Grow or stay cool: the dilemma for Choice

Fans of specialist music including hip hop, indie and rock have never had it so good, with commercial radio operators boosting investments in such stations over recent years desparate to tap into a more diverse audiences.

The spotlight has been on guitar-based music stations, such as GCap’s Xfm and EMAP’s Kerrang!, thanks to the resurgence of rock music. However, the growing popularity of urban music means that stations such as Choice and Kiss will find themselves under increasing pressure from mainstream pop stations.

Kiss is already planning a revamp this spring to woo back listeners. A pirate dance specialist before EMAP bought it in 1992, Kiss has suffered from the waning interest in dance music. It has been forced to broaden its range of music which includes urban and R’n’B.

This has prompted a mixed response from listeners. In the Rajar figures for the fourth quarter of 2005, released last week, Kiss reported 1.4 million weekly listeners in London, up five per cent on the previous quarter. However, it is significantly below the station’s 1.7 million peak in the third quarter of 2002.

Kiss marketing director Nick Button says the station’s primary objective is to become “the commercial station for young London”. He adds: “We recognise we have to continually evolve. We need to recommunicate with our listeners and remind them what we stand for.”

Button will not be drawn on specifics, only that Kiss will aim to fit in with the lifestyle of young Londoners, supported by added services such as podcasts and new advertising.

Choice FM, on the other hand, is tightly focused on urban and R’n’B music, and may have to learn lessons from Kiss if it is to continue growing. Head of radio at Mindshare Howard Bareham says: “Choice is small and in touch with its audience. Kiss started out like that, but as it has grown it has had to widen its focus.”

Choice is looking to grow both nationally and in the capital. In last week’s Rajar announcement, it reported 612,000 weekly listeners nationally. It is only the second national figure it has reported, and up from 605,000 in its first quarter. However, its London audience has fallen to 510,000 for this quarter, compared with 602,000 for the second quarter of 2005.

Launched in 1990 and bought by GCap in 2004, Choice does not have an above-the-line spend, preferring a mix of events, merchandise, on-air promotions and competitions.

Choice marketing manager Amba Callender admits that despite its success in London, it needs to increase listeners’ awareness if it is going to grow nationally. She says: “We are in a unique position – as the popularity of urban music grows, so will we.

“We’ll continue to break new artists but as urban becomes more popular other stations will play it.”

The challenge facing Choice is how it can retain its listeners and gain new ones, as well as keeping advertisers happy while retaining its edge. As one radio industry insider points out, Choice is now part of GCap and will need to keep shareholders happy as well as listeners.

He says: “The dilemma is how to grow and stay cool. Ask GCap shareholders if they would rather Choice stayed cool but only made &£100,000 a year, or became uncool and made &£10m, and I think they would go for the latter.”

Caroline Parry

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here