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The Rise and Fall of Xfm

It’s fair to say that Global Radio’s relaunch and rebrand of Xfm as Radio X hasn’t been met with universal praise.

In his column in the Sunday Times, Giles Coren eviscerated the station for its apparent reliance on 90s DJs such as Chris Moyles and Johnny Vaughan and its preponderance towards serving an exclusively male (and moreover laddish) demographic that hardly anyone thinks really exists anymore. Other critics have been similarly unsupportive.

Global Radio entirely has itself to blame for this. When it announced that it was replacing the much-loved indie music station Xfm with Radio X it said that the replacement would be the UK’s first “truly male-focused station”. What’s more it added that it would be explicitly targeting men 25-44 with rock and guitar-based music. For those fans of the pioneering Xfm, which launched in 1992 as a genuine alternative radio station with a playlist based around indie and hip hop, something inside suddenly died.

While it’s far too early to say what the rebrand, the cull of its presenters and the narrowing of its playlist will mean in terms of audience, the attempt to resurrect a ‘lads’ culture that became obsolete nearly two decades ago around an advertising demographic looks desperate and cynical and doomed to failure.

Global Radio has failed to realize one of the fundamentals of building a media brand (or indeed any brand) – it’s not just about deciding upon an advertising vehicle with the assumption that ad revenue will follow, but about creating something that’s distinctive and original for audiences and which advertisers will then chase.

Creating an explicitly ‘male only’ media platform looks as retrograde as those futile attempts to keep the lads’ mags of the early 90s, such as Loaded and whose ascendancy coincided with the likes of ‘Moylesy’ and Jonny Vaughan, going. Each attempt was doomed by failure. Moreover, while Gillette has signed up as an early supporter of Radio X are there really that many other brands that would wish to be so narrowly associated with a laddish culture that emerged from far less enlightened times?