, that can get lively. But, overall, I believe in trusting presenters. The interesting thing as well, by the way, is [that] music services now on the web – you get all these automated recommendations – the one thing I think radio is doing well on is that we don’t kind of do that. We give a presenter the chance to do their stuff.

——————–

House of Lords

debate on media ownership, 4 November 2010 [excerpt]

Lord Myners: I hope that when the BBC licence is next reviewed we start from a presumption that the BBC should not be doing certain things. The BBC should have to prove why it should continue to operate Radio 1 or Radio 2, for instance. It is extraordinarily difficult to explain to a foreign visitor why Radio 1, a popular music station, is a nationalised industry, and why it is necessary for it to be provided by a public service as opposed to a competitive one.

BBC head of radio: DAB not “a clear enough offer to listeners”

The Tony Livesey Show, BBC Radio 5 Live, 28 October 2010 [excerpt]
Stephen Nolan, interviewer (presenter, BBC Radio Ulster) [SN]
Tim Davie, Director, BBC Audio & Music [TD]

SN: There are big problems with the digital spectrum, aren’t there, because we cannot seem to hit any target that we are given for people switching to digital?

TD: I don’t think we’ve had many targets … Let’s be honest, I don’t think we’ve had many targets in the past. Digital stations are doing well. Digital listening – we’ve got to be careful – includes online, which is doing pretty well, there’s more we can do. Then also you’ve got DAB. Now DAB, you’re right, it’s been marginally growing for a while …

SN: Why?

TD: I just don’t think it’s been a clear enough offer, in my language, to listeners. I mean, people love radio. They are very happy with their FM radio. Why on earth would you change? And I think the radio industry has to say: ‘the reason you will change is – here’s a load of content’. And there’s clues like 6 Music, or other …. you know, that people love. And here’s a load of stuff that people love, and here’s a better … this device does something better than the other one.

SN: Or, Tim, it’s for the BBC to take a huge risk, and a controversial risk at that, and to withdraw mainstream programming from the FM spectrum and put it onto DAB. Imagine how the numbers would soar if it had [BBC Radio 1 breakfast DJ Chris] Moyles or …

TD: [interrupts] Imagine my inbox!

SN: Exactly, exactly. It’s a serious point.

TD: Sure.

SN: Imagine if you had Moyles or [BBC Radio 2 breakfast DJ Chris] Evans exclusively on DAB, or a massive programme.

TD: Right! And … we could do that. The issue would be that, with current coverage levels and with the amount of devices – particularly in Northern Ireland – I would basically be saying that you can’t listen to it in your kitchen, and everyone pays the Licence Fee. So I think the strategy for digital, where we are taking things away, is not going to work. My approach would very much be that I do want you to feel a bit of pain for not having a digital radio, but that pain is not about not getting The Archers, or not getting Chris Moyles. It’s about: ‘you could get a bit more over here’, or ‘there’s a bit of [Radio] 4 Extra over here that you could really do with’, and that’s what television did with some of those channels.

SN: Do you think, in terms of the internet, that radio is going to fundamentally change?

TD: I think there will be a lot more on-demand, obviously, so people will expect to be able to call up a programme and …

SN: I’m talking about the [UK] Radioplayer, obviously, which people are describing as the new YouView for radio.

TD: Well, er, yeah. Basically, the Radioplayer is … we’ve got the whole industry together. Only about 3% of listening is online and I can’t understand that, as head of radio. I know I’m biased but, at the end of the day, when I’m shopping and doing my Tesco shop or wherever online, why aren’t I listening to the radio? [to SN] Well, you would relate to this because it means more listeners. I think that one of the things is that I think it’s a bit confusing. You’ve got the BBC on the iPlayer, which is pretty good, and we’ve got other bits and … So we’ve put it all together and there will be a thing called the Radioplayer. Now, it gets a bit complex, but I think the YouView thing that you refer to is when you’ve got an internet connection to your television. Now, when you click your television on, I want one Radioplayer icon where you can go in and listen to all the radio. Now, the …

SN: On the TV?

