Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas!

The last post of the year comes from a rather cold, rather foggy, and rather wet London town. As I look out of the window here in my office, it looks a little bit festive… but not really picture postcard stuff, hence the image used here… which does the trick! However, I’ve just lit the fire, and there’s some Mulled Wine on the stove, and all the presents are wrapped… so things are looking up!

Wherever you’re reading this right now, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

2007 was very eventful but seems to have flown by. 2008 will no doubt bring a whole host of exciting things to write about and discuss in the wonderful world of radio.

As Christmas is the one time of year you’re allowed a certain amount of ‘schmaltz’, let me use up my ‘schmaltz quota’ and say thank you to all my fantastic clients around the world (you know who you are!!). It’s been great fun working with you all, and I know we’ve done lots of good stuff together throughout the year.

Here’s to a prosperous and successful 2008 to you all!


Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Capital - No longer Mullered!

The news of the departure of Programme Director of Capital 95.8 - Scott Muller – wasn’t exactly unexpected when it reached me today. Not because I had any inside information. Far from it. But the significant changes made by new MD Paul Jackson less then a fortnight ago only signalled one thing. The clock was ticking on Mr Muller’s reign. It was a pretty safe bet!

Having once sat in the (now seemingly vacant) hot seat of Capital PD, and been ushered to exit stage left slightly prematurely (in my opinion!), I’m sure Scott feels that his tenure was also cut slightly short. We’ll never get the opportunity to find out if his particular vision to move Capital to a more CHR sound aiming at 15-30 year old Londoners, will have won the day.

It seems a genuine shame that the person who was described in the GCap 2006 Annual Report (and named, several times no less!) as “… a world class programmer with the specific skills and experience to help us take the station to the next level” is no longer deemed appropriate to continue in that role.

What does today’s announcement tell us? That he didn’t succeed? That he’d reached the next level – job done? Not really. I think Scott did a pretty good job with the sound of Capital. As a 15-30 year old station, it’s quite well placed. Whether the strategy was right in the first place, and whether the “2 ads in a row” policy can be called a success is another question for other to judge! But the station still isn't back at number 1.

What this whole affair should really remind us of, is the fickle nature of the radio business generally and the pressure to succeed at the top. The “saviour” of a station one moment, can be the person moved on to do “special projects” the next. A reflection of their limited ability and poor recruitment? Or an indication that whoever "holds the wheel" at any given moment can change direction (and first officer!) to suit their own agenda? Take your pick!

With the wonderful Annie O' Neill appointed as Programme Manager, the hugely talented Sheena Mason continuing as Head of Music, and MD Paul Jackson having his hands firmly on the levers of programming, perhaps this combination will provide Capital with some much needed stability. Let’s hope the revolving door has now come to a halt.

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa

Can you please give me lots of information about German media company Bauer, so I can draw some conclusions about their possible intentions for EMAP's radio division, that they have just agreed to buy. It would make me very happy, and may even enlighten some of my readers who work for EMAP and are currently wondering if they’ll be having a “Glückliches Weihnachten” or not.

Thank you.


PS – I’ve been a very good boy this year.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Wham Bam...

The wind of change has once again swept through the 3rd Floor of Leicester Square, where Capital 95.8, has had another re-shuffle.

Bam Bam, who only joined about 9 months ago, is no more. His show has been given to Lucio, who comes off Drive to make way for Greg Burns, who was joining to do mid mornings, but now that's gone to Margherita Taylor. Following things so far?

New MD Paul Jackson has wasted no time asserting his authority and stamping his mark on the output. Quite what this does for the authority of the current PD Scott Muller is another question, as it's all his changes that now seem to be being unravelled.

There's no doubt that Bam Bam is a talent broadcaster. Was Capital the right move for him? We'll never really know... but there now exists an opportunity for him to reinvent himself completely. My feeling is that he should do adult based speech radio on something like LBC or Talk Sport. That's where his talent lies and hopefully someone will see that.

And as for the changes at Capital. Greg Burns will be great on Drive. For me Lucio never really cut it on that show and maybe evenings is a better home for him. Margherita is a quality broadcaster, and I'm pleased for her that she's back 'front and centre' of the lineup.

One thing is for certain. Listeners don't really like change that often, and a number of significant changes to the music, production and line-up will leave the listeners wondering what it's all about. Imagine your favourite restaurant kept changing the menu, the decor, the layout. Eventually you'd find a new place to dine. We're all creatures of habit. We like consistency. Let's hope that the 'wind of change' has now died down at Capital. At least for a while!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

NAB Europe - Presentations

For those of you who couldn't make it to NAB Europe this year, those nice people from NAB have conveniently put a selection of the presentations on their website for all to see.
There's an interesting range of topics from "Building Sucessful Radio in Emerging Markets" to "The Impact of Latin Music Worldwide". (You may need your 'Google Translator' for this one!).

My presentation on the topic of "Does Radio Have a 10% Plus Media Share in your Country?" is also available to download. Feel free to email if you have any questions about it.

In the meantime, what exotic, sun soaked location can we all look forward to for NAB next year? I always enjoy my trip away... and in November 2008 I'm going to pack my shorts and sun-tan lotion and head off wor a winter break to... (opens envelope) oh.... it's London... in November!!

"No Shorts Required"! (I'm sure that's also one of the titles Phil Collins rejected for his 1985 album)

Well. I'll see you there... if you can make it through the fog and rain!

Friday, 23 November 2007

“Regrets… I’ve had a few” or “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien”

The final whistle has been blown, and time has been called on Ralph Bernard’s run as “Head Coach” (or CEO, as I’m sure he’s more frequently called) of the UK’s largest radio group GCap Media. It appears however, from early reports, that no Croatians whatsoever were involved in this exit.

So, looking back on his career – which is obligatory in these circumstances – what will we remember?

There’s no doubt that building up GWR to a company worth £262 Million pounds was a truly fantastic achievement. GWR really pioneered the principle of a ‘network’ of stations. They purchased mainly smaller market, sometimes underperforming stations, and applied an almost franchise-like approach to the re-branding and re-formatting of them.

Local control was limited, and replaced by a top down approach to doing things. (One employee once commented to me that working for GWR was a little like being a member of the Communist Party!) Centralized playlists, syndicated programming and generic production were perhaps a glimpse into the future?

However, it was the merger of GWR and Capital that was a defining moment in UK commercial radio, and Ralph was very much in the driving seat. Was consolidation necessary? For commercial radio to create some scale and be more competitive both with the BBC and other content providers… then yes, it was.

Was the merger a success? Well, it depends on how you measure success!!

The City always looks at shareholder value, profits and future growth. It does seem a little disappointing that at the time of the merger Capital was valued at £264 Million and GWR at £262 Million. The current Market Cap of the merged companies that formed GCap Media is £229 Million, less than half the value of the separate entities pre-merger. And as I write, the share price is at an all time low.

OK – media valuations have changed and there has been a downturn in the advertising economy in the last 2½ years, but still…

Culturally, the merger was difficult. (I was there at the time and trust me... it was difficult!). GWR and Capital had very different ways of doing things both in terms of management and programming, and bringing these two monolithic cultures together was always going to be a bit of a minefield. Ralph said to The Guardian in July 2006… "We unquestionably misjudged the culture difference between the organisations”

There were accusations of a ‘putsch’ as the number of senior roles in the newly merged company seemed to all go to former GWR executives.

However, over time the dust inevitably settled and although always a favourite for media commentators to ‘have a go at’, GCap Media remains intact… for the time being! But who will be handed the unenviable role of steering the company through the choppy waters ahead? The smart money is on Fru Hazlitt, the feisty former CEO of Virgin Radio who now occupies the role of boss of GCap’s London portfolio.

