Thursday, 28 May 2015

Change of Address

After many years here I've migrated this blog to Wordpress - it's part of a tie-in with a forthcoming makeover of my main website.

All of the posts from here have now been transferred and there are just a few other things left to be added/tweaked.

I'll keep some recent posts here for reference as others have linked to them, but any new posts will now be available only at...

Thursday, 21 May 2015

London Rajar - Q1/2015

We live in interesting times!  Once again the dynamics of the London radio market continue to confound and fascinate observers - and once again prove my point about not taking a single quarter on its own. Over the course of a year it can be a good way of seeing longer-term trends.

Which brings us to Q1/2015; covering the period 5th January - 5th April.

With a few exceptions almost everybody in London is down this quarter; some heavily. The puzzling thing is that overall listening is down, which means a loss by one station does not necessarily mean a gain by another.

Heart had a bad time in Q3/2014, bounced back last time but has now dropped again - although not quite as much as it did six months ago.  It has shed 274,000 listeners year-on-year. LBC has also dropped heavily, although its overall share of listening makes it the joint second (with Heart) commercial station, while Nick Ferrari has the highest commercial share of listening at breakfast.

(Click on images to enlarge)

Out of interest I had a look at the 'Other Station' figure for London. This covers any station that is not surveyed by RAJAR but for which respondents wrote in as listened to during the diary week is coded to other listening. This includes foreign stations, short term licences, online-only stations; etc. While there is a modest YOY increase of 23,000 listeners, hours are down by 26.4% and share also down from 3.3% to 2.8%.

So who did well this time around? The 'Gold Star' for Q1/2015 goes to Absolute, with its Golden Square stablemate Magic in runner-up. They were the only two commercial stations to gain audience this quarter, with Absolute, Kiss and Smooth the only ones showing a year-on-year increase.

Update: Thanks to Chris Huff for pointing out that Magic's share of 4.9% is the smallest share for London's top commercial station in RAJAR history.


Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Absolute Radio (London).

Q1/2015 Survey period - 5th january - 5th April 2015.
Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.  Charts © Paul Easton 2015

Previous quarters: Q4/2014  and Q1/2014.
You will also find some good Rajar-related blogging - especially on the increase and impact of digital listening - from Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie - while John Rosborough looks at Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Way It Was

A former colleague recently gave me this photo of the IRN newsdesk - taken in the 1980s (probably 1983/4).

It's a wonderful 'snapshot' that really captures the flavour of the moment.

Newsreader Douglas Cameron waits for the script while 'scriptie' Alan Mitchell pulls the required audio carts from the rack ready for the top of the hour news bulletin.

Battered typewriters, carts, BT key-and-lamp phone units and several people wearing ties (even striped ones with checked shirts!) - and not a computer in sight. That's how radio newsrooms were 30 years ago - and during a major news story the atmosphere was electric.

Reporters would use a Marantz cassette recorder and, on their return, would have to dub material to tape for editing (with razor blades and sticky tape) as well as putting a short clip on a cartridge for the bulletins.

The studios were through the double-doors on the left of the photos; note the illuminated signs indicating which studios were being used for (LBC's) on-air programme and the news bulletin. On the right, behind the noticeboard was the 'wire room' which contained lots of incoming teleprinters from the various news, sport and financial agencies (Press Association, Reuters, United Press International etc.). To the left of the noticeboard was 'IRN Audio' which took in material, edited it and then fed it out to the other commercial stations.

So many fond memories are encapsulated in this single shot.

Photo L-R: John Greenwood, Alan Mitchell, Martin Jackson, Don Shanahan. John Sutton, Douglas Cameron, a blurred Paul Donovan (we think) and Nigel Jones.

By way of contrast....

In the mid-1980s a new newsroom was built in the newly-vacant basement of the other half of Communications House in Gough Square.

Although typewriters continued to be used for a while, a new computer system, ('Newstar') was introduced.

New technology had begun to arrive!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

London Rajar - Q4/2014

The Rajar figures for Q4/2014 - covering the period 15th September - 14th December - have now been published and, as usual, here's how London's main commercial stations have fared.

I usually tuck my usual 'health warning' away towards the end of the blog but this time round it's taking centre stage. So...

Never take a single quarter's figures in isolation - Rajar is about longer-term trends than a single snapshot, which is why a year-on-year comparison is always better than quarter-on-quarter.

Likewise I've also said that London is a volatile market with stations chopping and changes places like a game of 'musical chairs' - as this proves:

(Click on images to enlarge)

Last time I said that one of the biggest casualties was Heart, but they have bounced back this time with a whopping 6.3% share and regained many of the listeners they had "lost" last quarter. What's that I was saying about single quarters?

The undoubted 'star' this time round is Kiss - which has now beaten Capital in reach and share (and total hours). So congratulations to Andy Roberts and the team.  In his always-insightful blog, Matt Deegan suggests that Capital has become a bit dull against some serious competition which probably explains why they've lost 287,000 listeners year-on-year.