TD: Yeah. On any screen – sorry to sound ‘new age’ – any screen anywhere, whether it’s a … whatever the size of it, you can go and get all your radio services. We don’t currently have that.

Digital Radio Upgrade? More like Digital Radio Groundhog Day

It was the Radio Festival, the industry’s annual get together. Everyone wanted to talk about how wonderful the DAB future of radio would be. But nobody wanted to explain how ‘Digital Radio Upgrade’, the government policy to make the UK’s DAB transmission system fit for purpose, will be paid for. It is the radio sector’s favourite parlour game: pass the DAB Upgrade parcel.

The first player is the BBC:

Q: “Very briefly, a one-word answer. Do you have any money set aside now to spend on [Digital Radio Upgrade]?”

Tim Davie, director of BBC Audio & Music: “No.”

Second is commercial radio:

Q: “Does commercial radio have any money to spend on [Digital Radio Upgrade]? […] What’s your guess?”

Phil Riley, chief executive of Orion Media: “‘No’ is the answer at the moment.”

Third are the politicians:

Jeremy Hunt MP: “I think the most important thing is not something the government can do, but something the industry can do …”

But hold on. This dialogue came from the Radio Festival in 2009…. We need to fast forward one year.

It was the Radio Festival, the industry’s annual get together. Everyone wanted to talk about how wonderful the DAB future of radio would be. But nobody wanted to explain how ‘Digital Radio Upgrade’, the government policy to make the UK’s DAB transmission system fit for purpose, will be paid for. It is still the radio sector’s favourite parlour game: pass the DAB Upgrade parcel.

The first player is the BBC:

“It remains to be seen who will pick up the £100m tab [for Digital Radio Upgrade], with [Tim] Davie saying he did not have the necessary funds.” [from The Guardian]

Second is commercial radio:

“[Global Group chief executive Ashley] Tabor said the commercial [radio] sector will only pay for the rollout of those local DAB multiplexes that are commercially viable.” [from The Guardian]

Third are the politicians:

Ed Vaizey, Minister for culture, communications & creative industries: “The BBC has to work with me on coverage. I am talking to the BBC and I hope to accelerate the pace of digital radio coverage.”

Déjà vu, anyone? Delegates paid £899 to witness this repeat performance. I have already placed my bet on precisely the same sentiments being made at the Radio Festival in 2011, though the odds offered by the bookie were not at all good. On the coach home from the Festival, everyone must have joined in the usual radio industry singsong:

“When do we want digital radio switchover? Now!
Who do we want to pay for DAB Upgrade?
Somebody else!”

And while we are on the topic of déjà vu, I am reminded of an analyst report about DAB from June 2008, in which I had written:

“The digital switchover of radio is so far into the future as to be intangible.”

I was swiftly rebuked for this viewpoint in an e-mail from a radio sector CEO.

Now fast forward to the 2010 Radio Festival. Andrew Harrison, chief executive of commercial radio trade body Radio Centre, said:

“There is no doubt if [digital take-up] carries on at its current projectory we will never get there.” [sic]

The current RadioCentre strategy remains inexplicably that the BBC should pay not only for improvements to the BBC’s DAB radio transmitters, but also for the commercial radio sector’s (see my earlier blogs here and here). The nails seem to have been hammered firmly into that coffin by this week’s speed-axing session between the government and the BBC.

Although subsequent press reports have implied that the cost of the (previous) government’s Digital Radio Upgrade policy will now be underwritten wholly by the BBC, the available evidence says otherwise. The resulting four-page letter from the government to the BBC Trust set out in detail all the new items to which the BBC’s funds will have to be applied in future. The World Service? Yes. BBC Monitoring? Yes. S4C TV? Yes. Local television? Yes. DAB radio? No….

Oh, hold on. In the penultimate paragraph on the final page there is a single sentence about DAB penned by Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt:

“I also welcome the BBC’s plans to enhance its national DAB coverage in the period of this agreement, and to match its national FM coverage as a switchover date draws near.”

But while the rest of the letter is littered with the oft repeated phrase “The BBC will …”, this solitary mention of DAB radio is couched only in terms of “BBC plans” without a hint of compulsion. DAB is an obvious afterthought here and, much to RadioCentre’s chagrin, it refers only to the BBC improving its own DAB transmitter coverage and not to improving commercial radio’s.

