Mansfield sees a rosy future for radio by refusing to panic

Capital Radio chief executive David Mansfield is looking forward to buying up more stations, writes Glen Mutel.

It must be an interesting time to be David Mansfield. Capital Radio has had an eventful year and as the chief executive, you would think he'd be feeling the pinch.

Last week, the network suffered an 11% fall in its share price, following its admission that advertising revenue for October and November had fallen by 8%. However, its price rallied on Monday following reports that the US giant Clear Channel would bid for UK radio groups.

Capital's problems this year have centred on its flagship London offering, 95.8 Capital FM. The strain of the Chris Tarrant affair began to take its toll and coincided with a 1.5% drop in audience share for his show in last month's Rajars.

So after 10 years with the company, five-and-a-half of those as its chief executive, Mansfield could be forgiven for feeling jaded.

"If you're in charge of an organisation like Capital, which is important to a lot of people, whether they're listeners, shareholders or staff, then you do take it personally. I get paid a lot of money to run this organisation and therefore I need to worry about it," he admits.

"But I don't take work home with me and I don't work weekends. I've been there -- it's not wise and I try to discourage the people I work with from doing it too. There's a time and a place for everything."

Despite Capital's performance in the City this week, Mansfield is adamant that the network is in good shape -- not weighed down by debts or ill-considered purchases and still commands a high percentage of the commercial audience.

Capital's revenue has dipped for October and November, but advertisers and media buyers are still taking it seriously. Simon Blackburn, the deputy head of radio at Media Planning Group, says: "Capital's stations outside London still perform very competitively and I'd be lying if I said I thought that the London station was stuffed. There's no station competing with it -- Heart and Kiss might be performing well but Capital is still such a long way ahead you'd be a fool to leave it off your planning schedule."

However, audience share must be a cause for concern. Capital's London youth station, Xfm, may be performing well but this is scant consolation for 95.8 Capital FM's recent Rajar performance. This has been compounded by improvement at Heart 106.2 and, in particular, Jonathan Coleman's and Emma Forbes' breakfast show.

What does Mansfield attribute this lull to? "It's a number of things. The BBC has done particularly well and they've been very aggressive in what they do. And throughout all this uncertainty, Chris [Tarrant] hasn't been as focused perhaps as we know that he can be.

"It's hard to pin it down but as far as Capital is concerned, it's down to the quality of what we're doing and we need to improve it.

"We're reworking the breakfast show, we're going to put some marketing behind it and see where it takes us. Having a revitalised breakfast show with a new production team, new creativity and new people in the studio will enable us to regain some of the lost ground."

Although Capital has managed to keep Tarrant where they want him, the problem doesn't end there. Speculation persists over the exact nature of his role.

Mansfield's decision to keep these details a secret from his rivals is understandable, but advertisers and media buyers could be forgiven for their impatience. Blackburn adds: "Capital's reliance upon Tarrant is alarming and there's a real concern that they've not got anyone who can properly replace him."

Nevertheless, Tarrant's decision to stay in the morning slot will have come as a huge relief to his audience, advertisers and Mansfield. And it's not the only good news. Last week, Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, announced that the radio industry will be deregulated to the levels that larger networks such as Capital have been lobbying for.

The communications bill will enable Capital to increase the number of stations it owns in the regions. Mansfield is adamant that common ownership will increase the quality and variation of commercial radio.

He says: "It gives us considerable headroom for growth. Instead of having a fragmented number of radio stations competing with each other, one can separate the formats and so the listeners get the benefit. Stations will be complementary rather than competitive."

Under the new rules, Capital will be able to own up to nine radio stations in London, rather than just three. It currently has an option to buy Choice FM and it's unlikely to stop there. And with Xfm flying and the new Tarrant show on its way, maybe Capital is about to reinforce its dominance in London.

The next 12 months promise to be just as eventful for the network. This year, however, Mansfield has reason for optimism so he and his fishing buddy Tarrant won't be putting up the permanent "gone fishin'" sign just yet.

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