So farewell then Ralph. It’s been emotional. Please select your swan song…

Monday, 19 November 2007

"Age Ain't Nothing But a Number..."

It was my birthday at the weekend, and it was a significant one. No, not the Big 40… and I wasn’t 21 again either, although I’d quite like that. No, it was significant in distinctive radio programming way, as I officially moved into a new demo!

“Hello Nik… let me welcome you to 35-44’s! Take a look around… you’ll be here for quite a while" ... the voice inside my head said, as I woke up on Sunday morning.

But hang on. I don’t feel any different. I don’t have the urge to rush out and buy Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits or start smoking a pipe… or buy a Volvo. I’m just the same as I was last week!

Radio has for many years grouped its audience via age demos. And for a long time, this was a pretty decent way of segmenting and targeting appropriate demographics. It was done primarily so advertisers could understand radio’s audience easily. 15-24 year olds are unlikely to need a mortgage product or ‘Stannah Stairlift’, whilst traditionally 35-44 year olds weren’t falling over themselves to get a copy of “Ministry of Sound; The Definitive Annual”.

But the world has changed. There’s an expression in the marketing world about the phenomenon of marketing to younger and younger kids, as they develop tastes and preferences increasingly quickly. It’s called “Growing Older Younger”. I think the reverse is also true. Keeping in the spirit of the phrase, I’m going to call it “Growing Younger Older”.

Sure, I have kids, a mortgage, a lawnmower, and occasionally watch something on BBC Four… but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to listen to the Mark Ronson album, or I think The Hoosiers aren’t brilliant (coz they are!).

Technology has allowed a whole generation of older people to feel connected and remain ‘young at heart’ or to have ‘grown younger older’. BBC Radio 2 was one of the first stations in the UK to really understand that you could be say, 50, and enjoy both Frank Sinatra and Coldplay… and want to hear them in the same radio show!

So where does it leave radio programmers in being able to understand our audiences. We’ll for starters, we shouldn’t abandon the good old fashioned demos just yet. It’s fair to say that there’s still a lot in common for many 25-34 year olds. However, their age is not the one thing we should focus on.

Programmers need to take a more lifestyle approach to analysis of their audience. What is the lifestyle of your main demo? What kind of people are they? What unifies them? Once you get over the ‘tyranny of the age demo’ you find it’s far easier to star segmenting your audience and deciding on what content you need to deliver for these people.

And the one thing that makes the biggest difference to your audience?


But more about programming for adults with kids another day I think. Anyhow… gotta rush. The garden centre is closing in 30 mins!!

Friday, 9 November 2007

The Auto Stream

Circulating amongst the delegates at NAB Europe was Clive Dickens from Absolute Radio. As well as running a successful consultancy, his company owns 2 radio stations in Oxford... one being the new JACK FM, of which much has already been said and written. We started to discuss the one thing that had really stood out for me about JACK FM Oxford... and surprisingly it wasn't something that I'd heard on air.

When you visit (but not until you've finished reading this if you'd be so kind...) a pretty standard radio station homepage pops up... but then within about 2 seconds, something rather exciting happens. The live stream launches... automatically...!! I remember when I first came across this I thought... "That's a bit different". And the more I thought about it.... the more it made sense. Bloody good sense.

Every time I see research on the reasons why people go to a radio stations website... usually top of the list is the reason "I want to listen live / stream the radio station". The numbers vary from 50% anywhere up to 80%! So why not make it easy for them? Save people the hassle! What's the worst that could happen? They actually get to sample the station and stay listening to it for a while? That's kinda the idea with radio isn't it?!

There are some radio stations where it is painfully difficult to launch the live stream, and on a number of occasions I've just given up after form-filling for an eternity. Life's far too short to keep giving out my 'Mother's Maiden Name' and remember what kind of connection I've got. What is a 'T1' when it's at home anyway? There's a short pre-roll ad of about 8 seconds when the JACK stream 'auto-launches', but nothing too much to put me off.... and bang... I'm straight into music. ("Simple Minds - All The Things She Said" as it happens on this occasion!)

At NAB, Clive Dickens explained to me actually how difficult it has been to technically make this 'auto-stream' happen. I may have appeared to glaze over somewhat at that point, but got the gist of it! But I think it's worth the agro he and his team went through. It will fascinating to see if JACK in the UK has pioneered something that will catch on progressively over the next 12 months globally, or if others won't want to follow suit, fearing an audience backlash.

"Dear Sir... I visited your website, and was horrified that you played music to me... without asking my permission! How very dare you! What are you? Some kind of radio station?" etc etc...

Have a think about how much you could increase TSL to your station just by adopting this idea. Worth a second thought isn't it...

Thursday, 8 November 2007

"Barcelona... And shake the foundations from the skies"

And as another conference fades away into the distance, what did we all glean from our time at NAB Europe in Barcelona? (Apart from the fact that the Arts Hotel is a jolly nice place to stay!)

There is no question that listening via digital, the convergence of online and radio, and the fact that radio is now a multi-platform, multi channel medium, dominated the topics in the conference sessions and discussions outside them too.

There was a whole extra day devoted to podcasting, and sessions about the topic in the main schedule of events... and the issue of 'time shift listening' and 'radio on demand' is something I'll return to time and time again over the next 12 months, I'm certain.

Ensuring radio stations are still create engaging and stimulating content was never far from the lips of the programming fraternity, however for the first time I've begun to notice a real sense of fragmentation in radio world.

The Futurists: These are the people who believe that for radio to survive, it needs to fully embrace the opportunities that the digital future has to offer. Radio on demand, multi channel offerings on multiple platforms, placing content where the listeners are... not expecting them to always come to you etc etc... The tone was set by Natalie Schwartz from Channel 4 Radio in her opening remarks to conference and there is little question that Channel 4 and it's services will be pushing this as much as they can once fully launched. These futurists tend to be from countries with large populations and mature radio markets.

The 'Non-Content' Collective: It was great to see someone from Pandora (Paul Brown, their 'International' MD) at the NAB Conference. I like Pandora. I think it's a very clever service and I use it at least once a week. But is it 'radio' in the classic sense of the word? Likewise there were other 'music only' streaming services represented and they, like Pandora have found a particular place in the radio world that is separate and distinct to what we know as conventional radio... but obviously very closely related. Again, in a multi-channel environment where decent on-air talent is at a premium, we can expect more and more of these kind of services to flourish. I feel a separate blog about Pandora coming soon!

The Luddites: I was surprised at how many 'old school-ers' there were around. I had several conversations with people who didn't quite grasp the impact that digital technology and the Internet will have on the traditional radio business. I'm frightened for them to be honest with you! I know different countries and different markets are at different stages in the development of radio... but pretty soon, geographical boundaries won't mean anything to a whole generation of people growing up with a sense that the world is on their doorstep, and they can access any media they want, at any time.

Larry Rosin from Edison Media Research spoke eloquently on the topic of The Infinite Dial. It's "radio's take" on that great book by Chris Anderson called 'The Long Tail', which is getting more relevant to radio day by day. Larry 'et al', are firmly in the "...let's march forward boldly into this brave new world..." camp. I confess that I will be marching with them.

Do nothing, and the danger is that your radio business will be left behind forever.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

"Barcelona - such a beautiful horizon..."

The 'good', 'bad' and sometimes 'downright ugly' of the radio world are packing their bags (no liquids more than 100ml remember!) and heading for the bright lights and tapas scented aroma of Barcelona for the annual NAB Europe Radio Conference.

It's a time where deals are done in huddled corners, new friends are made, and some old colleagues are avoided!

This conference promises to be an interesting one for several reasons. There's a good selection of sessions... something for everyone I feel, and if you're going to NAB I would be failing in my duty not to urge to to pop your head into the "Does radio have a 10% plus media share in your country?" session at 12pm on Monday! I, joined by a worldly wise panel, will set out my view of the barriers to growth in radio, what emerging markets need to do, and what the future is for developed markets in terms of growth. My crystal ball is well and truly polished!

