Owning events on air – The Rugby World Cup 1999 in South Wales

The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff (Welsh: Stadiw...
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The 2011 Rugby World cup is now fully underway in New Zealand.

Back in 1999, it came to South Wales. It was an unusual championship, since not all of the matches were actually played in South Wales. In fact, some were played in England. One thing that struck me about the Welsh rugby fans, when I moved to Cardiff in 1998, was their passion for the game and their huge sense of National pride.

This event gave Red Dragon FM a huge opportunity. We had NO rights to be associated with the rugby world cup. And we never claimed to have any rights. But it was an event that took over the city, South Wales and was a huge topic of conversation.

At the start of the year, we had a huge brainstorm about what we could and couldn’t do. We had a rolling planner detailing key dates, key events and a countdown to the start of the championship. And of course, it provided a brilliant sales opportunity – both for sponsorship and for the sales team to book rugby related commercials,

We commissioned printed banners – one side saying “TRY” and one side saying “MISS” – both sides heavily branded – which were given out in their thousands during the first few matches. The result was that almost every time there was a goal or a miss, there were shots on TV across Wales, across the UK and around the world of the Red Dragon FM logo. In fact, if imitation is the best form of flattery, we ended up being banned from giving these cards out, and some of the key sponsors introduced them for later matches.

On air, things started early. We started counting down to the championships every day, early in the year. We already had good relationships with the Welsh Rugby Union, a number of the rugby team had connections with the radio station and the contacts with the local authorities put us in a good position to get relevant permissions to do things.

Each match day, we broadcast live from outside the millennium Stadium. We had teams of promotional crew giving out material. And we recorded hundreds of vox pops with Welsh listeners, which we used in all our imaging and promos. And we updated these daily, if not hourly, particularly after a great win or a heavy defeat. Prior to the World Cup, we recorded interviews with a large number pf the Welsh squad. We used these in news bulletins, within promos and they also guest hosted the “Top 10 at 10” on match days – picking their songs and describing their thoughts as they prepared for the big games.

As the campaign progressed, we even created a long form production piece that played a couple of times a day, featuring vox pops of players and fans. I very much doubt whether it’s the sort of thing that would sit comfortably on air on many stations these days. But there are some elements that would still work…

Never underestimate the power of passionate, vocal listeners. I’d never argue for using them simply to get voices on air, but when there’s a reason, it can be very powerful. I’m looking forward to hearing some great examples from the other side of the world in the weeks to come..

The (Welsh) Capital (FM)

So the long talked about rebranding of Red Dragon FM has finally happened. Pretty soon, Red Dragon FM will become another footnote in history.

As ever, people such  as Matt Deegan, James Cridland and Nik Goodman have analysed what it means for the business in ways far better than I can attempt.

My views on the “Globalisation” of commercial radio have been stated before. It makes sense for their business model. It makes sense for many large advertisers. And put simply, it makes it far easier for the company to only have to manage brands rather than stations. But that doesn’t make it any easier for another passionate team who now have an uncertain future in a rapidly shrinking radio jobs market.

Listening to Red Dragon FM a couple of weeks back, the station sounded great. It was however using the same jingles as Capital. And some of the same voices. And like Capital, it’s a great listen (if CHR format radio is your thing). But, it sounded truly local – with loads of local voices. So will this really change things?

There were rumours of Red Dragon becoming Capital FM back when I worked at Red Dragon back in 1998-2002 – (and to be honest, the name change works fine – it is a Capital city). But back then, we were allowed a big nod to sounding local. Our aspirations were as big as Capital in London. And the audience figures steadily rose.

However, the one key element we added (and which the guys at Leicester Square couldn’t give us) was a large dose of National Pride. It was (and from what I understand still is) pretty hard to persuade the guys in London what being Welsh actually meant. At the time, we played a far more localised playlist – with a bigger dose of the Manics, Stereophonics and Catatonia than was heard in London and Birmingham.

And one time it really worked well was during big Rugby matches.

If you’ve never stood on St Mary’s street in Cardiff during a Welsh Rugby International, then chances are, you have never felt a sense of pride like it. I guess it happens outside Murrayfield too. But there’s an intense passion. The sense of pride and emotion and excitement that lived on air during the 1999 Rugby World cup was immense. We owned the city – and the listeners loved it.

And we went big on it in all elements of production

From the news

And with listeners

When Capital launches in January, if they don’t keep some element of Welshness, I think they could be missing a trick.Does it matter? Will the listeners really care? Time will tell. But I guess Real Radio and Nation Radio will ramp up their Welshness a little bit more.

Still, there’s at least one part of Red Dragon FM’s name that will live on.

The centre they broadcast from was rebranded from Atlantic Wharf to The Red Dragon Centre a few years back.

Global might find it harder to change that to the Capital Centre – since one of those already exists.