| home   authors | new | about | newsfeed | print |  
volume 4
june 2001

Radio 2 goes to number one!


  A turnaround in fortunes for the "Old Light Programme"
by Geoff Baldwin
  Though it's offering pretty mediocre and uninspiring stuff, BBC Radio 2 has overtaken sister station Radio 1 to become the most popular station in the U.K. It's not difficult, Geoff Baldwin says, to explain this curious turnaround in fortunes for the "Old Light Programme" at the start of the new century.
1 For the first time in 34 years of broadcasting, BBC Radio 2 has overtaken sister station Radio 1, in absolute terms, to become the most popular station in the U.K. Radio 2 had already been beating Radio 1, in terms of share of listening — being the hours that people tune in — for some time but the actual audience reach of the latter was still the larger up until the end of 2000. However, the Rajar audience research figures for the first quarter of this year give Radio 2 10.87 million listeners, compared to 10.3 million tuning into ONE FM.
2 This turnaround in fortunes is credited both to gradual evolutionary changes that have been made at Radio 2 and to sudden dramatic changes that have taken place at Radio 1. In its heyday, a decade ago, Radio 1 had 19 million listeners but the clearout of older presenters instigated by former controller Matthew Bannister and the attempt to make the station musically more trendy and youth-oriented, caused a collapse in the audience by several million during the early 1990's. The format then settled down and the audience seemed to stabilise at somewhere between 10 and 11 million for a number of years.
3 Now, however, it seems that Radio 1 could be entering another period of freefall. There have been heavy declines in two successive quarters. The share of listening is down from 10% in the previous quarter to 9.1 % now — and down from 9.9% year-on-year. The weekly reach is also down by 8.7%. The station blamed the drop on the radical shake-up of its daytime schedule, although the similar fall in the previous quarter occurred before the programme changes were made.
4 At Radio 2, however, under the stewardship Jim Moir, the controller, they have adopted a different approach. The station tries to offer something for everyone. There are still elements of the original station — going back to the days of the Light Programme — with the likes of Terry Wogan, Ken Bruce and Jimmy Young in the weekday schedule. In the afternoon, there are renegades from the old Radio 1, like Steve Wright and Johnnie Walker. In the evening schedule, you get all sorts of specialist programmes. Other former Radio 1 presenters like, Bob Harris and Janice Long pop up, as do former pop/rock singers like Paul Jones and Steve Harley. Then there are more survivors from the old days such as David Jacobs and Humphrey Lyttleton and Brian Matthews at the weekends.
5 In addition there is a younger generation of presenters that 30-something listeners will probably identify with, either from stints on TV quiz shows or as presenters on Radio 1 or Virgin Radio. These include the likes of Jonathan Ross, Mark Lamarr, Lyn Parsons and Janey Lee Grace. To add to the diverse output, there is even still comedy shows like "The News Huddlines", which are a throwback to the golden age of BBC radio comedy, when the station was still the Light programme.
6 The point that struck me, though, is that here we are in the year 2001 with, potentially, hundreds of radio stations available to us and we're basically talking about what is really the old Light Programme — because that's what it is — at the top of the pile! What the hell's going on? I seem to recall that back in the sixties, this was the station that we hoped would meet its demise under the assault from pirate radio! Of course, it did, in a way, in 1967 because there was a name change all round at the BBC and a shake-up of sorts. Certainly, it's taken a long time to get there but now Radio 2 has, apparently, become hip and has just won several Sony awards and is the U.K. radio station of the year.
7 Speaking personally, I can't stand any sort of awards ceremonies and it begins to worry me when young newspaper columnists come out with the sort of rubbish that it's cool to admit to listening to Radio 2. 1 guess some people must like Jonathan Ross and Mark Lamarr but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. In fact, like the awards ceremonies that he presents, I can't stand Jonathan Ross and I detest this trend of recent years of drafting in TV presenters as D.J.'s, which the BBC seem to be so fond of.
8 Once "Sound of The Sixties" has finished on a Saturday morning, I would reach straight for the off switch but for the fact that, at the moment, at least, I'm fortunate that I can switch back to Arrow Classic Rock at 10 AM — how much longer, though, is a different matter — and at least listen to some real adult music. I don't have to punish my ears too much with U.K. commercial radio stations! Just as bad as what is happening at Radio 2, is this trend of bringing in former Radio 1 D.J.'s to host talk programmes on Radio 5 Live — but that's a separate subject for another day! However, the real problem that I have with Radio 2 is that they are now trying to be more trendy by playing current acts like Travis, the Verve, Westlife, Hear'Say and Emma Bunton (Baby Spice). To me, this makes them start to sound like all the commercial trash that is already cluttering up the FM band. I used to like some of the records that came under the 'easy listening' banner of yesteryear.
9 Moir rejects all the criticisms because, so far, his policy of trying to attract listeners in their 30's — and probably even some in their 20's — right up to those turned 60 seems to be working and the Rajar figures are a testimony to this. However, as I have said before, there's nothing special about Radio 2. It's pretty mediocre and uninspiring stuff really. The reason that the audience is going up is because rival Radio 1 has completely lost the plot and because U.K. commercial radio is faltering badly, letting the listeners down and not giving us the type of programming that we want to hear.
  2001 © Soundscapes