Whilst the British public were scrambling to find the coolest corners of their homes to shelter from the sweltering heat today, Broadcast Revolution had the pleasure of hosting an online event with Stig Abell, Launch Director of the much-anticipated Times Radio. With the station due to take to the airwaves next Monday, Stig gave our guests invaluable and in-depth insight into the stations outlook for its first year, the pillars of principles that will command the content of the station, and how the challenger brand’s unique and different offering will fill the gaps in the national radio landscape and could shake up the big players from below.
Emerging within the established Times family, the hopes for the radio station is to turn the British publisher into a global media hub, with Time Radio tapping into the wealth of its existing newsrooms and the high calibre of journalistic resources. The energy and excitement within the Times Radio team from the presenters such as John Pienaar who, according to Stig, cannot wait to get behind the mic on Monday, really came through in our event.
Yet, Stig reminded our guests that Times Radio is still fundamentally a national radio station build from scratch and very much a new, starting player to the game, despite the appearance of a commanding stance. The station start-up that has also not been created with the sole purpose to take on the big beast of the BBC. Their challenge will be to find, grow and build the community of listeners and contributors, and this is how they plan to do it.
This was the main principle Stig highlighted straight from the off when discussing the station’s format and style – the need for content that is ‘useful’ to its audience. This is the first stage of the screening process incoming stories will be subject to, and what the creation of content will be conducted by. Expert-driven analysis and information that its audience did not know and will affect their life will also be key to being known as “the station of experts”, with Times Radio allowing for lengthier discussion compared to its main competitors. Therefore, the question every PR should be asking in their brainstorming sessions is – Is this useful? News and politics will be the station’s spine, but useful topics that cover lifestyle, health, books, and culture will also play an important role in the stations output.
Being a fresh new face to the airwaves means Times Radio does not have any legacy or baggage but can try things out. “Ingenuity, cleverness, people and their ideas” will be the gateways of creativity alongside the principle of having an idea and making it work, rather than subjecting it to hours’ worth of scrutiny and workshopping. As well as making use of the pool of print talent from The Times, the station will also cover stories its newspaper sibling does not run, whilst all the time with the quality check of delivering high end content.
“People want to be provoked in a reasonable, rational fashion.”
When asked about presenter style driving the daily discussions, Stig talked about how Times radio will not mimic the confrontational, argumentative style seen with some of the other national broadcasters, as this just causes people to tune out, but will adopt reasoned discussion. (One worth noting for the media trainers among us.)
Stig also spoke about being a huge believer in informality. The radio station will challenge the perception that you do not need to be formal in order to be clever, and this will be the main striking difference between Times Radio and BBC Radio 4. You can have the most intelligent professor in their field, yet if all that comes out of their mouth is reels of jargon, this is not going to work for Times Radio. As Stig offered, if someone is as clever as their work, they should know how to communicate it to those who do not have that experience. Presenters will also be at liberty to share their personal experiences if they can relate to the story they are covering, and not feel an impropriety in doing so. Having an open and more informal approach aims to evoke the sense of togetherness and tone of community that the station is trying to strike. Although the presenter’s connections with the story will not dictate whether it is covered, having a story and voice that resonates with the presenter and the stations community is important.
In line with informality is the importance of communal experiences, and those that reflect the different regions of the UK as well as the global stories the Times internal correspondents can bring it audience. Likewise, committing from the off to be diverse in their contributors and stories is essential. Investing time to get the right people will be important for producers as fundamentally, the audience need to be able to hear from people who are like them, who they resonate with and who are connected to them – also an important consideration for brands when scouting out their spokespeople to front their campaigns. Social media will also be a big drive for the station as they want listeners to engage with the debate by tweeting and texting, but will not replicate LBC’s phone in format.
Although a bit of a cliché, throw away catch phrase often found at the top of a CV, Stig talked at length about the station’s forward-thing outlook not just as a brand, but a news source and how it will tackle news as the UK emerges out of lockdown. One crucial focus will be those aspects of life that have been “obliterated” by Coronavirus. As COVID-19 has been the only story around for the last three months, Stig spoke about the other important news stories that need to be covered that have been overshadowed by the crisis. In terms of Brexit, Times Radio is no longer interested in battling Brexit, but want to hear from businesses who are shaping the future and what that will look like, how they are wrestling with the problems everyone is experiencing, and how this is helping or affecting the station’s audience. Times Radio will also be less fussy when it comes to quality, in-studio interviews as we emerge out of lockdown, agreeing that it’s simply an inconvenience at a time when the world has adapted to zoom, skype and phone. As the conversation started to wrap up Stig left us with the assurance of Times Radio hoping to be a “safe space” for brands, which does not mean your CEO will have a completely easy ride with him on the breakfast show, but that they are open to hearing about ways in which brands are playing a useful role as we emerge out of the craziness that 2020 has brought us so far.