In the coming months, when the inevitable axe falls sharply across BBC budgets as a result of this week’s gobsmacking (© Ray Snoddy) agreement between the BBC and the government, DAB radio must be an obvious short straw. Lose BBC local radio, or lose DAB? BBC local/regional radio accounts for 15% of BBC radio listening. BBC digital radio stations account for 4%. Here comes the chopper ….

David vs Goliath: commercial radio spends £27 per hour on programmes, BBC Radio 2 spends £4,578

There has been an abundance of fighting talk from the commercial radio sector in the press in recent weeks. Commercial radio seems determined to pick another fight with BBC Radios 1 and 2, two of the three most listened to radio stations in the UK.

Guardian Media Group Radio announced that “by broadcasting on National DAB, Sky, Freeview and Freesat, Smooth Radio will provide a strong commercial alternative to BBC Radio 2.” Chief executive Stuart Taylor said:

“We are still at war with the BBC and we still compete for listeners tooth and nail, as we always will.”

The press headlines affirmed:
* “New national network makes a Smooth attack on Radio 2” (Telegraph);
* “Forget Radio 2: in five years’ time, we’ll all be going Smooth” (
Independent);
* “Smooth Radio takes on Radio 2 in national rollout” (
Marketing Week);
* “Radio Two faces fight, warns new Smooth news chief” (
Press Gazette).

Then, Global Radio announced that its local FM stations will be re-branded ‘Capital Radio’ in 2011. Chief executive Ashley Tabor said:

“With the launch of the Capital network, there will now be a big national commercial brand seriously competing with Radio 1.”

The press headlines responded:
* “Capital Radio will go national in bid to challenge Radio 1” (Evening Standard);
* “Capital Radio set to rival BBC Radio 1 in move to broadcast nationally” (
Daily Mail);
* “Global to take on Radio 1 with Capital Network” (
Marketing Week);
* “Capital Radio to form first national commercial radio station” (
ITN).

Both the GMG and Global Radio statements achieved the intended sabre-rattling headlines in the press though, for me, these sentiments are remarkably hollow. This ongoing phoney war between the BBC and commercial radio is like a war between a one-eyed giant and an over-exuberant mobile phone salesman. The giant will win every time. Commercial radio can huff and puff all it wants, but the BBC knows it is perfectly safe in its house built from Licence Fees. It can afford to chuckle loudly at every challenge like this lobbed at it by commercial radio. Why?

Firstly, you could only ever hope to seriously compete with the existing formats of BBC Network radio stations if you had access to their same abundance of resources. This is something that Channel 4 belatedly realised after having promised for two years that it would invent a new commercial radio station to compete with BBC Radio 4. Then it scrapped its radio plans altogether.


The huge gulf between the funding of commercial radio content and BBC Network Radio content makes direct competition simply pointless. In a recent report for the BBC Trust, I noted that commercial radio spends an average £27 per hour on its content, while BBC Radio spends an average £1,255 per hour. There is no way that commercial radio can make programmes that will sound like Radio 2 on a budget that is 170th of the latter’s £4,578 per hour.

Secondly, what sort of message do these press headlines send to consumers? To me, they say ‘we realise that Radios 1 and 2 are fantastically successful, so we want a slice of their action’. Or maybe even ‘you really like Radios 1 and 2, don’t you? Try us, because we want to be just like them.’ So where is the Unique Selling Point [USP] for your own product? Don’t you have enough faith in it to tell us why it is so good, rather than comparing it to your much bigger, much more successful rival? Or is this the Dannii Minogue method of marketing?

I had always been taught that the cardinal sin of radio was to mention your competitors to your audience. Every reference to your competitor tells the audience how much you respect them and their success. Ignore them! Pretend your competitor does not even exist! Plough your own furrow and concentrate on making a radio station that is genuinely unique. Then you will create a brand that has a genuine USP, rather than being merely a pale imitation of Radio 1 or 2 without their big budgets. ‘I can’t believe it’s not Radio 2’ is not a tagline to which to aspire.

