Media Headliner: 'We need to do more and connect with London'

Capital Radio's managing director, Paul Jackson, is determined to reclaim the ground the station has lost, Anne Cassidy writes.

The night before you start, it's that sort of nervous Sunday night feeling you remember from when you haven't done your homework and you're going to school the next day," Paul Jackson, the Capital Radio managing director, says. He is recalling the anxiety he felt ahead of the recent launch of the station's new breakfast show, reuniting Denise Van Outen with Johnny Vaughan.

His disquiet is perhaps justified. Tied up with the launch are the new Capital Radio managing director's hopes of reuniting the ailing station with its London audience.

Six years ago, Capital 95.8 was London's number-one station, with 2.76 million listeners and a 10.2 per cent share of the market. Rajar figures last week showed that it now languishes in third place, behind Bauer Radio's Magic and Global Radio's Heart. Today, Capital has a 4.7 per cent share of the market and 1.52 million listeners.

To add to the unease surrounding the station, Capital's owner, GCap, is under the threat of a second takeover bid by Global Radio. GCap rejected Global's first approach, and, this week, to convince shareholders this rebuff was justified, the new GCap chief executive, Fru Hazlitt, announced a series of cost- cutting measures and turnaround plans for GCap. The ditching of its DAB stations is likely to lead, if anything, to a greater focus on core analogue brands such as Capital.

Plans for Capital include dropping the notorious three-year-old "no more than two ads in a row" strategy so that it will now run up to nine minutes of advertising an hour. In another boost for Capital, GCap also revealed it will stream its stations live to Apple's iPhones and iPod Touch music players.

Global was last week ordered by the Takeover Panel to "put up or shut up" over making another offer for the station.

Global's pursuit of GCap has had more twists than a Shakespearean drama, especially when you add in the fact that Richard Park, an executive director on Global's main board, is Jackson's father. Hazlitt's hiring of Jackson last year marked a return to the company at which he had made his name. He was Virgin's programme director, and was appointed its chief executive in 2005, following Hazlitt's departure from Virgin to join GCap.

He previously worked at Capital, before its merger with GWR to form GCap, in a number of roles, including regional programme director. He says his decision to return to Capital was a difficult one. "Things were just changing (at Virgin) with the planned flotation and everything that's happened. It was more of a gut instinct. Ultimately, the challenge of coming here excited me more." For Capital, change is nothing new.

It has lurched from one relaunch to another under a number of managing directors. And Capital's frequent rebranding seemed to confuse listeners as to what the station was trying to be. Its £3 million TV ad campaign last year, depicting hidden messages in London cityscapes, only added to this confusion. Jackson is now focused on reconnecting the station with Londoners.

"Apart from the posters around for Johnny and Denise's show now, there's not a multimillion-pound campaign being thrust in front of you," he says. "There's just no point in us spending millions of pounds and putting another TV ad out. We just can't sit here in our ivory tower and slap an ad on the TV and expect everything to be OK. We've actually got to get out there and get our hands dirty and get across London and do some activity; and then we can start supporting it."

This will take the form of promotional events, similar to those it ran during its halcyon years in the 90s. A summer concert, in the vein of Party in the Park, but under a new name and in aid of Help a London Child, is planned along with other music events in London boroughs. Jackson hopes this will help rekindle Capital's relationship with Londoners, which was, he feels, badly damaged by the station's decision a few years ago to stop running music events. "We appreciate events; we need to do more and connect with London; get out and touch London again; be part of London's life, be part of what goes on in the city," he says.

Defining the station as the centre-ground pop station for London through its music is imperative, according to Jackson. He says: "Our job is to basically find the big new rock groups and play the songs that people know, love, and sing along with, as well as the records they are going to love."

He acknowledges the need for consistency and getting the music right at a station that has changed its direction so often. He asserts the station can no longer say it believes in "urban music this year and in guitar-driven music, or whatever it might be, the next".

He believes quantity of music is as important as quality; and he will push Capital's "ten great songs in a row" format for weekdays.

Jonathan Barrowman, the head of radio at Initiative, was encouraged by Jackson's appointment at Capital, which he says has lost its way. He says that while Capital can never hope to regain the market share it once had, he sees Jackson's pairing of Vaughan and Van Outen as a positive step.

Barrowman points to a takeover by the private company Global as potentially beneficial: "GCap is a plc, so Fru Hazlitt has to make announcements to shareholders on a six-monthly cycle. I'm not sure if shareholders take the long-term view on DJs and programmes. GCap stands alone as the only plc in the market, which has affected its leadership over the years."

Jackson feels the main issue for Capital has been a lack of consistent vision. He asserts: "Not enough people had a clear vision of 'this is the direction we're going in. This is what we're trying to achieve'."

He maintains that things are improving at the station as Capital, and its parent company, sets out to redefine itself. But, for Capital to once again pose a real threat to London's top two stations, it will not only need a lot of heart, but also a touch of magic.