Commercial radio gains strength from solidarity

Trade associations are not noted for their ability to arouse strong emotions, but the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA) could be an exception to the rule.

CRCA, like its sister organisation the Radio Advertising Bureau, is an industry-wide organisation whose aim is to ensure that commercial radio remains the fastest-growing medium in the UK for another eight years. Its main concerns are government regulation, how to cope with the threat of the BBC, and management of radio’s audience research body, Radio Joint Audience Research (Rajar).

At the end of this month, I will come to the end of a two-year stint as non-executive chairman of the CRCA. It has been a time of dramatic change and great opportunity for the medium.

Like any fast-growing business, radio attracts its fair share of larger-than-life egos and those who are used to calling the shots. However, unlike other media, radio executives have acknowledged the value of absolute (as opposed to more subjective) advantage. Executives from different companies have worked at negotiating an industry- wide stance which, given the difficulties under which radio labours, is necessary for future development of the medium.

Radio has to work with an out-of-date set of rules and regulations that can only be changed through parliamentary legislation. The publicly-funded BBC, which has enormous resources and huge regulatory advantages, is another problem. Unfortunately, radio doesn’t easily attract the attention of public policymakers because it is relatively small in comparison with television.

So, an industry-wide position has great benefits – with one voice we can be heard. Commercial radio companies have taken advantage of continual consultation and co-operation around the CRCA board table.

The recent CRCA response to the Government’s Green Paper on the future of broadcast regulation is a case in point. The CRCA position is that the complicated mix of programme and ownership regulations which currently binds radio should be replaced by a more transparent and simple regime.

This position has been achieved after many meetings and telephone conversations between companies such as Capital Radio, Chrysalis Radio, EMAP Radio, the GWR Group and Scottish Radio. Together, they weighed the balance of absolute and relative advantage. The devil is always in the detail, and sometimes the only way to get a team together is to have a few fierce rows first. We’ve had a couple that included broken crockery.

While the numerous players in television and the press find it almost impossible to find a joint position, professionals of the radio industry continue to circumvent the difficulties that prevent them from giving listeners and advertisers more of what they want.

The future belongs to the people who see it first. The most successful medium in the future will be the one that anticipates possible changes, plans ahead to anticipate them and then works together to put the changes into action. Radio has already set this process in motion.

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