Perspective: Commercial radio should develop its own tone of voice

I would hesitate to draw too many parallels between the different universes of radio and magazines but, seeing as this week we have both Rajar figures and the latest six-month ABCs, let me have a go. What the two media have in common is that both are in expansionist mood. New stations are coming on air, new magazines are being launched. In theory, more niche audiences are being created, more vehicles with which to target them are on offer.

I would hesitate to draw too many parallels between the different

universes of radio and magazines but, seeing as this week we have both

Rajar figures and the latest six-month ABCs, let me have a go. What the

two media have in common is that both are in expansionist mood. New

stations are coming on air, new magazines are being launched. In theory,

more niche audiences are being created, more vehicles with which to

target them are on offer.



At first glance, many radio stations and magazines play the me-too game,

by which I mean it’s relatively easy just to copy the format of the most

successful player in their sector. For media buyers they are too, up to

a point, substitutable - certain brands could use radio or magazines or,

on occasion, both. By and large, you could say, radio and magazines

complement each other.



So far, such happy convergence. Why then do we have consumption figures

that, broadly speaking, diverge? On the one hand, commercial radio’s

share of listening is falling from 49.7 to 48.3 per cent - and at a time

when listeners are being offered more choice.



On the other we have - and here I generalise - mainly rising ABCs at a

time when new launches occur every week. The men’s market is up 47 per

cent, teenage magazines 18 per cent and music magazines 14 per cent.

Women’s magazines - both weeklies and monthlies - have done quite well,

as have the upmarket glossies. All in all, as it has been throughout the

recession, magazine publishing is in a healthy state. New entrants come

in and expand the market.



And it used to be that way in radio, but not any more. What then is the

explanation? In its defence, radio would no doubt point to a resurgent

BBC whose share, having once appeared to have been in terminal decline,

is up from 47.2 to 49.6 per cent (one day, someone will have to explain

to me why share in radio never adds up to 100).



In a sense, radio is right to look to the BBC because, having spent the

last week skimming the airwaves (in a professional sense, you

understand), I have my own theory as to why the BBC is going up and

commercial radio going down. The answer is tone of voice and its first

cousin, distinctiveness.



If you’re not sure what I mean, dip into Radio Five Live’s football

reports.



They are a joy to the ear, full of wit, insight, passion and a love of

language. Then (with some notable exceptions), dip into commercial

radio: dull, samey, with presenters going through the motions and all

sounding the same. Or try Radio 2, and then any of the gold stations.

It’s formatting gone mad.



By contrast, the most successful magazines, even in crowded sectors, win

by working hard to create their own distinctive tone of voice. Lay FHM

next to Loaded and you can easily see the difference. Move from one

station to its nearest rival and, well, hear what I mean?



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