I've launched a fair few stations in my time (Xtra AM, Magic 828, Heart 100.7, Heart 106.2, Galaxy 105-106) and re-branded and relaunched a bunch of others (Kiss 102 & 105 into Galaxy; Choice to Galaxy 102.2; Century 106 into Heart 106 - and then to Gem 106), so I should be used to it by now.
But no matter how experienced you are, every time is different, with new challenges and new hurdles to clear. The relaunch of brmb, Beacon, Mercia and Wyvern as Free Radio is no exception.
Of course this is probably the most complex re-branding I've done, converting 4 heritage stations into one new station - and the complexity is not helped by two of the stations, brmb and Beacon, having such a large overlap across Birmingham and the Black Country.
In fact the overlap population of brmb and Beacon is bigger than the whole of the Wyvern population. Just to put it into geographical perspective, the Beacon transmitter at Turners Hill is closer to the centre of Birmingham than it is to the centre of Wolverhampton - and is also closer to Brum city centre than the brmb transmitter! although 97.2 and 96.4 will be keeping local breakfasts and drives, and local news throughout the day, having just one brand on both transmitters does raise interesting issues for us with regard to marketing and measurement.Of course there is some criticism of the loss of two separate, famous, local brands for each bit of this patch, but all of our major rivals, Capital, Heart, Smooth, Kerrang!, and even WM, cover the whole of Birmingham & the Black Country with just one service on one transmitter - so even though both of our transmitters will share one name, their individual output will still mean a more localised service.
Anyway, we're figuring it all out and are hugely excited by the countdown. We've been public since the beginning of January, and have been talking about the change on-air for a few weeks now. I'm not saying we're out of the woods completely, but the week before last I had more emails from staff moaning about changing the milk order than I had from listeners complaining about the new name. In the end, I think being honest and up front with folk does help, and certainly a lot of both research and anecdotal evidence suggests a very high percentage of our listeners are already aware of, and relaxed about, the change.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of time is being spent getting our marketing right - particularly our TV ad. I think listeners would be amazed at both how much it costs to make a top quality ad these days (particularly if you want to include music tracks) and how much attention to detail goes into each second of the ad. Given they normally only last 30", they cost the same, pro-rata, as a major motion picture.Can't say any more right now though, as I wouldn't want our friends down the road to know too much!
Life goes on though, and our big on-air focus is getting our listeners to sign up to take part in our planned walks across the West Midlands this Spring/Summer. So far in Birmingham we are showing registrations up 65% year on year, which I'm sure is down to the immense emotional pull of our decision to "Walk for Harry". The "Walk of Warwickshire" is up by even more, and when you add in the "Walk of the Black Country", and the new "Walk of Worcestershire" (probably the prettiest of them all) we're not far off double the number of walkers this year signed up so far compared to the same day in 2011. And in total last year we raised the thick end of £500k - so this year is looking great for local charities.