In My Opinion: John Collins: The listening figures slide in Bauer’s AM portfolio

THE story that leaps out of from the lastest set of listening figures revealed today by RAJAR is the continued slide of Bauer’s AM portfolio. There are some good stories to find looking at individual stations and being selective about which numbers to discuss; but the overall trend is not good news.

I think this goes deeper than the ‘AM is dead’ comments made by one senior programmer. The curious hybrid of networked programming with local brand names is simply beginning to fail. If Bauer believe in their AMers it’s going to have to consider a difficult move: create a national integrated brand with local shows in prime time or spend a fortune marketing in each stations territory. Better still, both.

There’s good evidence to back this up in Capital’s latest quarter. They’ve held on to their figures, despite one of their rivals (Forth One) posting its best book in months. The latter station has sounded bang on the money for several months now. They’ve been doing excellent work on air and amplifying that with superb online and social media activity. I don’t see these figures as a blip.

Real Radio has begun the long climb back, though it’s newly rebranded sister station, Real XS, has slipped back. I’d like to see it do well and add to the GMG portfolio’s growth but without marketing that’ll be a slow journey. Smooth Glasgow delivers just that with healthy increases across the board.

In local radio, Kingdom have again done well, probably taking much of that audience from Forth 2 and Tay AM. They capitalise on their localness in every link and have a youthful sound that appeals to many 40-plus listeners even outside the Kingdom. Aberdeen’s Original has converted many more of its new listeners into regular ones. This consolidation will be welcomed by a station that has struggled with its identity over the years.

Meanwhile, in the Forth Valley, Central FM’s laser focus on Real Radio has caught them out. Both reach and share have slipped while the GMG giant has reasserted itself. In such a competitive market, battles are won in points of difference and attention to detail.

The big radio story in Scotland is about the high powered pop music services. But with the older audience increasingly turning to BBC Radio Scotland there has never been a more important time for the stations targetted at 35-plus to define their own coherent identity. An identity that isn’t shaped by competitors or even history.

John Collins lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone in both BBC and commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up on the radio at Central FM on a Sunday morning.