Monday, 22 December 2008

Merry Christmas Everyone...

So, as we hurtle towards Christmas like the proverbial snowball hitting the annual window of life, it’s time to wish everyone in the ‘business of radio’ across the world a very Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Happy New Year (delete as appropriate according to your individual beliefs!)

I mention ‘the world’, as I thought I’d have a little look at how many countries / territories this blog was read in during 2008. Thanks to the lovely people at Google Analytics, I can tell you that during the last 12 months, you... yes you, were part of a global family that extended to 76 countries no less! I’m sure we’d all wish Season’s Greetings to the good people of far-flung places such as Peru, China, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand and one which I’m most excited about... and the only one on my list that featured on outgoing President Bush’s famous ‘Axis of Evil’...come on down all you readers in... Iran!

I could be wrong, but I swear I saw a heavily disguised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sitting second row from the back at my session at NAB in London this year. He’s a big advocate of tight rotations on Hot AC formats you know...

It still amuses me that the things I write on my laptop in my kitchen, in a hotel room, at an airport lounge, waiting for my kids swimming lesson to finish etc..., can be (and seemingly are) read in a huge number of countries right across the planet.

The world of online has changed the world of radio forever. In 2009 we’ll see a further blurring of the lines between the traditional definition of “radio” and the new era of online content generation, some of it having a ‘radio style’ origin. Some territories are slightly ahead of the curve on this. Others are at a different point in the evolutionary process, but no one can deny the evidence. (Well perhaps some could!!)

Darwin himself, I’m sure, would be proud that even within a medium designed to ‘inform, educate and entertain’, there exists a form of ‘Radio Darwinism’ both in terms of content and technology. AM... to FM... to DAB / Digital / or Satellite... to Wi-Fi and streamed radio, the process evolves. And within the creative side, good ideas survive and adapt to their surroundings, while poor concepts and weak design is gradually eradicated by a process of natural selection.

I look forward to sharing new thoughts and ideas with you in 2009 that will hopefully keep us all active members of the worldwide radio gene pool.

To my merry band of wonderful clients (you know who you are!), I’ve enjoyed every minute of working alongside you and your fantastic teams in 2008. We’ve done some really good stuff together and also had some fun in the process. Here’s to a very successful 2009 to you all.

So, as the aroma of Mulled Wine drifts from the kitchen, and the fairy lights on the ‘Goodman Family Christmas Tree’ silently twinkle away, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas... wherever you are.

And to ensure you’re absolutely in Christmas mood...

Friday, 12 December 2008

Capital FM's "Jingle Bell Ball"

Christmas time is busy enough for most radio stations without the added excitement of putting together a big, multi-act concert for listeners. But this week, that’s exactly what Capital FM in London did, as they staged the ‘Jingle Bell Ball’.

The line-up was pretty good with the likes of Rihanna, Pussycat Dolls, Sugababes, Anastasia, James Blunt, James Morrison... the list goes on. And the venue... well, you can’t really get a better venue in London than The O2.

But what do big shows like this do for a radio station? Are they worth the effort? Are they worth the cost? And what’s the strategy behind them?

Many of you will remember (or have heard of) the legendary “Party in the Park” that Capital staged every summer for many years in London’s Hyde Park. A day-long event, right in the centre of London’s biggest outdoor space with multiple artists, all performing a few songs each in front of around 100,000 people. The point of it was 2 fold; first - to act as a massive marketing event for the radio station... and second, to drive audience and TSL via on air ticket giveaways.

Party in the Park as an event came to a end in the early 2000’s, as the UK was swamped with both one-day and weekend festivals. The typical commercial radio listener was being tempted by more and more live music events and perhaps the cosy and safe environment of a once unique type of multi-artist event started to look a little pedestrian, particularly as the music cycle started to swing away from ‘mainstream hits’. The “2000’s” was when normal people started going to Glastonbury... not just crusty environmentalists drinking cider from a bucket whilst keeping hold of a dog on a string.

However, with a flash and a bang (and a few whooshes), it seems we’ve returned to the good ole days, with the Jingle Bell Ball repeating the classic formula. Will it work the second time round? We shall see. But a few things we do know.

