Wednesday 27 February 2019

Another Global Step

It was not unexpected news to read of Global Radio’s changes - those regulatory sands shifted many moons ago.

Most Global people I have spoken to in recent months have been resigned to imminent change: true professionals facing their futures philosophically. Going on-air stoically each day in the last few months has not been easy, and the fact that they’ve managed to plough away with impressive and inventive radio is a tribute to their talents. I salute and respect you. At last, at least now you can plan ahead.

At times like this, and many of us have been there, it’s important to carry on believing in yourself. I appreciate that, particularly if you have a family to look after and local ties, that’s easier said than done if you are to stay in the industry you love.

I hope Rae Earl will forgive me for mentioning the bar in Leeds where she, her husband Kev and I met emotionally - as friends - some years ago, just after it became clear their breakfast show would not be continuing on Leicester Sound.

Now, they’re in Tasmania, with Kev an announcer and assistant content director at 7HO FM and Rae, of course, enjoying life as an accomplished author - thanks originally to  ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ - the very one she delivered originally on Leicester Sound.

Yesterday, she wrote as below: 

“Have a good rant/bloody good cry.
Be sad because it IS sad.
But then - know it’ll be bloody OK.
The great mates you made will stay in your life.
Now that you’ve done THAT, there’s loads you can do.
Go and do something else brilliantly, and love it.
Love to all.
You don’t stop being radio because you stop being in radio.”

Our beloved business was always destined to change. It always has. The original BBC local stations in the 1920s became regional and national. The offshore pirates closed down; as did Radio Luxembourg. In every single radio company, there have been re-organisations in the last decade - with piecemeal redundancies - and also fresh posts created which did not exist a generation ago. And now, as with all industries, the pace of change quickens.

As I’ve often said, had we planned to create a successful UK commercial radio industry, we probably would not have started the way we did.  Commercial radio was not a popular concept at all, and it brought a change in government in 1970 to bring it about at all. Then it was a local model - and so piecemeal at the outset to be virtually useless as a national advertising platform. Now, a sensible national structure has painfully emerged. It is an accident of history that we have had to demolish local to create a sustainable future. 

Was local important? In capable hands, it brought value - but ‘doing local radio’ well is a real gift, and it has been truly mastered by few.  Is it odd we have mainstream local radio in little Mansfield and not in larger Nottingham? Yes, but then again evidence suggests it is in proud smaller communities where local radio truly thrives.

The listener turns on their radio now, virtually anywhere in the UK, and the choice of programming is broader now than it was a generation ago. Local radio tiers are not as thick - but nationally we enjoy the sort of radio formats - like Scala - which could never have survived locally. It’s not the radio we grew up with, but a lot else has changed in life since then too.

Watching the demise of high street retail, the challenges of the music industry and the grappling of the press, we should forgive the radio industry for acting boldly and quickly to ensure it is equipped to fight the tough battles ahead. We should not hurl abuse at sensible businesses who act before they are forced to by circumstances.  Those who fail to take advantage of latent economies will be bought by those who will.

Where from here? The number of local radio brands has diminished - yet the number of national brands has multiplied. Audio generally  has certainly never been so exciting. There are now jobs in the broader arena which simply did not exist five years ago. A heightened reliance on national ad business from Global will also increase local business opportunities for the other operators.

I hope most of the best presenters, journalists, techies and producers will secure new opportunities. Many station managements would concede that they have struggled hitherto to fill many vacancies with those of a suitably high calibre. Our industry’s brightest brains will continue to do great things - here and overseas. There will be awful exceptions, of course. As your mother and mine likely said - life sometimes isn’t fair.

Community radio can thrive. I was vocal in my worries about those small commercial stations at threat through tiers of community stations; and I still worry about such commercial minnows who now feel that life has become so tough, they may as well sell. That is a worrying design flaw in the implementation of community radio licensing. But where a community station now no longer threatens a local commercial operator - good luck to that community station. The regulatory test rightly allows them to launch and flourish. They should embrace the challenge, as Keri Jones said, with real genuine focus on the audience and social gain.

