RAB founder Douglas McArthur passes away

Many paid tribute to commercial radio's 'prophet'.

McArthur: RAB founder passed away aged 68
McArthur: RAB founder passed away aged 68

Douglas McArthur, founder of the Radio Advertising Bureau (now Radiocentre) and a well-loved personality in the advertising industry, has died at the age of 68 following an illness.

Many in the industry paid tribute to the marketing and media specialist, whose legacy spans beyond radio and into the arts, and even Frank Zappa fandom. McArthur was once described in the pages of Campaign as someone who "lives and breathes radio".

He founded RAB in 1992 and – defying many naysayers at the time – shaped an organisation that elevated the profile of radio among listeners and advertisers, smashing expectations. Within nine years, media spend on radio grew by almost 280%, from £141m in 1992 to £536m, the highest growth rate of any ad medium.

The model introduced by RAB inspired similar industry bodies, including Newsworks and TV's Thinkbox.

McArthur left RAB after 14 years as chief executive and went on to run his own marketing consultancy, Planning for Results. He was appointed chairman of UK Online Measurement in 2010 before retiring at the end of March this year.

Ian Dowds, whom McArthur appointed as UKOM chief executive in 2015, said: "Douglas was a remarkable man. Principled, fearless and tireless, his approach in establishing UKOM as the industry standard for UK online audience measurement was inspirational. His generosity of spirit was legendary and the small UKOM team will miss him terribly; we will not see his like again."

Jeremy Bullmore, a long-standing friend of McArthur, recalls him fondly. "Douglas McArthur belonged to a category of one," he told Campaign. "He wasn’t like anyone else and no-one else was anything like him. Fiercely principled, a lover of theatre with a first in physics, capable of uniting conflicting views because the holders of those views all trusted him unquestioningly."

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Russell, chairman of the History of Advertising Trust and former secretary and director for media affairs at the IPA, first worked with McArthur 46 years ago at Procter & Gamble and remained a friend since.

"Across that time, he never changed – fiercely intelligent, he combined extraordinary drive with a Scottish Presbyterian commitment to sheer hard work," Russell said.

"Douglas did nothing by halves. His interests ranged across everything from Toulon rugby club to the theatre (he was a former deputy head of the Scottish Arts Council) to Frank Zappa (whose fanzine he edited in its early days). Professionally he was fearless, personally he was warm and generous to a fault. The industry will be poorer for his passing."

There was perhaps no greater testament to McArthur's impact on media than in May 2001, when he donned his kilt and went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with an OBE by the Queen for services to radio. In his self-effacing, inimitable style, he admitted to being "quietly pleased" at the honour, while admitting that his mother was "completely over the moon".

McArthur was born in Dundee, gained a double first in maths and physics, and went on to work at the Nuclear Research Centre at Cern in Switzerland. He followed this by joining Procter & Gamble, worked for various Scottish ad agencies and for Radio Clyde, where he was recruited by Lord Jimmy Gordon to set up RAB, putting commercial radio on the map for advertisers.

Journalist and radio critic Gillian Reynolds once credited RAB as making a "world of difference to the whole of British radio" and described McArthur as "a prophet, a captain, a coach and a gadfly".

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