Go Large
Capital devoted a massive amount of airtime in promoting the event. During the last few weeks to the run-up, every top of hour, every piece of production and pretty much every time you turned on, you heard about it. Even the most casual P2 listener will have picked up on the fact something exciting was going on!

Line-up is Everything
Deals were done, arms were twisted, favours were called in and every record label was cajoled to provide their best act for the show because, line-up is everything. If you don’t get the line-up right and it looks and sounds a bit ‘half-baked’, then the event will never catch the imagination of the public. I think Capital did a great job on the line-up. A good mix of genres and styles... both US and UK (and let’s not forget Danish!!) and enough ‘big names’ to warrant the level of hype.

The On Air Experience
Ensuring the listener at home is not forgotten in all the excitement is pretty important. Yes, it’s a live stage show, but you can create great radio shows out of these things if you try. The build up show with Greg Burns and Margherita Taylor was just brilliant, and extremely well produced. As a listener, I felt right at the centre of the action. Actually the build up show was a lot better than the show that followed. I expected the ‘whole thing’ to be live on air, with DJ’s breaking away from the main stage at suitable moments or at turn-around times for guest interviews, but instead we got the edited highlights and ‘recorded earlier’ moments. It wasn’t bad... it’s just that when I tuned in at 7pm, I wanted to hear the big stage opening, instead of 3 in a row of London’s Most Wanted songs! But all in all, the on air experience of the event was a good one.

Spin Off Content
This is where the Capital team really delivered something special on this occasion. Take a look at the website and all the different bit of ‘spin off’ content there is for you to view and listen to. Video is as important as audio and although it isn’t cheap to hire the production facilities, it’s worthwhile when you look at some of the quality output. From photos galleries, to listener pictures; podcasts to merchandise for sale; blogs to forums... the line extension from the initial product (a stage show) is tremendous and a good demonstration of what you can do when you plan to extend your primary proposition and maximise the potential of the event.

So... was it all worth it? Well, there’s no doubt that Capital put on a great show and should be congratulated for that. It has attempted to signal a new found confidence in the once mighty station and certainly shows that Global Radio are prepared to invest heavily in the Capital brand to get it back on track. How long that investment can continue in the current trading climate is another question. And how deep are the investors pockets?

Meanwhile, don’t be surprised if we see a return to some of the other things that made Capital famous in the 80’s and 90’s. We’ve already got the US voiceover back. So the ‘Birthday Game’ anyone? Or what about a big multi-artist event in the middle of summer... in a park... a kind of party in a park if you like... Now there’s an idea.

Friday, 28 November 2008

"It's Beginning To Feel a Lot Like Christmas..."

It’s time to get out the ‘Sleigh List’... those songs which only work at this particular time of year, but are like an old friend you haven’t seen for a while and welcome with open arms! (Mind you, after spending a few weeks with them, you’re quite happy not to see them again for another year...)

It’s always interesting to discuss with radio stations when do the Christmas songs start? What’s on the list? How fast do we turn them around? Do we still have to play Wham! (Answer: Yes we do!)

The great thing is that there are increasingly more and more Christmas records around, especially from many mainstream core artists who have probably recorded a version of their favourite Christmas song. Searching these out and giving them a spin always freshens up the Sleigh List, and can provide a nice talking point on-air. My favourite cover of a Christmas classic is Coldplay doing a version of The Pretenders ‘2000 Miles’ (which I know isn't the most well known Christmas record across Europe).
If you haven’t heard the Coldplay version, let me know and I can point you in the right direction ;-)

It’s really simple and has a ‘standout’ production feel on the track so if your station plays lots of Coldplay, then why not give this a few spins?

We all know about stations that flip their format for December and go 100% Christmas songs, so in the spirit of the season, let me recommend one to you. Client station Radio 100FM in Denmark run a soft AC station in Copenhagen, appropriately titled ‘Radio Soft’. Their Christmas format that they’ve just flipped to always proves really popular in Copenhagen and lots of shops tune in and play it out in-store as it’s a much better alternative to rotating the “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” CD 10 times a day.

