Monday, August 24, 2009

Commercial radio blames BBC for all its ills

The Radio Centre, the body which speaks up for independent radio in the UK, is moaning on about Radio 2 again. "It's popular, and that's soooooo unfair":

The Radio Centre, the industry trade body for commercial radio, said Radio 2 was "prioritising popularity not public purposes" by shunning older listeners and failing to provide sufficient news and current affairs coverage.

Being lectured on providing insufficient news coverage from the ILR stations should alarm Radio 2 - after all, if anybody knows about falling short on keeping an audience informed, it'd be British commercial radio.

The Radio Centre suggests Radio 2 is refusing to stick to its remit. Again, the commercial radio operators of the UK know what they're talking about when it comes to a radio station saying it'll do one thing, and then doing something else.
"Over the last decade, Radio 2 has shifted its programming policies – nobody has intervened and this has been disastrous for commercial radio's heartland audiences and for the plurality and diversity of the UK's fragile radio ecology," said the Radio Centre chief executive, Andrew Harrison.

Let's just take as read the implication here that a commercial radio station has a right to an audience, and that, somehow, by attracting a large number of licence fee payers to Radio 2, the BBC is not satisfying licence fee holders, and instead just look at Harrison.

Let's stare at him, as he stands in an sector of radio which has dropped numerous shows; thrown away decades-old, well-loved local brands in favour of one-size-doesn't-quite-fit-all central brands; persuaded the Radio Authority and then Ofcom to allow stations to dump the more onerous demands of their licences; pre-records chunks of programming and centralises others. Surrounded by this destruction, Harrison is blaming Radio 2 for ruining its audiences.
The Radio Centre made the comments in its submission to the BBC Trust in response to its ongoing review of Radio 2 and BBC 6Music.

Research had also found an emphasis on new music and new presenters on Radio 2 with a particular appeal to younger listeners, with programmes of appeal to older listeners "marginalised in the schedule", the commercial radio body said.

"Had this kind of format change occurred in the commercial sector, Ofcom would have taken action so it is welcome that the BBC Trust is reviewing the output of Radio 2," added Harrison.

Yes, Ofcom would have taken action. It would have tutted for a bit, and then probably varied the terms of the service's licence.

Given that Harrison is so convinced there's an older audience who are not being served by Radio 2, you might think the obvious thing would be for commercial radio to take care of this lucrative, growing gap in the market. Instead, from a quick listen to most of the 'how much spaghetti can you put down your trousers' output of the leading local stations, commercial radio is far more interested in going in the opposite direction.
The Radio Centre said Radio 2 was also failing to provide the news and current affairs programming required in its licence.

"Only if items such as newspaper reviews, a discussion about snoring, a Monopoly championship and discussions about teleshopping were categorised as 'news and current affairs' did the station achieve its 16-hour target," said Harrison.

Why wouldn't a review of the newspapers be current affairs programming? Does Harrison really think that the network should be dumping large chunks of the Today programme onto Radio 2? Does he struggle with the idea that, given lovers of hard news are catered for by 4, and softer news by Five Live, Radio 2 might have to find different approaches and subjects for its distinct audience? Does Harrison really think that sixty year olds are tuning in to Radio 2 looking for coverage of the German general election?

He's also eyeing up the budgets, too:
"There is no apparent reason why 6Music should cost almost five times more than Planet Rock to run, why Radio 2 should cost more than six times more than 6Music to run, or why the typical cost of a Radio 2 programme should be 54% higher than a similar show on Radio 1," said Harrison.

No reason why 6Music should cost five times more than Planet Rock, eh? Depsite, erm, Planet Rock basically putting on tapes overnight, and for a couple of hours during the day. And making their few presenters do longer shifts. Oh, and 6Music having a couple of live sessions every day, and Planet Rock's website having lower production values. And Planet Rock featuring no dedicated music news programming. Or actual news, come to that. I dare say 6Music could exist on the same budget as Planet Rock; it would probably sound as low-budget, then, too.

And if Harrison really doesn't see why Radio 2 costs a lot more than 6Music, you'd have to wonder if he's chosen the right business to be in. Seriously, Andrew, you don't see why a network that puts on Friday Night Is Music Night, commissions drama and current affairs (perhaps about Monopoly, but even so) and comedy, and has a slew of smaller, bespoke specialist programmes costs more to make? Do you go into restaurants and demand to know why the steak costs more than the soup?

He hasn't stopped yet, though:
"We think the BBC urgently needs to rebalance its portfolio of popular music radio. You've now got Radio 1 targeting 15- to 29-year-olds, 1Xtra targeting 15-to 24-year-olds, 6Music with more than 80% of its listening hours coming from 15-44s and Radio 2 becoming increasingly younger. That could be construed as an obsession with youth."

You do realise, Andrew, that 1Xtra and Radio 1 aren't chasing the same audience at all - perhaps you've just become blinkered by years in commercial radio as to seeing demographic age strata as the only way to differentiate an audience, you might have spotted the difference.

And is Radio 2 really so youth-obsessed? Sure, Jeremy Vine likes The Fall, but Mark E Smith is in his fifties; and do you really think that Ken Bruce and Sarah Kennedy are pitching their programmes at university students? Even the wail that Radio 2 plays a lot of "new" music is bemusing - what age, Andrew, do you stop wanting to hear something you've never heard before? I was going to suggest that would be a rhetorical question, but come to think of it, the median age of Magic listeners would probably give you an answer.


James said...

Every time the Radio Centre plop out another BBC-bashing press-quack, I think of this picture. It's sad that commercial radio's response to ongoing stinking fail isn't to think "Right, what can we do better?" but "How can we drag the competition down?"

Next week, Radio Centre chief executive Andrew Harrison moans "I could be the fastest man on Earth if that bloody Usain Bolt didn't keep cheating by training every day. They should make him run in wellies, then it'd be more fair"

Anonymous said...

I love the bit about "failing to provide sufficient news and current affairs coverage". I guess he thinks it should be a priority at Radio 2 to make sure their audience is ignorant of Radio 4 and 5.

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