Monday, 3 June 2013

The bell tolls for Kerrang Radio

Sad news - another local radio service exits the Midlands. 

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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Richard Duncan Rudin said...

A good, typically astute piece. But a tad unfair on Radio 2, which even in daytime plays tracks which you never hear on mainstream commercial radio, as they don't 'test well' let alone range and depth of programming at weekends and evenings.

Radio To Go said...

Ah, but they weren't the ones I described as 'risk-averse', Richard :-).

Richard Rudin said... it wasn't. The perils of reading Blogs on a mobile phone with odd line breaks. It's Kindle minimum display for Blogs from now on!

Tim Parsons said...

You do wonder, even more than before, what the purpose of OFCOM was,and now why it as a regulatory body exists when radio stations can do what they want! There's no independent or local in ILR which is a disgrace to the whole process!

Bob Hermon said...

Very sad news for Kerrang! Radio indeed, and like you I feel really sorry for Loz and co.
I guess you must wonder what would have happened if one of the other non Bauer consortia had won the licence 10 years ago, probably the same thing.
I remember that Emap, as it was then, winning it wasn't a particularly popular licence award, compared to some of the other then runners, and now, and obviously, we will miss it, pluggers as well as listeners.
Looking at Radiomonitor's data for last week reflects what you say in this piece - although Planet Rock play a wide range of classic rock, terming anything released in 2013 as current or new, last week Kerrang! Radio's Top 50 airplay tracks including 31 in that category, whilst Planet Rock only 11.

PF said...

Kerrang has some good presenters that I hope will survive the transition. Johnny Doom in particular is a great broadcaster, laconic, informative and very funny.

It has always made sense that the Kerrang radio station should be more aligned with the general format of the mag and (to a lesser extent) the TV station. It's a great loss but it was fun while it lasted.

There's a greater argument to be had about how niche stations can survive (I know you have some theories here) and I'm pretty sure that Planet Rock will be undergoing some evolution as well.

John said...

A great read. It's sad that it's likely jobs will be lost in the West Midlands.

From my perspective I couldn't be happier. I'm a 20 something progressive rock and classic rock fan, and knowing that i'll be able to hear the station I listen to at home, in my car, is excellent. I suppose a reminder that at times the love of music, and how we choose to consume it, transends demographics.

So. I'm happy for my ears, but sad it has come at Kerrang's expense.

Richie Roberts said...

I liked Planet Rock, despite it's pretty amateurish presentation, becuase it played generally good tunes and less adverts while on a digital only platform.

Now it has switched to analogue and usurped Kerrang, lo-and-behold we are now getting 2-3 min ad breaks and double that to sandwich traffic and travel. I'll be turning off PR now and I feel for Kerrang and their staff who did a decent job for local music in broadcasting from Old Snow Hill.

Anonymous said...

Cannot see the point of this certainly from a music angle, we gain one Rock station but to the loss of another one ?? although i was a big critic of Kerrang when it first started it matured and the music played was reaching it's target audience's, I'm 60 yo now so have learned too appreciate Rock/Metal in it's many guises. some how i doubt this would have happened to a pop/ dance station they would have fitted it in with the rest of them..

Steve In Brum said...

Note that Planet Rock on DAB is trasmitting in lousy mono - if you want to hear that rock in stereo you need a analogue receiver!
This is progress?
I only have a dab receiver in my home stereo - need an analogue tuner as well now! or mayve instead of...
Is someone supposed to be in control of the airwaves shaping them for the better?

Unknown said...

Loved Kerrang because it played all sorts of rock n I got to hear a lot of bands that do not get air play on radio....never liked planet rock n still don't....way too much classic rock as its target audience seems to be only aimed at men over 45....Bauer u totally suck!