'We were the lockdown station': Radio 2's Helen Thomas & Trevor Nelson on building listener loyalty

'We were the lockdown station': Radio 2's Helen Thomas & Trevor Nelson on building listener loyalty

BBC Radio 2 triumphed at the Music Week Awards as the Radio Station of the year. 

The awards reflect success during 2020, a challenging year for the industry and broadcasters. 

Radio 2’s head of station Helen Thomas was appointed in the first half of 2020, so the win is a personal victory for her as well as the entire production team and on-air talent.

RAJAR figures have been on hold for 18 months, but anecdotal evidence suggests listening soared during lockdown. 

Radio 2 has been the No.1 station with a weekly reach of 14.4m in the last available figures for Q1 in 2020.

Here, Helen Thomas and presenter Trevor Nelson discuss the challenges for broadcasting during Covid, the return of RAJAR and bringing back live events on Radio 2...

Congratulations on winning the Radio Station trophy…

Helen Thomas: “It is traditionally the 6 Music Award!”

Trevor Nelson: “It’s all changed since I joined.”

HT: “It’s all down to Trevor!”

TN: “No, no, it’s not! I think we were the lockdown station. Throughout lockdown, we soldiered on, we went for it. I’ve done radio all my life, but last year was the first time that I realised how important radio is, especially to our audience all over the country. The Radio 2 audience are the most loyal audience out there. The communication was great between the DJs and the audience.”

How does it feel to win, Helen, for your first year as head of station?

HT: “Well, it’s wonderful. And it’s a tribute to all the amazing teams that work at Radio 2, our incredible presenters. They have this deep connection with the audience that Trevor  has spoken about. And Jeff Smith, who is our incredible head of music, he’s a real creative force who comes up with all these wonderful ideas and innovations - we don't stand still. He did the wonderful Children In Need record last year, Stop Crying Your Heart Out, featuring actual Cher, which was so amazingly exciting. And we had the innovations with the Concert Orchestra, House Music and Radio 2 Live At Home.”

Radio 2 is such a diverse, distinctive radio station with a breadth of genres and artists

Helen Thomas

Was it important to bring back performances this month with Radio 2 Live?

HT: “Hugely important. We were the first BBC radio station to introduce audiences back when we were recording our Radio 2 live gigs around the UK. So we had Texas in Glasgow, with a small socially distanced audience; Westlife in Belfast; the Manics in Cardiff; and Steps in Manchester, and it felt really special. You could see how hungry the artists were to perform again, and the audiences were desperate to get out there and just celebrate live music again. It's been a really tough 18 months for everyone. So we were glad that we were able to bring everyone together to feel great, and just delight in escape, laughter, companionship and connection.”

How was it broadcasting at the height of the pandemic?

TN: “It was the most testing year in broadcasting ever, honestly. Dependending on your style of broadcasting, you can be jokey. But this was different. Jo Whiley and myself, when we were doing alternative weeks, it was very strange. I’m glad we got through it. We realised how important radio is to people.” 

Are you enjoying celebrating with the industry at these awards again?

TN: “I've worked in the music industry as well and there are so many of my old friends here. It’s great seeing people out. Fantastic.”

HT: “Yeah, it's just been wonderful to see all these faces. People we may have seen on Zooms, and many who we haven't seen on Zooms for the last 18 months. It’s fantastic that Music Week put this awards ceremony on to bring us all together. It feels really special.”

How do you feel about the return of the RAJARs next month - is your sense that Radio 2 is growing?

“Well, we’ll wait until October 28! But certainly from the feedback that’s been coming through on the text and emails, we know that the audiences have really been enjoying what we’re doing and the breadth of programming that we have provided. It’s such a diverse, distinctive radio station with a breadth of genres and artists.”

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