Merging radio trade bodies must make theirmarriage work

Like old lovers announcing that they're finally tying the knot after years of polite affection, the radio trade bodies the Commercial Radio Companies Association and the Radio Advertising Bureau are forming a permanent alliance.

But is this a marriage driven by little more than indifference, or by a genuine passion to be stronger together?

It's easy to take a negative view of Monday's announcement, which made it clear that the two bodies, which have been co-habiting for years in Shaftesbury Avenue, will finally unite under one name and one chief executive.

Commercial radio is in the soup, goes the negative argument. It's losing market share against the BBC and total radio ad revenue was down in both the second and third quarters of 2005 (and most likely the final quarter too), so desperate measures were unavoidable.

Reports have suggested that some elements of the commercial radio industry feel that the RAB, which is responsible for marketing the industry, has lost some of the shine of its early days, and that a merger with the CRCA, which handles the more regulatory side of business, was the only way out.

The RAB, under its chief executive, Douglas McArthur (who is likely to become the chief executive of the merged entity), certainly faces a harder job as radio is squeezed by other media that have copied its trade body model.

But there are wider forces at work too. The radio industry has consolidated and some feel the CRCA's democratic structure, with all members having pretty much an equal say, was antiquated in an industry that has consolidated to the point where 80 per cent of the market is in the hands of three groups (GCap Media, Emap and Chrysalis). As one insider puts it, the coming together of the CRCA and the RAB is as much about managing the change from "democracy to clear leadership" as it is about managing the digital future.

In theory, the new body will be able to act on a wider range of issues, such as the trading environment and the vexed question of copyright, as radio becomes a truly multiplatform medium.

More immediately, it will be important for the confidence of commercial radio that we see an increased emphasis on marketing the medium both to advertisers and agencies, especially in light of the emergence of digital radio. And, while McArthur claims that the new body will "ensure a more coherent industry vision on major projects", critics of trade body politics will hope that there won't be months of consultations about consultations before the new face of radio emerges. That would only serve to indicate that the newlyweds will offer years of tedium rather than the much-needed fireworks.