Their resident ‘Father Christmas’, Head of Music Martin Marx has been wearing his white beard for a few weeks now and putting together a really good bunch of festive treats.

Give it a listen and tell me you don’t feel Christmassy after tuning in for 10 minutes!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

"So Folks... What Have We Learned?"

It looks as if we’ve almost seen the final word on the Brand / Ross incident with the publication this week of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee Report on the whole sorry saga.

It is painstaking in its detail yet admirably thorough in its search for the truth. If the BBC lack in some areas around ‘editorial judgement’, they surely make up for it in ‘really good internal investigations’!

I won’t go into the gory details of the report, as they’ve been really well documented by a great number of worthy individuals and publications, but it is worth making a couple of points under the title of “So Folks... What Have We Learned?”

High-maintenance talent need experienced producers
BBC Radio 2 allowed Brand’s independent production company to let a relatively inexperienced producer oversee production of the show. It’s a tough call to say ’no’ to high profile talent, especially if they effectively employ you, as was the case here... but if you have talent that can be ‘difficult’, make sure you’ve got someone who can deal with them effectively. Managing talent is a specialist skill, so don’t just stick anyone in the studio with them and expect everything to be OK!

Make sure everyone knows what their job is
It seems that the Head of Compliance didn’t think it was his role to listen to an entire programme that was known to contain potentially ‘offensive’ material. If it’s your job to clear stuff... make sure you listen to it all first, or make sure the person whose job it is, knows what they have to do!

Use your “Spidey Sense”
BBC Radio 2’s now former Controller, Lesley Douglas, provided the unfortunate ‘smoking gun’ in this case... a one word email sent at 12:22 on Friday 17th October, where she clears the plan of action suggested by the Head of Compliance, which in fairness was slightly misleading and perhaps encouraged her to agree based on the ‘comedy value’ of the item. If something feels like it needs a further discussion, tempting as it may be to give a monosyllabic reply to the email from your Blackberry whilst sourcing a Blueberry muffin and skinny Latte from the nearby Starbucks, this may not always be the best course of action, as poor Lesley found out to her cost.

We should actively support talent and encourage risk-taking on air, and as my previous posts have suggested we shouldn’t allow this over-hyped incident to neuter creativity, but please make sure your own radio station has a system in place to guarantee that a “catastrophic breakdown of editorial and compliance control” doesn’t take place on your watch.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

South Africa Radio Forum

One of the first things you see when you land at Johannesburg Airport is a large red and white sign proclaiming “FIREARMS – IMPORT / EXPORT”. I would have taken a photo of it but didn’t... for fear of being shot. It’s a little disconcerting.
The next thing you notice is that cars on the highways have no lane discipline whatsoever... so a trip from the airport is a little bit like an episode of ‘Wacky Races’, with seemingly random lane changes being the norm. If you’re not changing lane every 10 seconds, I think you’re perceived to be a little odd.

However, both these things pale into insignificance when compared with the next thing you notice when you get to South Africa, which is the genuine friendliness of the people. They’re just great... and do make you feel so very welcome in their country. I was here a few years ago to produce UK radio coverage of the ‘Live 8’ Concert in Johannesburg, with guest speaker... a certain Mr Mandela, and it’s really nice to be back. (Nelson – did you get my SMS? I’m in town if you want to hook up for a quick beer...)

I’m here to present a session at the ‘South Africa Radio Forum’ which promises to be an interesting affair with a good range of speakers.

As anyone who works in radio tends to do when they touch down somewhere foreign, I conducted the obligatory scan up and down the FM dial to see what was on offer. Jo’burg is awash with over 40 radio stations, and with a whole range of formats targeting the wide mix of cultures and tastes that are prevalent in the city. From the now ubiquitous ‘Insert Name of City’s Hit Music Station’ to a luscious ‘African Gospel’ format, there’s something for everyone.