For the first time at NAB there is a podcasting seminar on the Sunday... which indicates the growing importance of non-liner broadcasts to the radio world.

And another first... The European Radio Awards! I think this is a great idea, to try and pull a Europe wide contest together, and host a bit of a bash at the same time. Being a judge for the first year, I can say the quality of the award entries was really high with some great bits of radio being submitted. I fear I may be called upon to hand out an award. Let's hope it's early on during the evening before the plentiful and flowing supply of Rioja has kicked in...

And once the proceedings are over for another year, and we're all homeward bound with a stuffed straw donkey, china plate with a picture of a bullfight on it, and a jingle demo CD in Polish all stashed safely in our bags... I will bring you the lowdown from the NAB Conference 2007, and what we've learned this year.

Viva Espagne!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

RAJAR Qtr 3 2007

Now that the dust has settled on another set of listening figures in the UK, and the metaphorical handbags are returned to the closets, who were the winners and losers and what have we learnt this time around.

Well, the big bun fight was (as predicted) over the Breakfast Show figures in London. Who really is number one?

Capital are bullishly claiming that Johnny Vaughan is clearly number one, as his show has more listeners during the entire duration of the show. This is true... and from 6:30am till 10am there are 1.024 Million listeners.

"Stop cracking it up right there..." cries a rather bemused Dr Fox, Foxy, Neil Fox.... you know the guy. Magic's argument is that their show runs from 5:30am till 9am, and while both shows are on at the same time, 6am - 9am... Magic beats Capital. For the record, the figures are...

Magic - 885,000
Capital - 880,000
Heart - 810,000

So, who's right. Well, I feel that common sense should take over at this stage. You have to measure like for like, between 6 and 9am. Otherwise, Capital or any other station indeed, could run their breakfast show from 5am till 10:30am, and bingo... the reach of the show has increased again!

Frankly, it's all a bit of a storm in a tea cup, as the lead is so minimal versus the accuracy of the ratings data, that it could be reversed with the stroke of a pen next time round.

However, Magic are proud to claim number one commercial reach position and number one breakfast show, whilst Capital are keen to gain the PR advantage that having the number 1 morning show brings you, especially when your share figure has come off the pace of the top two.

It just shows you how fierce this battle is, and I have no doubt that the handbags will make another appearance in 3 months time!

And now... news in brief!

Well done to Choice FM who now have 611,000 listeners a week. They're really delivering a focused urban product which knows it's target audience so well.

Nice try to Xfm whose 'no DJ's in the day' thing (Called Xu... or something suitably cool) has contributed to a slump from 2% to 1.2% share. Oops! Never did like the idea!!

Moyles and Wogan are down a bit... but I don't see either of them being unduly worried!

The Hits continues to be a great success story for EMAP with 1.49Million listeners. It shows you what having a focused product on the right platforms can do! Well done guys!

With digital listening accounting for 15% of listening time in the UK, the future is firmly in the digital arena... a point I'll expand on during my session at this years NAB in Barcelona next week.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Prepare to Meet Jack

The countdown is on... The clock is ticking... It's not long now... The wait is finally over... T minus 10 seconds to launch... Prepare for takeoff... (Insert your own cliché here!)

The first JACK-FM outside North America is launching this week in the most English of English cities... Oxford! How will one of the biggest format success stories in the last few years from the US translate the UK?

Well - we know that it will be different for a start. The North American JACK's are mostly music intensive, no-DJ environments. In the UK, JACK-FM will have a good old 'Breakfast Show' and a 'Drivetime' moment, both hosted by real people... and not just the 'voice of Jack'. (Trevor Marshall, who is one of the hosts of mornings is an excellent broadcaster and will bring a certain class to the show without a doubt).

But 'JACK-FM Oxfordshire' will be different in the way that it approaches the challenge that many commercial radio stations in the UK have, that is how to break the pattern of predictability and cycle of monotony that tightly formatted stations bring?

The 'extreme variety' position that JACK has grown famous for in many US and Canadian markets will now be unleashed on the good folk of Oxfordshire. We can expect car crash segues from artists as varied as The Police, Bananrama, Leo Sayer, Carl Douglas, Roxette, Depeche Mode, Steely Dan and David Bowie.

Hang on a minute... that sounds like something the BBC would do!

And that's the point. I believe that JACK-FM will offer a viable alternative to Radio 2 and BBC Radio Oxford and provide a section of older adults, mainly 40+, with a "commercial radio station that doesn't sound like a commercial radio station". I'm sure that Fox FM (the heritage commercial station in the market) will not be welcoming this new entrant to the rather uncompetitive Oxfordshire marketplace, as inevitably JACK will pull from some of the older end that's been holding up their cume for all those years. But even the guys at Fox should welcome a station that will challenge the BBC in a smarter way.

A morning show that will have a 50/50 speech and music balance and packed with local content will inevitably appeal to some of BBC Oxford's 100,000 weekly listeners, and hourly news bulletins will satisfy the demand for information throughout the day.

The Year 1 audience projections are around a 55,000 Reach with a Market Share 5.4%. I'm confident they can achieve that given the strength of the proposition and format, the charisma of the brand, and the expertise of the operators.

Good luck Jack!

And to get you all in the mood, here's a fun TV spot from JACK-FM in Toronto...

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Name That Show

Congratulations to Mads Vangsø and the team at client station, Radio 100FM in Denmark, who this week successfully launched their brand new morning show.

It's called "Farvel seng – jeg elsker dig!". For those of you who don't speak fluent Danish... let me translate! The new show is called "Goodbye Bed - I Love You!"

With a title like that, you know you're in for something a little bit different!!

The issue of show names comes up from time to time. Should you name all your shows or only some of them... or none at all? Personally, naming all of your shows I think is a step too far, but giving your morning show a strong identity isn't a bad thing. Creating a sub-brand that listeners associate with your station is a nice shorthand for them, and can help define the show before a potential listener even hears it.

"The Rehab" - Sunday morning's on Kiss 100 London... you kinda know you're going to get chill out tunes! 'The Morning After' which is Kerrang! Radio's new morning show has some attitude to it... and ties in well with their late show that is appropriately titled "The Night Before"!

And while we're on the subject of show name... can we please impose a worldwide ban on "The Morning Crew" or "Dave and The Morning Crew"! It's so dated!

A 'crew' of people isn't something I would really want to wake up with, unless I was working on a ship or travelling on the Space Shuttle.

"Hi - you wanna come round and hang out with The Crew?"

"Where are calling from.... 1987?"

OK - I'll stop now. You get the point.

Jack Off!

A nice bit of guerrilla marketing by, the soon to be launched, Jack FM Oxford, as they gatecrashed Fox FM's 18th Birthday Party handing out their own birthday card to party goers.

This type of activity is perfect for the cheeky and irreverent style that I'm sure Jack FM will bring to Oxford.

There's probably a whole book to write on great competitive things that rival stations have done to each other. A nice one that sticks in my mind is when Bam Bam, who was working at Kiss 100 at the time, bought a classic fire engine, complete with turntable ladder... just so he could drive it to Leicester Square... extend the ladder... and put a Kiss Sticker on the 3rd floor window where the Capital studio was. Cheeky, funny, perfect for that show and that station at the time.

He now broadcasts inside that very studio that he 'stickered' all those years ago. Funny how things work out!

Anyway - We should all look forward to seeing some nice marketing ideas coming out of Jack FM once it has launched. The countdown is on to Thursday 18th October at 1:06pm. Well they are on 106FM... so what did you expect!

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Witch Hunt?

I have a confession to make.

