'It will be an exciting destination': Bauer's Gary Stein on the new Hits Radio Network

Hits Radio

Britain has a brand new radio station this morning, as Bauer Media launches Hits Radio.

Based in Manchester, the new station is the flagship of the renamed Hits Radio Network (formerly the Bauer City Network) and is available nationwide via DAB. Manchester’s Key 103 station is now a localised version of Hits Radio.

The station – launched by breakfast show hosts Gethin Jones, Gemma Atkinson and Dave “Comedy Dave” Vitty – is targeting 25-44-year-olds and will air chart hits from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Dua Lipa, Little Mix, Coldplay and Ariana Grande.

So far, so familiar. But with the radio landscape undergoing rapid change – from a new Radio 1 Breakfast Show host to schedule changes at Radio 2 – Music Week sat down with Hits Radio Network group programme director Gary Stein to talk Manchester, new talent and what the music biz can expect from the new network…

The last set of RAJAR figures for the Bauer City Network were very good. So why change things?

“Growing listening hours on any heritage station is not an easy job now. There’s more choice than ever, and people’s lives are busier, so growing Key 103’s hours by almost 27% is an achievement. However, the decision to change it has been made so that this station will become effectively the flagship for the Bauer Hits Radio network. The Bauer City Network reached about 45% of the UK. With digital growth this is a brilliant opportunity for us to take the Bauer City Network as it was and Hits Radio Network as it will be, right across the country on digital. It’s an exciting time.”

What should the music industry expect from the new network?

“Over the last few months, we’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at the balance of new music versus familiar versus surprise moments, and also the music that can help differentiate us. Over the last couple of months, there have been a couple of things that are fairly good examples of what I hope Hits Radio will bring the industry. It’s really important to me that we can own some songs that are different on the station. George Ezra’s Paradise has been very strong with our listeners. Currently Bauer BC1 is the biggest commercial supporter of that record, we’ve given that single something like 78 million impacts. Likewise Tom Walker’s Leave A Light On, that’s not on our commercial competitors. What I’d like to do for the industry is, alongside that soundtrack of the biggest hits of the day, it’s really important that we cherrypick some of those artists like George and Tom that maybe don’t get commercial radio exposure and use this network to play some of that music.”

Will being based in Manchester change the dynamic at all?

“The decision to launch our first national brand out of Manchester is exciting and marks the start of a pretty ambitious new chapter for commercial radio in the UK. We all know Manchester is the centre of the ‘Northern powerhouse’, it’s become one of the nation’s leading cities in terms of everything from culture to sport to politics. Over the last few years we’ve seen the BBC relocating programmes into Salford and ITV produces many of its regional programming from Media City. So for Bauer, launching this station out of our studios in Castle Quay, my hope is it will bring a new sound and character to UK radio. And having more northern roots allows us to build a station reflective of the strong regional identity and diversity that the UK has. From an on-air talent and musical point of view it would be good to reflect that throughout the output of this new network.”

You’ve clearly invested in presenting talent. With so many changes elsewhere, is it a good time to target people looking for something new?

“I think so. We’ve seen changes at Radio 1 and many of the commercial networks. Having well-known names that are rooted in market places is a good thing, but it’s really important for Manchester. Key 103 is not the No.1 station in that market place at the moment and the ambition is absolutely to get Hits Radio to No.1 as Key evolves into that. Having a new exciting line-up with a breakfast show that is certainly piquing a lot of people’s interest before it’s even gone on air and generating a few column inches can only be a good ting. I’m really excited about what Gethin, Gemma and Dave are going to bring, not only to that Manchester marketplace, but UK radio. As a station that’s available on digital, there is huge potential for growth. In the evenings we’re bringing in Sarah-Jane Crawford and, for us, that is a new place for artists and new releases and there will be a big investment from Bauer in visualising that show. We’ve got the entertainment hub based in Golden Square, we’ve got amazing access to content and this is an opportunity for us to push that through into Hits evenings with Sarah-Jane. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get people listening just to radio in the evening so the ambition for this show is to make it as visual as possible and create it on as many platforms as possible, so it will be an exciting destination.”

To read Music Week’s recent analysis of the Q1 RAJAR figures, click here. To subscribe and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.

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