BBC local radio should also seize the opportunity. I have written many times about this sector, yet still it struggles. I hope that Chris Burns can provide the leadership and programming nous it needs to forge a sustainable path ahead. I worry that, for now,  with notable exceptions, it remains poorly and expensively run and led, with an alarming lack of audience focus - not helped by an ill-judged DG speech in 2017 which has resulted in less rather than more focus. It’s wonderful that the BBC now says it believes in local radio, after many years in the cold, but it needs to be programmed brilliantly by those who really understand on-air talent and the art of radio programming. If it cannot grow its audience now, there is something wrong. Go find the best newly-free candidates both to manage and appear on-air on your frequencies.

Drawing back - to have radio audiences overall so healthy, and proud companies like Bauer, Global and News UK investing in enviably polished brands - has to be good news. There are hundreds of people who work there who are rightly hugely proud of the content they create. Capital, Heart and Smooth are huge - and will grow further. Commercial radio now reaches 65% of all adults, and its focused high-profile brands will now lead to heightened success.  Listeners appear happy - and it is to keep growing them that this industry exists. A healthy commercial sector will also keep the BBC on its toes.

Few issues are black and white. Brexit has been a painful lesson in that. The latest changes in radio will be regarded by devastating for many,  and I share that agony more than my objective, professional self would ever care to admit. I’m an anorak at heart. I could sob too, but tomorrow’s another day and I hope that it brings resolve and success for you if you are gifted, committed and persistent.

And for those of us unaffected, for now, by the latest changes, let’s be thankful for having a job we love and give it all we have tomorrow. Similarly, good luck to those who will emerge from these changes with a heightened opportunity. Let’s never take our beautiful world for granted - it is a privilege.

Adam Bowie blog
Radio Today report
Phil Riley blog

Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories. Available in paperback or ebook.

Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and real food for thought if you've been doing it years. 
Available in paperback or ebook.

Need a conference speaker? I'd love to work with you.

I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via

Wednesday 20 February 2019

A Dozen Great Women

Tribute Portraits of a Dozen Pioneering Women 
in British Radio

1. Delia Derbyshire – early electronic sound synthesist

"My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty green BBC lampshade," she recalled. "It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start."

Delia had studied acoustics, which she enjoyed for its mix of mathematics and music. A career at Decca records appealed, but the company turned her down - saying they did not employ women in their recording studios. 

After a spell at a music publishers, Delia joined the BBC in 1960 as a trainee studio manager. Fascinated by the new Radiophonic Workshop, established originally to serve BBC radio drama, she was granted an attachment there and began to indulge her fascination.

Her most famous work emerged shortly afterwards with her interpretation of Ron Grainer's score for the then new BBC series, Dr Who. In a world without synthesisers or even multi-track tape recorders, Delia devised ways to interpret ‘clouds’, ‘bubbles’ or ‘wind’ using tape speed, dubbing - and a huge amount of imagination.

Her briefs were varied, from drama projects to audio elements for science, arts and educational programmes.  For a time, the Workshop where she was a leading figure generated a multitude of familiar radio theme tunes and jingles on BBC local and network radio.  For each, she assembled a collage of sound, drawing on anything to hand, from her own voice to bells, gravel or the famous lampshade.

Delia was said to have influenced The Beatles, The Chemical Brothers and Pink Floyd. Her work stretched beyond BBC projects to major music festivals and working with leading composers.

Delia died in July 2001. 

2. Clare Lawson Dick – Radio 4 Controller.

Said to be the first woman to come to work at the BBC wearing trousers, Clare Lawson rose from the post of temporary filing clerk in the Reithian days to become the first female Controller of BBC Radio 4 in the 1970s.

Her arrival at the BBC on 10 shillings a day in 1935 was the result of many determined applications. The job was based at Wood Norton Hall, the BBC’s secret wartime location, working in the BBC’s Registry.

Once in London, when her own flat was bombed, she moved into the basement of Broadcasting House where she ‘worked, eat, drank and played” with colleagues.

