“Last Men Standing”

Phil Riley and Steve Orchard talked about their successes and challenges as they aim to keep commercial radio alive at last week’s Coventry conversation.

Steve Orchard created an air of mystery placing his ear by his bag to check if the content ‘was still alive’ and this certainly kept the audience listening. When he unravelled the mystery item it turned out to be a 1946 Bosch wireless radio given to him by his grandmother when he was still a teenager.

This has been the catalyst that propelled him into radio as he believed the appliance would take him everywhere in the world, in terms of news coverage.

“To own a radio station and run it successfully, you have to indeed be the last man standing as there is a dramatic change in radio listeners and also the competition to get as many people listening to a particular station is fierce’’, said Phil Riley.

This competition has driven quite a number of local radio stations to go national. Smooth FM, which was once a local radio station, has gone national. Heart has also experienced a reduction in its local programme from 10 hours a day to 7 hours and Galaxy, now Capital FM, is hoping to take on Radio 1. Writes Nana-Ama Akpoblu…

Riley and Orchard emphasized that, their marketing strategy is to be more local and also offer local advertisers great opportunities and publicity. And despite the chance of local marketing not growing, to be the “Last Men Standing” is hopeful.

Orchard stated: “As part of what I do, I find a radio station which is not thriving and improve it. An example is Mercia, I ‘stuck’ the word NEW on the front and that worked. Classic FM adapted music which gives listeners a state of relaxation, whilst Plant Rock upped the amount of Led Zeppelin listeners heard”.

When asked what the future of a radio station in Coventry is, Orchard replied: “Unless we are able to recreate a passion for the area in which we broadcast, there is no future. Every successful local radio station should know how to get under the skin of its listeners and for Coventry it should be what makes the tribe of Coventry; what makes them angry and also what makes them swell with pride.”

Riley discussed that, the radio industry is a tough place to be and commercial radio, in particular, has had a difficult time because it is up against the best. He further commented that the way forward is to grasp the attention of the audience by connecting with them, as locals.

Orchard added that commercial radio is shrinking because the programmes are just ‘bland’. For a commercial radio to thrive in Coventry, the programmes have to reflect the lives of the people who live primarily in Coventry and Warwickshire.

He also stressed that “you reap what you sow”, therefore the amount of effort you put in anything is always reflected in the end result…

The state of business subsequently is grim for young journalists as the number of them being employed is decreasing. Mercia for instance, employs 12 or 15 journalists and news has also slipped down the agenda for some commercial radio shows.

Asked what advice they would give to young journalists, Orchard said: “It is a fantastic environment to work. So, learn technology and have a hunger for content. You need to have the ability to tell the story. Don’t stutter or try to be somebody else as the microphone is good at spotting fakes. Be yourself!”

Riley commented: “Get a life and I mean that in the best sense. Writing stuff on face book and pinching other people’s work would not get you far. I cannot say what you shouldn’t be, but just be yourself. There is something special in everybody that people can connect to and you need to get your personality across in a matter of minutes.”


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