In 1992, whilst doing the evening show on Christmas Eve on Radio City in Liverpool, I put a caller to air claiming it was Santa Claus. It wasn't. It was my Brother in Law... Phil, doing a rather bad impression of an old man with a white beard, carrying lots of presents.

If I was at the BBC right now, I might well have a taxi on its way to take me home... forever!

The "fake callers" scandal goes on.. and on... and on! Today, another incident has come to light! According to the BBC...

"A pre-recorded section of Radio 1's Jo Whiley Show on April 20, 2006 featured a phone competition in which a member of BBC staff posed as a caller from the audience. The incident came to light following the recent publication of further editorial breaches. A number of staff members have been disciplined. We would like to make clear that Jo Whiley was unaware that the caller was not a genuine member of the public. The BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee has been informed of this today."

Oh dear. How many more of these are going to rear their heads? I'm sure there are quite a few producers / production assistants who are having sleepless nights at the moment. Fess up and do the right thing, and you might get the "Leona McCambridge" treatment!

She was the unfortunate producer who was at the centre of one of the original "fake caller" scandal on BBC 6Music, having admitted to using production staff to pose as a caller. 6Music Director of Programmes, Ric Blaxill, fell on his sword shortly after Leona was given her marching orders.

So where does this leave us? Is the relationship between a radio station and a listener irrevocably damaged... regardless of station? Does it affect the whole industry in the UK?

One of the real issues is the fine line between creating "radio theatre" and conning the audience. It's probably OK to say "I'm opening the golden envelope now..." when you haven't got an envelope in the studio, let alone a gold one! But asking people to call in without a hope in hell of getting on the air, coz the show's pre-recorded is probably pushing it.

So where is the line?

If you record a session on a Friday, and go on the air on Saturday morning and say... "we've got Band X live in the studio to play us some songs" and present them 'as live'... is that conning the audience? Having the band there live is infinitely more preferable than saying "we recorded this yesterday". But is it conning the audience?

But where does this end? If you record a call and edit it a bit before putting it on air.... is that also unfair?

Personally, I think a degree of theatre is OK. When you're actively involved in deception (i.e. call now to win) knowing that the audience are being taken for a ride, then you probably need to ask yourself 'why?'.

It's fair to say that these "smoke and mirror" tactics have been going on for as long as radio itself, not only in the BBC, but in commercial radio too. Because of the BBC's status and responsibility, it's having to air it's dirty laundry in public... but I'm sure the editorial guidelines within most commercial groups are being tightened up as we speak.

I bumped into Jenny Abramsky (BBC Audio and Music supremo) at a radio conference in Oslo recently and we talked about the current spate of BBC confessions. I admit to feeling rather bad for her at the moment, as she's no doubt going to face some awkward questions about the editorial integrity of the networks, and it's not really her fault!

So what's the solution? I believe this current witch-hunt within the BBC is counter productive. It continues to undermine the trust between listener and broadcaster. We know that quite a but of this stuff has gone on... do we need every instance to be trawled over? I think enough is enough. Let's call time on this. You can be sure that the BBC is having to be 'whiter than white' from now on and I'm certain lessons have been learnt.

And the commercial sector can be glad that the spotlight has not shone in its direction with the same ferocity.

Most radio stations, BBC or commercial, have probably not been involved seriously dodgy practises... but you can bet that any producer will think twice about calling a mate to help out on a pre-record now!

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

"Radio 1 - Established 1967"

Every now and again, a bit of programming comes along that makes you as a radio professional (well - professional most of the time!), appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the planning and production.

This month BBC Radio 1 celebrate 40 years of broadcasting, and it would practically against British law to ignore such a milestone in radio. So, the rather smart people at the BBC got together and worked out how they were going to celebrate this. The key challenge was for them to ensure that when they looked back over their shoulder, they didn't descend into a "retro mush-fest". Things were very different in the world of radio in 1997, let alone 1967 (when I of course wasn't born... but I've heard the tapes!)

"Radio 1... Established 1967" is the sub-brand that has been created to house all things referring to the last 40 years, and instantly they're onto a winner. The "Established - insert year here" idea has worked for lots of brands... jeans, whisky, trainers, pizza restaurants!! It has a certain cool about it, without reminding us of the Summer of Love and Sgt. Pepper every time we hear it.

The on-air idents really print well and the sense of heritage around the station cuts through, particularly with the use of the old jingles etc... More importantly, the sub-brand it gives the station permission to do lots of things that provide programming and musical surprises across the output.

There are a couple of gems. The 9pm 'Legends' show, where a music star picks some of their favourite songs from the last 40 years has already delivered some great radio... with Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl... and we've got loads more to go! Hearing Macca play Fred Astaire followed by The Sex Pistols was certainly extreme variety, but worked because of the "wrapping" around it.

The decision to revisit the "Golden Hour" - that classic 'guess the year' format, has meant Chris Moyles has been enjoying himself rather too much every morning, particularly when he gets to play Nik Kershaw and Duran Duran! And don't even start on all the old jingles he gets to play. He's having a the closest you can get to a "radio hard on" every morning!! But - hey... it sounds good, so why not!

And the 40 artists recording 40 cover versions from the last 40 years is brilliant. 'Toxic' done by Hard Fi, 'Teenage Dirtbag' done by Girls Aloud etc etc. I could go on!

What Radio 1 have done in creating their "Established 1967" series of programmes and features is a demonstration of a strong concept being planned really well in advance with great production values and great branding, plus the whole station getting behind it in a big way. (Of course having a budget of over £17 Million pounds a year means you can throw a decent amount of resource at it... so you'd hope the output was of high quality!! But let's not go there...)

The point is that any station can plan well in advance and create stand out programming given the right excuse. If your station is only 5 years old, you could celebrate that. If you want to create the most exciting Christmas schedule ever, you can do that. If you want the New Year to be all about live music, you can do that.

The key is planning.

Plan ahead as much as you can and see how far you can take your creativity.

But, at the risk of sounding sycophantic, well done Radio 1. A good bit of radio.

Monday, 3 September 2007

"To Network or not To Network... that is the question"

There's been a flurry of activity in the networking world of late. Maybe it's the season for it.

First, Guardian Media Group announced that they are networking Mark Goodier's show across the majority of their 'Smooth Radio' stations. Then GCap Media trumpeted the arrival of Ryan Seacrest to the One Network with the promise of an entertainment show like no other on a Sunday morning.

For programmers, the options to "import" programming from elsewhere has always been there. I remember the exciting task of having to be the T/O for "Rick Dees Weekly Top 40" on Radio City in Liverpool on a Sunday evening... loading up the 1/4 inch tapes... and hoping I was playing them in the right order. Invariably listeners got to hear the Top 10 during the first hour and numbers 25 - 40 during the last hour, but no-one seemed to mind that much. The point was that there was "An American on the radio in Liverpool... WOW!"

Does having a big name on you radio station do anything for listeners? What do they think of these networked shows? Do they care that it's not local?

Essentially we're dealing with 2 different things here. The 'networking' of live shows, and syndicated programmes, but both have a commonality.

The debate about networking seems to have died down a little of late. The harsh economic factors and the economies of scale that networking brings seems to have won the argument... for the time being. Many GCap and EMAP stations both have networked shows across evenings and countless smaller groups send out programming from a central hub. Kiss do it across certain daytime programmes and now Smooth. I've no doubt that adding Mark Goodier to a line-up of a local station is a smart idea. His show is really starting to sound good of late, and I'm sure the listeners will appreciate having him on their 'local' station. Do they care he's not sitting in their town or city? Probably not.

And what about getting a big American star to spurt forth inconsequential entertainment froth on a Sunday morning? Will it be better than what was on there in the first place? Probably... yes.