For eighteen years, Clare was chief assistant at the Home Service and the new Radio 4, being appointed Controller in 1975 on the death of the previous incumbent, for whom she’d covered in illness. Her understanding of the station’s scheduling was said to be second to none and she said Radio 4 should appeal “not only to the intellect but also the emotions”. She restored ‘Down Your Way’ to the schedule.

62 years old at the time of her appointment, the Observer reported that “when she glides into the office, the tall slender Miss Lawson Dick looks more like a fashion house directrice in her late forties”

Clare died in June 1987

3. Olive Shapley – innovative radio producer and broadcaster

Famously, during a live programme featuring Durham miners, called 'Men Talking', Olive was said to have marched in silently holding a placard bearing the words: “don't say bugger or bloody".

Olive had joined the BBC in 1934, co-ordinating Children's Hour programming in Manchester, which included lengthy live plays.

Her father was a sanitary inspector, which left Olive well aware of the impact of poverty. As a documentary-maker, her programmes Homeless People and Miners Wives reflected her concern for the disadvantaged. She was one of the first to take the microphone out to people in their everyday lives - rather than be limited to studio-based programmes. Through this approach, rich regional accents were aired on the BBC – not always a popular move at the time.

Woman’s Hour became a regular home for Olive after the War, with an association stretching twenty years, becoming its third ever presenter; and she produced the programme between 1949 and 1953.

In her autobiography, ‘Broadcasting a Life’, she recalled one of the earliest pieces of advice she received from another woman at the BBC, suggesting that a crucial thing to know was “how the gentlemen like their tea”.

Olive died in March 1999.

4. Olga Collett – early radio commentator

"I refused from the start to be a woman commentator- I said i will be a commentator or nothing. I will not describe fashions - and I never did." 

Olga was the only women between the Wars to work as a commentator for the BBC’s outside broadcast unit, delighting audiences with her broadcasts from Covent Garden and Ascot. 

Olga graduated to commentary from a spell with the Talks department, broadcasting her first programme in 1937 on political canvassing. After writing to the head of outside broadcasts, she was granted a rooftop interview at which she was asked to describe what she could see from her vantage point on the top of Broadcasting House. After fellow interviewees dried up after two or three minutes, BBC bosses begged her to stop after eleven.

Duly appointed, she was keen to commentate on the Coronation as she suggested a woman might have ‘a more noticing eye for detail’. The BBC was more cautious, fearing the Coronation was no place for such an experiment.  1937 saw her eventual debut, describing the arrival or the Royal family at Ascot. Her 1939 European Figure Skating Championship commentary was regarded so highly, it was regularly used by BBC staff trainers.

An 1939 commentary was to attract real acclaim, when she was on duty at a state visit of the French President to London. A combination of delays and the illness of a male colleague saw Olga obliged to continue for a lengthy period. Her marathon performance resulted in inches of admiring press coverage.

5. Angela Bond – radio producer and music programmer

Angela Bond knew the real role of the radio producer on a music radio station. 

She knew that to get the best out of talent like Kenny Everett, she had to understand him. Angela helped to persuade cautious BBC bosses to give him his own radio show and did her best to contain his enthusiasm and creativity to the point of acceptability. She persuaded him to act sensibly, even when such direction was unwelcome.

Her love and knowledge of music was legendary, beginning in the early 1950s in the Seychelles when she acquired a guitar. Following a spell in Nairobi, she returned to Britain in the early '60s and secured a role in the ‘Gramophone Department’ at the BBC Light Programme where she was well-positioned to make a contribution to the thinking which drove the establishment of BBC Radio 1.

Her contribution to Kenny Everett’s Saturday show is well-remembered - her desk piled high with records and always knowing when she stumbled across something which would be of interest to him. The programme achieved audiences of five million.

At Radio 2 from 1969, Angela produced the legendary Pete Murray on his ‘Open House’ programme.

Her influence was to stretch beyond the BBC. On her retirement, she trained herself in the early music scheduling software ‘Selector’. Then, in a world of great suspicion about computerised music programming, she trained a generation of bright young commercial radio programmers how to get the best from it.

