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Boom Radio

Boom Radio

New Age Care News

“...I’m Phil Riley, co-founder of Boom Radio, and I’m a 40 year radio veteran who has had a great life in the business, launching and running loads of terrific stations over the years, like Magic, Heart and LBC.

Listen to Boom Radio here:

Like lots of Boomers I was, aged 61, heading into a “pre-tirement” mix of smaller jobs and hobbies - helping a couple of mates run a boutique TV commercials business in Brum I have a small investment in, supporting the radio industry awards by chairing their judging panel, learning some Spanish, and giving a bit back by acting as a trustee for my favourite charity, the children’s hospice Acorns which operates across my adopted home patch of the West Midlands.

Then last Summer, my partner in crime David Lloyd floated an idea - did I think there might be a gap for a commercial radio station aimed at us, the Baby Boomer generation. I was intrigued, and did what I always do when someone suggests a business to me - I rustled up a very quick financial model. And yes, at first blush, it looked like it could work. So David and I agreed to put some real effort into thinking the idea through - what were the pitfalls where could it go wrong, what would we need to do to get on air, who would we need to talk to to help us run the station and how much would we need to raise and spend for it to work. A lot of Zoom calls and spreadsheets later, we had a reasonably solid plan.

Then the hard work started - because any business needs money - and this one needed a lot more than David and I had sitting in our current accounts. So we spent a fair bit of time talking to old friends and former colleagues about helping us out with investment. And actually, nearly all of them did want to help. So not only did we have the cash, more importantly we had the backing of a bunch of people with almost as much if not more media experience than we had, which gave us the confidence that we had stumbled upon a good idea, and that our mates thought we could pull it off and were prepared to back us.

Since then we’ve been busy signing contracts to allow us to broadcast, talking to presenters, getting the technical kit sorted out, chatting up sponsors and advertisers, and generally doing the things David and I have each been doing for 40 years or so, getting on and launching and running radio stations - the last 20 of which have been together. And we are increasingly like an old, married couple now, constantly correcting each other and pointing out that the other one has forgotten something important, or filed some important paperwork in the wrong place. It seems to work though:)

One of the exciting things about Boom is how we are using modern technology to make it a virtual business. No expensive studios and offices - everyone working from home using their own impressive facilities, at their own pace, but with a common goal, to get the station up and running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. And we are all Boomers, so our vision really is shared (and increasingly a bit blurred tbh). We are all getting to grips with Zoom and Slack (don’t ask) and trying not to end up working 17 hours a day, as we are all so keen.

Launching a station is a most incredible feeling, and I’ve been involved with quite a few in my time. I’m not sure though that I’ve ever been involved in one where I am as personally invested as I am with Boom. And I don’t mean invested just in a monetary sense (although in the end I did raid the current account, the savings account, the back of the sofa and the kids inheritance to fund my share of the business). I mean more that it feels empowering, aged 61, to have literally started something from scratch, after an email from a mate with an idea. Yes, we were fortunate to be able to tap up friends who had done all right and could support us, and we’ve got masses of our own experience to call upon, but I don’t think 15 or 20 years ago people would have thought of starting afresh aged 60 with a start-up business. It’s the drive of those of us in the Baby Boomer generation I think we are personally tapping into, and I think we are going to see a lot more Baby Boomers starting businesses in the years to come - and hopefully we can reflect that new Boomer spirit of “get up and go” on-air at Boom Radio.

You can listen to us simply by saying “Play Boom Radio” to your Alexa smart speaker. If you have a new DAB radio we’ll be on there too. And we also have an App, so you can listen for free from your mobile phone….

My co-founder David Lloyd has also written movingly about what we are doing, and his blog is here:

David: “….. One late February day, I curled up into a ball and sobbed. There’s stress, there’s tiredness, there’s relief, there’s happiness. As you’ll know with any large, risky project it’s a mix of emotions you keep pent up until they all flood out when it’s safe.

In June last year, I had floated the idea of a station for those aged 60+ with my respected, tall former colleague Phil Riley. It was my view, and that of most sane people, that the BBC, which owned radio’s older demographics, had moved its radio offerings younger.

When you risk investing your pension in a venture, you calmly check your presumptions. The message was loud and clear from our research. Older listeners felt left behind by radio. They listened to their stations because they could not easily find something more suited to their taste. They clung onto their dear Ken Bruce and Tony Blackburn with huge fondness as an oasis of sensibility.

Aside from music, they missed being spoken to by the sort of people they would choose to mix with socially. In a vox pop, one listener suggested our presenters: ‘had elderly relatives, lost a parent…people….well…like me’. Our presenters don’t live in the past and we set out to be a station for 2021 which just happens to play a lot of oldies. We can say things which would puzzle a millennial. Our listeners do not see themselves as old. They get annoyed with the boxes on forms which say 55+, given that’s about half the population.

Boom Radio was born on Valentine’s Day, with Phil skilfully bringing together the investment from our friends, old colleagues and families with typical focus.

