R.A.P. Interview: Steve Martin

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R.A.P.: Tell us a little bit about how radio is structured there.
Steve: In Britain, the radio market is divided into the BBC stations, which represent public service broadcasting here, and the commercial stations. The BBC accounts for about half the listening in British radio these days, and the commercial stations the other half. And in both halves, there are both national and local stations and what are termed regional stations which will cover an area somewhere between the other two in physical size. The BBC runs five UK national stations from London. Radio One is a popular music station. Radio Two is aimed at an older age group, again music based with a lighter feel to it. Radio Three is a classical music station and a great classical music patron as well. Radio Four is a UK-wide news and current affairs and arts station. And Radio Five Live is the fifth UK national station, which is news and sport. The news is pacier than on Radio Four, and the addition of sport also adds an extra element of excitement to that station's output.

Now, layered on top of that are BBC local stations which in England are centered around cities or quite tightly defined geographical areas. Then, in Scotland and Wales, there are national stations. In Wales there are two, one which is broadcast in the Welsh language, and the other, Radio Wales, which is broadcast in the English language. Then in Scotland, there is Radio Scotland, the station I work for, which covers the whole of the Scottish nation. The population of Scotland is about one-tenth of the total UK population. We have about five million people in Scotland today, and get about a million listeners a week, roughly.

bbc-radio-scotland-logoR.A.P.: Tell us a little more about Radio Scotland format and its role in the BBC.
Steve: Radio Scotland is a speech-based station. It's the only national station in Scotland, so it has a very important role to perform in uniting the nation, really. All the competing stations in Scotland are centered around urban areas--Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Dundee--and have a local focus. Radio Scotland's been here since 1978, and its main purpose is to deliver distinctive, high-quality programming which will describe or reflect or celebrate Scottish culture and society. So that means meaningful speech based on a spine of news and current affairs, but all from a Scottish perspective which makes us distinct from any of the London stations which can also be heard across Scotland. We also include popular music forums and special services such as output for schools.

The main part of the Radio Scotland day includes presenter-led discussions, magazine format programming, built documentaries, and distinctive music. Our speech output is thoroughly researched and heavily produced--we never "hold the production meeting on the air." We're often powerful and provocative and always relevant to today's Scotland. We target an ABC1, 30-55 demographic so you can see how a commercial station would do anything to have our listeners for their advertisers!

The BBC is governed by Royal Charter, which has just been renewed, and is funded essentially from a television license fee. In Britain, if you own or operate a television receiver, you must pay an annual license fee, and that money is basically what funds the BBC. That funds the BBC's television services, as well as the radio services, except for the BBC World Service, which is funded separately. No BBC service carries any sponsorship or any advertising at all.

R.A.P.: Are the commercial stations funded solely from advertising revenue?
Steve: Yes. The commercial radio sector, which has been increasing and doing extremely well in terms of revenue in recent years in Britain, has three times the stations. There are UK national stations which, just by chance, all decided to set up in London. There's a classic FM, which is a classic music station. There's Virgin Radio, which is a rock station which broadcasts on the AM band, and the third one is called Talk Radio UK, which has only been on the air for a short time and is still developing. It is talk radio with a lot of phone-in, pretty much akin to the talk radio that has emerged from the United States.

Then there are regional stations which are all fairly new. They are covering areas like, for example, central Scotland, which is about four-fifths of the population of Scotland, or the midland of England, or the west midland of England, which is an area a regional station covers. These are termed regional commercial stations. I think there are just five of them.

R.A.P.: And then we get down to the local commercial stations.
Steve: There are hundreds of those. And it is the local commercial stations which have been broadcasting for the longest of all the commercial stations. They started in 1973 in London with LBC and Capitol Radio.

R.A.P.: Prior to that, was it just the BBC?
Steve: That's right.

R.A.P.: Commercial radio in Britain is relatively young.
Steve: Yes, certainly younger than in America. But every city and most towns in Britain now have their own commercial radio station of one size or another. London has dozens.

R.A.P.: You said the BBC maintains half of the listening audience and the commercial stations the other half. That says quite a lot for BBC programming. In the US, publicly owned stations barely show up in the ratings.
Steve: Across the UK, there's a great loyalty to the BBC services. The BBC has been with many people longer than most people can remember. And the loyalty, I'm sure, sustains a degree of the listenership. But, it's an increasingly competitive market, and people who work in public service radio, BBC radio, as well as those who work in the commercial sector, are aware that the competition for listeners is fiercer now than it ever has been and will become increasingly so. It makes our job in promotions increasingly important.

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