A good performance too for LBC with a record 1,091,000 weekly listeners. Nationally it's gained listeners but not by a great deal. I'm not sure whether there's much (or any) promotion and marketing outside the M25 but you do hear more non-London callers - and the recent addition of Freeview to its broadcast platforms should help.

Smooth has added 316,000 year-on-year but that's comparing it with the 'old' Smooth. Since the last quarter the increase is 18,000 - and the overall audience of 760,000 is still below where it was in the first set of figures since last year's re-launch/re-brand.

Anyway, time to let the figures do the talking...

Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Absolute Radio (London).
Q4/2014 Survey period - 15th September - 14th December 2014. Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.

Previous quarters:


You will also find some good Rajar-related blogging from Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie, plus an interesting Northern Ireland perspective from John Rosborough.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Taking The Biscuit

“The Home of Good Baking - Supersound UBN” might not have been quite the snappiest strapline in the business, and probably had one of the oddest radio station names, but the United Biscuits Network, which closed in December 1979, was a fertile training ground for the first wave of ILR stations throughout the 1970s.
UBN was a cable radio network serving the main United Biscuits factories around the country. Making and packing biscuits on a production line was boring and repetitive, and led to high staff turnover. UB’s boss at the time, Sir Hector Laing, decided the company should have its own radio station to entertain the staff and help improve both productivity and staff morale.

While the studios were based at UB’s factory at Osterley, the running of the station itself was sub-contracted to a company called ‘Sound Developments’ (run by Roger Sinclair), rather than being managed directly by UB, with Neil Spence, better known as ‘Dave Dennis’ on 1960s offshore station Radio London (‘Big L’) as the first programme director.

From there, the station was networked to other factories at Harlesden (in NW London), Liverpool, Manchester and Tollcross (Glasgow). Each factory had their own, weekly ‘local’ opt-out show (produced and presented from the main Osterley studios); each broadcast on a different day of the week and repeated to allow the different shifts to hear it.
Giles Squire on-air
Although it was a fairly compact operation, UBN was well-equipped (by 1970s standards), with three almost-identical self-op studios; one for on-air; another for the ‘local’ shows (usually done live the first time but recorded off-air for the later repeats) or ‘standby’; and a third for production. There was also a small newsroom (consisting of a Press Association teleprinter and a typewriter) and news booth - although the station later used bulletins from IRN. In addition there was a record library, reception/general office and the PC’s office.
Studio equipment consisted of a custom-built eight-channel mixer, with two Gates turntables, two Plessey cart machines and an Ampex tape machine (two in the production studio).
In the factories there were speakers at regular intervals along the production lines, with one for every group of three or four workers. While they could adjust the volume (or even turn it off), they couldn’t switch to another station, so it was important not to alienate them.

UBN’s programming was tightly-formatted. Music was played in ’sweeps’ of 2 or 3 songs in a row; if you did speak between records it had to be over the ending or intro, with no speech allowed over dead air, and no backing music or ‘beds’ either.

In addition to the music there were jingles, of course; the original “Home Of Good Baking - Supersound UBN” package was by PAMS, and based on the WABC/New York jingles. This was later replaced, first by the accapella-based 'Frontline Radio' and then, in 1975, by a more-contemporary package by Ivor Raymonde.

Probably the most intriguing aspect of UBN’s programming were the ‘commercial breaks’, These were actually promos covering various subjects, such as workers’ personal safety and the importance of hygiene, but there was no ‘management propaganda', such as orders for people to “work harder”!
Adrian Love and Pete Reeves producing a 'commercial'
Presenters had to produce these promos on a regular basis, in order to help keep the station sounding fresh, and the better ones were re-cycled over the years.
One, in particular, on the subject of compressed air (“CompressssssssssssssssedAir can kill!”), produced by the late Roger Scott, is one that still sticks in the mind after all these years; it was also one of those featured in UBN’s final hour.

In the early-70s, Graham Dene won Billboard magazine’s coveted International Radio Personality of the Year Award; quite an achievement for a small station like UBN, but also a good example of the high calibre of programming on the station at the time.

Across all of the shifts, it was reckoned UBN enjoyed an audience of around 40,000, and was considered important enough to receive regular visits from record company ‘pluggers’. After all, when it started there was really only Radio 1 (which still shared much of its airtime with Radio 2) during the day, and Luxembourg in the evening, and only 19 ILR stations on-air by the time it closed, so the record companies viewed UBN as a valuable place for airplay.

The station was not unique, though. A few other companies, inspired by UBN, launched their own services, including Chrysler Audio System (originally Talbot Radio Network) and KCN/Kimberley-Clark Network (who make Kleenex tissues etc.), although neither really managed to emulate UBN’s success, and were both relatively short-lived.
Over the years many people in BBC and commercial radio were associated with UBN, including Steve Allen, Graham Dene, Allan King, Peter Young, Nicky Horne, Phil Sayer, Roger Day, Pete Reeves, Giles Squire, Tony Gilham, Steve Colman, John Peters and the sadly-departed Roger Scott, Adrian Love, Peter Tait and John Hayes. I also had the privilege of being a freelance ‘swing’ presenter at UBN for a while in the late-70s, which provided me with my first invaluable experience of working within format radio.

