Tune in to shock radio

Is Trevor Beattie's FCUK FM a serious proposition, or an advertising gimmick? Meg Carter reports
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Trevor Beattie is making mischief again. The man behind the Wonderbra "Hello Boys" advertising campaign is planning an assault on the radio industry that threatens to outshock the world of the shock jocks.

It was Beattie who gave the shy high-street fashion chain French Connection a makeover that transformed it into the bolshy, in-yer-face FCUK. Since then we've had FCUK T-shirts, FCUK sunglasses, FCUK perfumes and now FCUK radio.

When FCUK FM launches on 1 April it will feature shows like My FCUK, where celebrities get to present their own programmes, and FCUK 20, where more celebs talk about what they do in their down time. Previous shock tactics employed by FCUK - notably the much-complained-about "fcukinkybugger" poster campaign - led to an Advertising Standards Authority ruling that future ads must be pre-vetted. Other FCUK ads have been banned from television by the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre.

Nevertheless, Ofcom, the new broadcasting watchdog, has sanctioned the go-ahead of a radio station, which will be broadcast on the Sky Digital platform and over the internet.

Beattie, the chairman of ad agency TBWA, says radio is the logical way of extending the brand image that he created in 1997. He says: "FCUK is all about being subversive. It's the anti-fashion fashion brand: you don't have to be a fashion victim to look cool." Businesses are falling over themselves to be associated with the FCUK slogan, he claims. "The amount of offers we receive weekly wanting to cash in on the FCUK name is mind-blowing. Everyone wants a piece of it. We've done FCUK sunglasses and FCUK fragrances: they made sense. And so does FCUK radio."

According to Beattie, FCUK FM will not simply court controversy but will add something to the bland fare offered by existing stations. "Commercial radio isn't very nice to listen to at the moment," he says. "It's noise. Voices have become interchangeable. Zoo formats are the norm. And there's an over-reliance on phone-ins. It's insane, and shallow. We want to send it up to the skies."

The date chosen to launch the station is not an April Fool's joke, Beattie promises. Nor, says the French Connection chairman, Stephen Marks, is it just about grabbing even more headlines for FCUK. Marks says the plan is to use radio to get FCUK's core 18- to 25-year-old target market closer to the brand and, in the longer term, even generate extra revenue by selling airtime to other advertisers.

"We've looked to see if we can make this a commercial property, but before we've even launched I can't say when," he says. "Hopefully we will reach the 4.8 million listeners currently listening to radio via digital satellite television and many more via the net. We'll play some music you recognise, some you won't, all of it great. And we'll bring a lot of new voices on air."

FCUK FM will challenge commercial radio convention in a number of ways, promises Ollie Raphael, the managing director of music production specialists Delicious Digital, which is overseeing the station's music policy, programme strategy, on-air style and tone. "There'll be no traditional breakfast or drive-time slots - with an international audience via the internet this just wouldn't make sense," he says. Nor will there be set presenters at set times of the day, or a station playlist.

"Stations usually have a weekly playlist of the most commercially viable tracks, then end up all sounding the same. We'll have a "no play" list of what not to play and focus instead on interesting new British music - like Basement Jaxx, Ash or Jamelia - with an emphasis on album tracks rather than singles to keep things fresh," Raphael says. "The key will be not to alienate the FCUK audience with things they don't understand, but to make the most of their confidence in checking out things that are new and a little bit different."

Shows will include Dead DJs, where celebrity soundalikes play their favourite tracks, and Winner Stays On, in which listeners will have a chance to turn DJ and compete to stay on air longest in a Pop Idol-style voting show.

For the first few weeks, the station will broadcast from FCUK's flagship Regent Street store. "This is not a platform for just selling FCUK clothes: we're not allowed to promote products within programming under Ofcom guidelines, anyway," insists Raphael. "It's about a brand taking over the entire output of a station in its own way for the very first time. It's a station that's about a particular brand's attitude and lifestyle - a bit like Virgin was at launch."

FCUK is not the first retailer to get into radio. Asda and Costcutter both operate radio stations under Ofcom satellite distribution licences, but neither can be heard by listeners unless they go into the supermarkets. But the potential to reach a broader audience by becoming a fully fledged media owner has sparked interest across adland and the industry is watching FCUK FM's launch closely.

"It's conceivable that for the right brand - and with the right station format - branded radio could both promote that brand and generate additional revenue through third-party advertising," says Chris Harrison, the managing director of Spring London, the brand content division of advertising agency Leo Burnett. "Success, however, will come down to the depth and quality of the service - it's got to really stand out if it's going to persuade people to keep tuning in."

Established commercial music stations are hardly quaking in their boots. "An intriguing sideline from people with nothing better to do," is one programming controller's snide verdict on FCUK FM. But for Beattie, radio offers a host of new opportunities for marketing a brand that prides itself on its shock tactics.

"After a few months on air, we'll decide if and how to extend it," he says. "One option is to buy an existing analogue radio station and re-brand it. Another is to apply for other Ofcom licences." For Marks, however, such talk is premature. "We're refusing to be drawn on exactly how much money FCUK FM's launch is costing. "What I will say is that the cost of FCUK FM is coming out of our advertising budget. And we're not spending any more on advertising this year."

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