Friday, 18 November 2011

Everybody's Talkin'

Back in the late-70s a US TV series WKRP in Cincinnati, was set in a struggling fictional radio station.

At the start of the series the station, which had been playing easy-listening music "that was out of date 20 years ago", underwent a radical format change under its new programme director.

Following the change the station's reception area was "invaded" by some former listeners protesting about the change and demanding WKRP revert to its previous format.

Arthur Carlson, the sometimes-ineffectual general manager (who only got the job because his mother owned the station), began to panic; especially when he learned a TV news crew was on their way up.

Meanwhile PD Andy Travis seized the moment and asked the protestors "Do you want to be on TV?  We want you to wave your banners and let everybody know you're as mad as hell because WKRP is now playing rock music!"  A cynical ploy, perhaps, but it was a clever way of getting some free marketing.

In 1996 Status Quo famously took legal action against BBC Radio 1 for not playlisting their latest single; a re-working of the Beach Boys' classic 'Fun Fun Fun', which was a collaboration by the Quo with the Beach Boys. Following the major changes at Radio 1 which had seen the departure of  popular, long-serving presenters such as Simon Bates, Dave Lee Travis and Bruno Brookes, it could be argued Status Quo's action only succeeded in helping to highlight the station's transformation from "Smashie and Nicey" cheese to Britpop "Cool Britannia".

Now, ahead of the launch of Absolute Radio 60s  - one of its latest digital 'brand extensions', - Absolute Radio have said they won't be playing any music by Sir Cliff Richard (and some other 60s artists) because he isn't "cool". The howls of protest by Cliff's supporters have been deafening, including articles in the national press as well as other media coverage. Even 'core' Absolute artists, such as Roger Daltrey and Francis Rossi, have come out in support of Cliff and, in the process, have helped the new station  to get the sort of PR coverage money can't buy.

As Oscar Wilde once said:  "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about" and the furore over the Cliff "ban" is giving the new station a great deal of all-important "talkability".

It's been interesting to watch this PR stunt develop and I can't wait to see what happens next! I suspect a surprise, happy ending; although I'm not (yet) convinced a one-off 'Absolute Radio Cliff' station is on the cards! 

(Disclosure: I occasionally undertake work on specific projects for TIML/Absolute Radio, but have not done so in the past six months. Jack FM Oxfordshire and Glide FM, which are owned by the management team at Absolute (but run as totally separate operations) are regular clients).

1 comment:

  1. Absolute has been here before.

    I seem to recall in the build up to Virgin first launching in London on 1215AM, they played various trails that announced Cliff wouldn't be featuring in the playlist. There were some fun clips, I think voiced by the great Phil Cornwell, of Cliff apparently arguing with Bowie and Jagger that he wouldn't be heard.

    The buzz worked then. Seems to be working now :)