Listeners understand a global perspective more than ever. They don't really care that their local show, broadcast 10 miles down the road, is followed by a show that was made 10,000 miles away. As long as it's relevant to them and engaging to listen to. The internet has made the world a much smaller place and their is no longer a 'Wow' factor with 'Americans on the radio' or programming that has been sourced elsewhere. People are accoustomed to media from all sorts of sources. It's part of their media-scape now.

However, with every silver lining, there is a cloud.

Evening shows in UK local radio used to be the breeding ground for lots of great talent, who were able to try out their zany style of radio to an audience of 15 year olds, who inevitably would be the morning radio consumers of tomorrow. Too much networking lessens the chance of some of these guys getting exposure.

"Yes - but there are far more stations for them to work on now" I hear you cry! Sure, but it's much harder to get a break doing the evening show on Radio Scrot in Bollockshire than it was to get a break doing the evening show on a station like Radio City in the 90's.

I hope we find a balance in the UK between enough local programming and good quality, well produced 'imported' shows. I'm confident we will.

And I look forward to tuning in to Mark Goodier's networked offering just to remind myself that "... he' the man who's got the best music... Mark Goodier... Mark Goodier... wha-ooo..." etc etc...

Friday, 24 August 2007

The Heroes of RAJAR - Qtr 2 2007

As the dust settles on another batch of RAJAR press releases and UK radio stations draw up the list of people to promote... or fire, it's time to pick out the villains and heroes... and no, not the flying senator, or indestructible cheerleader types.

There were a few main stories that are worthy of mention.

Kiss overtake Capital
Congratulations to the guys at Kiss, who have finally caught up with Capital. We've certainly discussed the possibility of them catching Capital before on this blog, and now it's happened. With Kiss at a 4.5% reach and Capital dropping to 4.1% and the reach neck and neck at 1.51 Million, there were probably two very different meetings taking place at the respective stations on RAJAR evening last week.

Kiss's offering continues to sound fresh and connected to young London and the new morning show with Rickie and Melvin is starting to take root. For me, Capital's issue is not with the execution of the format. They've gone young and the product sounds fine. No, it's the strategy that I find difficult to understand. Capital seem to have left Heart and Magic to slug it out at the top, while settling for trying to pick up Radio 1, Kiss and Xfm listeners along the way. The move is bold... but I can't help thinking it won't get you to Number 1 in London again. The team in Leicester Square have a real battle on and I hope Steve Orchard's words of August 2006 where he the "believed the station had hit rock bottom", don't get rolled out too much over the next few weeks. The city certainly gave GCap a good kicking, with quotes like "GCap has marketed Capital in this quarter, so there can be no excuses for these results!" Ouch!

The Jazz... Nice!
Debuting with 334,000 listeners is a pretty nice job! Taking a listen to the station, the formula is the same as has been applied to Classic FM; take a specialist music genre, and make it as accessible to as many people as possible. Classic FM took the fear out of listening to classical music... and The Jazz will do the same for Jazz.

More for Moyles
If I was sitting in GCap Towers... or even EMAP towers for that reason, I'd find the biggest pot of money I could lay my hands on and send it all to Chris Moyles on the condition that he came to a daily show for the network I was running. (Believe me... it's been thought of!) His show goes from strength to strength and is testament to hard work, good production and 'letting the talent get on with it'. With 7.26 Million listeners a week, he can play his "Saviour of Radio 1" jingle as much as he wants now!

The Future is... Digital
More people are listening to radio and more are using digital technologies to do this. 2 Million 15-24's listen on mobile phones and almost 13% of total listening by all adults is now done on either DAB, DTV or the internet. Let's compare this figure in 12 months time to see the continued growth, and then factor in the Channel 4 effect too!

So, as ever... always something interesting to mull over. Now if only we knew someone who could paint the radio future... Hmmm... I wonder...

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Forgive Me Father...

"Forgive me father for I have sinned. It has been 28 days since my last blog."
The combination of summer holidays, extremes of weather, a glut of foreign trips and 2 small children, meant that I quickly developed a back-blog!

There has been so much to write about, instead of long, well thought out articles (some of the time, anyway!) here is a selection of topics from the last 28 days, worthy of greater discussion, but limited to a short comment! In UK news...

RAJAR's here again
More squabbling predicted for tomorrow and a big prize for the best excuse!

GCap fined for phone in competition
There must be a lot of nervous programmers currently hoping that the rather dodgy practises that have blighted commercial radio for many years are not exposed!

The new national UK Gold network is called...
Erm... "Gold". A missed opportunity and lack of creative vision? Hmmm...

And general topics...

Spend time with your jocks
Programme Directors get caught up in all sorts of bollocks! If it means you spend less time with your presetners, try and put a stop to it!!

Don't let the competition change your strategy
If a competitor sharpens up a bit and start to use a few new tricks, don't let this change your focus or even worse, your strategy. If what you're doing works, keep doing it. Sure, tweak at the edges, but don't knee-jerk.
If you commission research, and pay for it... and it looks good... use it!
Don't buy research that you belive in, and then if the results don't quite match up to what you expect, ignore it! Yes, bad research will give you bad results... but if it looks good, resist the temptation to be selective!

Wow. It's a lot easier this way!
There we go. I feel my visit to the 'Blog Confessional' has got a few things off my chest.
Thank you Father.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The Radio Festival - presents "Radio Erectus"

It takes about week to absorb the vast amount of discussion, debate and dissection of radio that the Radio Academy's annual Radio Festival spews out.

So what did we learn?

Well without doing a session by session analysis, (which would be even duller than the 'DAB Audio Quality' session many of us endured) a few key themes seemed to emerge from the mist.

In no particular order...

Channel 4's entry into radio is a good thing
Commercial radio in the UK needs a extra shot of credibility in it's arm, and a broadcaster with 25 years track record of creativity, innovation and risk-taking can only improve the image of the sector and provide the BBC with even more robust competition in some key areas. Channel 4 Radio, E4 Radio and Pure4 all promise to be great stations and the return of Talk Radio to the multiplex, as well as Sky News Radio are welcome additions to UK's radioscape.

Digital Migration is thorny subject
Turing off AM and FM is a divisive issue. Many large broadcasters want it to happen pretty quickly. Smaller broadcasters are concerned they haven't secured carriage on DAB and never will. A 2 tired system of radio is going to create confusion for listeners , but the simulcasting costs for radio stations are prohibitive in the long term. Ofcom have promised to have a look at it! But drawing a roadmap for the future that everyone agrees on looks like being a tricky task. Radio is different to TV, so we can't just follow the Digital TV migration model... but likewise we need to ensure that radio is not the 'white elephant' medium that is outdated, out of touch and out of favour.

Commercial Radio has extended the hand of friendship to the BBC
The rivalry is fierce. The war of words erupts every quarter. The BBC versus the commercial sector? "Why can't we live together...?" asked Timmy Thomas in the rather excellent song from 1974? It seems Andrew Harrison, the new CEO of RadioCentre - commercial radio's trade body, had been listening to this tune for some time prior to penning his speech. The theme was something along the lines of 'working together for the greater good of the medium'. While there are many areas that seemed to make sense, eliminating pirates, looking at Digital Migration together etc... there were a few areas which raised an eyebrow! Collaborating on content is a nice idea... so you get a commercial radio version and BBC version. Somehow, I can't see the BBC giving up exclusivity on a lot of the areas of music they cover! But the spirit of the message was a positive one and hopefully the BBC understands the importance of a healthy commercial sector. The question is "how healthy" does commercial radio want the BBC to be?

'Non-Linear Radio' is important for everyone
There's been a podcasting session at The Radio Festival since the dawn of... well... the pod! This year it felt different. We heard from amateurs using podcasts as marketing. We heard from Danny Baker who does a daily show, which may make him a lot of money in the future! And we heard from practically every corner of the industry of the importance of making radio available to listeners whenever they wanted it. Podcasting is coming of age and stations without a strategy may well be left behind. Listen again, downloading shows and podcasts must now be viewed as core activity, and not as something on the periphery.

