'We've seen a lot of change in the breakfast market': Virgin Radio on its digital ambitions

'We've seen a lot of change in the breakfast market': Virgin Radio on its digital ambitions

Chris Evans has got off to a flying start at Virgin Radio, with an opening RAJAR result of 1.048 million listeners for his new Breakfast Show.

As revealed in our RAJAR analysis in the latest issue of Music Week, the former Radio 2 presenter added almost 900,000 listeners to the Virgin Breakfast Show. Overall, the station was up year-on-year from 427,000 to 1.301m.

The digital-only network now has market leader BBC Radio 6 Music in its sights. Here, Francis Currie, group content director – music radio, Wireless Group, takes Music Week inside the station’s battle plan…

Are you happy with the launch of the Evans show?

“I think the show is stronger than it sounded on Radio 2. I think Chris undoubtedly feels liberated, you can hear a new sense of playfulness and joy in his performance. It wasn’t just a lift and shift, the show has actually improved as it came to Virgin as well and of course that helped [with the RAJAR result].” 

What did Virgin have to do to get all those new listeners?

“Two really unique things about the process of Chris Evans joining Virgin. First is that there is only one Chris Evans, he’s the best broadcaster in the country and he now works for us. The other is the relationship with Sky where they are a partner in the true sense of the word, they are very much organically part of the show, they are fully integrated. What that allows us to do is to not only present the Chris Evans show in its full glory but to also present it without commercial breaks. Particularly for a BBC audience, that was an important part for us to get right. The partnership with Sky just gets stronger and stronger, with their help with marketing, sponsorship and promotion and with A-list guests and their help with editorial content. On top of that, the marketing team here at News UK have done a phenomenal job of really making sure that message gets across, through TV, through print, online, all different kinds of distribution channels making sure that everybody knows where Chris Evans now is.”

Evans’ Radio 2 replacement at Breakfast, Zoe Ball, also had a strong first quarter…

“Zoe’s great, one of the exciting things about Chris joining Virgin or Zoe at Radio 2 is that the radio sector hasn’t been as vibrant as it is now for a long time. Zoe is a quality broadcaster, she had very big shoes to fill in Chris’ shoes and she’s done a great job, the RAJAR says that too. We’ve seen a lot of change in the breakfast market over the last three months and it’s a delight to see all of those shows thriving.”

The radio sector hasn’t been as vibrant as it is now for a long time

Francis Currie

Are people listening to both shows?

“We’ve got a bit more digging to do in terms of the RAJAR numbers to try and identify audience patterns and audience behaviour. Certainly her hours were down a little bit and it’s possible there’s more shared listening. Equally, the show we have on Virgin doesn’t just appeal to Radio 2 listeners, it appeals to listeners from the commercial sector too. We’ve drawn a broad church from a wide range of radio stations.”

What’s the plan for the Breakfast Show and the station to build on this Q1 success?

“In terms of our commitment to the radio station and the Breakfast Show, this is a long-term game. We’ve started really well, the show is continuing to develop and it sounds better week on week. In terms of the promotion and marketing, we still need to continue getting the message out because for a lot of people they still don’t know where Chris is and they still don’t know Virgin Radio is back – that job is almost never done. The communications team have done a phenomenal job, and there’s always more to do in terms of telling people that Chris’ show sounds better than ever and where to find it. So we’ve got a long way to go in terms of that communication but also audience development.”

Who are Virgin’s main rivals?

“We’re happy to take listeners from anywhere and everywhere. We’re focused on what we do. I don’t think Virgin Radio sounds like any other radio station and we don’t spend our time thinking about other radio stations. Our job is to make Virgin Radio sound as strong as it possibly can and then tell people about it and help them to find it.”

To read our RAJARS interview with Radio 2 head Lewis Carnie click here.

For the full Q1 Music Week RAJAR analysis pick up the latest issue – or subscribers can click here.

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