Global’s takeover of Guardian Media Group’s (GMG) stations will change the UK’s commercial radio landscape as we know it. Until a decision is made on March 27th about the future of the stations involved, speculation will continue as to what will happen next. Direct competition is between each network’s stations with similar demographics: (GMG stations listed first, with the genre of music they play in brackets.)
– Real vs Heart (Adult Contemporary)
If the takeover goes ahead consensus seems to be that Real stations will turn into Heart, which could then follow Capital’s example of syndicated shows across the network. This looks likely now Real’s own output is beginning to be syndicated, suggesting the transition to Heart would be smoother (pardon the pun!)
– Real XS vs XFM (Rock)
Real XS has had a tumultuous time of late – the re-brand from Rock Radio wasn’t liked by listeners. The station plays automated rock music other than at peak times (breakfast and drive), so a merger with XFM seems likely.
– Smooth vs Gold (Easy Listening)
Here’s where it gets interesting; it’s not as clear-cut what may happen to Smooth Radio. If this was a boxing match Smooth would be a heavyweight and Gold would be featherweight, they’re not as comparable as the genre of music they play might suggest.
A better way to compare stations is through RAJAR statistics, radio’s equivalent of TV ratings. A lot of spin can be put on these figures but I think ‘Listening Hours’, the total number of hours each station is listened to each week, gives the best indication of station size – especially as radio is all about listeners.
Data taken from last quarter’s RAJAR statistics. Total Listening Hours listed in hundreds.
You can see there are more Gold stations than Smooth but the areas that they cover are more concentrated, so their reach is smaller. Even though both groups of stations are available on digital multiplexes, analogue frequencies are still important. Smooth has the advantage of an FM presence here. Gold stations are only available on medium wave, which broadcasts at a lower audio quality.
These factors, along with higher listening hours, mean that Smooth has a stronger brand identity in the market than Gold, especially in the North-West. Smooth boasts a greater versatility in its playlist, by not just playing ‘Golden Oldies‘ but new releases too. There’s also some familiar presenters on Smooth’s schedule, including ex Radio 1 favourites.
London is a key market, this is where most RAJAR spin focuses on, and from these results it looks like Gold and Smooth are on an even keel here. However, unlike other regions, Bauer’s Magic is a big contender for both stations having consistently been top of the RAJAR battle. London needs to be a carefully considered region whatever fate for the stations is decided. Global’s own Classic FM is also a spoke in the wheel when it comes to targeting potential listeners to an easy listening station nationally as well, so that adds another dimension to the debate.
The over 40s demographic is an affluent and therefore attractive one for advertisers, which is why the Smooth vs Gold battle is so influential. Harry Hill might have the best method for deciding which is better? There’s only one way to find out…