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'Incremental Radio Stations That Deliver Niche Music Formats Thrive, Those That Abandon Them For Mainstream Pop Fail' by Grant Goddard

Analysis of the successes and failures of some incremental local commercial radio stations launched in the UK, written by Grant Goddard in March 1992 for Music Week magazine.

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'Incremental Radio Stations That Deliver Niche Music Formats Thrive, Those That Abandon Them For Mainstream Pop Fail' by Grant Goddard

  2. 2. The latest audience figures for independent radio tell their own morality tale: specialist music stations that recognise their own strengths can thrive, but those lacking a clear identity face a lingering death. Twenty-three 'incremental' radio stations had hit the airwaves during 1989/90 as an experiment to serve minority audiences previously ignored by the BBC/ILR duopoly. The advertising downturn has forced two out of business, whilst most of the remainder have either been bought out by larger radio groups or have compromised their programming to attract mainstream audiences. The few to win substantial listenerships have kept closely to their original mandate and not 'sold out' their niche markets. In London, easy listening 'Melody Radio' and dance station 'KISS FM' have increased by 36% and 26% respectively the hours listened to their output over the last six months. Bristol's 'Galaxy Radio', whose licence requires a minimum 80% black music content, has nearly tripled its listening over the last year. Despite being bought out by the Top Forty-orientated Chiltern Radio Network, Galaxy unashamedly describes its format as 'dance music'. "We're not trying to hide it at all," says Station Organiser Keith Francis. "We happen to like the music." Promotions Manager Josephine Turner has organised a successful series of Galaxy dance music nights in several local clubs. "We're the kind of station," she says, "that can get away with playing music they are playing in clubs because we are trendy." "We play a lot of well known dance music during daytime," explains Francis, "and then reflect the underground scene in the evenings." Birmingham's 'Buzz FM', similarly to Galaxy, has a 70% black music quota in its licence. But a mistaken attempt to broaden its appeal has lost it 22% of hours listened over six months. "In the past, Buzz has been labelled a black music station," explains Head of Music Dave Higgins. "That is not the case." "Buzz has a very wide appeal," insists Promotions Manager Matt Woods. "We’re certainly not holding up our hands and saying we are aiming at a particular social group." Half of Buzz's daytime output is now pop and soul oldies and includes artists such as Rod Stewart, John Lennon and Elton John. This move towards a mainstream format has only lost it the loyalty of the niche audience the station was created to serve. Incremental Radio Stations That Deliver Niche Music Formats Thrive, Those That Abandon Them For Mainstream Pop Fail page 2 ©1992 Grant Goddard
  3. 3. Woods boasts that Buzz is "Europe's most advanced radio station" and emphasises "the purity and quality of its sound", but listeners are attracted by good programming, not the irrelevancy that "99% of music is on CD." London's 'Jazz FM' has similarly lost its way through futile attempts to shake off the stigma attached to the word 'jazz'. Half the public complaints about programming submitted to The Radio Authority in 1991's last quarter concerned Jazz FM's "change in musical style". The influx of pop, rock and soul artists has nevertheless been approved by The Radio Authority, though Jazz FM's share of London radio listening is now only 1.2%. "What we were trying to do was develop the audience Jazz FM already had," admits the Station's Chief Executive David Maker. "I got some terrible stick over it – being 'anti-jazz' – which just wasn't true." Jazz buff Miles Kington voiced the opinions of many in a recent 'Independent' newspaper column: "Have you ever wondered why there seems to be no jazz on Jazz FM?" The answer is that the radio industry's profits have traditionally derived from its monopoly of commercial Top Forty stations. It is simply not widely believed that the pursuit of a specialist format can attract substantial, loyal audiences. The contrasting fortunes of stations such as Galaxy and Buzz FM must surely encourage a rethink of this self-destructive myth. [First published in 'Music Week' magazine as 'Galaxy Shines By Sticking To Remit', 21 March 1992] Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at Incremental Radio Stations That Deliver Niche Music Formats Thrive, Those That Abandon Them For Mainstream Pop Fail page 3 ©1992 Grant Goddard