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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 00:11 GMT 01:11 UK
Two's not company for radio rivals
By Kevin Young
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

BBC Radio 2, which began 40 years ago this week, has the highest audience of any station in the UK. But are its dominance and power to attract top talent bad news for its commercial rivals?

Jimmy Young and Terry Wogan, date unknown
Wogan made his Radio 2 debut as cover for Jimmy Young (left)

It was May 2001 when Radio 2 overtook traditional market leader Radio 1 to become the UK's most listened-to station.

Jonathan Ross and ex-Radio 1 DJ Steve Wright had been recruited to make the network sound younger.

But millions of people were still tuning in to stalwarts such as Terry Wogan, eight years into his second stint at breakfast, and light entertainment show Friday Night is Music Night.

Jim Moir was the executive credited with making Radio 2 sound younger.

And current controller Lesley Douglas, who succeeded Mr Moir in 2004, says it was a subtle transition.

"Familiarity is important, as long as it's still excellent. But Radio 2 has always played new music and featured comedy that hasn't been heard anywhere else.

BBC Radio 2 controller Lesley Douglas
"Radio stations always made an impact on me," Mrs Douglas says
"I think the mix of familiar and unfamiliar, and the [appeal to a] broad age range has always been the same.

"What's different is how you talk to a contemporary adult audience. It doesn't mean that you've changed the fundamentals of the station."

Dylan White lobbies Radio 2 to play certain tracks in his role as a "plugger".

Record companies employ his firm, Anglo Plugging, to promote their acts.

He says the station was always "a bit of a sleeping giant" but has now become "phenomenally powerful".

There's probably more money going into Radio 2 than most of commercial radio put together
Ralph Bernard
Chief executive, GCap Media

"I once did a Paul Weller campaign. On one album, we did this gig for Radio 1.

"A couple of years later, we were on the next album. Radio 1 shut the door, so we did exactly the same thing with Radio 2. Weller accepted he was now a Radio 2 artist."

But the network's repositioning has angered leading figures in commercial radio, who argue that stricter regulations for non-BBC stations meant they could never have relaunched themselves as easily.

Ray Moore, John Dunn, Gloria Hunniford, Sheila Tracy and Robin Boyle in 1984
Fans mourned when Ray Moore (left) and John Dunn (back) died

"I've been worried about Radio 2 since they changed format unilaterally with no reference to any outside regulator some years ago," says Ralph Bernard, chief executive of GCap Media, which runs 150 stations, including Capital 95.8 in London.

"They got in under the wire on that one."

He concedes Radio 2 is "a very brilliant radio station, and so it should be".

"There's probably more money going into Radio 2 than most of commercial radio put together.

"It's a national FM licence which plays pop music - and we're not allowed to have one of those."

'Pulling power'

John Myers, who as chief executive of GMG Radio oversees stations including Smooth Radio and Real Radio, says the more dominant the BBC is, "the more problematic that is for commercial stations".

0530 Paul Hollingdale
0832 Leslie Crowther
1000 Max Jaffa and Sandy MacPherson
1200 Marching and Waltzing
1300 Jack Jackson
1400 Chris Denning
1500 Pete Murray
1600 Pete Brady
1730 Country Meets Folk
1832 Those Were the Days
1935 Million Dollar Bill
2015 Spotlight 1 and 2
2115 Caterina Valente Sings
2200 Pete Murray
0000 Sean Kelly
Some shows simulcast on Radio 1
Source: Radio Times

"They are not concerned about attracting revenue. They have an enormous budget that anyone in commercial radio would regard as excessive."

He also cites the BBC's ability to offer presenters "a tri-media future" as being integral to its "huge pulling power".

Mrs Douglas acknowledges it is easier for her to take risks at Radio 2.

But she insists presenters "get paid a fair rate for the job they do", adding that she has "walked away" when she was unhappy at the wages demanded by prospective signings.

"There are people that I don't bother talking to because I don't think we can afford them.

Jonathan Ross
Signings such as Jonathan Ross have increased Radio 2's profile
"There are quite strict parameters that we're put in - lots of hoops I have to jump through before I sign presenters."

She also insists she has "never, ever approached a commercial radio talent and asked them to come to Radio 2", saying it is not her job to "aggressively move into the marketplace".

Over at GCap Media, home to presenters such as Simon Bates and David Jensen, Mr Bernard is sceptical, however.

"She would say that, wouldn't she? I'm not going into a head-to-head fight with Lesley. But I've got a different view."

Juxtaposing styles

About a sixth of the UK's radio listeners hear Radio 2 at some point each week, and Mrs Douglas says the vast majority of her audience enjoys several presenters and musical genres, rather than tuning in for one show.

John Cleese, Jo Kendall and Bill Oddie star in I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again in 1968
Comedy has always been part of the schedule on Radio 2

"That juxtaposition of different things is appealing. You can listen to Chris Evans and hear him talking, genuinely, about his love of Friday Night is Music Night."

But this is not enough for Andrew Harrison, chief executive of The Radio Centre, which represents the interests of commercial stations.

"Radio 2 hasn't brought new listeners into radio. It's taken listeners from the commercial sector.

"It has ended up targeting commercial radio's heartland, where we were already delivering listeners," he says.

"The BBC should be all about delivering reach and serving every licence fee payer, rather than just stealing listeners from the commercial sector."

Archive audio clips compiled by Pia Harold


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