In My Opinion: John Collins: Reflections on the latest RAJARs

THIS is one of those RAJAR surveys that defies instant spin as you have to look hard to find possible reasons for the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. As always, there are contradictory indicators, as we’ll see.

One of the main headlines is the huge increase in share for Bauer’s Clyde 1 and Forth 1 in Central Scotland. I initially had some worries that their weekly reach (the number of people listening) hadn’t increased, but, over two books, the seemingly impossible has happened. Both stations brought in lots of new listeners – initially as ‘samplers’ tuning in from other brands. Then they performed the feat of getting those people to listen longer. For much longer.

It’s a no-brainer how they’ve done it. Not only have there been good competitions designed to keep people tuned in – but there’s been a real emphasis on presenters who can really engage their audiences. This flies in the face of the accepted music radio belief that you keep the ‘jocks off the music’ and fills me with hope for the future of the medium as it understands how to compete with music subscription services like Spotify and Rdio.

A lot of these listeners and listening hours have clearly come from Real Radio Scotland. The team at Bailieston have tried valiantly to arrest recent declines. But I don’t think it has helped the uncertainty over the station’s future, issues with a constantly-changing (evolving?) music policy and a midday networked show from elsewhere. In a session at the Creative Loop Student Media Festival last week, station founder, John Myers, told me that he’s in no doubt that Real will become Heart and he was comfortable with that. The original station was built around ‘Scottishness’ which made the Cumbrian boss occasionally blanch. The current version isn’t either and needs a new focus.

Not every station in the Central belt won at Real’s expense, and that’s why I believe that this is a win for Bauer. Central FM in Stirling have held mostly firm. This supports a strong weekday performance, but the absence of their strongest presenters at the weekend doesn’t encourage listeners to continue the habit seven days a week. Kingdom in Fife is also effectively unchanged.

Similarly, Bauer Radio’s AM services have suffered. I expect that these listeners will have migrated to the FM brands and can be won back. But the owners have to be brave enough to actively market the stations ahead of the imminent changes at Real.

BBC Radio Scotland has effectively stayed stationary, despite a lot of schedule changes in recent months. Clearly, sport helps with their stability, but I’d venture to suggest that the new programmes have settled in quickly and that they can loot forward to modest increases in future.

Outwith the Central Belt, a thought for the Aberdeen market. Original 106 has finally had a good book with a sizeable increase in listeners but not a big dilution in market share. If they can do that twice in a row, a few staffers at Aberdeen’s other station can breathe more easily. This is good and doesn’t seem to have been at the expense of the two Bauer services in the city. It’s maybe the happiest place in Scotland to make programmes!

John Collins lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone at both the BBC and in commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up occasionally on the radio, at Clyde 2 on a Sunday morning. Pic: Michele Dillon.