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June 27, 2007 10:00 by

radio, Lebanon

Ad spending is scarce these days in Lebanon, so the media is seizing every chance it can get to attract new clients - or at least keep existing ones. Thus a battle brews between the three Lebanese French-speaking radio stations: Light FM, Nostalgie and France FM.

These three frequencies will soon fight for the attractive morning segment, which attracts 65 percent of listeners and has been dominated since 2000 by Light FM with La Bonne Humeur (Good Mood), the only morning program with live presenters. Its competitors only broadcast songs, but that’s about to change.

In May, the media group Group Plus bought France FM from Raja Mansour, who still owns Light FM. In terms of both audience and ad spending, France FM comes far behind both Light FM and the market leader, Nostalgie, the leading non-Arabic station in Lebanon and an offshoot of the French station of the same name. But under its new ownership, France FM hopes to rebuild confidence and, at the very least, compete with its former sister station for the No. 2 slot.

“Clients love live shows because they can sponsor them and have presenters mention their name,” says Tina Chamoun, France FM’s new general manager. “We [at Group Plus] used to be the media rep for France FM and I have been thinking about launching a morning show for quite some time. Now that we own the station, we’ll do it as soon as we find the right presenter, in a month or two.”

By then, Nostalgie will have launched its own live morning program, presented by not one but three presenters. That’s a radical change for a station where 99 percent of programming consists of oldies music.

“We were afraid to change a winning concept,” says Jihad El Murr, executive manager of Nostalgie. “But we got the impulse from the company in France, where the live morning show is doing well. It’s a gamble since we don’t know how regular listeners will react and habits are hard to change.”

El Murr is dismissive of the competition for morning glory. “France FM is almost nonexistent nowadays,” he adds. “They’re just trying to find a second wind, and that won’t be easy. But we hope to create a new audience, as well as to attract listeners from Light FM, which lives off its morning show and doesn’t have much else.”

Still, Nadine Mansour, general manager of Light FM, is neither worried nor surprised by the surge in interest in the morning segment. “They have been trying to do it for years and it never worked” she says. “They just want a piece of the cake. But I’m actually happy because competition is always stimulating.”

And her company won’t be surrendering without a fight. “When the time comes, we’ll see what to do about it,” she continues. “But actual talent will make the difference.”

Critics say there probably won’t be room for three morning shows in French, targeting a relatively small audience.

“It won’t be easy”, says France FM’s Chamoun. “But I love challenges. Basically, the station with the most popular presenter will win. That’s why we’ll do something special.”

Nostalgie starts with a big advantage, El Murr claims. “The others just have one aerial over Beirut,” he says, “So we’re the only ones to cover the whole country. Besides, we’re backed by Nostalgie France, which provides us with jingles, content, et cetera. The market won’t divide in three, so may the best station win.”

This article first appeared in the June 2007 issue of Communicate.

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