Of course, there were plenty of sessions which provided light relief. Russell Brand is a true personality who walks the fine line between genius and madness; Jeremy Vine is about as multi-media as you can get.... Is there anything he can't do well?; And Andy Parfitt has been spending a disproportionate amount of his time with teenagers! (But as he's the Beeb's "Teen Tsar", then that's OK!)

UK radio is at a watershed moment in its evolution. It will either miss the Darwinian boat and return to the primeval media swamp as some sort of lizard like creature which didn't quite manage to make it to dry land. Or, it will adapt to it's new surroundings, learn how to survive in the changing climate and eventually walk upright. 'Radio Erectus' could be on it's way!!

Monday, 9 July 2007

It's Festival Time!

So it's off to Cambridge for the annual gathering of the 'good, bad and very ugly' of UK radio. Yes - it festival time folks!

The word 'Festival' gives the impression of colourful jugglers, fire eaters, vegetable growing contests and a round of Miss Shropshire, but thankfully it's a much more sedate affair. Well... most of it is.

Lots of discussion will inevitably focus on Channel 4 Radio and their new little 'National DAB Multiplex' toy that they'll start to play with soon. Also, what's this Global Radio thing all about and what are their plans and ambitions?

I'm certain the bars of Cambridge will be awash with idle gossip, which of course I'll ignore, and just bring you the facts that matter!
And once the bandwagon rolls out of Cambridge and the expense accounts have taken a battering, I'll digest the words of wisdom and bring you the salient points for us all to debate!

"Welome to... yesterday's show!"

Johnny Vaughan's Breakfast Show on Capital now runs for 4 hours. Well... sort of...

Today, the main body of the show shifted from 7am to 10am, with the 'ole favourite of running the "highlights" of the previous days show between 6am and 7am.

On the plus side, if you're a fan of Johnny, you'll get an extra hour... well, you'll get some of the best bits you enjoyed the day before repeated.

When I heard about this move, it got me thinking (yes -painful as it was) about what the motivations for this decision were.

It could all be about ratings of course! In theory, one can argue that the cume of the show should now be measured between 6am and 10am... the duration of the entire programme. Adding in an extra hour will increase the total reach. However, we all know that most of the media will dismiss the first hour, coz it's not live, and compare the 7am - 10am hours instead. Having said that, the 9am - 10am hour usually generates far more audience than 6am - 7am, so whichever you cut it... the numbers should improve with this move.

(It feels a little bit like that old trick of reducing your measured survey area a little bit, to give you a better percentage overall!)

Extending the 'Johnny' brand an hour into the daytime so more people get to sample him could be an underlying theme, however I find this unlikely to be the lead factor.

With the rise and rise of time shift listening and non-linear radio, surely it may have made more sense to develop and promote a stronger 'listen again' proposition and get consumers more familiar with this?

The official press release said something like "This change mean that Londoners will be able to enjoy Johnny at whatever time they get up or travel to work" (Not strictly true if you get up at 10am... but we get the point!)

Although there's live news and travel in the first hour, I can't help feel that the audience are being cheated a bit.

In a world class city like London, where lots of people get up at 6am, having a re-run of yesterdays funny bits in peaktime, seems a bit cheap. How can the 'sense of the day' at the start of the day really be conveyed in editorial, when you're running gags from the previous day.

If they decided to run the 'best of' bits between 5am and 6am, I could argue the case that this would be acceptable... but from 6am? Sorry - I think Londoners deserve a fully live morning show from 6am.

The upshot of the move is a nudging effect for one of Capital's strongest benchmarks - Flirty at 9:30. It's been there for quite some time now, and it seems a double negative whammy to have to move this highly popular feature an hour later too.

I look forward to the next RAJAR press conference where there will undoubtedly be a bun fight over the figures!

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Global Dominance?

Richard Parks' appointment as Executive Director of the new Global Radio consortium is an interesting development for a number of reasons.

From a programming perspective, How will Magic 105.4 fare without him? How much of it's success was derived from the magic-dust that he sprinkled on the output... and how much was derived from the focused, dedicated and hard working team at Mappin House. (Let's remember that Graham Dene is moving over to Smooth Radio shortly too, so it may be hard for them to keep the momentum up losing a couple of key staff... despite being Number 1 in London!!).

Parky going over to the company that owns Heart, one of Magic's main competitors, will no doubt benefit Heart a great deal, with all the knowledge that Richard will bring with him!

As Global Radio sets out its stall, the reports of a deal to be done with Richard Branson to buy Virgin Radio back are also circulating.

Suddenly Global Radio has a potential group made up of the Heart, Galaxy and LBC branded stations, plus Virgin Radio too! And it's obviously very serious about it's ambition when it recruits someone whom many people see as the "Uber-Daddy" of Commercial Radio for a place on its board.

(By the way... Will the new Exective Director of Global Radio discuss the potential aquisition of Virgin Radio with the Virgin Radio Chief Executive? "Hello son.... Hello Dad!".)

The commercial radio consolidation game is still in full swing, and I predict there's a lot more to come too!

Monday, 2 July 2007

When Terror Strikes...

Local radio is great in times of disaster. At least that's what I thought.

On Sunday morning I listened to Radio Clyde (Clyde One to be precise) in Glasgow to get an update and local perspective regarding the events at Glasgow Airport. After all, it's (thankfully) not that often that a terrorist decides to drive a bomb through the revolving doors of your local airport.

I was hoping for perhaps bulletins every 15 minutes or so, as the attack was the previous afternoon... but as it was the start of the Glasgow holidays, lots of people would have been trying to fly away, so cue lots of local info.

And what did I get?

"Ross King... Live from Hollywood"

Surely some mistake?

Nope... Ross King was chatting away about nothing in particular from his LA studio and for a large portion of the show I heard, there was nothing relating to the events of the previous day. Had I missed all the action?

The midday news rolled around and at last, some local coverage... but not to the level and standards I would have expected from a station as large as Clyde, and with such a heritage of providing great news. The bulletin I heard could have been broadcast live from the airport, for example; Just something to make me feel that my station was connected to my area and the story that was still unfolding was being covered from every angle.

The purpose here is not to bash Clyde, as I'm hoping they did lots of marvellous bits of radio I didn't hear relating to the terrorist attack. In fact, I'm sure they did. The point is, if something major happens in your broadcast area... GO BIG!

Never underestimate the audience's thirst for knowledge and their desire to turn to their trusted local radio station as a friend in time of crisis. You can really reinforce your stations credentials as THE local station to turn to.

It works for things like extreme weather (The Radio Forth Snowline in Edinburgh was hugely important for many years) and national stories with a local angle... like murders, kidnappings, riots etc. (A happy topic this one isn't it!!)

I was Programme Director at Capital Radio in London on July 7th 2005 and the attempted bombings in London last week brought back the memories of that day. The skill, dedication and commitment of the whole team at Capital meant that Londoners got all the information they needed to know at any point that they tuned in during and long after the attacks of July 7th. News Editor, Matt Schofield was instrumental in driving forward the information agenda for the station, and Capital regained many lost friends as a result of its actions on, and after July 7th.

I'd rather that people didn't try and blow us all up, that the kidnapping of children didn't happen and that floods didn't cause bodies to float down the river... but if these things do happen, I want my local radio station to really over-deliver in every way possible. That's surely the benefit of being local.

And while we're at it... Ross King wasn't very good either!

The Future of Radio...revealed!

So what is the 'Future of Radio' then?

That was the question posed to a panel of the finest minds at the cutting edge of broadcasting last week, as part of a Radio Academy sponsored session at the music industry conference 'London Calling'.

