LBC Radio, Tom Cheal

LBC Radio, Tom Cheal

Gorkana held a media briefing with Tom Cheal, deputy managing editor at LBC Radio on Tuesday 27 October.

LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) is Britain’s only national news talk radio station. It tackles the big issues of the day, with intelligent, informed and provocative opinion from guests, listeners and presenters, including Nick Ferrari, James O’Brien, Shelagh Fogarty, Iain Dale, Ken Livingstone, David Mellor, Beverley Turner and Tom Swarbrick.

LBC made history with ‘Call Clegg’, as the world’s only radio station with a Deputy Prime Minister as a host. LBC reaches 1.5 million people across the UK, and Nick Ferrari hosts London’s number one commercial radio breakfast show by market share. LBC is available on DAB digital radio, online at, through mobile apps, Sky Digital Channel 0112, Virgin Media Channel 973, Freeview channel 732 and on 97.3FM in London. Source: RAJAR / Ipsos-MORI / RSMB, period ending 28 June 2015.

After more than a decade at newstalk radio station LBC, Tom Cheal was named deputy managing editor last year. In an exclusive Gorkana breakfast briefing this week, he talked about the success of Britain’s only national commercial newstalk radio station, the content that keeps audiences engaged and the high profile Clegg vs Farage debate that reached more than 15 million people across the UK.

If LBC’s deputy managing editor, Tom Cheal, had to pick a moment when LBC really seized the national news agenda this year, it would have to be when Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg went head-to-head with UKIP’s Nigel Farage ahead of the General Election.

Cheal describes the live hour-long programme, hosted by Nick Ferrari in March, as a moment that captured the progress the LBC brand has made in its 42-year history. The debate dominated front pages of the national press, led all evening news bulletins on the day and, ultimately, put the LBC brand in front of more than 50 million people throughout the UK.

As Britain’s only commercial national newstalk radio station, LBC is unique. While it launched as a London-based newstalk station in 1973, the last couple of years have seen the radio station rise to prominence across the UK, following its a national expansion last year.

It made history in 2013 with Call Clegg, the world’s only radio station with a deputy Prime Minister as host, and other big highlights have included the high profile London mayoral election interviews and debates, and most recently the Labour Party leadership debate.

Cheal cannot stress enough how important the launch of Call Clegg was: “It’s probably the single biggest success we’d had in drawing in guests…at the time I don’t think any of the team knew how big it might become.” Other notable guest presenters have included Tony Blair, Nigel Farage, Diane Abbott, George Galloway and Boris Johnson.

Since taking on his new role last year, part of Cheal’s remit has been to come up with ideas that will reach the levels of success that Call Clegg achieved. But his key concern is to make sure that LBC is engaged with the issues its 1.5 million weekly listeners are talking about. Its remit is to ask “the questions that people across Britain want answers to”.

In an exclusive Gorkana breakfast briefing this week, Cheal talked about what made for engaging content, LBC’s winning formula to attract an expanded audience and how PRs could work with the team. Here are a few highlights:

  • LBC is part of Global Radio, which also owns stations including Capital, Heart and Classic FM. This means LBC is part of a “backbone of national broadcasters” which share resources through eight regional news centres. “We’re a gateway to all the other Global Radio brands”, says Cheal. As a group of influential radio brands, it has 23.5 million listeners across the UK.
  • The breakfast show drives LBC’s audience (70% come through to LBC via Nick Ferrari’s morning show) like most radio stations. But LBC has always had a large night following with late-night phone-ins. It’s a big part of listener retention. “When they turn their radios off at night, it’s on LBC, and when they turn it on the next morning, it’s on LBC.”
  • The typical LBC listener stays tune for 25 minutes. There is, on average, 1.5 million listeners a week (the team only counts people who listen for at least five minutes). The audience is 70% ABC1, with a 50/50 gender split. Cheal describes them as “loyal”, especially among the 55+ age range. That said, the station is also seeing healthy growth figures for listeners aged between 30 and 54.
  • Planning editor Oli Sly is a good first point of contact for PRs. He works across all the station’s shows. Start by sending him an email with a brief overview of your pitch and you can follow up with a phone call. Nick Ferrari’s setup producer, James Davies, is also a good point of contact for the breakfast show.
  • There is a daily editorial meeting at 9am, with a recap at 2pm, and there is a weekly planning meeting on Thursdays. These times should not be used as a guide for when to get in contact. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think twice about sending stuff … as long as you’re clear as to why it will appeal to us and our audience”, Cheal urged.
  • If you’re thinking about pitching guest presenters, they need to be “real national figures”. They need to stand out, have name recognition and a very strong following.

Attending the briefing, Shakila Ahmed, comms director for Travelodge, said: “Well done Gorkana for holding another great insightful event. Tom Cheal’s overview on how to target LBC was invaluable advice. Thanks to Gorkana we now have inside knowledge on how to have a voice on leading Britain’s conversation.”

Nicola Ward, senior account executive at Eulogy!, added: “It was great to learn about the inner workings of LBC as well as the wider Global Radio network. Tom provided a really valuable insight into the types of editorial content LBC and its listeners are interested in and how PRs can best engage with the station. The session reinforced the value of radio as a platform for igniting conversations around a particular topic and the opportunity this presents for PRs.”