Angela died in January 2013

6. Daphne Oxenford – Listen with Mother presenter

"Are you sitting comfortably ...? Then I’ll begin", said Daphne, as she launched into another edition of BBC radio's ‘Listen with Mother’. A generation remembers her tones to this day.

Daphne was an actress, making her stage debut at the age of 13, and touring with ENSA after the War, before returning to perform in revues in London. On TV, her best-known early role was as Esther Hayes in Coronation Street. On radio, she was part of the ‘Listen to Les’ and ‘The Dawson Watch’ on BBC Radio 2, and ‘The Clitheroe Kid’ comedy series.

But it was ‘Listen with Mother’, originally on the BBC Light Programme, for which she would be best-remembered, with its mix of stories, songs and nursery rhymes for children under the age of five. At 1:45pm every weekday afternoon, a million children and parents would pause: "And when the music stops Daphne Oxenford will be here to tell you a story". 

She narrated the programme from 1950 to 1971, and her beautifully delivered opening words were eventually included as a phrase in the Oxford dictionary of quotations.

Daphne died in December 2012

7. Jean Metcalfe – Family Favourites presenter

As Jean grew up, Uncle Mac and Toy Town, of Children's Hour all "went into one ear and stayed there".

In subsequent years, her own warm voice became part of Sunday lunchtime tradition for a generation of radio listeners with her appearances on ‘Family Favourites’.

In her early years, Jean loved elocution, art and radio. Little wonder she was eager to win the prize on Children’s Hour to visit Broadcasting House.

In 1940, she began at the BBC’s Variety department making her on-air debut the following year, reading a poem on the Empire Service. As War began and the BBC Forces Programme was launched as comfort to our troops worldwide, she auditioned. At the BBC Africa Service, she began her relationship with the long-running and much-loved programme which made her a household name: ‘Forces Favourites’, later renamed ‘Family Favourites’ and ‘Two Way Family Favourites'.

The programme, heralded by the familiar theme tune ‘With a song in my heart’ comprised requests from members of the armed forces abroad, and their families at home.  It was whilst hosting the programme that she met fellow presenter Cliff Michelmore ‘down the line’ – a discreet relationship which would end in marriage.

Her listeners developed a real closeness with her. When she lost her second baby, she and her husband received a huge volume of letters of sympathy from listeners.

A natural interviewer, Jean also broadcast for the Expeditionary Forces programme and was dubbed ‘Broadcasting Personality of the Year’ in 1955 by the Daily Mail - and won a Variety Club of Great Britain radio personality award in 1963. In 1950, she hosted Woman's Hour, then aired on the BBC Light Programme.

In later years, Jean served as a suitably frank chair of ‘If You Think You've Got Problems’ on Radio 4, where teams of experts discussed real human issues.

Jean’s final Family Favourites was broadcast in 1985, she died in January 2000.

8. Mary Somerville OBE – broadcasting executive and schools broadcasting pioneer

Mary Somerville pioneered schools broadcasting in the 30s and 40s, and served as controller of BBC Talks.

Mary had met the BBC’s first director general John Reith whilst at school and offered to work unpaid, convinced that the new medium of radio broadcasting should be used in schools to supplement the scholastic teaching methods of the time. His advice, however, was to continue studying at Oxford.

She was eventually hired, beginning her career at Savoy Hill, then working for the BBC's Education Department, becoming Director of School Broadcasting in 1929.

At the time, there were worries about radio’s role in education – some even feared that radio could influence the educational agenda. Mary recognised its potential; and, whilst ensuring it brought genuine educational value, she also sought opportunities to liven up the programmes with dramatizations and sound effects.  She also pioneered new styles of broadcasting for infants, notably Music and Movement.

Whilst Reith had retained a fondness for Mary, she became seen as a rebel in a male-dominated BBC, albeit the organisation was generally some way ahead of many others at the time in equal rights. She fought for the tools to do her job, and for both her own rights and for those of others – putting pay parity for women and maternity leave firmly on the agenda. It was her pregnancy that prompted the BBC to introduce maternity leave in 1928.

