The sale of a group of radio stations to a much bigger company often brings with it anxiety among staff, doubts over job security and a collective sigh among the anoraks that things will never quite be the same again – and wouldn’t it be nice to bring back some old heritage brand names.
Yet the news that Orion Media has sold its stations to Bauer has been largely well received, if not welcomed, by many industry observers. And it could well be a sign that the rose tinted glasses have finally been confined to the scrap heap. Which can only be a good thing for the new owners of Free Radio in the West Midlands and Gem 106 in the East Midlands.
Gem alone has steadily grown to become a key player in the market, and continues to evolve. Its early cheesey marketing – featuring a dancing hamster – has become a station that still plays big on personality and does well in the ratings. Breakfast presenters Sam and Amy recently marked ten years on air together – quite an achievement in a cut throat industry.
And Gem, like Free, has recently refreshed its playlist – there are far more “hot” (current) tracks mixed in with 80s and 90s classics. Tune in some hours are you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Capital.
All of this matters because the two Orion brands will now have to fit into Bauer’s existing portfolio. The most likely option is that all will become part of the main network, along with strong heritage names like Radio City in Liverpool, Glasgow’s Clyde and Newscastle’s Metro. All of these stations continue to perform well in large markets – and, just like Orion’s stations, have slowly evolved into a mix of contemporary and classic playlists.
Bauer also has a ready made second brand – the Greatest Hits Network – majoring on oldies and long established heritage presenters. This would easily fit into what’s currently the Free 80s slot on the AM and DAB dials in the West Midlands – although without confining the output to just one decade.
So everyone’s happy, right? Well of course there may be some savings to be had – and nobody wants to see job losses. But I’m told that the announcement yesterday was handled impeccably by both sides. Bauer sent senior managers to both Nottingham and Birmingnam to brief staff, there was apparently no air of hostility that can often be associated with sales.
Ultimately this consolidates the UK industry into two major players. Smaller groups will continue to thrive for the time being – and competition rules should ensure that commercial radio doesn’t become a monopoly.
But I don’t think we’ll see any more dancing hamsters.