Energy is the key to new radio launches

MONDAY morning - journalistically speaking - was media history in the making. When will we ever witness again the launch of two new national radio stations - BBC 6 Music and Teamtalk252 - in four hours?

First off was BBC 6 Music. Tom Robinson - who has landed an evening slot - quipped that this was "radio for the rest of us". He means the 25 to 45-year-old set, lost between Radio 1's dance music and the dangers of running into Jimmy Young.

Musically, BBC 6 is like being in a room with forgotten favourites, 14 tracks an hour, from the Sixties onwards, everything from Elvis Costello and The Clash to Bob Dylan.

It is toe-tapping stuff, a reinvention of the "stale gold" format. If content is to drive sluggish digital radio - with its pathetic installed base of just 50,000 - then this is moving in the right direction. The BBC is doubling its radio networks to 10 by autumn this year, because it has public money to play with. Greg Dyke was in and out of the room before
anyone could say "what about micro audiences?".

But then, on to TeamTalk and a live launch interview with Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham. In January, I visited the station's Leeds headquarters to check out the operation and its driving force - chairman and chief executive Bill Wilson.

Can his surprise conversion of failing Irish dance music station Atlantic 252 into a 24/7 sports news service work? The answer is that Teamtalk will find the going tough.
London sales houses and advertisers - where the long wave signal is hard to pick up - can expect plenty of buttering up.

Radio 5 Live has the best sports rights sewn up.
TalkSport seems to have found a niche, though it has lost its commercial monopoly.

But Leeds surprised me. It was like touring a very well resourced evening newspaper, with staff dedicated to supplying sports news for websites, text messages and a sports news wire. In other words, it is a costly content machine looking for a way of earning revenue. The tall order is to add a creative twist to attract listeners and, hence, advertisers to a broadcast service.

Teamtalk 252 is turning to the old media model of ad support for revenue, plus, in this case, subscription and premium priced texting. As Richard Hooper, chairman of the Radio Authority, has remarked, the two most successful media currently are the oldest - radio and the cinema.

For all the drawbacks, Teamtalk sensibly started test broadcasts for Rajar purposes in January, so it will have first quarter audience figures. Though these will be terrible, at least the second quarter in July/August will provide better news and something to sell.

Further, as its plans for Cheltenham racing coverage unfolded, this is a company with energy. Yet it needs a minimum annual ad revenue of £5m to £6m. Advertisers were pleased to sip Teamtalk champagne, but seemed pretty standoffish, predicting income from sponsorship, promotions and bookmakers, rather than conventional campaigns. The service is "very niche, very male and aimed at anoraks" remarked one - female -  media buyer.

But the thing about competition is that it comes from odd directions. Who would have thought 10 years ago that by spinning together tracks off old CDs, you could create Classic FM? Do we need another sports network, or another contemporary music station?

Wrong questions. What all media needs is energy, attack, ambition. Sometimes that leads to success.

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