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LBC breaks the competition with Eddie Mair

Eddie Mair in LBC studio. Image copyright Global.

By signing the popular and supremely talented news broadcaster Eddie Mair, LBC has broken BBC Radio 4 for some listeners. Now, by scheduling Eddie at the time his fans always enjoyed hearing him, LBC offers a simple fix: just switch to us.

LBC creates both the problem and the solution.

It has to be this simple and this brutal. Most listeners are entirely satisfied with their choice of radio. Their listening is habitual, entwined with daily life and limited to a small number of stations.

As broadcasters we can encourage trial of something new with an unmissable highlight here, a star name there or through a programming idea that carries really clear listener benefits but to break the habit of a lifetime we need to give a big jolt.

When your favourite presenter suddenly disappears you’re shocked from the trance of routine and are forced to think about your media choices. To ‘break’ your opposition comes straight from the speech radio tactical playbook* and when it happens suddenly large numbers of listeners are up for grabs.

Of course this doesn’t mean that all Radio 4 PM listeners will suddenly switch to LBC. PM is a bigger show than any of its presenters: a proven format with an extremely strong production team that draws on the worldwide resources of the BBC and carries a roster of talent.

Loyal Radio 4 listeners who enjoy Eddie may still be sniffy about the idea of commercial radio, some will consider LBC to be a London station despite it rolling-out nationally in early 2014 and others may sample Eddie’s new show but find travel bulletins and ad breaks not their cup of tea.

Update: Adam Bowie has shown exactly how true this is with his analysis of audience data around station loyalty for both BBC Radio 4 and LBC.

Yet such disruption can be good for listeners: if they find they prefer something new over their former habitual choice that’s healthy. In addition to LBC, BBC Radio 5 Live, talkRADIO and the BBC locals could all gain listeners who fish around.

Back at LBC there’ll be other considerations:

The shock value of removing Eddie from Radio 4 will fall over time while confidence that his show is on-song should rise. What’s the right moment to invest in large scale promotion of the new programme? How can that promotion further propel LBC as a national brand?

More urgently, how does LBC introduce Eddie to its existing listeners whose own routines are about to be disrupted by a schedule change and for whom Eddie is new talent? There’s a clue: Eddie is Steve Allen’s guest on the “In conversation with…” programme this weekend. I’d expect other talent on the station to talk-up the new drive show too.

This feels like a big moment at the quality end of UK speech radio. Eddie Mair is a singularly gifted broadcaster. LBC’s approach to its acquisition is so far so textbook. Above all, that it considers BBC Radio 4 to be its most direct competitor speaks volumes about the confidence and ambition of the LBC brand.

*it doesn’t exist – should I write it?