There are quite a few decent talk formats in this market too. Expressing opinions on the radio has been important for South Africans for many years now. I asked my driver on the kamikaze route to the hotel what the ‘hot topic’ was in South Africa this week. What’s everyone talking about? The current South African edition of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ which is top of the TV ratings perhaps? The first black President of the United States?


He answered with 2 words. “Credit Crunch”... he said with a rather woeful tone. It really has permeated every corner of the world. It’s good to see that quite a few radio stations around the globe understand what this means to their listeners and are offering ‘beat the credit crunch’ cash promotions. New Year would be good time to consider running a “Pay Your Bills” station promotion or something similar.

Sitting here in ‘Nelson Mandela Square’ in the rather swanky and upmarket area of Sandton, the reality of the credit crunch seems a long way away as affluent Jo’burgers (I guess that’s what you call them?) enjoy the summer sun, go about their lives... have lunch... order latte’s and chat about stuff. But I’m sure they’ll want their Morning Shows to be relating to the financial crisis it in some way or another. It’s the hot topic.

My session at the radio conference tomorrow is called ‘The Perfect Recipe for a Great Morning Show’. I think you can guess that ‘relating to the hot topics of the moment in a creative way’ is somewhere in the list of tasty ingredients!!

By the way – Mandela’s much taller than you think, isn’t he...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The 10 Essential Elements of Great Radio

At NAB in London the other week, I presented a session along with Ivan Antala, PD of Radio Expres - the number 1 station in Slovakia, which was called ‘Back to the Roots’. The presentation was all about not forgetting the fundamentals in the rush to embrace new technology. Revisiting the basics is always a good thing to do from time to time, so with that in mind we put together ‘The 10 Essential Elements of Great Radio’. Here’s a summary of the handout that was distributed during the session.

1. Great On-Air Talent
• Employ the best morning show talent you can afford
• Develop the real characters within your talent and some fun comedy characters
• Make sure you have talent on your station that shapes public opinion

2. Imaginative Music Programming
• Keep the music fresh and the listeners interested with special ‘themed weekends’
• Sprinkle the output with fun and engaging daily music features
• Highlight and reinforce your stations core sound / core artists with exclusive previews and premieres

3. Creative Promotions
• Run promotions that listeners want to get involved with and are interested in listening to… even if they don’t take part!
• Create promotions that your listeners want to tell their friends and family about
• Extend the promotion into other media and find suitable partners to maximise your impact

4. Listener Focused
• Closely define your target audience and be absolutely focused on delivering radio for them
• Get to know as much as possible about your target listeners. By truly understanding them, you can create the radio they want
• Care passionately about your listeners. Be your listener’s best friend!

5. Be Local
• Make your station an essential part of everyday life in your area. Deliver great local news and information. Being really local is immensely powerful
• Champion the area you broadcast to! Your station should be the Number 1 cheerleader for all the places it broadcasts to. Your station loves living there!
• Reflect local issues and concerns and even take on local causes being the focal point of any campaigning

6. Outstanding Benchmarks
• Create benchmarks that listeners want to come back to you for time and time again. Make unmissable radio!
• Develop some specific ‘listener appointments’ at key times across different dayparts
• Become famous for a specific benchmark, so that listeners say “I love that station, because they do… insert your own brilliant benchmark here!”

7. Be Consistent
• We live in a complicated and unpredictable world. Give listeners what they want and expect from your radio station, and they’ll trust and rely on you
• Resist the temptation to change things for the sake of change
• Brand building takes time. Be patient!

8. Be Surprising
• Consistency doesn’t have to be boring! Don’t give listeners the chance to get bored with your station or allow them to feel you are mundane
• Regularly do something different or give familiar content a little ‘spike’ or twist
• Occasionally, you should do something that makes your listeners turn up the radio to make sure they heard it correctly!