After a spell as assistant controller of the BBC Talks division (home sound), she became controller in 1950 – the first ever woman controller of a BBC division.

On her retirement in 1955, the BBC stated that 'the service of broadcasting to schools is Miss Somerville's great monument' and that 'during her last five years in office' she had brought her mature wisdom to bear upon the difficult and exacting problems that face controller, talks”.

Mary died in September 1963

9. Doris Arnold – the first woman DJ

Doris was one of radio's earliest stars. As presenter of ‘These You Have Loved’ until 1963, she became the BBC’s first female 'disc jockey'.

Although her parents viewed her career aspirations as precarious, she joined the BBC in 1929 in the way many women did, as a typist - working in the stores department. When a pianist was unwell, however, she made her on-air debut. She was a talented sight-reader and was trialled as a BBC accompanist, despite her worries of the ‘lowbrow music’ broadcast. She later performed arrangements for programmes such as ‘Songs from the Shows’ and ‘Music Hall’. Playing alongside her husband, she was to become one of the BBC’s most highly paid people in the inter-war years.

One manager suggested that had she fallen ill, it would have taken three people to replace her – and, even then, their work would not be equal to hers.  Nevertheless, she had to push for pay parity with male colleagues, eventually securing increased expenses for her ‘stylish attire’ when giving radio concerts.

Doris died in 1969.

10. Sheila Tracy – presenter, newsreader and musician

Sheila Tracy’s cheery voice through the night on Radio 2’s ‘Truckers’ Hour’ represented a time and a place in British radio.

Having studied music at the Royal Academy of Music, Sheila formed a vocal/trombone duo, The Tracy Sisters, who appeared in variety, on radio and television. Sheila was then appointed as on-screen announcer on BBC Television, moving to BBC Radio 4 in 1974. There, she became the station’s first ever female newsreader, reading her first bulletin in July 1975. “It was the midnight bulletin - so it didn’t cause too much fuss”, she said. The same year, she was one of four newsreaders chosen to take part in the experiments in parliamentary broadcasting.

Sheila became a regular and hugely likeable voice on Radio 2, bringing ‘Truckers Hour’ to the station, based on a format she’d witnessed on a visit to the USA. She introduced ‘Big Band Special’ – and would even join in with the trombone section.

Having left Radio 2 in 2000, she joined commercial radio, working on the digital station Primetime Radio – and continued expressing her love for big band with a show called Swing Time on the Saga Radio regional stations.

Sheila died in September 2014.

11. Hilda Matheson OBE – first director of Talks at the BBC

“Broadcasting may spread the worst features of our age as effectively as the best”.

Hilda met John Reith, the BBC’s first Director General, whilst working as political secretary for Lady Nancy Astor, Britain’s’ first female parliamentarian. Reith head-hunted her to assist the head of the BBC Education Department.

She became the first Director of Talks in 1927, establishing the first news department as the BBC began compiling its own news rather than rely on agencies. She moved the focus to reporting rather than simply reading bulletins and recognised that the radio medium demanded a more engaging style rather than formal talks and addresses. She was known to vet every script - and instruct presenters to speak as if conversing with a friend, rather than lecturing.

Under her direction, intellectuals such as HG Wells, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf and the woman who would become her lover, the novelist Vita Sackville-West were given a platform.
She also launched ‘The Week in Westminster’ to inform on the workings of parliament following the extension of the vote to adult women; and organised the first live political leaders’ broadcast.

After arguments with Reith, Hilda resigned from the BBC in 1932 and began working as the radio critic on the Observer and wrote the influential book called ‘Broadcasting’ which captured the march of technology. The first woman to write such a book, she asserted that broadcasting answered: “the need for rapid interchange of news and views, for familiarizing each country with the ideas and habits of all other countries, and above all the need for an education which may fit men and women, literate and illiterate, for the complicated world of tomorrow”.

She ran the Joint Broadcasting Committee during the War to counter German propaganda by broadcasting British opinion on foreign stations, which were in neutral European and Latin American countries, in German and Italian.

