Media: Double Standards - 'Having declined of late, radio's on the rise again'

Two industry heads describe the challenges facing commercial speech radio and reveal their hopes for one of the earliest exponents of user-generated content.

DON THOMSON - CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, GLOBAL RADIO

- What is the profile of your listeners, and why are they attractive to advertisers?

LBC is London's Biggest Conversation, and is aimed at Londoners primarily in the 35-54 age group, who find Radio 4 at times inaccessible, Radio 5 too sporty, talkSPORT too blokey and GLR too old.

- Is speech radio more compelling than music radio to listeners? If so, should it be sold at a premium?

In other countries, such as the US and Australia, the local commercial speech station tends to be number one or number two in the market. These stations also command a significant premium to their music counterparts. It should be the case in this country, too. If Radio 4 was a commercial station, I'm sure it would be!

- With the recent troubles at the BBC, do you expect a shift in radio staff/talent to the commercial sector?

I certainly hope so. After years of inflation-proof income, the recent budget cuts should see more talent becoming available to the commercial sector.

- How difficult is speech radio in terms of controlling what presenters/listeners say?

The value of a great producer should never be underestimated. Talkshow presenters are always opinionated and so are many of the listeners, but that is the charm and the challenge of the format. It would be pretty dull if it wasn't difficult.

- Which regulatory issues are currently of most concern to you?

The belief in some circles that more and more advertising regulation will be the sole solution to the health and social problems of everybody living in this country.

- What's your view on the current Rajar measurement system?

It's so easy to knock Rajar for its slow progress on electronic measurement, but it is moving in the right direction. Radio's greatest strength in the digital world - the fact that it can be consumed on all platforms and its complete portability - makes it the most difficult medium to measure.

- What are the benefits of launching the second multiplex?

It's another opportunity for more choice for the consumer and the advertiser, and to take back some market share from the BBC.

- What's the best thing about working in radio right now?

Impending consolidation, a market back in growth and being in private ownership.

SCOTT TAUNTON - MANAGING DIRECTOR, UTV RADIO

- What is the profile of your listeners, and why are they attractive to advertisers?

Who listens to talkSPORT? At 79 per cent, talkSPORT is the most efficient male media platform in the market. Some 53 per cent are ABC1 and more than a third of our audience is aged 15-34. Whether you're a male-based brand such as Ford activating Champions League coverage or a main shopper client such as Morrisons buying into Ian Wright, talkSPORT has solutions for all.

- Is speech radio more compelling than music radio to listeners? If so, should it be sold at a premium?

User-generated content is not a new phenomenon exclusive to the digital age. Speech radio and, in particular, talkSPORT has been delivering and engaging with its users in this way since inception. Radio is a medium that is "close to you". Speech takes it a stage further. This potent combination demands a premium. The reality is that radio suffers from heritage pricing, and restating the value of stations becomes increasingly challenging in a media mix with so much choice.

- With the recent troubles at the BBC, do you expect a shift in radio staff/talent to the commercial sector?

The BBC and the commercial sector each have their own advantages, and it is healthy for both halves of the radio industry to share talent, ideas and best practice.

- How difficult is speech radio in terms of controlling what presenters/listeners say?

Put it in perspective. On an average day on talkSPORT, we will broadcast, live, around 210,000 words. A paper like The Sun will publish around 30,000 words a day, with a legal team having had the chance to scrutinise before publication. So, yes, it's a constant challenge, but we ensure we have well-trained producers, well-trained presenters and a large "dump" button in the studio.

- Which regulatory issues are currently of most concern to you?

Too much regulation for a small industry is our major issue. Bear in mind the total radio industry turnover in 2006 was £534 million compared with a largely unregulated regional press - with a turnover of £2.8 billion. The internet is turning over £2 billion with virtually no regulation. Radio remains over-regulated, although I welcome the steps in the right direction in the current The Future of Radio recommendations.

- What's your view on the current Rajar measurement system?

TalkSPORT continues to support Rajar. However, we feel that the current methodology isn't equipped to handle the changing radio landscape. With hundreds more stations and multiple platforms, the demands placed on listeners to correctly identify what they are listening to, when and where, is unrealistic. Electronic measurement is essential.

- What are the benefits of launching the second multiplex?

UTV has significant investment and, therefore, interest in the success of DAB, owning six local multiplexes, broadcasting talkSPORT on D1 and with a 10 per cent shareholding in the second multiplex, where we will launch the new talkRadio speech service next year. So we want DAB to succeed. The breadth of channels and content brought to DAB by the new multiplex will help galvanise sales of DAB radios and create greater consumer interest. It is hard not to see that the future success of the radio industry is not inextricably linked to the success of digital radio.

- What's the best thing about working in radio right now?

It's all happening in radio now. Operators are consolidating, regulatory movements are in train and we have a renewed vigour from our industry body. Having declined in recent years, radio is on the rise again!