“It’s Len Groat – radio like it used to be!” sings the retro jingle into another hour of seventies music.
When I was growing up, Len was one the voices on what I considered to be the mutt’s nuts of broadcasting. You see, in the Seventies, Radio Trent was still fresh. It was breaking new ground in all sorts of ways, not least because it was live, local and fun.
Thirty seven years on, Trent Sound is recreating what its founders consider to be the golden age of the station – which officially vanished from the airwaves at the start of 2012, when Capital FM replaced it. Trent Sound’s golden age, according to its business plan, was the late eighties. Indeed, the community station – currently broadcasting online – spent a considerable amount of money in having jingles from that era resung. You can’t accuse them of lacking attention to detail in that sense.
And Len Groat’s Seventies Sunday adds a genuine air of nostalgia, along with Danny Cox’s retro countdown which airs on weekdays. Together with Andy Marriot, Trent Sound is aiming to fill the schedules with familiar names from the past.
Yet Trent Sound’s management insists that this isn’t a retro radio station. It has long term ambitions to gain an FM licence from OFCOM and bring back “full service” local radio to Nottingham. Curiously, though, its business plan speaks of a licence covering three towns, two of which are outside the city of Nottingham. The aim is to operate a service broadcasting to Bulwell, Eastwood and Hucknall. All have sizeable populations – and the plan may be to pre-empt OFCOM’s own timetable. Community radio licences for the East Midlands are expected to be advertised next year – but with Nottingham itself having three existing stations (Kemet, Faza and Dawn) the regulator may be minded to award licences to outlying areas.
The station has achieved much in little over a year. Already, there are programmes featuring local music sessions, interviews and features reflecting the area and Nottingham’s only show for the gay community. And the business plan sets out an ambitious proposition – to run a community radio station along with a major training outfit for news broadcasters – with particular emphasis on those who might otherwise be socially excluded.
Big plans indeed. Which, of course, will have to be paid for somehow. Competition rules state that Community Radio stations can only source around 50% of their income from advertising - the theory being that otherwise they might eat into the existing commercial market. But Trent Sound is going down the risky route of avoiding traditional commercial breaks in favour of sponsorship. At the moment, you can sponsor its breakfast from for £50 per week – an attractive and cost effective proposition – but only if people are listening.
What’s more, Trent Sound is only accepting sponsorship from local companies. National names are only allowed if they’re head office is based within Nottinghamshire. It’s certainly a healthy aspiration to maintain local routes – but some might question this policy at a time when advertising budgets are being squeezed. Back in the day, you might have got local councils and other public services on board to spend a few hundred pounds here and there. These days, it’s quite different. And excluding big names like Coke or MacDonalds might, in a roundabout way, damage the overall credibility of the enterprise.
The business plan is still very much a work in progress, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens once OFCOM releases more licences. Truly local radio is becoming increasingly hard to find – but the big players like Capital and Smooth have already got a dominant foothold in the market.
So whilst it’s rather nice to hear Len Groat all these years on (even if his show is voicetracked from Portugal), my own feeling is that Trent Sound will need to shake off its retro image if it really is serious about competing.
2013 could yet be an interesting year.