Hilda died aged 52 in October 1940.

12. Sheila Borrett - the first female announcer on the BBC

Sheila was the first ever female newsreader. Her tenure was famously short, being fired after just three months, owing to thousands of complaints from listeners uncomfortable with having a woman on the radio.

Sheila had been employed by the BBC as an actress, working on radio drama, although she hankered after an announcing job, a prestigious post usually reserved for men. These were days when newsreaders were an anonymous bunch who did not give their names, and it was feared a woman might be a little too conspicuous.

Her arrival as a newsreader in 1933 was trumpeted by the BBC, although the Radio Times observed “we foresee panic amongst the horsehair armchairs - retired colonels muttering darkly over their muffins”. In the event, over 10,000 listeners were said to have complained, most of them women.

Sheila continued in drama; and moved to the United States after the War. As Sheila Stewart, she continued broadcasting on radio and television until she was in her seventies.  She suggested it was her ''great foghorn of a voice'' which helped her become an announcer at a time when the technical quality was so bad that ''a woman's high-pitched voice was very displeasing to the ear”.

Sheila died in 1986.

Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories. Available in paperback or ebook.

Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and real food for thought if you've been doing it years. 
Available in paperback or ebook.

Need a conference speaker? I'd love to work with you.

I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via

Sunday 17 February 2019

Any Lessons for Radio from the High Street?

Ah, the British corner shop. My mum used to hand me a crumpled ten-shilling note and send me to the one at the end of our road to fetch three rashers of bacon and ten Park Drive Tipped. As I pushed open the red door, a bell would ring – and little Mrs Cooper would pop up behind a little counter and pull down whatever was asked for from the high shelves with a walking stick.

Years ago, the UK was full of such small, independent shops, largely replaced now by the major brands.

That retail world seems to echo with our own radio world. Does the high street provide any clues for radio - now and in the future?

We both started small. Proud quirky independents, highly valued by their communities and run by rich characters. Some small shops did sensibly club together to get better buying power, such as the Spars etc – just as the original radio stations used national sales houses to represent themselves in the national market.

In time, supermarket chains grew - and major names started to dominate such as Sainsbury. Who could possibly topple them?

The battle was fought valiantly – with the upstart Tesco turning to research for the first time to educate its understanding of what shopper wanted. The equivalent, maybe, of GWR and Chrysalis, bringing clear listener-focused thinking to radio. 

'Trade Off' was the Tesco research vehicle, developed by Ford when they launched the Fiesta to compete with the Volkswagen Golf.  This approach asked consumers to choose between hundreds of paired choices - so that the genuine answers seeped through, ahead of what the consumer 'felt' was the 'right'  answer. Do listeners want three long ad breaks or four shorter ones? You're unlikely to the get the right answer from a straight question.

How else did Tesco rise to the top? Its brand had not been seen to stand for quality – so it invested in marketing. It established too that there was not one single major reason why it did not outshine its rivals - there were many small issues. It implemented accordingly a ‘bricks in the wall’ policy – working out those little things which it needed to improve.  One such issue was checkout queues – where it then invested in a ‘Not more than one in front’ policy, because it knew that shoppers could tolerate one customer ahead of them but no more. For radio, is there an ad loading parallel to this?

The supermarkets react to mood too. Tesco understood that shoppers had, at one stage, seen buying ‘own brand’ as something to be ashamed of - but now, with a different national mood, saving money became 'a good thing'. Is this the equivalent of radio stations moving from stunts and wind-up calls to true life stories and authenticity?

Like most companies, Tesco moved from a macho management style to one which recognises how its staff are best motivated. In commercial radio too, despite all its challenges, there has been a sea change in how creative individuals are managed in the best operations. I’m not totally confident the BBC has yet made the same shift.

The importance of the arrangement of stock within supermarkets and its general theatre has radio parallels too. Every wise radio station takes care with its imaging - and chooses what it puts in its shop window – and stations with off-peak programming hide it round the back. The theatre of the butcher’s counter or fish market is delivered too in great production and presentation values, turning the everyday into the compelling.

