Lesson number one in the media industry is : never listen to the gossip. It’s notoriously wrong.
And so it was when, a few weeks ago, I wrongly predicted that the end was nigh for Smooth Radio. Told to sell assets by the Competition Commission, and having taken Smooth off the national DAB Radio network, it seemed that its owners, Global Radio, were about to make a tough decision.
Except the decision had already been made. Several regional Smooth and Capital stations had been sold to Communicorp, an Irish based radio group which was previously relatively unknown in the UK, at least as far as the listening public was concerned. But with the ink now finally drying on the deal – and a new lineup of presenters just revealed – it looks like a stroke of genius, for several reasons.
Firstly – and this is what the listeners will notice – is the return of regional or local programming at breakfast and drivetime, with networked shows the rest of the time. The presenters will be familiar names to listeners in those regions : for example, the East Midlands features Gareth Evans (previously from BBC Radio Nottingham) and Emma Caldwell (from Capital). Other regions have similar “known” names.
Secondly, the deal fits in well with Global’s overall strategy with its established brands, Heart and Capital. Although independently owned and run, the Communicorp stations must run Smooth networked output as a franchising arrangement. The small print of this agreement isn’t known, but I suspect it’s likely to be tighter than Global’s previous experience with Orion Media, which took the brave (and successful) decision to drop Heart in the East Midlands to launch Gem 106
Thirdly, Communicorp know all about strong branding. While many UK radio folk had never heard of them, the company runs highly successful brands in Ireland including Newstalk and Today FM – and Spin FM, which has also been rolled out to markets in Latvia and Jordan.
Fourthly, because Communicorp isn’t in direct competition with Global in the UK, its “new” stations can easily be operated from existing Global studio premises. So long as the actual companies owning those stations is different, the Competition Commission will be happy.
There have been many, many debates about networking – and more than enough deals involving business buzzwords like “synergy”. But now that the details are out in the open, it looks – and probably sounds – like a very good fit.