Radio station on the brink

MANAGERS at one of Scotland’s longest-serving commercial radio stations will be hoping for a ratings boost today after months of falling audiences, behind-the-scenes turmoil and rumours some popular presenters are set to depart.

Managers at Forth One, which took to the airwaves 28 years ago as Radio Forth, are crossing their fingers for an improvement in the station’s audience figures, due out today. The Edinburgh-based station, which is part of the media giant Scottish Radio Holdings (SRH), has been under-performing for more than a year amid a shake-up of the schedules and changes in its music policy.

Its audience share has been down on the same period last year for each of the last three quarterly listener surveys.

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The results of the most recent survey, carried out for all Britain’s radio stations by industry research body RAJAR, will be published this morning.

In contrast, audiences at SRH’s sister stations in Glasgow and Dundee, Clyde 1 and Tay FM, have remained healthy.

Insiders at Forth One say staff are unhappy with management after a number of programming changes which have led to loyal listeners tuning to rivals such as Real Radio and Fife’s Kingdom FM.

Late-night dance music programmes were introduced in an effort to stop audiences flocking to the new regional station Beat 106 FM, but the experiment proved a failure and a more traditional mix of chart music has returned in a bid to recover ratings, which are crucial to advertising revenue.

DJ Micky Gavin quit to join Beat 106 FM last year, and there is a question mark over the future of the station’s remaining stalwarts, ambitious young breakfast show host Darren Adam and mid-morning presenter Grant Stott.

And the long-running Saturday afternoon programme, featuring DJ John Wood and the familiar voice of Diane Lester, has been scrapped altogether.

Media analysts say management jobs at the station could be under threat unless figures improve.

Richard Menzies-Gow, of London-based Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, said: "Scottish Radio Holdings runs a pretty tight ship and I cannot imagine the board putting up with this sort of under-performance for any period of time.

"Audiences come and go and the market can be very fickle, but Forth does seem to be the weakest part of the network without facing much more commercial competition.

"Audience share is crucial because it governs the amount of revenue received by each station from advertising, and falling shares means less money for programming."

An insider at Forth, which also operates a sister medium wave station, Forth 2, said: "The management here is not exactly inspiring. The only thing we seem to have these days is memos about parking arrangements and complaints about theft of crockery or cutlery from the executive areas."

But Sandy Wilkie, managing director of Forth One, said: "We believe we are turning a corner with audience levels, and you have to remember we are operating in a very difficult market.

"The music policy has changed and we hope listeners will appreciate that."

David Goode, managing director or radio at SRH, said: "The comparison between Clyde and Forth isn’t strictly fair since the east-coast and west-coast markets are very different. The overall share of listening for the BBC and commercial stations varies from area to area."