After persuading the technical guy that "Yes - it is pretty important that we have the sound working" (!) Chris Kimber, who is Managing Editor of BBC Audio and Music Interactive gave an excellent demonstration of what the BBC is currently very good. Namely, producing content that may start in the radio sphere... but morphs seamlessly onto other platforms.

Radio One's 'One Big Weekend', Glastonbury coverage and 6Music sessions were all paraded in front of a salivating audience who started to realise what their licence fee got spent on!

Chris believed that the future of radio would involve producing content that sat on lots of platforms and virtual places, like MySpace and Facebook... and that creating more engaging content with visuals was an integral part of how radio needed to progress.

James Cridland, the Director of Digital at Virgin Radio and soon to be the BBC's Head of Future Media and Technology, Audio and Music, tended to agree. He eloquently delivered a record 46 slides in 7 minutes explaining that the visual element of radio needed to develop further and that 'glanceability' to a screen whether online, on a mobile device, or a fixed point radio was essential to the future of the medium. Just displaying the frequency is no longer an option. Consumers want, expect and can deal with more visual content. James also delivered a passionate defence of FM radio, rubbishing suggestions by some sections of commercial radio that there should be an analogue switch off by 2015. FM works well and consumers still like it. Commercial radio are trying to tip the scales in their favour and using it as a ploy to gain the upper hand in the ratings battle. And he's got a point...!

Finally, the soothing tones of Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora took to the podium to tell us that online bespoke music services were the future. Well he would say that wouldn't he! He shared some great stats about the growth of Pandora and how he really viewed it as a 'music discovery' service, which helped disenfranchised music lovers in their late 20's and 30's still discover new bands and purchase products. He saw the movement of these services into the mobile environment as offering the consumer more choice, but did realise the distinction between a content rich, information led, 'DJ' radio station... and a wall to wall music offering. Yet it's all radio really. Well... just about!

I've listened more and more to Pandora recently and creating about a dozen custom stations (with my Marvin Gaye / Bananarama hybrid being a particular favourite!) and to me it is radio, but radio that is driven by your mood. If you want no interruptions, but a few musical surprises along the way, give it a go. It's like Magic without the DJ's... or ads... or repetition... or news... or weather... or Michael Bolton. Actually, it's nothing like Magic. Scrub that!

So what can we glean from staring into our crystal ball then? I believe traditional radio, web, TV and mobile will all converge (as they currently are) at a greater rate. The consumer will dictate what technologies they want and the responsibility of programmers worldwide will be keep pace with the technology and create cross platform content that works in these different arenas. A 2 tiered system will be created based on the level of content. Those who opt out of the content game will have a harder job to compete, but can do so providing they have a USP top their product (e.g. / Pandora).

One final thing. If you can start a company that can do 'conference sound' that...

a) works
b) is audible to humans... and
c) doesn't feel like you're trying to conquer the north face of K2 by asking someone to connect it up

...then you'll probably be able to retire to a large island in the Caribbean by this time next year, as the demand for your services should be enormous! Good luck with it.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Future of Radio - Preview

Having had a sneak preview of the presentations from the panellists at the Future of Radio session at the 'London Calling' conference later today, I'm certain there will be some interesting views expressed.

Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, the online 'music discovery service' tours the world as an evangelist for his service... and has a unique perspective on how music radio listeners tastes are developing. As a result of having him on the panel I've found myself being sucked more and more into the world of customisable radio stations. Is this the shape of the future?

Likewise Chris Kimber form the BBC and James Cridland, soon to also be from the BBC, have polished up their crystal balls and some great things to say about where the radio industry is heading both in the UK and globally.

A full review of the session coming to this blog soon... but I'm sure Marconi would be on the front row if he could be!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Jack Off!

A really neat idea from Jack FM Oxford. Countdown to launch with a blog by Jack!

It's a great way to start to establish the character of 'Jack' in print and if they get it right, they can really get a head start as to how Jack will come over on air.

Admittedly the audience may be mainly industry people... but again, this serves a good purpose and starts the PR bandwagon rolling for the format and launch in Oxford.

The best photo on the blog is this one of the newsroom!

I'm not sure if it's meant to be ironic or not... but if it is... very funny!

By the way - there's a US radio / research guy called Tom Webster who's so clever his head glows in the dark! He works for the rather excellent Edison Media Research, but he's also got a new venture on the go called Brandsavant, and there's a good article on 'radio stations and their blog policy' that's worth a read.

Anyway - I'm off to a charity fund raiser to help buy equipment for the Jack FM Newsroom.

"Hold Your Plums"

Climbing inside a hire car in any foreign country is a entertaining experience for many reasons. Having just been away on holiday, the memories are fresh.

Where's the gearstick again?
How do I move the seat? (Oh - it doesn't move...)
What's that horrible smell coming from the glovebox?
I'm sure I was promised air conditioning....
How does that radio work?

And once you've got the radio up and running, hitting that scan button is a little bit like playing a 'fruit' machine (or slot machine for our US readers!). You may come up lucky with "3 cherries" and score a virtual audio jackpot... or get a few lemons and plums along the way.

I played the radio slot machine game quite a few times last week and every time I did, I gave a selection of stations a listen. I was in Spain and I don't speak Spanish very well, but an interesting thing happened. You can tell a lot by a radio station just by having it on in the background for a few minutes, and make a pretty good judgement to stick with it... or hit the scan button... even if you don't really know what they're saying!

The stations I stayed with longer all had the same things in common and for me, these are some of the key drivers that define success:

Music Flow - All the stations I stayed with longer had solid music programming theory running through their output. It felt like someone had taken the time to look at the flow, tempo, era spread, genre mix and the overall feel that the music gave the listener.

Branding and Positioning - Having a competent branding strategy with strong production values and a easily communicated positioning statement were all common to the better Spanish stations that cut through. It was really obvious which ones had invested in decent production and knew what they were communicating to their audience about their music position... and which ones didn't really have a position. Knowing what you're listening to and what it's going to bring you is so important, particularly for new listeners.

Interruptions - Keep them to a minimum!! One of the most infuriating things during my "Spanish Hire Car Radio Listening Experience" was hearing the station stop down all the time. The DJ's went on too much and popped up left right and centre. It just made me reach for the button. If you have a music intensive radio station that needs to play the songs across the day, make sure you keep the interruptions down!

Commercial Load - Again, the stations that got it right were the ones that found the right balance between content and commercials. Fewer breaks seem to work, and if you can get away with two 4 minute breaks an hour, then that might not be a bad place to be. Certainly some of the stations got it right... where others were playing commercials about 6 times an hour. It just didn't work.

There seems to be some universal truths about music driven commercial radio, wherever you go in the world and Spain was no exception. 'Maximum Payout' to the 2 or 3 stations that got it right. 'No Credit' to the stations that didn't.

So next time you're in foreign country and climb into your hire car, have a go on the 'radio station fruit machine'. It may just take your mind off the fact you're driving a Mitsubishi Colt!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Future of Radio!

So what is the “Future of Radio”?

We’ve got an explosion in non-liner radio. Podcasts, listen again and time-shifting listening are now really taking hold. Listening on multiple platforms is growing massively across the UK. Not only DAB, but mobile environments, games consoles, IM applications. You name it, there’s probably a radio station broadcasting on it. And we haven’t even mentioned satellite radio, and the wealth of other platforms that a global perspective brings us!

If we had a crystal ball, what would the world of radio look like in 10 years time? Would changes in technology drive the programming sector? Would the conventional mass-market format still work? Would people still have their trusty old clock radio to wake them up in the morning?

Fortunately there’s a chance to pick the brains of some very informed individuals on this topic coming up soon!

London Calling’ is the UK’s largest music industry conference that gathers attendance from worldwide delegates and addresses a whole host of hot topics from the explosion of user generated content sites and what they mean for the music industry, through to the changes in marketing music to a variety of generations.

