Milestones and celebrations as Virgin Radio Groove officially launched
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Milestones and celebrations as Virgin Radio Groove officially launched
Milestones and celebrations as Virgin Radio Groove officially launched

Virgin Radio Groove, a new addition to the Virgin Radio network, officially launched this morning with an all-day takeover of Virgin Radio, kicking off on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky.

Targeted at 30-45 year olds, Virgin Radio Groove focuses on rhythmic pop with a playlist featuring Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Rihanna and David Guetta, and programming includes The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky from 6.30am, followed by Chris Brooks (10am-2pm), Steve Denyer (2pm-6pm) and Bam (6pm-10pm). 

Mike Cass, Content Director for Virgin Radio, said:

"We had a phenomenal 2019 with Chris Evans back in the fold and the launch of two stonking new digital stations, Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled. The launch of Virgin Radio Groove highlights Wireless’ confidence in the Virgin Radio offering. It’s a sensational station and that will no doubt fast become the go-to destination for music to make you move.”

The launch of Virgin Radio Groove comes as The Chris Evans Breakfast Show with Sky celebrates their first birthday on air. Marking the occasion Chris Evans said:

"This time last year I returned to my spiritual home at Virgin Radio and I have loved every minute of it since then. We instantly changed commercial radio forever - creating the first ad-break free breakfast show, thanks to our partnership with Sky. We are delighted with the listening figures and our numbers have continued to grow every month. Over the next year our plan for the breakfast show is simple; to continue to give it all we’ve got and have the most possible fun along the way."

Virgin Radio Groove is available on smart speaker,  on the Virgin Radio app, online at virginradio.co.uk and on DAB+ in London and DAB in Central Scotland,

Virgin Radio Groove joins Virgin Radio Anthems with guitar-led classics from the 60s to the 90s and Virgin Radio Chilled with a laid-back repertoire of singer-songwriters.

The Virgin Radio network (including Virgin Radio, Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled) now reaches 1.64m (up 303% year-on-year), delivering 9.2m hours (up 508% year-on-year).

2019: A record year for DAB on the road
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2019: A record year for DAB on the road
2019: A record year for DAB on the road

2019 was a record year for DAB in new vehicles with 2.38 million new cars and commercial vehicles hitting the road fitted with DAB digital radio as standard, according to new data from industry analysts CAP and The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) for Q4 2019 released today.

DAB in new car registrations rose to a record 95% of all new cars in Q4 2019, while DAB in new commercial vehicles increased to a record of over 64%. This means that for the full year of 2019 there were 2.15 million new cars and 232,600 new commercial vehicles fitted with DAB as standard.

Ten years ago (Q4 2010), the percentage of new cars with DAB as standard was only 4% and grew over the proceeding 5 years to 61% by Q4 2015, and now to 95%, with vehicle manufacturers fitting digital radio in new cars in response to the transformation of the availability and choice of DAB digital radio stations.

The DAB radios in new cars and commercial vehicles, which are also DAB+ compatible, enable drivers to enjoy the full range of national and local digital stations in their cars, including the nineteen national commercial radio stations now broadcast in DAB+.

The increase of DAB in new cars to 95% represents significant progress and is a major contributor to the growth in digital listening in the UK. In the most recent radio listening data (RAJAR Q3 2019), digital listening in car reached a new record of 42.2% of all in car radio listening, growing by 15.2 million hours, and accounted for over 60% of total digital listening hourly growth (Source: RAJAR/Ipsos MORI/RSMB).

Last year, the UK Government consulted on plans to implement the EU Directive (EECC) mandating the installation of broadcast digital radio in new cars, and the Government will confirm their proposals this year. If the Directive is introduced into UK law in 2020, in line with other EU countries, manufacturers of the final 5% of new cars will be required to fit digital radio as standard.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said:

"It’s great news for UK radio and drivers that 2.38 million more vehicles are now on the road with access to over 50 national digital stations, plus hundreds of local digital stations. The growth of the availability of DAB in new cars from less than 5% ten years ago to now nearly 95%, is a sign of how far DAB digital radio has come, thanks to the massive support of vehicle manufacturers and the SMMT. We can look forward to DAB in new cars continuing to drive the growth of digital radio listening in the UK through this decade.”

(Source: CAP/SMMT Q4 2019)

New local radio multiplexes to launch in Cumbria and Morcambe Bay
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New local radio multiplexes to launch in Cumbria and Morcambe Bay
New local radio multiplexes to launch in Cumbria and Morcambe Bay

Listeners in Cumbria and Morecambe Bay will soon be able to tune in to a broad range of new local digital radio stations following the award by Ofcom of two 12-year licences for new local radio multiplexes for areas in Cumbria and Morecambe Bay. 

The successful applicants are Bauer Digital Radio Limited (BDR),  covering North and West Cumbria including Carlisle, Penrith, Workington, Whitehaven and Keswick, and MuxCo Cumbria Limited,  a partnership between MuxCo and Nation Broadcasting, covering Morecambe, Lancaster, Ulverston, Kendal and Windermere.