9. Be Unique
• The world is full of ‘sound-a-like’ radio stations. Make yours stand out from the crowd
• Encourage unique presenters that having something to say. Your talent should differentiate you every time
• Create radio that hasn’t been heard before in your market with new shows, features and promotions

10. Power of Emotion
• Radio is brilliant at conveying the full range of human emotions. Encourage your presenters to explore this on air. Don’t let them be boring!
• Allow listeners to show sadness or anger as well as happiness and joy
• ‘Contrast’ provides a far more interesting dynamic to your station. Use it and your station will stand out from the crowd
Of course, we could have compiled the 20 Essential Elements of Great Radio if there had been time to deliver them! What would be the next 10 be then? Hmmmm.... Suggestions welcome!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Friday, 31 October 2008

"Que?" - Brand / Ross... What does it all mean?

The hysterical reaction to the last week of activity surrounding the Brand / Ross saga seems almost farcical. It's even got it's own name... 'Sachsgate'!

This media feeding frenzy has ensured front page coverage on all national newspapers, led all our news bulletins and become the main topic of conversation of the chattering classes. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on this. (And most I think, have not even heard the programme in its entirety, if at all!)

Some working in non-UK radio industries can't quite believe that the Prime Minister is being asked about a prank phone calls in press conferences whist the economy is crumbling around his very ears!

As predicted, scalps have been claimed. Russell Brand thought that by resigning from his Radio 2 show, that may placate those wanting blood. Frankly, his star is rising in Hollywood and a late night Radio 2 show is not the end of his ambitions. But no... one scalp is not enough! The exceptionally talented Lesley Douglas then felt duty bound to fall on her sword; a noble thing to do, as the incident was something that occurred on her network. BBC Director General, Mark Thompson was probably grateful she did so, as it took some of the heat off him. And the hunters main prize? Well... as we know, Jonathan Ross has been suspended for 3 months without pay.

Will that be it? Will there be more blood on the studio floor? Quite probably. I'm certain that's not the end of it.

When they write the history of the BBC and its place as a public service broadcaster in the 21st century, Hutton, 'Queengate' and now 'Sachsgate' will all feature prominently.

But why has this incident captured the imagination of the country in such a momentous way? I believe there are 3 main reasons:

1. The BBC is involved; the great British public have a strange relationship with this institution. On one hand, many are quite rightly proud of it, especially its reputation abroad. I still maintain it is the finest broadcaster in the world. However, when it makes a mistake, it becomes an easy target, because everyone's suddenly reminded that it's “our money” that funds it, and anything that's publicly funded can't possibly make a mistake!

2. Celebrities are involved; we're obsessed by celebrities. We love reading about them. They fill a hole in many people's unglamorous lives. They sell newspapers. And when a celebrity is involved in a scandal... well... it's manna from heaven for the papers and news broadcasters alike.

3. A morality tale is involved; nothing excites the press in the UK more than a story chronicling the decline of standards of our nation. Whether it's hoodies, lack of respect in school or teenage mums... any indicator of this country going to 'hell in a handcart' is blown out of all proportion by a press pack keen to amplify the end of civilisation as we know it.

So there we have it. A perfect scandal that started as a misjudged item on a late night radio show 10 days later becomes symbolic of the 'decline and fall' of a once great nation. Only in Great Britain!!

This is another example of the ‘British disease’ where we enjoy elevating our celebrities, but then when they get too successful (or are perceived to be paid too much licence fee payers money perhaps), a section of the media strive manfully to drag them down over one particular incident.

Provided the checks and balances of a strong editorial team are present, some radio presenters should be encouraged to take risks and explore the limits of acceptability. If they don’t, we will breed a generation of broadcasters whose programmes are the radio equivalent of beige; uninspiring, undistinguished and uneventful.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

"He fucked your Granddaughter!"

Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross… where do I start?!!!

(For those who’d like a quick précis of the story, click here)

I think we need to separate 2 things here.

1 - What happened on the radio and why
2 - The reaction to it

What happened on the radio and why
Let’s take the first of these. When you tune into Russell Brand’s show on BBC Radio 2, you do so probably in the knowledge that it will be mix of obvious innuendo, childish pranks, indulgent narcissism, multiple drug references and decadent interviews. It’s like no other show on the radio. That’s what makes it good. That’s what I pay my licence fee for… to have something different and challenging that the market doesn't provide.

