James Cridland: A visit to Q Radio in Northern Ireland

James Cridland has been visiting Northern Ireland and Q Radio. What about them made James impressed? You see, he was impressed.

Belfast in Northern Ireland is a city of regeneration and investment. I walked from the train station into the city, noting new buildings and renovated ones. The city appears to be a prosperous place. New brands have poured into the city in recent years.

There’s another new brand in Belfast: and I was on my way to see them. Q Radio has been broadcasting across parts of Northern Ireland for many years, and recently acquired a station in Belfast to complete their coverage.

The station is a key tenant in a small shopping centre in the centre of Belfast. It’s relatively easy to find: just listen for it – speakers outside every store play Q Radio to everyone as they walk past.

I was shown around the “Q HQ” by Robert Walshe, the Managing Director. A recently renovated facility, the entire place has been decorated in the corporate colours of the station’s logo: much is purple, even the hand wash. Robert proudly told me that there are well over 150 station logos in the building. I can believe it.

All of the studio equipment appeared brand new, with the LED strip lighting that is fashionable in UK radio – purple LEDs, naturally. A production studio and three live-capable studios were in use: one with a camera setup in the corner. They’re said to be Ireland’s best-equipped studios: they’re certainly the most modern.

Q Radio is available on a variety of FM frequencies. Depending where you listen, you’ll hear content that’s specifically for your area. There is some local programming from local studios, but the majority of the station comes from Belfast with a set of split feeds. The station also is available on the Northern Irish DAB multiplex, which has its own region-wide output.

They make the best of their split output. In one studio, the traffic news was being recorded, just ahead-of-time, for individual areas. Commercials and sponsorships can also be split, enabling smaller advertisers to gain access to the airwaves in their local areas.

We went into the main live studio. A blinking panel of lights showed the output for all the FM frequencies, for ease of monitoring. The afternoon drive show is co-presented: one presenter stood at the console, another perched on a high stool. I discover that they share desk-driving duties, and swap over daily. Both presenters do a show on other out-of-area stations over the weekend: something that encourages new creative ideas.

I was impressed at the station: both its compactness and its ambition. The Northern Irish local radio market has remained relatively unchanged for a while, and Q Radio appears to be stirring things up.

As I was driven to the airport the next morning, with Q Radio on the speakers and a Q Radio t-shirt in my luggage, I reflected that Q Radio is the model modern radio station business: a cohesive brand with technology being used intelligently to maximise revenue and output.

It’s always invigorating to visit a radio station that inherently knows what it’s doing. If you’re ever in Belfast – I know, but let’s pretend – you’d do well to take a peek too.

James Cridland is a radio futurologist – a writer, speaker and consultant working with the brightest radio brains in the world. He has worked for the BBC and Virgin Radio in London. Join over 2,500 other radio professionals and subscribe to his free weekly newsletter (in English) at https://james.cridland.net

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