Thirdly, neither Capital Radio nor Smooth will be genuinely ‘national’ stations, as in capable of being received on an analogue FM/AM radio from one end of the country to the other. So why pretend to consumers and advertisers that they are ‘national’? In the case of Capital, its proposed FM network presently covers 57% of the UK adult population. In the case of Smooth, RAJAR tells us that DAB receiver penetration is presently 35%. Just how little of the UK population can you cover and yet still describe yourself as ‘national’?


Fourthly, don’t keep looking at Radio 1 and 2’s huge audience figures and dreaming of how much money you could make if only you could monetise their listenership. Part of the reason older listeners probably like Radio 2 is because there are no advertisements. Accept the fact that Radios 1 and 2 together account for a quarter of all radio listening in the UK. Compared to those mammoths of radio, both Capital and Smooth are mere termites. Live with that fact and, instead, seek out commercial clients who are not merely frustrated because they cannot advertise on BBC Radio, but who actively want to use your radio station because your audience is intrinsically valuable to them.

Finally, invest the time and money to develop your own on-air talent rather than simply hanging on the coattails of others’ successes. Whatever his next gig might be, Chris Moyles will forever be remembered as ‘the saviour of Radio 1’, just as Chris Evans will always be remembered for his Radio 1 breakfast show, not for his subsequent time at Virgin Radio. Find new people who are good at radio and put your faith in them. Why does Smooth’s schedule have to resemble Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together with a bit here from Radio 1 in the 80s, and a bit there from Radio 2 last month?

What your radio station should be doing is not competing with Radio This or Radio That for listeners, but competing directly for consumers to spend time with you because you are ‘you’. Radio is not like selling soap powder or yoghurt pots, where your business model can be built upon undercutting the price of a competitor’s product, however low-quality your own cheapo version might be. There is no price of admission in radio. Your content needs to be ‘different’ rather than ‘the same’ and it needs to create its own unique place in the market.

You should not think of your market competitors as radio stations, but as each and every opportunity a consumer is presented with to pass their leisure time. A winning station must be able to convince a consumer to listen to it, rather than watch television, read a book or simply sit in silence. Because radio is ‘free’, the competition for radio is everything else that is also free to consumers at the point-of-use.

To offer a practical example, when I worked on the launch of India’s first commercial radio network, Radio City, the advertising agency produced an excellent marketing campaign that extolled the virtues of the station over other radio stations. But the campaign had to be rejected and the agency briefed in more detail. Why? Because we were launching the very first radio station on the FM dial in a city such as Bangalore, so the overriding challenge was to persuade people to use ‘radio’ at all, or to persuade people to buy an FM radio for the first time, or to persuade people to switch off their television and turn to radio instead.

This philosophy seems to be a million miles away from the current UK commercial radio strategy which seems to focus on berating BBC radio for being too successful, whilst wanting to somehow achieve part of that success through osmosis. If only half this war effort was put into developing policies to make the commercial sector’s stations successful on their own account, the BBC would soon cease to matter.

Instead, RadioCentre is now demanding that commercial radio be allowed to re-broadcast old Proms concerts recorded by BBC Radio 3. But how many of our 300 commercial radio stations play classical music? One. And which Proms concert do you recall that would fit into Classic FM’s playlist of short musical extracts? What next? Will Capital FM be asking the BBC for the rights to re-broadcast some old Zoe Ball Radio 1 breakfast shows?

In September 2010, the government’s Consumer Expert Group criticised RadioCentre for having proposed a policy for the BBC’s Strategy Review that, it felt, would have “bullied” listeners.

Trying to bully listeners? Trying to bully the BBC? This is the war of the playground, not of a mature media industry that has a strategy of its own making, a plan, a roadmap for its future success. “It’s not fair. Your willy is bigger than mine.” No, it probably isn’t fair, but life deals you a hand, you have to stop whining, get on with it and make the best of what you’ve got.

Just accept this reality: commercial radio’s willy is never going to be as big as the BBC’s. So competing directly on size alone is a complete waste of time when, instead, you should be developing your own individual ‘technique’.