So, when I hear that Russell Brand and his guest on that week’s show, Jonathan Ross, left offensive answer-phone messages for actor Andrew Sachs, then it hardly surprised me. Out of the 4 messages they left (!) the first one did the real damage. Take a listen right now...

Now, did they cross the line? Probably… yes. Was it funny? Depends on whether you find that kind of thing amusing. (It did make me laugh – but I’m very liberal and don’t read The Daily Mail) It was actually Jonathan who blurted out the most offensive bit. But the real issue is not the fact that 2 talented and well-loved presenters went too far. (Many presenters have gone too far in the past) The real issue is that the show was pre-recorded and the whole thing could have been avoided if the Producer or Senior Producer had spotted that this might blow up in their face. So, if anyone should take some heat, it should be them… and not the presenters.

I want presenters like that to take risks. Russell Brand was not hired by Lesley Douglas to play “10 in a Row”. That’s what he’s there for: to push boundaries. And that’s what producers are there for: to know where the line is. The production system failed, not the presenters. But that's not a sexy story.

The reaction to it
So a couple of listeners complain when they hear it, but the main damage is done by a Mail on Sunday journalist who picks up the story and calls Sach’s agent for a comment and then runs with it. As a result of that, Andrew Sachs makes a complaint to the BBC. That’s then picked up by the mainstream media as they all know that this is a story that will sell newspapers, increase viewers on TV shows etc. It’s about 2 of the UK’s most high profile media stars, so its light relief from the ‘Credit Crunch’ and ‘Recession’ doom and gloom stories that don’t sell papers.

Then as soon as the press get hold of it, the snowball effect happens. After a relatively minor number of complaints, people who haven’t even heard the original broadcast start to complain. They’re complaining about something that they didn’t hear, and weren’t originally offended by. They’re just complaining about the fact that it happened. Complaints breed complaints. Remember the Big Brother race row? And what has happened here is that those people who don’t like Brand or Ross and what they stand for finally have an opportunity to stick their small knife in, hoping for ‘death by a thousand cuts’. There is no doubt that ‘Middle England’ still has an enormous voice when it comes to morale outrage.

Once that Middle England is morally outraged, then it’s only a matter of time before Gordon Brown and David Cameron get dragged it to the debate, both eager to deplore a decline in standards within the BBC etc. One conservative MP today has suggested that Radio 2 encourages anti-social behaviour!! Oh dear.

As the story gathers pace and the front pages of national newspapers are packed with the details, the BBC has to act. It’s constantly afraid of having its wings clipped as a result of appearing too liberal so it has to do something seen as ‘strong’ and ‘in touch with the sentiment of the nation’ And it has just acted, suspending both Brand and Ross. And there we have it. Two of the most talented broadcasters in the country are suspended for mistake that a Senior Producer has made in allowing the item to be broadcast.
It’s part of the British disease. We like to build people up, but we seem to revel in a moral panic that allows us to drag them down again. It’s un-British to be too successful (especially if you’re being paid licence fee payers money.) This rather sanctimonious standpoint is nearly always driven by the tawdry organ of hate, otherwise known as The Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday. I’m embarrassed that those papers are read by so many, otherwise normal, people in this country. One ironic twist to the whole thing; Andrew Sachs says he now wishes the whole thing would go away. Well Andrew, it’s unlikely to if your Granddaughter, the lovely Georgina Baillie (a member of Satanic Sluts!), sells her story to The Sun for a front page spread. Just a thought.

So – no doubt this will rumble on until a scalp is claimed and peace and order can be restored to 'this Sceptred Isle'! And I’m sure I’ll again feel obliged to defend the need for talent to be allowed to push boundaries and encouraged to take risks. I’ll also feel obliged to write about the need for Senior Producers to understand more effectively how to edit out pieces of pre-recorded audio that are going to cause a national crisis!!

Friday, 24 October 2008

NAB 2008 hits London

The annual ‘European Radio’ get-together hits London this weekend. NAB will be in town! I’ve checked the forecast and it looks like it’s going to be sunny with highs of around 14 degrees, so all of you who are expecting rain and fog may be disappointed!

