I would hesitate to draw too many parallels between the different
universes of radio and magazines but, seeing as this week we have both
Rajar figures and the latest six-month ABCs, let me have a go. What the
two media have in common is that both are in expansionist mood. New
stations are coming on air, new magazines are being launched. In theory,
more niche audiences are being created, more vehicles with which to
target them are on offer.
At first glance, many radio stations and magazines play the me-too game,
by which I mean it’s relatively easy just to copy the format of the most
successful player in their sector. For media buyers they are too, up to
a point, substitutable - certain brands could use radio or magazines or,
on occasion, both. By and large, you could say, radio and magazines
complement each other.
So far, such happy convergence. Why then do we have consumption figures
that, broadly speaking, diverge? On the one hand, commercial radio’s
share of listening is falling from 49.7 to 48.3 per cent - and at a time
when listeners are being offered more choice.
On the other we have - and here I generalise - mainly rising ABCs at a
time when new launches occur every week. The men’s market is up 47 per
cent, teenage magazines 18 per cent and music magazines 14 per cent.
Women’s magazines - both weeklies and monthlies - have done quite well,
as have the upmarket glossies. All in all, as it has been throughout the
recession, magazine publishing is in a healthy state. New entrants come
in and expand the market.
And it used to be that way in radio, but not any more. What then is the
explanation? In its defence, radio would no doubt point to a resurgent
BBC whose share, having once appeared to have been in terminal decline,
is up from 47.2 to 49.6 per cent (one day, someone will have to explain
to me why share in radio never adds up to 100).
In a sense, radio is right to look to the BBC because, having spent the
last week skimming the airwaves (in a professional sense, you
understand), I have my own theory as to why the BBC is going up and
commercial radio going down. The answer is tone of voice and its first
If you’re not sure what I mean, dip into Radio Five Live’s football
They are a joy to the ear, full of wit, insight, passion and a love of
language. Then (with some notable exceptions), dip into commercial
radio: dull, samey, with presenters going through the motions and all
sounding the same. Or try Radio 2, and then any of the gold stations.
It’s formatting gone mad.
By contrast, the most successful magazines, even in crowded sectors, win
by working hard to create their own distinctive tone of voice. Lay FHM
next to Loaded and you can easily see the difference. Move from one
station to its nearest rival and, well, hear what I mean?