And the winner is... Commercial Radio

As the music and television industries evolve rapidly around it, commercial radio remains an essential ingredient in the daily lives of millions across the UK.

We've been headline sponsor for the Commercial Radio Awards for the past 17 years

We've been headline sponsor for the Commercial Radio Awards for the past 17 years

Ben Hart, Head of Commercial RadioCommercial radio is the soundtrack to countless commutes, DIY jobs and office days. With a mix of talk and tunes, it informs and entertains in so many ways. And, while many listeners take it for granted, the industry has a reputation for recognising those that excel – from presenters and producers to the behind-the-scenes magicians who make everything work.

When it comes to recognition, the biggest event in the calendar is undoubtedly the Arqiva Commercial Awards, which take place in May. This year’s event – due to take over London’s Roundhouse venue on the 17th – marks the 21st year, and I can’t wait.

Arqiva’s involvement

While the awards are organised by Radiocentre, the trade body for commercial radio in the UK, Arqiva is heavily involved. We’re the event’s headline sponsor, and have been for the past 17 years. This is why you’ll often hear it being fondly referred to as ‘the Arqivas’.

It goes without saying that the commercial radio is something we’re pleased and proud to support, but we see this as more than just a celebration of talent. It’s also a ‘thank you’ from us to the industry; to everyone, whether they’re super famous or unsung heroes – who make it as amazing as it is. Of course, many of the organisations involved are partners and customers of Arqiva, so it feels good to give something back. That night in May is one that everyone in radio looks forward to, so it’s great to be part of it.

An array of talent represented

The Arqiva Commercial Radio Awards are all about talent; recognising it, highlighting it and even inspiring the next generation of it. This talent comes in more than just one form, though, as past winners’ lists have shown.

You have the giants, like Christian O’Connell and Frank Skinner at Absolute Radio, both of whom have nominations for 2016. Plus, being very much a matter-of-the-moment industry, you often have people regularly coming over from the wider celebrity world – those who are known not only for radio but for their work elsewhere, like Lisa Snowdon, formerly of Capital FM, and Smooth Radio’s Myleene Klass.

We can’t, of course, forget the heritage broadcasters, who have been in the game for decades; Classic FM’s John Suchet being the prime example this year.

They may be the famous faces – or voices – of the industry, but it’d be wrong to stop at the presenters. The evening in London will also see prizes given to journalists, programmers, sales teams, marketers and more. It’s a level playing field for all involved.

The state of commercial radio right now

The excitement building around the 2016 awards says a lot about where the industry is at present. While publishers reluctantly accept the downfall of print, and broadcasters strive to adapt to an ever-changing television landscape, commercial radio remains so strong.

This particular part of the wider radio sector is not just strong; in fact it’s growing. Across all stations, the average weekly listener count reached 35.1 million in Q4 2015 - up just over one per cent on the previous quarter.

What’s more telling, however, is the fact that it overtook the BBC for the first time in 15 years. This comes after audience declines for a number of major BBC stations, including Radio 1 (down 2.2 per cent), Radio 5 Live (3.9 per cent) and Radio 3 (0.9 per cent).

Naturally, this makes for an exciting time for the 340 licensed commercial stations broadcasting across Britain today.

These aren’t the only challenges facing the commercial radio industry, though. Competition isn’t just coming from the BBC; you have countless other forms of awesome on-demand content vying for consumer attention, including music and movie streaming services, video games and independent podcasts. All of these industries are flourishing, yet they’re not preventing growth in radio. In the on-demand age, people still make an appointment to listen to radio as it goes out live. That’s a huge achievement.

Why Arqiva is important to the commercial radio industry

Our brand may be a huge part of this annual event, but we do far more than just turn up to party with the celebrities once a year (although that is a highlight!). We actually play a huge supporting role in the operations of so many of the organisations involved in the event each year.

As you’ll know already, we’re an infrastructure company. We run masts across the country, each one carefully placed to allow our customers in the commercial radio industry – those organisations mentioned above – to broadcast their content. We’re essentially a bridge that allows stations to deliver the great content they create to their audiences in cars, at home, at work – wherever they are.

Having been around in various forms for approximately 90 years now, we know we’re the best at this, and so do our customers. We have the expert teams, infrastructure and huge amounts of experience necessary to deliver. This is why we have so many long-standing relationships with those working in the industry. It’s in no way a short-term thing – it’s normal for our customers to sign 8, 10 or even 12-year contracts with us. They commit because they know we always deliver; it’s that simple.

The future’s bright

That title’s true for both futures, immediate and long-term. We’re buzzing about the awards in May, but also excited about what’s to come for the industry in general. We’re in a great place right now, having successfully launched the second national commercial DAB multiplex. The next 12 months will be a case of working with both existing and new customers to fill those available slots.

The bottom line is, we’re not ready to sit still. Together with our customers, we’ve achieved incredible things – the next step is to build on them and keep growing.