As we all know, some conferences can be a bit hit or miss at the best of times, but the list of sessions for this NAB looks like it has quite a few interesting subjects to tickle the delegates. Areas such as radio brands travelling across borders, what presenters really think (!), and can networking save commercial radio in the UK are all tasty topics that I’ve written about in the past.

And it would be remiss of me not to plug my session with the exceptionally talented Ivan Antala, PD from client station Radio Expres which is Slovakia’s biggest radio station.

The session takes place on Tuesday 28th October at 9:15am and has the snappy title of “Back to the Roots - It's Time to Learn from Europe or Why We are Not Scared of iPods” We’re covering all the bases!! During the session we’ll reveal ‘The 10 Essential Elements of Great Radio’ as part of our ‘revisiting the basics’ appraisal, and theme of ‘despite technological advances, let’s not forget about the fundamentals of radio’. If you’re coming along to NAB and not too hung-over on Tuesday morning, please join us.

I’ll be posting the ‘The 10 Essential Elements of Great Radio’ on the blog after NAB, as well as a review of some of the more interesting bits, and sharing anything new that I glean during my time holed up in The Hilton Metropole Hotel!

Hope to see you there.

Friday, 17 October 2008

"Now it's not time to catch up with the news in your area..."

I’ve just been to my local farm shop in the beautiful Berkshire autumn sunshine, right on the edge of Windsor where I live, to pick up a few vegetables for the weekend / logs for the fire etc. Most of their produce is grown and farmed locally. It’s a business on the rise as the trend for finding alternatives to supermarkets continues, and the zeitgeist continually moves towards a greater interest in the providence of food. There’s a genuine belief that local is good. Going to the shop strengthens a feeling of identity and community. In a world that’s collapsing around our eyes and ears, there’s something reassuringly nice about ‘local’.

I say this because, as you may have heard this week, Global Radio in the UK is axing its daytime local news bulletins across most of its stations. Local news will now only feature at breakfast and Drivetime and there’ll be a 1 minute long national bulletin from London throughout the day. Local it seems is not good in the world of Global Radio.

I suppose this is the final, inevitable nail in the coffin for truly “local radio” across the daytime for all of these stations. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for rival stations broadcasting to the same area, that do have locally produced news, to bang the drum about their product being made locally, featuring local stories that are actually relevant to the area. Feel free to get in touch if you’d like me to write you a series of promos!

I still can’t help feeling that Global Radio is missing a trick by ditching all their daytime local content. Stuff happens in the day too. It’s not just at breakfast and drive! But more importantly, it just reinforces the message that across the day there’s no local content at all… apart from the adverts. Radio listeners in a capital city like Cardiff deserve better than a 60 second bulletin with just some national headlines that frankly, you can from any number of sources these days. Might as well not bother… Or maybe that’s the next step?

Jonathan Richards, Global’s Head of News, was quoted on as saying…

"No local story will be missed. In the event of a major local story all stations have the autonomy to break away from the network, and should there be a local disaster such as a flood or major crash, additional journalists will be drafted to the scene. This is about raising standards of news for commercial radio."

I love statements like that that go unchallenged! Saying that “no local story will be missed” seems to be pushing it quite a bit! Getting all those good local stories into Breakfast and Drive might be a bit of a squeeze I think. And how removing local daytime bulletins equals a “raising of standards of news for commercial radio” is incomprehensible? He seems to be implying that the standard of the local news bulletins on many of these stations was poor… so the answer was to just take them off completely! Who knows?! Don’t get me wrong… bad local news bulletins are cringe-worthy. But well-trained, passionate, local radio journalists with an interest in reporting the goings-on in an area, produce some fantastic local news. Just listen to the multi award-winning Radio City News for proof of that. (And imagine Radio City broadcasting news bulletins across the day that didn’t once reference the ongoing trial for the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones)

One thing I do know is that we now have lots of local stations trying to sound like national ones, which kind of defeats the object of local radio really. How long will it be before Drivetime is culled from Ofcom’s local requirement, and the last remaining hurdle before for Global can run a quasi-national network, will be Breakfast?

