Tsunami fundraiser shows the power of commercial radio

There have been so many worthy types attempting to publicise their heroic charitable exploits in recent weeks that my own have gone wholly unnoticed, writes Ian Darby.

Obviously I don't like to talk about it, but my decision to consider Thailand as a future holiday destination could add real impetus to the recovery of its damaged infrastructure. Generous to a fault.

Meanwhile, people with more wit and, I assume, time on their hands have been contributing more fully to the disaster relief and generating vital newspaper column inches. Last week, for instance, a bunch of rival commercial radio companies, including the likes of Capital, Emap and Virgin, got together for UK Radio Aid. The day, which saw 280 commercial stations ditch their schedule for a tailor-made marathon, relaunched Chris Evans' career and has also raised £3.3 million for tsunami charities.

Commercial sponsors including Lloyds TSB, Toyota, Abbey and BA got involved.

The organisers included Emap's Mark Story and Keith Pringle of 95.8 Capital FM. The radio companies did well to put aside their interests and, in the words of Tony Blair, put the power of commercial radio "to a really valuable purpose".

Obviously, such largesse cannot last and the rivals are now back harnessing the power of commercial radio for vast company profits. In which case, they might have experienced a twinge of anxiety on receiving a letter from Douglas McArthur, the chief executive of the Radio Advertising Bureau, on 14 January.

Radio apparently had a cracking 2004, achieving its first 7 per cent share of display advertising for a 12-month period and growing this share to 7.3 per cent in the final quarter. Yet McArthur had a warning: "Despite these share highs, 2004 was a very mixed year." Final-quarter revenues failed to match expectations and it is McArthur's view that the industry got "distracted by internal issues - the Rajar court case and industry consolidation".

But it is the RAB's belief that radio has a bright future because of its cost-effectiveness, accountability and relevance, and because of TV's personal video recorder problem. Then again, it faces competition from a resurgent outdoor sector and the booming internet market. There is much to applaud in radio, not least the general togetherness of most of its players (Kelvin MacKenzie aside) on key industry issues.

Its largest test remains the implementation of electronic measurement and this week, Rajar revealed, stakeholders agreed "a period of introduction, education, information and careful management" is vital. However, there is still a long way to go before the successful introduction of electronic measurement (on time) and more frequent audience reports. It's no time for complacency in radio.