Tesco did tweak its offering for local markets - ethnic foods offered in some areas but not in others. It knew too that its shopper appetite was different on some days from others "It's no good putting out large cuts of meet in Wakefield on Monday or Tuesday as no-one had any money by then". In radio - stations now recognise to to a greater extent: mood, time and day of week - but do we always make the most of our real-time attribute?

The challenge of the high street department store is evident. We all loved Woolworth, Debenhams and the house of Fraser – but when it comes to our own needs, we all find somewhere else which offers greater range, better cost or greater convenience.  Young listeners found Galaxy – and now Capital or Kiss - rather than their City’s heritage favourite  – and older listeners found Heart and Smooth or Magic. 'Department store' radio stations thrive only in proud communities where they remain relatively isolated.

On supermarket acquisitions, the parent brands were rolled out. Victor Value was no more after the Tesco acquisition.No messing about. The old brands, however, were leant on, on occasions, for some trials.  In radio, do we try things out enough away from the spotlight before taking the bigger steps.

Tesco's positioning statement was - 'every little helps'.  It sounded like no-one else's line - and it reflected the consumer benefit not an internal boast. Do radio's straplines stand the test?

In the competitive supermarket battle, there are the discounters such as Aldi and Lidl – the middle ground such as Sainsbury, Tesco and Asda - and the top end such as Waitrose.  Each knows its customers and seeks to own them. Once that job is done – then it looks right and left to see where else it might claim ground with its bargain – or premium ranges. Richard Park knew that Magic could achieve more were it defined by mood rather than just ‘older audiences’.

When all supermarkets were giving away Green Shield Dividend stamps - Tesco chose an alternative route and ditched them. Dramatically whitening its store windows overnight,  it teased the audience with 'Operation Checkout' - and simply reduced prices. Will News UK and its Virgin approach be the commercial radio disruptor?

Supermarkets built huge out of town premises so they could grow floor space, no easy feat with reluctant town planners Like radio, however, well-argued lobbying from Tesco won the day. Political understanding is key for any major successful business - and Radiocentre is to be applauded for its achievements for the radio industry.

Like radio, supermarket chains have struggled when expanding abroad. Whilst there have been successes, just rolling out the UK model has caused problems for both industries. It has needed specific insider understanding to succeed.

With Clubcard at Tesco - and Nectar at Sainsbury - supermarkets knew what customers were buying - and thus understood their audience more. They saw that as key to success. Tesco chose however not to position the rewards as discount but as 'saying thank you'. Are there lessons for radio contesting?

Now, a side-trend for smaller retail outlets has emerged– offering either or both of convenience and specialism.  Small shops will not survive if they play the same game as the major ones. Their offering has to be distinctive - is this the lesson for community radio?

We sigh fondly at the memories of the old corner shops – and wish they were still here. But surely we can concede that the array of choice we have now far exceeds anything that the Mrs Coopers would have been able to provide years ago. Cheaper too. In radio - there is similarly now unprecedented choice: always something of interest on one of the nation’s hundreds of stations - 24 hours a day. 

Both retail and radio face more digital uncertainty ahead - and yet are also carving out their own place in that sphere to capitalise on opportunity.

Meanwhile, as the supermarket consolidation battle reaches its final hurdles, who will dominate?:

"Tesco had learned from its history that being on the back foot, trailing events or competitors stilted its potential. It was better to determine a course of action and then to throw every available resource at carrying out the strategy". (The Making of Tesco - Sarah Ryle)

Grab my book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories. Available in paperback or ebook.

Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and real food for thought if you've been doing it years. 
Available in paperback or ebook.

Need a conference speaker? I'd love to work with you.

I work with radio stations around the world in a range of areas. From programme strategy to research, key brand work and marketing strategy. From presenter training to compliance, consultation responses and licensing. Talk to me via

What can radio learn from how it has handled COVID 19?

In times like this, you turn to your friends. And radio is a friend. Day or night, it’s there to pick-you up, to comfort you, to explai...