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 but likewise we need to ensure that radio is not the 'white elephant' medium that is outdated, out of touch and out of favour.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!!

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