The new multiplexes will bring local digital radio services to these areas for the first time, with 20 new digital stations launching next year. 

MuxCo Cumbria will launch using four transmitters initially, which will cover 78% of the population, carrying nine stereo radio stations, including Heart (DAB), Smooth (DAB), Capital (DAB), BBC Radio Cumbria (DAB), Bay Radio (DAB), Cando FM (DAB+), Bay Trust Radio (DAB+), Fun Kids Junior (DAB+) and Chris Country (DAB+).

Bay Radio is a proposed new service from Nation Broadcasting, Cando FM is a community radio station in Barrow, whilst Bay Trust Radio is the hospital radio station for Lancaster, Morecambe and Kendal hospitals.

Meanwhile,  Bauer Digital Radio Cumbria will allow BBC Radio Cumbria and CFM to broadcast to the same area they do now but on DAB.

Using five transmitters,  BDR's new multiplex will carry 13 services in total, including a number of national services currently on national Sound Digital which are not available in the area. The stations lined up are Greatest Hits Radio, Country Hits Radio, Planet Rock, Scala Radio, Absolute Radio 80s, Absolute Radio 90s, Absolute Classic Rock, Magic Chilled, Magic Soul, Mellow Magic and Jazz FM. No new local stations are proposed but capacity will be available for any future additions.

Both MuxCo and BDR say they will launch within 12 months of licence award, meaning the services will start broadcasting around the end of 2020.

2019: The year that radio got smart
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2019: The year that radio got smart
2019: The year that radio got smart

End of year blog by Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK

As we take a post-election Christmas breather, head into 2020, and dismiss 2019 as so last decade, it’s worth looking back on our digital progress over the last 12 months and identifying the key trends that will determine the future of radio and audio next year and beyond.

2019 was the year that radio and our listeners got smart and drove digital listening share to almost 57% of total radio listening. It was a year that started with the national launch of The Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Virgin Radio and new stations Virgin Radio Anthems and Virgin Radio Chilled, and ended with the national launch of Love Sport Radio.

The two biggest drivers of digital growth were an increase of 22.4m hours in online radio listening in homes due to the growth of smart speakers and of 28m hours in digital listening to the increased number of national commercial radio stations.

Smart speakers
In 2019 smart speakers out-sold traditional analogue and digital radios and at the beginning of the fourth quarter around 30% of adults had access to a smart speaker with many more to be added - at discount prices - post-Black Friday and Christmas.

Retail analysts project the number of smart speakers in UK homes will double by 2022, so they are certainly not a fad. What’s the impact on radio listening? Well, in the short-term, it’s good because RAJAR’s MIDAS report shows that 70% of audio listened to on smart speakers is live radio. But as we move forward, we can expect a battle for share of audio on smart speakers - between radio, music streaming, and podcasts – more of which later.

National commercial stations
The major commercial radio groups saw an opportunity to expand their share of radio listening, and in most cases the footprint of their leading radio brands, by launching nine new services on the two national DAB networks. While online listening to smart speaker was the big growth story in 2019, DAB continued to grow, particularly in cars, and still represents 70% of total digital listening.

There was a new No 1 digital station in KISSTORY and, in the 12 months between the launch of Virgin Radio Anthems and Chilled and Love Sport Radio, we saw Scala Radio, Heart Dance, Heart 70s, Heart 90s, Capital Xtra Reloaded and LBC News spring to life on DAB and online. The total number of national digital commercial stations on air is now 40, with one more to come. This has been made possible by a significant shift to DAB+ broadcasting which is more efficient and uses less capacity than DAB.

All the new stations, excepting Scala Radio, broadcast in DAB+, and in addition Global converted leading digital stations, Heart 80s, Capital Xtra, and Radio X, to DAB+. In total there are now 19 national commercial stations broadcasting in DAB+ which is close to 50% of the total. Honourable mentions for new stations launched in 2019 on London and local DAB multiplexes include Greatest Hits Radio, Country Hits Radio, Smooth Country, Smooth Chill, Magic at the Musicals, Fun Kids Junior, and Pure Radio. And Absolute marked the end of the decade by launching Absolute 10s online.

Other audio forms
As the UK radio industry continues to transition to digital listening, it also important to look across at two other digital audio forms enjoying dramatic growth. In 2019 online music streaming grew by 26.4 million hours or 19%, boosted by the success of Amazon Music and Alexa, and podcast listening grew by 21.8 million hours or 50%, with the success of new mainstream podcasts such as That Peter Crouch Podcast and Brexitcast.

We can expect this growth to continue in 2020 and it will be interesting to see the impact of the big audio initiatives from radio groups, such as BBC Sounds and Global Player, as the boundaries between the different audio formats blur.

It is appropriate that the Government and industry review, underway this year, is named the Radio and Audio Review, and looks to ensure a healthy future for the UK radio sector amidst all audio forms. We expect to hear the outcome before the end of 2020 by which time we project more digital progress, more smart speakers in homes, and more DAB+ stations on air, with digital platforms accounting for over 60% of radio listening.

[Sources: RAJAR Q3 2019; RAJAR MIDAS Autumn 2019]

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