MEDIA: VIRGIN RADIO BREAKFAST SHOW - AN EXPERT'S VIEW. The Rajar figures flatter Penk's quiet success in Virgin Radio's morning slot, Oliver Rowe says

Everything appeared rosy for Steve Penk and his new breakfast show

on Virgin Radio after last week's Rajar results came in. Against

industry expectations, it seems that he has received the approval of

many new listeners, as his audience size is substantially up on that of

his predecessor, Chris Evans.



However, before we get carried away with what looks like an excellent

result, I recommend having a closer look at the figures.



Penk seems to have achieved rises but, in reality, it has mainly

happened because he broadcasts for longer than Evans did. Comparing like

with like, competitive stations are at pains to show that Penk actually

lost share against the national audience during the key 6.30am to 9.00am

time slot that Evans occupied. Even in London there isn't much cause for

celebration with share static across this time, but reach is up, as it

is across all London commercial stations. There may be concerns that

this debut from a recognisable radio personality hasn't been strong

enough.



Penk, though, is offering something slightly different at breakfast time

- although it may not be to everyone's taste. An initial promotion

called "Tossers" left people in no doubt about his style but, in truth,

there is little here that we haven't seen from his days at Capital and,

earlier, in Manchester. This style will doubtless excite some and turn

off others but a strong breakfast personality can help focus an entire

station's output, as long as they can get it right.



Apparently, McDonald's, the sponsor of Virgin Radio's breakfast slot,

has decided to renew its deal for 12 months. And maybe Penk will attract

an even tighter and more appealing demographic for advertisers - let's

hope so. Certainly, brands such as Walkers are still running breakfast

promotions. But a quick chat with media planners and buyers confirmed

that Virgin no longer seems to be their personal number-one station of

choice at breakfast.



Penk has also entered one of the most competitive breakfast markets we

have ever seen in London. Substantial programming improvements have come

from a string of competitive commercial stations including Xfm, Magic

and Heart, which all cluster around Virgin's frequency at the top end of

the dial. Yet there is no doubt that the Penk product can stand up and

fight. The challenge for Virgin is to hang on to the trialists and

convert them into loyalists.



We need a strong Virgin station. Commercial radio still has much to

offer us as it grows and improves and we need strong national brands

that can really challenge the BBC, as well as continue pushing each

other to improve. For advertisers this will ensure access to innovative

and impactful opportunities.



Broadcaster: Virgin Radio

Frequency: Monday-Friday, 6-10am

Average audience: 1.95 million

Advertisers include: McDonald's (sponsor), Exchange & Mart, Kellogg's,

One2One, Vauxhall, Autocar.