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Jim Moir Interview

Published on May 27th 2005.

With the competition hotting up as the announcement of the winning bid for Manchester’s new radio license draws ever nearer, one of the bids is drawing on all the experience and know how that it can.

Jim Moir is the former head of Radio 2, running the station for 8 years and turning it from a station that you’d be embarrassed to be caught listening to unless you were over 80 years old or sat in the doctor’s waiting lounge, into the most widely listened to national station in the UK.

It could be suggested that over 40 years of broadcasting has given Jim a slight head start in terms of what is needed to make a successful radio station. It could also be suggested that this length of time in the same industry has dampened his enthusiasm. Not a bit of it. Speaking to Jim about the forthcoming bid is a bit like speaking to a child the night before Christmas, just speaking over the phone, you can tell there's an excited glint in his eye. He knows that the announcement is coming but isn’t quite sure if there will be any presents left on the end of his bed.

It was an old colleague from the Beeb, Paul Smith, who convinced Jim to join up with the Celador team about a year ago. Since then, they’ve been involved in radio bids that include Edinburgh, the Solent and of course, the current 97.7 The City bid in Manchester that will shortly be decided upon by OFCOM on June 9th.

His personal experience at Radio 2 has set Jim in good stead for what lies ahead, the changes he made himself at the Beeb have set a benchmark for radio for the masses, if the winning station is going to become a success, then the BBC will always be the class act to beat. Jim firmly believes the success of the Radio 2 model means there is headroom for a commercial radio station to become a success. The way he turned Radio 2 into a success was to have an revolution. “People know what they like, but they also like what they know and can be resistant to change. Society changes over time and the changes in radio preferences have followed that. The 50 plus age group today has very different tastes to what the same age group had 15 years ago.”

It’s not going to be easy though. Whoever wins the radio bid is faced with the challenge of a highly competitive market where the standard of broadcasting has increased markedly over the years. Not only that, but for any organisation coming from outside the region trying to prove themselves locally, they will be faced with the uphill challenge of appealing to Manchester, via local quality output. Local business news will be an important aspect of 97.7 The City's output and they will have to get it spot on. As we know, Manchester is a city with much pride. You only have to look at the reaction to recent events at Manchester United to find out about that. Outsiders have to tread pretty carefully in these parts, although the planning for the potential station seems to be following an adequate course.

Jim says of the task ahead: “Manchester is a pumping city, which has changed considerably, it is like a big chest filled with oxygen. The 97.7 The City bid is certainly hoping to breath even more life into an already vibrant city and so serving the people of Manchester is important.

“The bid is built into two parts – Firstly, music that will appeal to a broad audience. Secondly, the way that music and information is delivered is vital. The quality of speech will also be vital. 97.7 The City would be a speech-rich station, with 30% of its output being speech-led. It will be quality speech that will engage Mancunians via link ups with Granada TV and the utilisation of local talent mixed with an established team of presenters and producers.“

Jim is also keen to stress the finer details of addressing Manchester in the correct way. He says: “Because of the mature audience target, the output will be spoken in a non-laddish way. Humour will be a big part of the way we intend to present ourselves, but intelligent, non-condescending humour. This concerns everything about the station’s output, not just the speech.

“Music will be presented in a format that will be knowledgeable and familiar to the people of Manchester, it won’t just be one liners to introduce pop songs, added value will be attached to everything.”

Presenters will be a mixture of local talent, as the station is going to be showing a recognisable northern presence and if you’re to gain a link with a Manchester audience, then there can’t be too many southern accents around, no matter how many southerners move up to Manchester. This doesn’t of course, rule out presenters from other parts of the country, but Celador recognise they need to tap into the locals in a sensible manner.

“We need to speak in a tone that represents Manchester when you get there. We are going to be a rich station” says Jim. This is rich in terms of quality, music and speech of course, rather than as a money-grabbing business. He says: “We will always reflect back to the audience, we will accept feedback and keep our ear to the ground. The broadcaster can also lead the public in terms of the way we put arguments to the public. In this respect, the broadcaster is doing a civil good and that is why it is important to have speech-rich commercial stations.”

Of course, OFCOM will be the ones making the decision and there’s no way of finding out beforehand which stations are in the running, or indeed, what can tip the scales during the campaigning. But, and it’s a big but, in terms of gauging a general impression of the type of station the public want, which includes feedback sent in by over 400 Manchester Confidential readers, it’s a station that can achieve most of the above that should take the license.

Much the same as a Premiership manager budgets staying up or relegation, Celador are well prepared should they get the nod, with a launch team ready to set off and get the station up and running as soon as they get the OK. Some might call that cockiness, others would call it shrewd preparation, and at the very least, it displays an eagerness to ‘get stuck in’.

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