Rad radio loses track of hip beat

IT HAS been a year since Carol Smillie, Sharleen Spiteri and Ally McCoist raised their Champagne flutes to toast the launch of radio station Beat 106 . The trio of celebrities had high hopes for their investment in the venture . They were right. Eight months later they sold out to Capital Radio for £33.7 million.

Smillie, 38, Spiteri, 33, and 38-year-old McCoist were reported each to have made 1 million from the deal: a tidy return from their initial 100,000 investment . Beat 106 founder Ron McCulloch, the Glasgow nightclub entrepreneur, is said to have pocketed 8 million from the deal.

The station’s start-up costs were a mere 2 million. Their mission: to bring innovative radio to Scotland. In the words of their own hype, it would be a "music-intensive station which will be loud, hot and new for young Scots, with a fresh, dynamic mix of new rock, dance and information that matters".

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Boy bands and Britney Spears were to be banned from a playlist which would focus on hipper sounds for the 18-30 clubbers across central Scotland. Beat 106 aimed to take on the established stations Clyde and Forth.

Within six months, 334,000 listeners were tuning in each week. While the station did not quite deliver the radical revolution it claimed, it was at least offering an alternative to the mainstream pop of its rivals.

Then Capital weighed in and Beat 106 was added to its 19 stations across the UK. The speed of the deal caused rumblings in the industry. Many wondered just what had happened to the original two-year commitment to build the station up in Scotland.

Listeners were more concerned with how the influence of Capital Radio would be reflected on the turntables at Beat 106. Within weeks , programme controller John Collins had left and was replaced by Andrew Jeffries, who had held the same position at the Capital-owned Southern FM. DJs Bobby Finn and Jim Gellatly, seen as one of the more individual presenters, were both axed. Gellatly says his Beatscene show no longer fitted the new direction of the station . "I’m glad to be out of the presentation side as I need to believe in the music I’m playing," said Finn.

This week, Beat 106 celebrated its first anniversary. Four months on from the Capital purchase, the sounds coming out of Beat’s Pacific Quay studios in Glasgow seem a clear indication of Capital’s intentions . "Beat 106 is as Scottish as jellied eels," says one industry expert. "It’s becoming just another station churning out the same modern music. There was never any intention to build it up. The fact it was sold so quickly points to the possibility that negotiations to sell it were going on even before the launch. It was only ever a money-making venture."

Capital sees Beat 106 as similar in style to its flagship London station. "It’s a great canvas to paint on," says chief executive David Mansfield. "And there’s relatively low competition in Scotland."

Radio commentator Colin Somerville believes Beat 106 will go the same way as XFM, the London-based dance station also bought by Capital. "All its rough edges are being smoothed out. When Beat first started, it was as rough as a badger’s bum and quite amateurish but it did succeed in being different from the others.

"It tried to get the flavour of Glasgow club life, but there’s no doubt that Capital will shift the station slightly more into the mainstream."

The listening figures remain the same, around 360,000 a week. Beat’s star DJ, breakfast presenter Robin Banks, 28, is a big hit with his cheeky style. But he can hardly be considered avant-garde and the station’s original mission statement, "a radio revolution", looks more remote now than ever.

Rivals Clyde and Forth are fighting back with bullish advertising and promotions. Somerville, who worked at Forth for 15 years and now runs his own internet media company Dig Media , believes that Beat 106 will go on, but with a different sound. "Capital will use its expertise to polish Beat 106 up and make it sound more professional.

"Inevitably, it will progress towards sounding like a better variation of its competitors. Put it this way: it won’t be playing the next Primal Scream record."