Juke-box format attracts Radio 1's lost listeners

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The Independent Online
A POP radio station based in a small Irish town has overtaken all its commercial rivals to attract 4.2 million British listeners a week with a 'juke-box' format.

Figures published this week show that Atlantic 252, which broadcasts from Trim (population 15,000), in Co Meath, has emerged as the main rival to BBC Radio 1, whose audience has plummeted.

Launched in 1989 into an advertising recession, Atlantic's first 18 months were overshadowed by planning rows over its mast. Opting to broadcast on long-wave attracted scepticism and ridicule.

It was formed as a 50-50 joint venture between the European media conglomerate and former Radio Luxembourg owners CLT and Ireland's state broadcasting network Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE). Two years ago CLT raised its stake to 80 per cent.

Atlantic's 3.7 per cent of all British radio listening last year translated into a profit of pounds 1.5m.

It has had three major advantages over British-based rivals. Its long-wave broadcast means it can be heard almost nationally on a single frequency. Atlantic's chief executive, Travis Baxter, a former BBC Radio 2 producer, said: 'Someone can listen to us driving from London to Edinburgh without once having to retune.'

Being Irish-based, it was not hampered by UK restrictions enforcing a wide range of output - escaping what Douglas Hurd as Home Secretary in 1988 defined as a need to broadcast 'the stimulating level of a well- mixed cocktail, rather than house plonk or neat gin'.

This allows Atlantic, by Mr Baxter's own admission, to operate as a sort of juke- box, keeping talk to a minimum. 'If there's one thing surveys show people don't like, it's DJs waffling on endlessly,' he said.

It is aimed strictly at 15- to 34-year-olds, providing precisely the rock music fare research shows they want.

Atlantic also profited, in the months before its launch, from a guerrilla war between the state-owned pop channel RTE Radio 2 (now 2FM) and a number of all-music pirate stations.

The pirates folded before Atlantic launched, but they had already taken great chunks of revenue from RTE and their demise left a well-trained pool of staff eager to join the new venture.