Easy Listening

A tale of four cities

Hugh Oram

Come next February, yet another commercial radio station is due to take to the airwaves, 4fm, targeted at an over-45 audience in Dublin, Cork, Limerick (and Co Clare) and Galway. While it's not the best time to launch a new station, the credentials of the man behind it, Martin Block, are such that if anyone can make it work, he can.

Block laughs and compares the start-up as tantamount to “climbing Everest without oxygen”. Block has been devoted to radio since he was a kid; like so many other of his contemporaries in broadcasting, he began his career with the pirates, first with Sunshine Radio and then working with the irrepressible Chris Carey at Radio Nova.

Block's entry into radio in 1981 may have come about by chance, after he was introduced to Noel Storey, who was then working with Tommy Ellis before he started Beacon Studios, but things moved on nicely. Ironically, Carey had said his voice was “too English” but Sunshine's Robbie Robinson liked it and gave him an early morning slot.

“I learned my trade with the pirates,” Block told Marketing, “I did everything, read the news, presented shows, sold ads. I learned the business from scratch.” When commercial radio went legit, nearly 20 years ago, Block was in there, along with the likes of Mike Hogan as a co-founder of Capital, Rock and what eventually became FM104. He then moved on to start up easy listening Lite FM in Glenageary, later rebranded Q102.

When UTV bought out Q102, Block looked to other radio interests. The BCI came up with the idea of a multi-city licence aimed at older listeners. Originally, it was for over 35s, but now it's for over 45s, as other new stations began focusing on youth.

4fm has taken the fifth floor of Latin Hall in Golden Lane, next to Murray Consultants and beside the new Radisson. The studios and production suites are designed in such a way thay they are in the centre of things and the management team is on the periphery.

Programming will be a little like an Irish version of BBC Radio 2, a mix of music and speech. Block plans 21 hours of specialist music shows a week, including a two-hour show on Saturday evenings devoted to movie music, jazz, The Great American Songbook and the music of the 1960s. News and talk content will be innovative and engaging.

4fm will not compete with RTE Radio I. Developing the web based back-up for programming is also part of Block's plan as are blogs and podcasts, as many older listeners are tech savvy. Block is sceptical about DAB and isn't sure digital broadcasting is the best way ahead. But he is talking with UPC about putting 4fm on cable.

The station will spend €2 million on marketing in the first year, telling people what 4fm is all about and how they can find it. Advertising details are still being worked out, but they plan to use TV and local press outside Dublin.

The whole project is capitalised at €9m and Block acknowledges that it will be a long haul. They expect to break into profit in year four, but given the current economic climate, that deadline could stretch. Airtime will be priced at just under €200 for a spot.



Martin Block is chief executive of 4fm, due on air in February. Born in Ipswich, in East Anglia, Block's childhood was spent in Cheshire. He came to Dublin when he was 13 and attended High School. He studied modern languages at TCD and worked in the family jewellery business before getting his first job in radio with Sunshine.

“At the moment,” Block said, “it costs advertisers €200 for a spot in Dublin, but we're offering four cities for the same price.”. At the time of this interview, Dave Hammond, previously of Today FM, had just been appointed to head the sales side.

Block will have a small ad sales team of around four, which can be added to as needed. The station will have around 30 full-time staff and 15 part-timers. Its backers include Thomas Crosbie Holdings (TCH) in Cork, which has a 22.25 per cent stake.

The Irish Times has a 10 per cent share. Vienna Investments, which includes Block's former colleagues at FM104, Dermot Hanrahan of Electric Media online sales and brothers Des and Ulick McEvaddy, also have a ten per cent stake. So too does Bay Broadcasting, which includes Tom Anderson of the Ward Anderson cinema group.

Block himself is part of Fox Radio, which owns 22.25 per cent of 4fm. Fox includes Block's brother, Howard and former Lite FM director, Al Dunne, who is in charge of 4fm's programming. His PR agency, Unique Media, handles PR. The station's chairperson is Dr Mary Redmond, lawyer and a former member of the RTE Authority.

As chief executive, Block intends to very hands-on in his management style, including being involved in pitches to potential advertisers. He's enthusiastic about the new concept and what it will bring to listeners, but he knows he will have to be patient and wait for about six months until the first official JNLR ratings are released.

And why 4fm? Because it's radio in four cities. Making a go of things is going to be “damn tough”. But if anyone has energy, passion and commitment to make a new radio station work in the toughest of times, then it's Martin Block – ‘Mr Radio' himself.

Hugh Oram (clairwood@eircom.net)

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