With the latest radio listening figures suggesting BRMB’s star might once again be in the ascendancy, Anna Blackaby finds out whether all PR is good PR for the station which made global headlines when it sacked a presenter for calling the Queen’s Speech boring.
It’s probably fair to say it’s been an eventful six months for BRMB.
When Orion Media chief executive Phil Riley picked up the keys to the door in the midst of a listener slump last July, he knew he had a tough job on his hands to restore the radio station to its former glory.
But within weeks, BRMB had been mixed up with the disastrous Christmas lights switch-on, which it helped organise, where more than 60 people were injured in a crush at Millennium Point.
And shortly afterwards BRMB once again found itself making national, even international, news when it sacked stand-in DJ Tom Binns for interrupting the Queen’s Speech with the phrase: “Two words – bor-ing”.
So last week’s RAJAR radio listening figures must have provided management with a sign that things are finally heading in the right direction.
The quarterly figures show the station has pulled clear of its low point last September, of a weekly reach of 343,000.
Now it is back to levels it last saw a year ago, of 365,000, thanks to a series of changes which have seen new DJs come in, such as Jo Russell on the breakfast show, as well as a move towards a more mainstream and familiar music format.
The most recent signings are Pop Idol finalists and children’s TV presenters Sam Nixon and Mark Rhodes.
Mr Riley gave the figures a cautious welcome.
He said: “I’m very pleased with the BRMB figures – they are a nice healthy move upwards in terms of reach and total listening, so we’re very positive about that.
“We can’t claim massive credit for it because obviously we were making lots of changes during the course of that survey, but the fact we have come out with an improved result is pretty positive and hopefully we can build from there.”
Mr Riley is keen to stress that the changes the station has been making do not constitute a relaunch – instead it is pursuing a more gradual approach.
“It’s not a relaunch – we haven’t put up posters to say that – we have simply freshened the station up.
“The danger of having a formal relaunch is everybody thinks they’ve done that before and not take any notice of it.
“We just wanted to say we’ll put those new shows on and we think people will be captivated by them over time.”
In keeping with this, Mr Riley said there are more changes in the pipeline for 2010, with new presenters to be brought in as well as a further roll-out of the type of events-led features which have made a splash for the station in the past.
But if the station is looking to get people talking, it might well look at the lessons it learnt from the indiscretion of Mr Binns, who shot BRMB to worldwide fame for a brief moment over Christmas.
Mr Riley is canny enough to see that it left neither BRMB nor the presenter in too negative a light.
“I wish Tom well with his comedy career,” he said. “He’s got fantastic PR out of it and, to be honest, I don’t think we were negatively affected. We got lots of newspaper headlines and actually the old adage ‘all good PR is good PR,’ I suspect is true. I don’t think anybody sat there and said ‘I’m never going to listen to BRMB again’.”
But he denies there was any premeditated publicity motive behind its decision to sack Mr Binns.
“I have to say if we had sat down before Christmas and concocted a publicity stunt, we probably couldn’t have done it better than it happened, but I can say hand on heart it wasn’t.”
BRMB has a bit of a history in attracting the wrong sort of headlines.
Listeners may recall incidents under previous owners such as when four people where hospitalised after sitting on blocks of dry ice, or when the station got its fingers rapped by Ofcom for promising a prize trip to “Athens” – which turned out to be a restaurant instead of the Greek capital. But despite this, Mr Riley is adamant playing it safe is not what BRMB is about.
“If you look at all the things BRMB has got involved with – right back to the walkathon in the eighties and some of the stuff Tony Butler used to do, Two Strangers and A Wedding and the dry ice incident, which was obviously very unfortunate for the people concerned, what you would say as a theme was the people who run BRMB have been prepared to take a risk and do new things that are going to capture people’s imagination.
“Occasionally those things go wrong – the Christmas lights is a good example.
“We wanted to put on a fantastic show and in the end it was probably too great for the environment it was going to run it.
“We wanted to hire talented, edgy presenters and Tom certainly was one of the guys that came with that edge and risk factor and it didn’t work out for a variety of reasons.
“But if you never take any risks, you will never fail, but you will also be extremely dull and boring.
“I would hope by the time people have sampled BRMB, the one thing they will not say is ‘they are dull and safe.’
“I want them to say ‘you know what – they have a bit of fun, take the odd gamble and the odd risk but they are entertaining’.”