All content is programmed and operated by two people – with the aid of about fifteen presenters broadcasting from home. It proves the art of the possible with today’s technology. Ours - and similar ventures – raise real questions about whether radio stations do have to look like they did in 1995.

Every presenter I spoke to saw the potential instinctively; and bought into the dream. I have been blown away by their passion and professionalism – and how well they have adapted to the new skills. And, having loved and lost, they are authentic communicators – probably at their best - with stories to tell. How great to hear Les Ross come out on-air, naturally - and Nicky Horne speak of his mother in her care home.

A word about our elder statesman, David Hamilton. David disappeared into his loft for many days for dress rehearsals before launch, to be sure he’d feel at home once we went on-air. With his positivity, his quest for perfection, his understanding of the broader business and his work ethic, it is little wonder he’s still working and a familiar TV face, aged 83. I l love the man – and the feedback to his programme is off the scale.

As I sat in Boom HQ at home, clicking onto a Zoom call with Esther Rantzen, I smiled and wanted to tell my mother who would have been impressed with my career choice for the first time ever. But I couldn’t. And that’s a familiar sad thought for Baby Boomers.

The feedback has blown us away. In 40+ years in radio, I’ve known nothing like it. For our listeners, it’s been like falling in love. They despatched, literally, thousands of spontaneous romantic emails and - after the initial surge and apart from the idiots - I’ve tried to reply to each one personally and enrol them as an advocate.

“Only found it Monday, but a what a breath of fresh air.”

“I absolutely love this new radio station have been listening now for 3 weeks and will never go back to (station).”

“Your playlist is absolutely spot on - a very wide, eclectic mix that almost defies definition.”

“Bought another echo dot for upstairs just so we can listen to Boom as we go to sleep. Love the music, makes you feel happy all the time.”

“Like the fact that you never know what music might come on next.”

“It is a really cosy radio station. Well done everybody”

We’ve been lucky with PR. The press seized on our David vs Goliath story, with the always- beleaguered BBC being a ready villain for them.

Naming a radio station is a challenge. We can quite understand why the BBC ended up with numbers. The name ‘Boom’ was Phil’s idea. I loved it too, but the early focus groups suggested it sounded noisy. We resolved to use it in a context - and the logo colours, the straplines, the nod to the Beatles in the typeface and the general environment all serve to illustrate the essence of Boom. It’s a brand already – and has become known quickly.

Having been bedevilled with brand challenges in previous lives, this was victory.

Finding a radio station on the dial used to be complex for listeners, given they had to remember the frequency numbers of a radio station. DAB was said to be the answer - just look for our name. But today, we have a multi-platform world, with every platform flawed in some way.

Our music will cause music programmers to pull their hair out. I hope it sounds like a selection of songs as random as the musical tastes of folk our age. We major on oldies in line with the reminiscence bump of our audience – but we also bear in mind that many listeners told us that they’d grown to love some of the music their parents liked – and that they don’t want to feel totally out of touch with newer material. Research with our listeners since going on-air indicated that 94% of them thought we had the era pitch right.

There is method to the madness in terms of where we play less familiar material, where we sell songs in, and how songs are separated. I comfort myself that no listener in any focus group I’ve moderated for any radio station ever has uttered: ‘you can’t play X next to Y’. People like songs or dislike them – and they seek a mood. Ours is generally bright.

There is a brand sound, but each programme is flavoured differently – and, yes, the presenters do have a hand in what they play. To some extent, we have programmes not programming – and our generation understands that. I hope they know that if there’s a song or a show they don’t like – it’ll soon be over – and the wait is worth the jewel they’ll hear. They write to us, delighted that they've discovered new old music they now love.

I must pay tribute to Paul Robey who has programmed every song since we began. Without his knowledge and dedication, Boom would not have achieved what it has.

If we were fighting a typical commercial radio offering like-for-like, I know exactly the songs we’d play. But they’re doing that. We need to offer something different, so we dig deeper. Again, research with our listeners since going on-air suggests that 86% disagree with the statement ‘too many songs I don't know’.

We’ve given birth to something special. The sprog analogy came alive to me as Paul and I prepared to leave the house together in mid-March for the first time since the February launch. We gently placed the bag stuffed with a laptop and mic in the boot of the car with all the precision of a child’s safety seat - and prayed for the continued good health of the Royal family.

When normal people (not anoraks) volunteer that we have the spirit of the '60s pirates, we take it as a compliment. We mean to them something akin to that same sense of alignment to their generation that Radio London and Caroline did.

We are up against it and proud of what we’ve done on a budget about as large as a country pub. On our scale and initial budgets, we don’t expect to make a huge dent in BBC audiences any time soon, but we do feel we can provide a decent and viable listen for an appreciable number of people.

And – as a Baby Boomer myself - this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done since 1980. And that’s the sort of challenge many of us my age still have within them.

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