Naturally, the record and radio industries are so closely connected that putting a radio session on at this conference was a bit of a no brainer. So under the patronage of The Radio Academy (as it was Trevor Dann’s excellent idea!), I’ll be chairing a session called ‘The Future of Radio’.

My guests will be…

James Cridland, Director of New Media at Virgin Radio (and soon to be head of Future Media and Technology for BBC Audio and Music)

Chris Kimber, Managing Editor of BBC Audio and Music Interactive,

Tim Westergren, Founder of Pandora - the US based online streaming portal for customisable radio stations.

All 3 have a great vantage point to help us work out the radio roadmap, and give us an insight as to where we are all heading.

If you want more details of the conference, head to

If you can’t be there, I’ll report back on what our future-watchers have to say, and how we can all act now to ensure that we’re ahead of the game when it comes to shaping the radio of the future.

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Xfm - A Backward Step

This weeks news that Xfm is to get rid of its daytime line-up of DJ's and run a listener-powered, non-stop music offering between 10am and 4pm is an incredible move.

When John Plunkett at the Media Guardian first got wind of the story, he published a speculative "they're thinking about this idea", which usually means the story has been leaked, but he couldn't confirm it completely!

"Surely some mistake", I thought. "They wouldn't do a foolish thing like that.... would they?"

Then came the confirmation. Radio to the Power of U will allow listeners to choose songs via text, phone, and online across the day.

Nick Davidson, the MD of Xfm was quoted on Media Guardian as saying:

"Our listeners are used to being able to control what they watch or listen to as these days people are inundated with choice. Allowing them to shape their own content seems the next logical step." (Actually if people are being inundated with opportunities to take control, falling into line and allowing them to do the same on Xfm is not actually the next logical step. However, I digress!)

OK. Here's the reason why this is a bad idea for Xfm.

Xfm is all about having a passion for new music. A passion that is emphasised and celebrated by its presenters. The DJ's on Xfm bring new music to life. They live it, breathe it, feel it and share it with their listeners who look to them to a trusted guide through the sea of musical mediocrity.

Cutting out these musical champions is like removing a vital organ from the radio station. Will it still function? Yes - but it will look a lot paler... probably be bed-bound, and need some sort of dialysis for the rest of its natural life.

One of the reasons why BBC Radio 1 does so well, is because it has entertaining presenters who share their passion for music with the listeners. Even Moyles gets excited about certain records at breakfast! The opportunities for exploiting the rich vein of content that sessions, interviews and new music features brings will all be lost across the day at Xfm. Gone. And replaced with what?

A faceless jukebox that I could replicate on my ipod.

Radio at its best is about the relationship that develops between a broadcaster who communicates in a unique way with the listener. Imagine Paul Gambaccini if he played 40 minutes of non stop music every hour... or Bob Harris entering into a 100 Minute Music Marathon! Great music radio stations need great broadcasters. Sure, there's all the specialist shows in the evening and weekends, but that's not where the mass of the audience is available. I know putting your consumers in control is very fashionable at the moment and having sections of your output where this happens is as old as the hills in radio programming. "The Giant Jukebox" anyone? But having it across at least 30 hours of primetime radio every week is frankly a waste of valuable spectrum.

I like Xfm and what it stands for. It shows that some in commercial radio do care about new music (even though it's always struggled to make any significant commercial revenues) and it's been a breeding ground and platform for great talent like Adam and Joe, Shaun Keavney, Justin Lee Collins, Christian O Connell and Ricky Gervais.

Just at a time when the BBC has extended it's lead over commercial radio across the UK, one of the major radio groups announces that it's pulling it's daytime line-up off its network of new music stations, and replacing it with listener requests. Hardly a move that will win back valuable share points from the BBC is it now? Shouldn't commercial radio be investing in content... not removing it from the airwaves? I'm sure that Radio 1 are laughing into the thier licence fee settlement as we speak.

This move is a negative, defensive step and my predication is that it won't have any significant positive impact on the audience. If anything, the loyal Xfm fan who tuned in to hear a knowledgable DJ get excited by music, will re-tune to find a station that has one.

Sorry Xfm. Bad move.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

RAJAR Qtr 1 2007 - The Post Mortem Part 2 - London

The London market is taking on a familiar pattern at the moment with Heart and Magic engaged in a titanic battle for the top commercial station in London.

Both have held their 'Number 1 in London' status and lost it. But who has the upper hand? Well, interestingly if you look at an average of the share figures over the last 2 years dating back to Qtr 1 2005, Magic averages at a 5.7%, while Heart averages at a 6.0%. Magic have only achieved anywhere in the 7's once, while Heart have managed it twice in last 2 years and their impressive 7.1% is the largest share figure generated by either of these 2 broadcasting adversaries. 1-0 to Heart on share.

And what about the reach 'glass ceiling'? Well - Magic have achieved a 1.867 Million record in the same period and Heart have been 'oh so close' to the (dare I say "magic") figure of 2 Million, cume-ing a 1.911 Million back in Qtr 3 2005. So based on share and reach, it's Heart 2 - Magic 0.

Magic may have nudged back in the lead with this book, but to continue torturing the football-ing analogy... this match has a long time left to play and any pundit would predict that Heart will be back on top before too long.

Capital got an important PR and morale booster of regaining the 'Number 1 Commercial Breakfast Show'. However, the share figure dipped to a new low of 4.6%... considerably lower than either Heart or Magic have ever been in the last 2 years. The new Capital format feels to me more like Radio 1 than anything else on the dial currently, and taking them on will prove tricky when Radio 1 is so strong in London at the moment, chalking up a 1.65 Million reach and 6.7% share in the London TSA.

Kiss didn't capitalise on the closeness with Capital in reach from the previous quarter and dipped back to 1.35 Million, but they're trending up.

So, what does it all mean? The latest set of figures continue to show that playing in some part of the 'AC' arena is essential if you're to currently have any traction in the London commercial radio market. A rejuvenated 'Smooth' will take some time to get going, and may eat into the 12 or so AC share points up for grabs in the market... which could open up some room for Capital, if the audience feel they have found the right format.

Final honourable mention goes to Kismat Radio, who have a year on year reach increase of 71%! A GCap takeover is only a matter of time!

RAJAR Qtr 1 2007 - The Post Mortem Part 1

So we've all had time to digest the RAJAR figures then have we?

As with every set of numbers, there's always something that grabs the headlines, and we weren't disappointed this time around. The BBC grabbing a record share of listening against commercial radio has to be seen the main story for Qtr 1 2007.

Moyles breaking through the 7 Million barrier, Radio 2 at 13.25 Million and even the rather niche offerings of 6 Music and 1Xtra scored record reach figures of 477,000 and 465,000 respectively. It's a very healthy picture for the BBC's music networks, and so the theory goes that commercial radio needs a strong BBC to ensure it is constantly injecting new creativity into its output. But it's getting a bit too strong for many groups who are really feeling the squeeze.

The response from Commercial Radio is naturally one of "Don't panic Captain Mannering!"... and you can't really say anything else faced with those numbers, can you? Fru Hazlitt, GCap's new London MD who's never normally understated, said "Yes - we still have some work to do!". Actually, I'm sure, privately, she's saying a lot more than that, but there's at least a public acknowledgement that commercial radio needs to innovate more, particularly in the area of digital and non-linear broadcasting to compete with the BBC more effectively.

There are notable exceptions, and of course there are pockets of excellence in commercial radio in many areas... Classic FM's broad range of output, Virgin's digital advances, Kerrang!'s execution of its format... but until there's some grass roots changes in the style of presentation in many local stations and an investment in talent development, then I fear Fru Hazlitt will be uttering that phrase for some time to come.