Capital: National treasure?
Capital FM is now being broadcast across the country, but can a London-based station really appeal to the whole of Britain? Its backers think so – and they're ready to take on Radio 1
Wednesday 05 January 2011
He's very much that cheery, cheeky chappie – don't tell him I said that," says Richard Park, the executive director of Global Radio, of his star presenter Johnny Vaughan. "He's a terrific bloke, as we all know, but he's a Londoner."
As well as being the breakfast show host for 95.8 Capital FM in London, Vaughan has a national profile from his varied television adventures, most famously on Channel 4's The Big Breakfast with Denise van Outen. But he isn't the the face of the national roll out of Capital that began this week.
Vaughan, you see, is just too symbolic of the small 'c' capital for a nationwide audience, Park believes. "He will only be heard in London because we believe that at breakfast time, that's when local really kicks in and is demanded by an audience. Johnny is best bet locally delivering to London."
The thinking behind Global's strategy of giving Capital a national footprint is based on the notion of "local broadcasting, nationally delivered". What this means is that the nine stations that will be running up the Capital flag will retain their own distinctive broadcasters at key times of the day, such as breakfast and drive-time. The nine centres are Scotland, the North East, Yorkshire, Manchester, Birmingham, East Midlands, South Wales, South Coast and London.
Some presenters, those less obviously associated with a particular region, will enjoy a presence on all nine stations, giving them an audience of around 6.5m. "There will be a chap called Roberto in the morning, followed in the afternoon by the Bassman," says Park. One suspects that Chris Moyles, Scott Mills and Steve Wright aren't shaking in their boots, even though Global hopes that Capital's national presence will provide a challenge to BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2.
Global, easily Britain's biggest commercial radio operation, has plenty of muscle. It already has a national network in Classic FM and has turned Heart into a network of 18 stations which stretch from Kent to Cheshire. The expansion of Capital is the vision of Ashley Tabor, Global's Executive President, who says: "This is a monumental day for British commercial radio. The UK has never had a national commercial hits station before, this is game-changing."
Park, a radio industry heavyweight who built Capital into a London media powerhouse at the end of the Eighties with a schedule featuring such names as Chris Tarrant, Pete Tong, Tim Westwood and Neil Fox, admits that he never thought of it as a national brand. He changed his mind "a couple of years" ago, he says. "At the outset I thought this is a London thing but I have come to see the error of my ways."
Capital first went on air in 1973 with Richard Attenborough as its director. It had its own jingle by the pop group Blue Mink, proclaiming it the "brightest sound in London town," and early presenters included Kenny Everett, Michael Aspel and Tommy Vance.
But isn't the very name Capital off-putting to listeners in other regions who believe that the media is blinkered to what goes on outside London? "It started off as Londoncentric, yes, but it's a name known up and down the country – everybody who's interested in the kind of output that Capital does knows the name," he says. "There has always been a thirst in Britain for a national commercial pop station."
In rolling out the Capital name, Global will be scrapping some of the most famous brands in local radio, such as Trent FM in Nottingham and Red Dragon FM in South Wales. "We are not torpedoing the local aspect of it we are creating what we think is a potent marriage," says Park.
"The times you need it to be local, at breakfast at drive and on Saturday and Sunday morning, it will be from your own town, city or region. At a time when you are in the office or car and just want to hear a few tunes, that's what we will be providing."
Among those providing a "few tunes" across all the Capital stations are Dave Kelly at night and Margarita Taylor on weekend breakfasts. But perhaps the pivotal DJ in the venture is Rich Clarke, who already enjoys the profile of broadcasting The Big Top 40 show across commercial radio on Sunday afternoons. Clarke, whose career has taken him to stations across Britain, will present for three hours from 7pm.
Having had stars such as Lady Gaga on his Capital 95.8 show in London, Clarke thinks the national roll out will allow him to bring the biggest names in pop to regional networks that formerly never had a look in. "We can get all the big names coming into our studio but [the interviews will be] broadcast locally on those radio stations," he says. "These are massive names that probably wouldn't go to Nottingham to do an interview. I've worked in all these areas and I know that you don't get the big American music stars and the massive stars in the UK who are making it around the world to travel out to these places. They stay in London."
Clarke is looking forward to providing competition for Radio 1, which broadcasts indie music specialist Zane Lowe's show in the same slot. "In the evening I think we are offering something totally different from what Zane is offering on Radio 1," he says.
Is there a demand for a national commercial pop station? Bauer Radio has also broadened the footprint of its Magic and Kiss brands. Steve Parkinson, the managing director, said the company's focus was on local stations for key cities, which he described as "the economic and cultural engines of our country". The output of each station is tailored to the place from which it is broadcast. "We work relentlessly on making the product and personality of each individual station relevant to and reflective of the personality of the great places in which we are located." It sounds different to Park's "national brand delivered locally" theme.
Global would argue that its network of transmitters enable it to cover a wider geographical area. Park claims that there are strong commercial arguments for the roll out. "Advertisers understand the Capital offering because they're based in London. Local advertisers think this is going to be an upgrade in quality."
The national launch will be supported by a television campaign featuring Rihanna, The Black Eyed Peas, Nicole Scherzinger and JLS. When Johnny Vaughan joined Capital in 2004 the station produced commercials showing the presenter swaggering around Piccadilly Circus singing "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner". This campaign will be very different.
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