PERSPECTIVE: Commercial radio looks to break the Phil Collins mould

It’s been a good week for radio as a whole and for commercial radio in particular. First, Chris Evans resigned (yes!) and then, in its infinite wisdom, the Radio Authority saw fit to hand the last London FM licence to Xfm.

It’s been a good week for radio as a whole and for commercial radio

in particular. First, Chris Evans resigned (yes!) and then, in its

infinite wisdom, the Radio Authority saw fit to hand the last London FM

licence to Xfm.



Let’s do Evans first. In his early days he was simply the most

innovative, original, startling talent to emerge since ... well, since

Chris Tarrant.



Then his manic energy and wild ideas translated brilliantly to TV and to

the Big Breakfast.



So it was not surprising that Radio 1 hired him to give it some

much-needed pep and, to give credit where it’s due, he certainly did the

business.



But over the past year or so, Evans’s shows were characterised by one

quality: malevolence. Whatever he did, there was no disguising his utter

contempt for his audience. It’s one thing to take the piss out of your

listeners, but humiliation isn’t the name of the game. By way of

contrast, take Russ and Jono on Virgin, whose humour, although robust,

is still essentially good-hearted. And, of course, Evans being the star

he is, others started to copy him with the result that swathes of

commercial radio are given over to clones. Evans, I suspect, has become

the very thing that he despised most when he started out.



Moving on. Let me declare it now: I can’t stand Genesis and, as for Phil

Collins ... don’t ask. I’d rather listen to ten mobile phone commercials

on the trot than either of those. But it’s hard to avoid them. If you

don’t believe me, spend an afternoon driving round the fringes of

London, as I did last weekend, and see how often they’re on.



But now relief and joy are at hand in the shape of Xfm, a station, I

feel I can safely predict, that will be a no-go zone for Genesis and

Phil Collins and a safe haven for all those who go in mortal fear of

them and all those who make briefcase rock.



Now we can all argue about the kind of music that Xfm should play, but

the real point - and the one on which the Radio Authority should be

congratulated - is that it significantly extends listener choice. Put it

like this: the people who don’t much care for top 40 formats or

so-called classic rock don’t have many places to go, which may explain

why, in recent Rajar sweeps, commercial radio has been surrendering its

hard-won gains in audience share.



If it pitches itself correctly, Xfm should halt that process by winning

back old listeners cheesed off with you know who and attracting new

ones.



And what of advertisers? Well, they should follow the audience which,

for Xfm, promises to be that hard-to-reach, low-media-consumption group

in the 18-30 (plus me, of course) age group they all crave.



Ironically, this is the very group that Radio 1’s boss, Matthew

Bannister, used to pull when he ran what was once London’s best unknown

station, GLR. Come to think of it, GLR was where Evans got his first big

break.



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