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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The Americans are coming. Again.

Bob Harris and a big country guitar. Image: BBC

Bob Harris and a big country guitar. Image: BBC

Country music is in vogue in the UK. Artists like Lady Antebellum and Kacey Musgraves are selling well here while Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes are the darlings of UK Country music with their band The Shires.

Now, starting today, the BBC runs a short pop-up station for fans of Country on digital radio. I know Brett Spencer and the team have worked their little cowboy boots off to make it brilliant.

At the same time commercial station Chris Country features in Listen 2 Digital’s bid for the new national digital radio multiplex while Radio Today reports that Bauer is planning a Country service for Northern Ireland. According to Google Trends, Belfast is a hotspot for the genre.

BBC Radio 2 Country logoThe BBC’s pop-up service breaks new ground with exclusive live coverage of the Country 2 Country festival. Unlike its previous Eurovision pop-up, there is no simulcast with the mothership station.

I think that’s an important step for the growth of digital radio. It demonstrates to audiences that it’s normal to explore new stations while the heft of Radio 2 behind it means one of the benefits of digital radio – more choice – is promoted to more than 15 million listeners.

The voice

Naturally, the arrival of Country music radio is announced by US voiceovers. Heather Walters is the voice of BBC Radio 2 Country. Heather’s as authentic a voice as you’d find anywhere for a country station since she’s also on 93Q Country in Houston, Texas and KNIX Country in Phoenix, Arizona.

Listen to this telescope of the production work from BBC Radio 2 Country featuring Heather and produced by Chris Reay, Ben Stones, Ally Lang and the team at the BBC.

[audio:https://earshotcreative.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/bbc-radio-2-country-imaging.mp3|titles=”BBC Radio 2 Country – imaging selection”]

Their creative direction is really simple: one voice, one music track and a station name that says it all. On any full-time station that formula could burn pretty fast but BBC Radio 2 Country is on air for just four days so this is exactly what’s needed to establish a distinctive identity quickly. It takes guts to be that reductive.

Meanwhile, other American vos are on the air in the UK. For example, Sean Caldwell is voicing Belfast’s CityBeat, and Cousin Deke from Dallas has been on Real XS and 96.2 The Revolution. Deke’s now the voice of Chris Country. You may have heard others.

If you’re considering a US voice for your station try this list for starters: our friends at Benztown Branding have compiled a top 50 of US radio’s biggest imaging voices.

Remember the 1990s?

Not your fault if you don’t – you may not have been born. Trust me though, US voices have been big in UK radio before.

After the recession of the early 1980s and before the Australian consultants told us to pare everything back to music sweeps and speedlinks there was a time when commercial radio was profitable, confident and wanted to sound big.

Around that time the Musician’s Union regulations changed, making US jingles affordable for the first time for many. PDs in the UK would look to the big city US stations for inspiration as competition here grew and stations had to tighten their formats.

The influence of US radio was all over the dial. The big voice of John Wells was on BBC Radio 1 (then known as 1 FM), Capital’s imaging featured the late Brian James and Steve Wright was said to book into Manhattan hotel rooms from where he would study the breakfast format of stations like WQHT (Hot 97) and WHTZ (Z100).

Many mainstream commercial stations in Britain had an American station voice and, if he hadn’t already sold market exclusivity to someone else, it would probably be JR Nelson.

JR Nelson

JR Nelson

As you’ll hear from this 1993 demo JR Nelson had power, control, depth, lightness and The Best Downward Inflection In The World™.

With JR voicing your scripts you could write any extraordinary claim and he’d make it sound utterly believable. Your station name would always stand a mile high while JR turned your frequency from a mere litter of numbers to a proud character of its own.

Whatever your market JR made you feel great to live there. Who else could add such Grand Canyon river rapids excitement to the phrase “South West Leicestershire”?

JR (actually James Marik) died in 2010 at the age of 60. He’d worked in radio since his teenage years. This interview from 1993 catches him around the height of his success: a time when he’d receive “nine or ten faxes” in a day.

There won’t be another quite like JR Nelson but let’s welcome back to the Old Country our dear Amercian voiceovers. We have missed you, and now we’re playing Country music to make you feel at home.

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