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...