On June 3rd 2013, Bauer Media, the second largest UK Radio group, announced that they were taking Kerrang! off their West Midlands FM regional frequency, to replace it from Friday 14th June with the newly acquired Planet Rock, previously only on digital and online. Planet Rock comes from London, so yet more good West Midlands radio people will hit the scrapheap. And it’s bad news for local musicians who lose another outlet sympathetic to their efforts.
Kerrang will limp on as a youth-positioned voice-tracked rock service on digital, with a much-reduced on-air staff, delivered from London. There is one really interesting angle to all this. Planet Rock had a smaller reach than Kerrang. The station has never made money, and its previous owner unloaded it last year. Planet Rock, if truth be told, had a considerably smaller profile that Bauer was hitherto able to give to Kerrang with cross-platform positioning.
So why kill the bigger brand?
I’m sad about this, of course, but now the deed is done, it seems obvious. Here’s why.
This decision is about positioning, market share and demographics... and absolutely not about the love of music. There’s a new and very noisy rock radio/web/magazine brand - TeamRock - landing from Monday 17th June on National Digital Radio, and Bauer have got their ducks in a row in preparation. The very recently announced TeamRock launch date seems remarkably close to that of Planet Rock's FM West Midlands debut - funny, that. There is talk of other FM frequencies being readied to take Planet Rock output. So we really are talking brand strategy.
And where is the big money-making audience for Rock? It's older listeners - exactly what Planet Rock delivers.
The big rock icons are now in their fifties, sixties and even seventies. The listenership will be, broadly, in their late thirties to sixties. This audience still uses the radio way more than web-savvy twenty-something rock fans. It’s the same dynamic that has meant Radio 2 has continued to storm ahead of commercial radio, that haven of risk-averse programming, and Radio 1, who do take risks, but continue to, er, not gain young listeners.
And as for contemporary Rock? Where’s that at? It’s a LOT noisier and more aggressive than Classic Rock. Metal has splintered into dozens of sub-genres, much of it not remotely built to sound good on the air anymore. Compare and contrast with any Classic Rock act, and their contemporary derivatives, who all sound reassuringly cosy in comparison.
Put that way, it’s a business no-brainer.
But I am very sorry for the great local broadcasters on Kerrang, and the airtime now lost to local bands. It was only ten years ago or so that niche radio formats on terrestrial transmitters seemed like a good idea and a viable business proposition. Sadly, that didn’t work out. Many diehard radio fans will blame the big groups for killing niche radio off, and of course that’s exactly what they’ve been happy to do.
But the main factor driving this change is the web, which continues to push twentieth century media into a corner. It’s ironic that an old fart rock format has won out over a youth rock format.
But that’s where the money is. For now.
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