Can Christian Radio put Premier on top?

Commercial Christian station Premier is fighting to convert ad industry cynics

SBHD: Commercial Christian station Premier is fighting to convert ad industry cynics

Ask London Christian Radio managing director Peter Meadows about the biggest obstacle facing new London commercial station Premier, and he replies instantly: “It’s the understandable cynical prejudice of the advertising world.”

But eight weeks before Premier’s launch on June 10, several agency sources suggest tha if LCR sticks to its pre-launch promises, its time may come.

Last week, LCR revealed details of its first advertiser deals (MW April 7).

“If it practises what it preaches, it stands a good chance,” says Zenith Media planning director Rosemary Gorman, although LCR has yet to show its ratecard to advertisers and agencies.

One reason is a backlash against the confrontational advertising environment created by recently-launched national commercial speech station Talk Radio UK. Sources claim at least one agency is advising clients not to use it for fear of a negative effect on their ads.

Premier will be the UK’s first religious radio station. But when the Radio Authority decided to award a London licence to LCR last year, many people greeted the news with consternation.

Meadows insists Premier will not be the stereotype the ad in-dustry expects. “There are those for whom `Christian’ does not have wonderful brand values – who associate media Christianity with Derek Nimmo,” he says. “But our service will not be wall-to-wall religious services and listeners won’t wear open-toed sandals and have greasy hair.”

The phrase “commercial religious station” may seem a contradiction in terms, but LCR is trying to present the church to advertisers as a viable marketing proposition.

London’s church-goers are an affluent, upmarket bunch, LCR research shows. It approached local churches to garner support as part of its application to the RA. Church-goers were asked to sign bank standing orders pledging to invest an average £30 in the station, should it win. So far, LCR has 8,000 “friends” – contributing no less than £240,000 to its launch. Premier’s anticipated first-year turnover is £1.8m.

A further 80,000 Londoners have signed up to say they will listen – their details are on file.

Further research into 1,000 of these prospective listeners re-veals that 62 per cent – who listen to Radio 4 – say they would also tune in to Premier; 35 per cent, who listen to Classic FM, say the same. Most important, Meadows says, are the 37 per cent who tune into no commercial radio but say they would listen.

“Large numbers of people listening to Radio 4 are particularly ready to defect,” Meadows claims. “We have an audience waiting for us and we know what they want. That is more than can be said for most stations launching with a chosen format that can only hope people will listen.”

Premier will target a 35-plus, upmarket London audience of affluent ABC1 professionals, offering 85 per cent speech-based programmes and 15 per cent music. Speech will comprise news and information at peak-time, notably breakfast and drive-time, with 15 to 30-minute lifestyle strands at other times.

“Just because we are London Christian Radio, it does not mean we will attract woolly people uninterested in issues,” says LCR head of sales Diane Gault.

She predicts sponsorship will account for more than 50 per cent of advertising revenue – higher than usual. One reason is the opportunities offered by Premier’s predominantly stranded speech format. Extending on-air sponsorship off air via booklets, leaflets and associated events will be a priority, she adds.

Premier will also carry traditional spot advertising, with sales handled in-house.

Advertisers will be offered a third kind of deal – in effect, the chance to buy off-peak airtime for their own programme or an idea that the station itself could eventually produce. Such programmes could last from five seconds to 30 minutes, with LCR retaining strict editorial control.

Support services will feature strongly, offering advice on-air and through a network of charities and other groups. LCR has secured a national sponsor, whose identity remains undisclosed.

Gault says Premier’s main appeal will lie in the advertising environment it can offer. It is predicting a modest audience reach – some five per cent – but with higher average listening – some six hours a week.

“The association of brands with a station’s own brand values are more important than many people recognise,” she says. “In a way, we can offer the values of the caring Nineties, although we will not be sanctimonious, po-faced or pious.”

A growing number of people acknowledge a spiritual dimension to life but do not necessarily work it out through church involvement, Gault adds. “Agencies need new ideas for clients – not just another music, or even another speech station.”

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