Profile - Orchard puts faith in Capital growth

In the wake of troubled times at the UK's leading radio group, Sarah Crawley-Boevey talks to the man who has been charged with restoring GCap Media's flagship station to its former glories.

When GWR merged with GCap in 2005, the double-management chaos that resulted led to heads rolling left, right and centre.

Face to face, it's easy to see why Steve Orchard, second-in-command to chief executive Ralph Bernard, survived the cull.

There is a distinct businesslike, no-nonsense approach to the 48-year-old, which is little surprise when you know this is a man who is climbing the ladder in his second career and is now responsible for the everyday goings-on of the country's leading radio group, GCap Media.

After attending school in Oldham, where he was the year above Chrysalis chief executive Phil Riley ("even then he was twice as tall as me"), Orchard graduated from Oxford and later spent six years as a social worker, specialising in childcare and teenage delinquency.

It was his love of music - he recently bought a 1963 Rockola 45rpm jukebox from eBay - that prompted him to change direction. He sent a demo tape to his old school chum Riley, only to be told he would need "personality" to get into radio. Nevertheless, at 28, he landed himself the job of breakfast show host on GWR Bristol, a station owned by one Ralph Bernard.

That was back in 1985 and, after a promotion to programme controller and later managing director, he finds himself as GCap Media's operations director, charged largely with running Capital Radio - once the jewel in the radio industry's crown, now its whipping boy.

Painful period

Orchard's candid admissions of GCap's faults and his recognition that Capital has had some "fundamental issues" are endearing, showing he and his colleagues are not guilty of what many are quick to accuse them of - burying their heads in the sand and blindly leading Capital down any road they can in the hope of striking lucky.

After a long and painful period of upset and plummeting morale inside GCap's Leicester Square headquarters, due largely to the 100-odd redundancies that took place after the merger, there finally seems to be a feeling of quiet confidence: that while the industry may be losing faith in the company, it knows what it is doing and that sooner or later will be shouting "I told you so".

"Early GCap set the tone for very negative headlines in the City and the press," says Orchard. "You could not read a story with the name GCap unless it had the prefix 'troubled'."

In fact, most of GCap's leading brands have been enjoying success. Classic FM is still the country's leading national commercial station, Planet Rock has won half a million listeners without any marketing and London's Xfm has been rolled out in Manchester and Scotland.

Probably because Capital's reign was so long and envied, its fall from grace has been heavier and harder, with breakfast show host Johnny Vaughan getting most of the blame.

"The audience turned on Capital, but it's far too simplistic to point at one personality and say that's the problem," stresses Orchard.

He is confident Vaughan is the "top radio talent in the market" and considers the DJ himself is "working harder than anyone at GCap" to improve his performance.

Demonstrating change

Orchard likens the problems at Capital to that of a long-term relationship that has broken down.

"To fix it, we have to put in the effort and demonstrate we have changed," he says. "If we invited people back and it was still the same, it would fall apart quickly."

He is referring to this autumn's small-scale marketing campaign "Who's Doing Who", to be supported in the New Year with TV, cinema and outdoor activity, details of which are being kept under wraps.

The controversial "two ads in a row" policy is now firmly in place, despite losing the group around £7m. Programme director Scott Muller is said to be monitoring minute-by-minute output to ensure they are getting the bits in between the ads absolutely right.

But who is being lined up to appreciate Capital's hard work? Orchard says the station's "bull's-eye" target audience is the 28-year-old female, and today's fashion for singer-songwriter contemporary music is what's feeding the playlist. He points out that Capital is not interested in Heart and Magic's audiences, but in Radio 1 listeners.

"GCap is the market leader in terms of scale, but we have to be the market leader in behaviour from now on," he says. "Radio 1 is a formidable operator, but if you look at any innovation in radio in the last 30 years, it will have come from commercial. I predict we will see Capital back in growth in 2007."

Orchard is said to have been frustrated at Capital being seen as anything less than perfect, but that is not evident when we meet. Underneath the firm and measured exterior there is something determined about him, something that suggests Capital - and GCap - will be back in fighting form before you can say "number one breakfast show".

CV

2005 Appointed to GCap board

2005 Operations director, GCap Media

1999 Operations director, Local Radio Division, GWR

1997 Programme director, Classic FM

1994 Group programme director, GWR

1985 Breakfast DJ, later programme controller and managing director, GWR Bristol

1979-1985 Social worker specialising in childcare, families in crisis and teenage delinquency.

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