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...

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