Another who got his first professional radio job with UBN was Dale Winton. When he joined the station it was common practice at that time for new presenters to be re-named, so they could be given one of a generic batch of name jingles that had already been produced. As a result, Dale became ‘Simon York’, but eventually succeeded in persuading the powers-that-be to let him use his real name. So, one Friday, ‘Simon York’ “left” and ‘Dale Winton’ “started” on the following Monday. Shortly afterwards, UBN apparently started to get letters from listeners asking what had happened to Simon York; “He was much better than this new presenter!”
Another member of the UBN ‘alumni’ even made the charts; Jim Irvin, the lead singer of ‘Furniture’ - whose song ‘Brilliant Mind’ reached No.21 in 1986 - was a presenter and head of music at UBN for the last couple of years of its existence. Jim also co-wrote the hit 'Weekend', which was a 2004 hit for Michael Gray.
In 1979 the decision to close the station was taken, with factories relaying their local ILR station instead. This was more a reaction to the prevailing economic conditions of the day and a knock-on effect from the lorry drivers' strike at the start of the year, than a vote of ‘no confidence’ in the station, but going out when it did, and on a high, obviously contributed to UBN’s near-legendary status.

35 years on the United Biscuits Network is long gone. The Osterley factory, too, has since been closed and demolished, but, in a neat twist of fate, there is still a broadcasting connection; Sky TV’s HQ and studios are now located on part of the former UB site.

Invitation to a UBN Reunion in 2006.
(The original 'Calling Cards' were used by UB employees for requests/dedications via the internal post)

Thursday, 23 October 2014

London Rajar - Q3/2014

The Rajar figures for Q3/2014 - covering the period 23rd June - 14th September - have now been published and, as usual, here's how the capital's main commercial stations have fared.

Overall most stations are down year-on-year; only Absolute, Gold and Smooth have increased Reach since this time last year, while Gold, Magic and XFM are the only stations to have gone up since the last quarter.

One of this quarter's biggest casualties has been Heart - down 294,000 year-on-year and down 389,000 quarter-on-quarter. In fact their weekly reach of 1,448,00 is the lowest they've had since Q4/2000 - nearly 14 years ago. Weekday Breakfast in particular has collapsed. Looking back at their figures over the past few years there have been other steep drops but they've always bounced back again.

Perhaps they are being squeezed by Bauer's Magic as well as Global's own Smooth - which also showed a small drop this time round following a steep rise in the previous quarter? Radio 2 was also down in London quarter-on-quarter.

Capital Xtra lost 230,000 listeners year-on-year, while Capital FM was down 171,000 and Kiss also down by 169,000.  Year-on-year Smooth was up 300,000 while Absolute gained 108,000 and Gold was up by 90,000.

LBC (97.3) may also be down in Reach but its share of 5.1% - achieved thanks to very high Average Hours of 10.7 per listener - puts it just behind Capital in joint second place (with Magic) in the commercial radio rankings. The station also continues to rule the late night hours - even without the benefit of the 1152AM simulcast.

So here's how it all  looks:

(Click on images to enlarge)


Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Total Absolute Radio (London).
Q3/2014 Survey period - 23rd June - 14th September 2014. Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.
As usual I issue my standard 'health warning' about not taking a single quarter's figures in isolation - Rajar is more about trends than a single snapshot so a year-on-year comparison is always the better one - you'll find the charts for Q3/2013 here and Q2/2014 here.

You'll also find some good, informed, analysis and observation from Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie while the general figures for each station are available on, Radio Today and, of course, Rajar.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

London Rajar - Q2/2014

The latest results are now out and cover the period from 31st March - 22nd June 2014.

To be honest I'm not really sure what to make of these results - they're a bit of a mixed bag.

The star, though, of this quarter's game of 'musical chairs' has to be Smooth with a strong performance in its first full three months since the relaunch.  Since Q1 it has increased Reach by 216,000 (38.3%) and added an extra 1,785,000 hours (49%), while year on year (Q2/2013) Reach has grown by 89.6% and Hours by a whopping 138%! The other Smooth FM stations have also shown increases, although not as much as in London.

It'll certainly be interesting to see how things develop over the next few quarters. Things could start to get rather 'interesting'.

Apart from that I shall let the figures do the talking...

(Click on images to enlarge)

Here's an updated version of a chart I've posted on a few previous occasions. It's a good demonstration of the volatility of the London commercial radio market. In particular it clearly shows Smooth pulling away from the pack at the lower end of the chart.


Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Total Absolute Radio (London)
Q2/2014 Survey period - 31st March - 22nd June 2014. Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.
As usual I issue my standard 'health warning' about not taking a single quarter's figures in isolation - Rajar is more about trends than a single snapshot so a year-on-year comparison is the better one - you'll find the charts for Q2/2013 here and Q1/2014 here.

You'll also find some good, informed, analysis and observation from Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie while the general figures for each station are available on media.info (the new name - and look - for Media UK), Radio Today and, of course, Rajar