MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; 963 LIBERTY RADIO: Reincarnation of Radio Viva! must appeal to more women

The old station is having a facelift, but how far can it go, Alasdair Reid wonders

The old station is having a facelift, but how far can it go, Alasdair

Reid wonders

‘The big problem Radio Viva! faced was that women don’t have a clue

about retuning the pre-set channel buttons on their car radios. The only

way Viva! would have worked was for it to have distributed a few bungs

to garage mechanics to tweak some buttons on the quiet when girls came

in for a service.’

The speaker is a senior media buyer. Not surprisingly, he wishes to

remain anonymous. It’s certainly an original viewpoint. Paradoxically,

despite the station’s feminist reputation, maybe it’s also a theory that

former staffers might wish to buy into.

For them, it’s probably slightly preferable to the more widely accepted

analysis of the station’s failure - that it was, to put it bluntly,

crap. The advertising community reckoned that Viva! was earnest, worthy,

designed to appeal to a handful of 70s-style activists living in

Islington. Buyers had given it a couple of pejorative nicknames -

‘Beaver’ and ‘Vulva’ - before it had even launched and their prejudices

were confirmed when it went on air. That wouldn’t have mattered if

London’s female half had tuned in.

It didn’t. Back in May, Viva! was acquired by Liberty Publishing, owned

by the Harrods boss, Mohamed Al Fayed. Last week, Liberty announced its

plans for the station. It is to be renamed 963 Liberty Radio and will be

given a complete facelift under the managing director, Mike

Hollingsworth (Campaign, 11 October). Liberty sources say that it will

bear no resemblance to Viva! at all.

Oh yes it will, counters the Radio Authority - at least as far as the

station’s licence remit is concerned. It will still have to be a speech-

based service appealing to 25- to 44-year-old women in the Greater

London area. Which is where the real fun begins. What can Liberty get

away with? What would agencies like to see it do?

Robert Ray, the deputy managing director of the Media Centre, thinks

that music is the answer. ‘I’m sure it would be allowed to run music

programming in up to 50 per cent of its schedule. It’s what I would do,’

he reveals. ‘It has to acknowledge that it is up against other media and

very strong commercial music stations through the day. In that context,

too narrow a schedule is a turn-off. In daytime, it needs music.’

Yvonne Scullion, the head of radio at Zenith Media, says that there is

something to that argument - Capital Radio does a pretty good job of

targeting young women. But she also points out that Hollingsworth is

Anne Diamond’s other half. ‘The last thing we needed was feminism with a

big F,’ she says. ‘It’s not that hard to appeal to 25- to 44-year-old

women - unless you make things difficult for yourself as Viva! did.

‘Liberty should take its cue from satellite channels aimed at women. A

radio equivalent of UK Living would be a good area to explore and I’m

sure it could find the appropriate people to make it work. But in the

end, anything will be better than Viva!. Radio frequencies are scarce

and Viva! was just a waste of that resource.’

Rupert Garrett, the head of radio at BBJ Media Services, says that those

are his sentiments exactly - but he finds the behaviour of its new

owners rather strange: ‘They just don’t bother to talk to agencies. I

haven’t seen anyone from the station this year. Where are they? What are

they up to? There’s a new London licence coming up and Virgin and

Capital are currently slagging each other off, as they do. There’s a lot

of noise already out there in the market. How are they going to cut

through that? If a client asked me what was happening with Viva!, I’d

have to say I haven’t a clue. That’s bad enough, but the point is that

clients aren’t even asking. The new people have to change that.’

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