Commercial radio is struggling to stop its young stars defecting to the BBC

Picture the scenario. You, the hip young gunslinger of Middle-of-Nowhere FM, have just won several best newcomer awards after untold, unpaid years slogging it out in the broadcasting backwater of student radio.

Your profile remains low, but the major stations are circling overhead and the sickly-sweet scent of celebrity hangs heavy in the air. A career beckons but you're at a crossroads. The well-trodden but somewhat rocky path of commercial radio lies in one direction, winding and rambling with some serious challenges to be negotiated up ahead. In another direction is the BBC, a glittering radio institution whose current dominance of the industry cannot be underestimated. Which path should you take?

According to Lisa Kerr, the director of external affairs at RadioCentre, the body representing commercial radio interests, there really isn't much to think over. "The BBC could attract any of our commercial radio talent should they wish to," she admits. "For many young presenters it's a logical step in the development of their career."

So what has led to commercial radio becoming an unattractive option for talented young people? According to the audience research company Rajar, commercial radio has recently made up a little ground on the BBC, a 1.3 per cent rise in audience share has taken its overall figure to 42.4 per cent. These figures will come as a relief to battered commercial station managers, but the BBC still remains 13.1 percentage points ahead, with an overall listening share of 55.5 per cent.

Commercial stations must attract advertisers and therefore need to appeal to as many people as possible. But does an overbearing requirement to be populist threaten the creativity and individuality of commercial programming? Andy Swift, a presenter at Beacon Radio in Shropshire, thinks it does. "Commercial stations needs to stop trying to be the BBC, ditch the networked shows and become truly local again."

Ben Cooper, head of programmes at Radio 1, agrees. "Young presenters are attracted to the BBC because they know they have the freedom to be creative and take risks."

Casting an eye over the stars of commercial radio, one would be forgiven for failing to recognise many. Take away Jamie Theakston at Heart 106.2, Alex Zane at XFM London, Christian O'Connell at Virgin Radio and Johnny Vaughan at Capital Radio and the number of household names is minimal. In comparison, the list of presenters at the BBC stations read like a veritable who's who of popular culture.

This proved a stumbling block for Samanthi, who presents the breakfast show on Bauer's newly re-launched Q Radio. "I wanted to work at BBC 6 Music but they didn't seem interested simply because I wasn't a household name," she says. "I even toyed with the idea of doing television just to enhance my radio career."

Can commercial radio still capture the imagination of emerging talent? Chris Wise, a presenter at The Quay in Portsmouth and winner of the Arqiva/Skillset Commercial Radio Newcomer Award, says it can. "It's easier to break into commercial radio and while there you're groomed into a local figure," he says. "I can't imagine many presenters would trade the experience you get at a local commercial station for working at the BBC."

But many bright young things of radio see commercial stations as a springboard to the BBC. Greg James, 22, is one of the BBC's youngest presenting protégées, having began his career at Galaxy in Newcastle before moving to Radio 1, which led to a breakfast show slot. "There's too much safe, boring radio around," he says. "At commercial stations, new talent is left to develop bad habits which aren't picked up on."

Jonathan Ross, Scott Mills, Dermot O'Leary, Russell Brand, Edith Bowman, Chris Evans and Tim Westwood all worked at major commercial stations before finding a home on BBC radio. Melvin Odoom, co-presenter of the Ricky and Melvin Breakfast show on Kiss 100, disagrees that the traffic is all one way. He worked at the BBC station 1-Xtra but was given a presenting break by Kiss. "Most people still see commercial stations as more credible, edgy and fresh than the BBC. Real music fans tune into stations like ours."

How can stations compete with the BBC and its huge budgets and famous presenters? Jamie Atherton of Rock FM, which broadcasts to the North-west, thinks the answer lies in having a strong regional personality. "Commercial stations need to keep up with the trend of personality based radio," he says. "DJ's need local identity and character or people won't listen."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing company based i...

Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Publishing

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Guru Careers: Report Writer / Reporting Analyst

£25 - 30k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Report Writer / Reporting Analyst is nee...

Guru Careers: German Speaking Account Manager / Account Executive

£24-30K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A German speaking Account Manager ...

Day In a Page

Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace