Absolute Clarity by Clive Dickens

What a journey. The task was building a radio station which kept the best bits of the Golden Square success story, adding in some extras and making sure they fitted perfectly. And choose a new name. And do it all it a matter of days. A jigsaw. A pretty big one.

Getting the new brand right was the priority. Next came a label for it: ‘Absolute‘.

Many of you at Golden Square will have heard my story about how this name came about – if you have not, do ask, but set aside a few minutes, it’s a long story. Suffice to say, alongside Albion our brand consultants, we explored everything from made-up words through to words that described what we do. We held all suggestions up against criteria which included URLs and trademark availability, resonance with brand, international translation & appeal and the like. Absolute was a clear winner on all fronts and the more we lived with it, the more we really liked it. Such a great powerful and flexible word. And we can own it across the World – and we can really build a music entertainment business around it, with a great radio station at the core. It sums us up well, though, I think. The word embodies what we stand for: we are resolute and unapologetic about our passion for real music – our desire to build a great entertainment brand and business – our determination to put listeners at the heart of our plans – and we are not afraid to challenge the commercial radio status quo.

But, then again, it’s just a word, and it’ll grow to mean as much as we do under it.

What is that? Well, for one, certainly not just a change of name. We are seizing this once in a lifetime opportunity to innovate and step into a new phase. Under our new name, Absolute we can explore opportunities which we could not. Commercially, those opportunities are clear, particularly with the advanced digital assets we’ve inherited. We’ll build on these with a new HD Streaming Video player, hopefully the first commercial music subscription service, and a real focus on in-car DAB. There’s evidence of the latter with our plans to cross-market our digital services on the main service like no-one else has (Xtreme and Classic Rock). Some innovative thinking here: introducing the digital audiences to Geoff and Christian’s shows – and heralding the choice available on all three services at the end of each of those shows. Conversely, we’ll create a unique show on the main station each week to showcase each of the digital station offerings.

Presenters? Well, many will remain. Russ is an institution. Christian will continue the great work he’s been doing – and it’s just great that Geoff once again can be enjoyed by a larger audience on his new early evening show. I don’t think there are many who would dispute that Geoff Lloyd is one of the UK’s greatest broadcasters. New names are slotting in too, such as Jo Russell who has won more awards than you can imagine from her Midlands breakfast show. There will be a few others too such as the inimitable Tim Shaw, ex-Kerrang and now the face of Fifth Gear, and my focus has been on real gifted communicators. Not just voices, but entertainers who will play a part in taking this station – and commercial radio – forward. Our goal is to be employing the services of more award-winning presenters than anyone else.

One thing was never in question. Golden Square needs serious marketing investment. We’ve just signed off what we believe to be the largest in Golden Square history. Aimed at keeping our current audiences- and then growing our 5m users/ listeners around the world.

Absolute Music? Most people now have their own personal radio station in their pocket: an MP3 player cleverly playlisted with some popular tracks and maybe a few surprises too. On-line you can discover new material within minutes of it being recorded or re-discover album tracks from old albums from artists who influenced today’s finest musicians. That is the world we are in. So, we’re sticking with real music – not manufactured rubbish – and we’re building on the amount of live music we do – we’re just going to discover more of all of it. Also, one key finding from every piece of research we did, and that includes walking into the newsagents opposite, we’ll be playing more different songs – in fact, ten times more! When we play a ‘Haven’t Heard It for Ages’ on Absolute Radio, you really won’t have done. Once we’ve played it, it won’t be on again for a year. And the No Repeat 9-5 workday is back, by popular request.

Come October, Absolute Radio will leap into life, trumpeted by a new sonic identity, assembled where all great things were. Abbey Road.

I could write about the different way we are doing business and working with our partners and staff. Openly. Honestly. Frankly, I think it is best if others judge us on that in the months to come. But, I am personally delighted with the response this blog has enjoyed.

We’re now into what we’re calling ‘crossfade’ (Christian called it that first). Our old and new names will live happily alongside each other for a few weeks whilst our listeners and users adjust. Then, after a brief pause, we’ll move into being Absolute Radio. In this crossfade period, we’ll be offering hints of some of the new ideas, and the ‘Absolute Classics‘ we’ll play in evey show are a great example of the musical discovery which will be a key part of what we do going forward.

Thanks to all involved here at Golden Square for your help and co-operation – and ideas along the way. I mean the last point honestly: we can point to a whole host of areas where your contributions have helped to shape what we’re doing. Similary, the debate amongst listeners has been hugely useful too – and I think they will be pleased when they hear the new station evolve. Thanks to all here for your tolerance of my midnight phone calls, swathes of dawn emails and the texts you did not understand. When the raw material alone was a huge national radio station, the future has to be exciting. It is.

Clive

Comments (26)

  1. Niko (from Manila) @ September 2, 2008 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    I got the email this morning (in Manila) being a Virgin VIP – oh, wait, Absolute VIP. I can’t wait.

    It does say a lot about what you aim to do – and, funny enough, the new name has been staring me under my nose for quite a while now, being an occasional listener to Absolute-owned Jack FM in Oxfordshire!

    I’m absolutely excited, and I said that already.

  2. greg @ September 2, 2008 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Hell, British Radio is getting exciting again. With the growth of online and digital Absolute is appearing at the right time

    There is a massive audience to be grabbed from the other mainly “blinkered” stations

    Good luck

  3. Vikki @ September 2, 2008 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    All the very best to Absolute Radio. Tim Shaw ( she smiles) thats great news ,really looking forward to spending time with Tim ;). Its good that your bringing No Repeats back now maybe we’ll hear alot more of the amazing music thats out there but doesnt get enough airplay. I’m really hoping Absolutely radio wont be afraid to extend its playlist and take a chance on lesser known bands and play stuff from say – Elbow , Cage The Elephant , Black Stone Cherry , Matchbox 20 even Metallic , they are just my examples, I’m sure you know what I’m saying :)

  4. klsy @ September 2, 2008 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    who cares the name – NO REPEATS is back!! Whoop Whoooooop

  5. R Stein @ September 2, 2008 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Having read this blog and the Media Guardian article on the change I’m really looking forward to Absolute Radio especially Geoff getting promoted which is long overdue.

    I have to admit that Tim Shaw and his antics have got on my nerves in the past but I think and Allan Lake are exactly the sort of people that Absolute should have and will make the station stand out and wish both of them the best.

    My only disappointment is Geoff’s move hasn’t led to Iain Lee getting more shows. Maybe it was his choice I don’t know but I do hope he will continue to be part of Absolute Radio on Sunday nights for a long time. Afterall it would seem a bit strange to hire Tim and Allan but have Iain departing.

  6. Joe @ September 2, 2008 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Er. If it was about gifted communicators why are you getting rid of some of the best? Although Geoff is excellent.

  7. Rita @ September 2, 2008 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with R Stein, I am also very dissapointed to hear that Iain Lee isn’t going to get more shows, due to Geoff’s promotion. He is a brilliant late night presenter and should be heard on the radio more often. Maybe there could be a chance of a show Friday to Sunday nights 10-1(pm), it would be the perfect slot for him.

  8. Lewis Jay Spence @ September 2, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    With British commercial radio changing so much this year, I have appreciated being able to read an honest account of a station taking a good look at itself, seeing what works, what can be changed, and building a powerful, cohesive brand. “Absolute Radio”, just going by the intrigue created by the choice of word, makes me think it should be worth giving yoursleves a try.

    Living in Gosport, Hampshire, I have been used to clear-cut radio formats, and strong, locally-known brands – Ocean FM (AC music & local news), Power FM (CHR music) and Original 106 (msuic played less often on the radio). By this year’s end, the first two will become “Heart” and “Galaxy”, and Celador will change “Original” to something else. These names don’t tell me what I am about to expect, and I have a feeling that nothing will be done to get me excited about the possibilities of change – Global Radio should take inspiration from this blog.

    Having said the above, I missed Allan Lake when he started out at Isle of Wight Radio, so it’ll be interesting to hear what he’s like on air!

  9. Mister Mephitic @ September 2, 2008 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    It’s been a journey? A what? This isn’t the X Factor. Cut out the American pyscho babble for Christ’s sake! I love the fact that you hired “Brand Consultants” – people telling you the bleedin’ obvious wrapped in media cliches that desperately say they are trying to hide it being the bleedin’ obvious. How long until money gets tight and once again, you won’t realise your staff could have told you this rot for free. Absolute chumps.

  10. Marty from new yawk @ September 2, 2008 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    There are two items I wish to comment upon.

    Firstly, the name of the station is irrelevant to the listeners. Nobody listens to a station because of its name. As a listener, the problems here are the play list and the marketing which you’ve readily acknowledged. Now as to the choice of name, I think you overpaid the marketing people. The best that they could come up with is the name of one of the co-owners of the station?

    Second, just because someone has won a Sony Award, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re the second coming of John Peel. It means that the station they were on put them up for an award. It’s ashame to toss out presenters like detritus because they haven’t won a Sony Award.

    Nonetheless, I am looking forward to the upcoming changes and their implementation.

  11. Mike K @ September 2, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I would have put slightly more delicately than Mister Mephitic, but basically my thoughts are the same. How much money has been spent on coming up with this rather silly name, and why on earth use consultants when a few hours in a pub with a good jukebox and a chat with ‘ordinary’ listeners would give you perfect pointers as to what is and what not is liked by people. If an experienced radio person cannot programme a radio station without a bunch of overpaid consultants in attendance then they shouldn’t be in the job. It really isn’t rocket science you know!

    A complete and utter waste of money, but hopefully not in vain, although I do foresee the departure of some good presenters and the arrival of some ‘flavour of the month’ ones!

    Ah well, absolutely no change there!

  12. andrew @ September 2, 2008 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    good luck with absolute radio! i have been listening to virgin for years now and enjoy your shows! but i believe absolute will take virgin and make it 10 times better! looks like great times ahead!

  13. adam @ September 2, 2008 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Coming up with a new name really isn’t quite as simple as it might seem! As Clive highlights above, it has to be available for use across a number of different areas, and obviously “good” URLs need to be available.

    Marketing and branding a station (or any product) isn’t really just coming up with a name. Otherwise a mobile phone operator that’s named after a fruit wouldn’t have stood a chance. Please do have a look at the “Brand Book” that Albion has created for us. It gives you a bit more of an idea about what was involved.

    But perhaps a more detailed blog further down the line about how the name was reached, and what else needed to be done would be useful.

    Please do keep your thoughts and comments coming.

  14. Dominic @ September 2, 2008 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m not too fussed about the new name as I kind of expected it to be weak (once you employ consultants it’s always going to end up being nothing to write home about)

    As for the DJ changes, no offense intended to JK and Joel however, I stopped listening to them when they had Jordan (or whatever she calls herself now) as a guest as I am not a big fan of heat magazine style celebrities (I don’t watch big brother, x factor or the z list celebrity makes a fool of themselves on ITV style programs) so in my opinion that’s a positive change.

    The one the one concern I have is about the playlist as if I hear any pop being played then I’m finding a new radio station.

  15. Alistair MacPherson @ September 2, 2008 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Ouch… some not so nice comments. Personally, I like the name Absolute, I liked it three months ago when you first took over and was a little surprised that you didn’t instantly think that would be the ideal name to change over to.

    Thank you, David Lloyd, Mark Bingham and the rest of the staff at Golden Square for allowing me to come and pester you, especially on your big day.

    When shall we do it again :-)

  16. Andrew @ September 2, 2008 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Shame its not Absolut Radio with free vodka for every listener. In a lot of ways Virgin does need a makeover and a refresh. Going back to where it was 6 or 7 years ago? Is that really the way forward? I just hope Absolute realises that today many of us just plug 40bg players into our home or car systems when we want a blast of nostalgia. Please please please, use this opportunity to help foster new talent at the same time as reviving the classics. One last thing, Co’C more music, less inane drivel PLEASE!!!

  17. gerry @ September 2, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    Will you be dropping the tie-ins with Sky? I cannot listen to Virgin without thinking you’re merely the audio arm of News International and end up turning off after a minute or so. It’s relentless – Sky this, Sky that. It’s just one long commercial punctuated by Keane or Madness.

  18. Lesley @ September 2, 2008 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I look forward to the changes especially the no repeat days
    and Absolute sounds really good to me.

  19. David @ September 3, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    A commercial free breakfast would get me listening – perhaps funded by sponsorship. I’m looking forward to the great music, and might tune in at work where the ads don’t matter so much and don’t seem so intrusive.

    But I don’t want to wake up to yet another threatening advert from the government, a reminder about my tax return, or something that sounds like a mobile phone going off.

  20. Will @ September 3, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Like the new name. Really exited about the changes. Been listening to Virgin for about 7 years now…

    But you are not keeping the things i love by kicking Robin Burke out. Hope he will do some swing shifts on the new station at least…

  21. Vicky @ September 3, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m really annoyed that you have decided to move the Geoff show.

    It’s typical that as soon as something good bursts onto the scene, management come in and immediately try to make as much money from it as possible. By moving it to a daytime slot, you have effectively put the clamps on Geoff and Annabel’s anarchic ability and destroyed the thing that made them so edgy in the first place. It was BECAUSE they were in a late night slot, past the watershed that they could get away with saying rude/funny stuff and that made the show so good and unique.

    No doubt we will hear in a few months time that Geoff is “moving on” from the station, when you get the new audience figures in and realise that the show is not working out and he’s not hitting the right demographics etc! And whose fault will that be….

    It’s a shame about Robin Burke and JK and Joel as well. I thought they were great on the weekend and had just started to listen to weekend radio again which i hadn’t done for a long time. Another pointless change.

    As for your new music policy, I have no problem with 70′s rock gods but if I wanted to listen to them all day, i would tune in to Planet Rock or the Arrow who already do that, and frankly, are a lot better at it. I appreciate hearing the new music and musicians that are coming through. As Andrew said above, looking back to 6 or 7 years ago is hardly moving forward with the times.

  22. Chris Lawson @ September 4, 2008 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Great to see, so many comments about the name and brand and hear what we still have to do. Thanks, I really mean it. It’s only by debating what we stand for that we will get better. You are right, Absolute. is only a word, its what we do with it that counts, so you will hear more from me on that. I joined four weeks ago, its been mad – but the most exciting job that I’ve ever done. So I’m thrilled by the task ahead. There is still more to be done- we all know that and I’ll be taking your comments on board.

    Just one thing though. After reading the posts, we do need to work hard to avoid management speak, tell us if we lapse into it when we talk to our listeners, however sometimes it just works for the day to day stuff. And, behind the marketing speak and the stereotypes we are real music fans. I head up the marketing and website but I’m a music fan first. That’s what I’m really passionate about and everyone who works with us at the “Brand consultants” is passionate about what they do too. We just want to make a success of this, listen to some great music, play out some great gigs, have some fun and be proud to hear music that we believe in and believe others want to hear on our radio station. Then tell as many people about it as possible. I couldn’t do it otherwise.

    Oh and they’re playing Joy Division on Virgin Radio – I never thought I would hear the day!

  23. andrew @ September 4, 2008 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    really looking forward for the changes! it all sounds brilliant! i have been listening to virgin for about 5 years and will continue!

    i do enjoy neil fransis afternoon show but i have had enough of hearing how twix and tea are happy together! neil is great and should stay at absolute! but no more twix please!

  24. OllyintheOffice @ September 10, 2008 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Clive, I’m sure you will turn Absolute into the audience grabbing powerhouse that Capital was when you worked there, and it is nice to see you getting your hands on a big station again. I also see that you have finally lured my former Capital/GCap colleague Allan Lake to your group and I think that is great, he is very talented and should be perfect for the station.

    All the best to you, Donnach & the team for the new station I can’t wait to hear things.

    Olly.

    (And I’m not just writing nice things because I’m currently redundant, I really mean them, especially about Allan Lake)

  25. teicneoir @ September 12, 2008 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    This change over is just like any other corporate change over. The new alpha dog comes in and raises his leg and marks it as his territory. They make some changes for change’s sake, some changes for the better, and some changes just because. But in good corporate fashion, they give the good talk: we’re moving forward to make a better ______; it will be new, improved, dynamic, etc….; we will listen to you; etc, etc, etc. For them to say that they are keeping the things YOU love is bull. I am sure that there are people that love the DJs that they let go. They aren’t going to please everyone. Some will get mad and stop listening. Whether they can get enough new listeners to exceed those leaving is the question. I don’t know why they just can’t come out and say the truth. It’s our station now and we are going to do things this way.

    All this station changing nonsense is about getting free media coverage and letting listens vent in a controlled environment. Those listeners who have been with the station for a while have gone through many changes. DJs have come and gone and shows have changed time slots.

    Change is inevitable and resistance is futile. After their done with all these games, if you don’t like the station, move your dial left or right, you will find many other stations out there.

  26. adam @ September 12, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Teicnoir,

    Hopefully, the fact that we’re publishing your comments on our website will go someway to persuading you that we’re being completely genuine about these changes. It’s not all “bull”.

    We had our first ever playlist meeting involving listners yesterday. Things are changing – certainly. But we hope for the better.

    Some DJs are changing. Yes. But that’s part of the natural ebb and flow of any radio station.

    Give the new station a chance. You might actually like it!

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