A brief history of Real Radio

Conceived in 1999 and born in April 2000 with kind permission of the Radio Authority, Real Radio finally arrived in south Wales on October 3rd 2000.

We launched it in 23 weeks from a blank sheet of paper to going on air, which was a bit of a rush so we didn’t get everything right first time. However, we got more right than we got wrong, because it turned out to be the most successful regional radio launch in the UK and has never been bettered, with a debut Rajar of 19% Reach and 12 Average Hours.

Within 6 months of the launch in Cardiff we were ready to move into Scotland where GMG had purchased the old beleaguered Scot FM. It had never achieved it’s true potential and it was debatable whether or not we could turn it around.

It might have been our downfall, but it turned into our triumph, taking the licence from worst to first and a monumental 31% Reach at it’s peak. Moving the station from Edinburgh to Glasgow, an incredibly high impact marketing campaign coupled with great On Air delivery made the station a force to be reckoned with.

By March 2002 there were 3 Real’s, in Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire all created and launched in 23 months. It was frenetic and fast moving and everyone involved loved the ride, but more importantly we had developed a brand that we were all proud of. We had more content, we carried more news and sports output than our competitors. We had strong personalities who were memorable and most importantly we were having fun!

We did stuff because we thought it was the right thing to do, not because we were being paid to do it, like taking all 3 Breakfast Shows to Memphis to broadcast from Graceland. We did a daily, lunchtime phone-in during the second Gulf War hosted in London and broadcast across all 3 regions, and re-broadcast 1010 WINS overnight live on 9/11.

Two years in and GMG Radio paused for breath and Real Radio remained a 3 station brand for another 7 years. Even though the two Century stations were purchased in 2006 they were part of the Real “Network” in everything but name until they were eventually rebranded as Real in March 2009.

This was followed by the 6th and, final Real Radio licence launched in January 2011 in North and Mid Wales, unless you count the transition of Rock Radio to brand “off-shoot” Real XS in September of the same year. This technically made the Real Brand an 8 Licence proposition. As they were all categorised as Total Real Radio UK on Rajar I think it’s fair to make that analogy, and by transforming Rock Radio to a brand offshoot it made the two licences far more viable.

Real Radio lasted for over 13 years in entirety and in most of the regions it will be remembered with affection but like most radio stations it will soon be forgotten. Not because it hasn’t made an impression after all this time, but because that’s just the way the general public are. They’ll move onto the next thing and the next thing just happens to be Heart.

It put’s the industry in a much stronger position for advertisers and helps Heart compete much more readily with the BBC, so even though personally these moves are tinged with sadness, objectively it’s got to be seen as a positive move. Geographically, the Real licences were always destined to become Heart, no matter who were the owners. The fit was perfect and it’s remarkable that this provocative part of consolidation took so long.

But what will Real Radio’s legacy really be?

Well, that’s simple – it’ll be the people who worked there over the past 13 plus years. At this point we should spare a thought for those who have tirelessly kept Real going in the sure knowledge that it was coming to an end shortly. It’s testament to their professionalism and to the new owners that Real will sound as good in it’s last throws as it did at the beginning. They will all take a piece of the Real team spirit with them and the ethos which was REAL, and they lived by, for however long they worked there. I’ll apologise now if that sounds over sentimental but radio is always about the people and Real had some of the best.

John Simons