LNR pins hopes on LBC’s appeal

London News Radio’s new owners are relaunching the ailing station under the old LBC name, in an attempt to boost its listener base and cash in on the buoyant ad climate.

A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a radio station clearly can’t get listeners if its messes about with its moniker.

The new owners of London News Radio – the radio group GWR, ITN and The Daily Mail & General Trust – announced their intention to relaunch the station when they bought it in February (MW February 16). This week they confirmed their long-rumoured intention to relaunch the AM service under the name of the previous licence-holder LBC.

The relaunch will first take in the AM speech and phone-in service London News Talk, which will become LBC 1152AM, on July 1. It will be supported by a heavyweight two-week campaign on Carlton and in the Evening Standard.

Depending on its success, the FM 24-hour news service will be rebranded under the LBC name as well and a major London poster campaign is booked for the autumn. The station’s ad campaign has been bought and planned by Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO and its logo and creative work is by design company McBain’s.

The ad campaign emphasises the return of an old friend with the strapline: “London gets its voice back.” The station is also bringing back a number of old LBC presenters, including Pete Murray and Benny Green, mixing them with a number of new appointments and a revamped schedule.

The station’s jingles and call signs have been updated, but based on their originals.

The fly in the ointment is the claim by Mohammed Al-Fayed’s Liberty Publishing, owner of ailing Viva Radio, that it is the sole owner of the rights to the LBC name.

Liberty has threatened to sue, on the basis that it registered the trademarks of LBC when it was attempting to buy LNR from Reuters last year – a deal that was stopped at the last moment by the Radio Authority (RA).

However, Steve Orchard, GWR’s group programming director, claims he has yet to receive Liberty’s threatened writ. “Our case is rock solid,” he claims. “We bought the rights to the LBC name with the purchase of LNR and have registered it for broadcasting with the Radio Authority.”

The battle for the LBC name is simple. Research by GWR has shown that two years after the demise of the radio brand it is still fondly remembered by a mass audience. LNR has had the singular achievement of losing approximately 60 per cent of LBC listeners, falling from a peak audience share of 12 per cent in the mid-Eighties to three per cent now.

“The LBC brand was squandered,” says Orchard “It is down to a base of women over 55 – the ones who will listen until the bomb drops. It needs a sharper editorial focus, as well as the new blood.”

Orchard is concerned that the service lives up to the LBC name. “If you are using the LBC name you have to use it credibly, giving quality output. The LNR brands never acquired any status and consequently are in general decline.”

The relaunch is designed to change the AM station’s listening profile to a 40 to 45 age group and increase audience numbers and listening hours. The commercial success of LBC at its peak was based on the long hours its devoted listeners put in, providing the airtime-hours for the ad sales team to sell.

The FM rolling news service is intended to provide lower numbers of more upmarket listeners who drop into the station from music stations.

The LBC name was abandoned when LNR won the franchise from the RA in 1994. Unbelievably, considering the brand’s strength, it was the second time it had been dropped.

In September 1989, LBC’s then owners decide to rename the AM service Talk Back Radio and the FM service Crown FM. The decision was based on a feeling that the brand needed rejuvenating and pulling upmarket. That experiment lasted only until spring 1990, when the LBC initials appeared on air again.

GWR is trying to be realistic about where it can take LBC. It does not want simply to bring back the same listeners ten years older, ten years on. It wants new, younger listeners, as well as those who drifted away.

And the challenge will not be easy. Since its hey-day in the Eighties, there has been an explosion in London radio stations, as well as the appearance of new national speech stations Talk Radio and Radio 5 Live. “We’ll never get back to a market share of 12 per cent again,” says Orchard.

However, it is not only radio stations that have exploded while LBC has been away. Advertising revenue has increased at about 25 per cent a year for three years.

While in the old days LBC was a listening and brand success, it was also often a business disaster, with multiple owners and bad property investments eventually putting the station into receivership.

LBC’s new custodians are hoping that the combination of an improved advertising climate – and the LBC name – can help avoid the pitfalls of the good old, bad old, days.

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