commercial radio, national

commercial radio, national
   National commercial radio stations were established in the UK in the early 1990s. Apart from the chance to cater for a sizeable youngish (18–35) leisured class, these stations were driven by a sympathetic commercial and competitive environment set in place by Conservative governments in the 1980s. Their success can be gauged by noting that, in early 1995, listeners to commercial radio exceeded BBC Radio’s national audience for the first time (50.1 percent to 47.9 percent). Adding to the wide variety of radio experience now available in the UK, commercial radio contributes significantly to a generally buoyant market in this particularly intimate medium, a high profile which looks set to continue at least into the foreseeable future. Depending how one defines ‘national’, there are three or four stations, funded by advertising, which cover most of the UK. Launched in September 1992, Classic FM was Britain’s first national commercial station broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its aim is to ‘bring classical music to the widest possible audience, reducing the aura of intimidation surrounding classical music’. It has a more populist approach than its seeming rival BBC Radio 3, but it has also attracted a fair portion of its listeners from middling Radio 2. National listening share is 3.1 percent (Radio 3, 1.0 percent), with an average weekly audience of 4.6m (Radio 3, 2.4m) Virgin Radio started out in 1994 with the disadvantage of only being allowed to broadcast nationally on AM, though its London-only extension does have an FM slot. The station policy of adult rock attracts a sizeable weekly audience of around 3.2m (3 percent of the national figure). In 1998, control passed from Richard Branson to ex- Big Breakfast and Radio 1 presenter Chris Evans. Launched as a national non-music station in February 1995 on a policy of ‘shock jocks’, Talk Radio UK did not have an easy ride in its first eighteen months of broadcasting life, owing to public protests, rapid management turnover and financial difficulties. The more outrageous of the presenting jocks having been ousted, and there were signs of an increase in its national listening share in the late 1990s. This may well continue as the station finds the right commercial policy that will attract both listeners and advertisers in buoyant numbers (it currently attracts a 1.8 percent share of listeners). Though not strictly a ‘British’ national radio station, since it broadcasts from Dublin, Atlantic 252 firmly targets the UK as its intended market, reaching the country north of a line from the Wash to Dorset. Its music policy is ‘hot adult contemporary’, playing top 40 hits to a youngish (15–30) audience. It has been particularly adroit at keeping its listeners happy by the use of very careful market research that determines which songs—using short snatches of current numbers—listeners want to hear more of. Thus by giving consumers what they really want, Atlantic has created a highly successful media product broadcasting on long wave only, so that listeners on the move never need to retune. Its average weekly reach is 2.2m (2.9 percent of share).
   Note: All listening figures are from the second quarter of 1996 (source: RAJAR/RSL).
   See also: commercial radio
   Further reading
    Scannell, P. (1991) Broadcast Talk, London: Sage.
    Wilby, P. and Conroy, A. (1994) The Radio Handbook, London: Routledge.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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