And all this, at a time when The BBC Trust is considering the findings of a public value consultation over proposals to create video based local news websites in 60 regions across the country. Let’s hope this isn’t the start of commercial radio just handing over the ‘local’ card to the BBC as well.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Beautiful Radio Ad...

I was preparing a presentation today about great radio ads that have inspired me one way or another, and I immediately thought of this one.

The simplicity of it, is it's beauty.

Good, isn't it.

Friday, 10 October 2008

7 Reasons Why 'Channel 4 Radio' Not Launching is Bad

1. DAB / commercial radio will now lack the major injection of marketing and TV exposure that Channel 4 would have given it

2. It sends out the message that there may still be serious questions over the future of DAB in the UK

3. There must now be severe doubt over whether the 2nd National Digital Multiplex will ever launch

4. Commercial radio won’t have Channel 4 to provide more high quality competition against the BBC

5. Listener’s choice will not be increased

6. Independent Producers won’t have the commissions they were expecting / looking for

7. The perception of radio a medium will not receive the ‘shot in the arm’ that having a creative player like Channel 4 involved, would have given it

Spot The Difference?

OK - Let's play a game. It's called 'Spot The Difference'. Take a look at the image on the left... and then the one on the right. Can you spot the difference?

That's right! One's a bottle of vodka, and the other is a radio station.

Let's hope that any lawyers playing this game can spot the difference too!

Absolute Marketing

It's always fun to see some new marketing for a new radio station... particularly when it's a series of original TV ads. So here are the first of a series of 9 for Absolute Radio that are debuting across the UK tonight. Whadda ya think?

Saturday, 27 September 2008

"Parting is such sweet sorrow..."

Virgin Radio is no more. It ended on Friday 26th September with a fantastic on-air retrospective of the last 15 years, which brought back many memories to me as a listener, and even more as someone who worked there for 3 years.

Plenty of people are writing about the passing of this station (and let’s not forget the start of the new one) and it would be amiss of me not to add my own personal thoughts.

I joined in 1999 as Head of Music. Chris Evans was on the Breakfast Show, the ratings were good, and the money was pouring in. Remember the dot com bubble…? All those new start ups with sack loads of cash to blow on marketing? Well Virgin took more than its fare share of their money in exchange for providing plenty of fun sponsorships and promotions.

As a result of the combination of great audiences (over 4 million) and fantastic revenue, the ‘vibe’ the station had, was a brilliant one. Everyone worked hard to make the best sounding station possible, and then enjoyed their successes when the figures were good and the income was strong.

Therefore, I seem to remember a good amount of time was spent in the pub next door, which was called ‘The Midas Touch’. It kind of became a second home. You’d tip up in the morning, have some meetings… do some work… and then wait for the then Finance Director (he was the drinking ringleader!) to signal that it was time for a pint or 3 in the ‘The Midas Touch’.

Before you knew it, 2pm rolled round but often the view was taken that if people had done their work and everything was covered… why go back? If you were needed, everyone knew where you were!! So, many long afternoons were spent in the pub, discussing the radio station next door! In fact, serious consideration was given to running an extension phone line through the window, so we people could just put calls through to our fixed line in the pub. I don't think it ever got that far, but I did once hold a playlist meeting in The Midas Touch! Those were the days!!

The laissez-faire culture that existed was made easier by the fact that Chris, who now owned the station outright, was known to enjoy a drink or 2. So when you hear many people talk about the culture of the station being so great, they’re right. I witnessed it first hand, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in radio. The culture was there from the start… driven by a ‘Branson’ view of “corporate culture” and it continued with Evans. To this day though, although pretty much all the faces are different than in my day, people still talk of the culture of the place being very special. I know that will live on and flourish under Absolute Radio.

A couple of stand out moments then for me; I remember when Chris was going through a particularly chatty (!) phase at breakfast, and not playing much music. I used to schedule 4… yes only 4 songs an hour... and had just brokered a deal with the lovely Dan McGrath, Chris’s producer, that he would try and play those 4 records an hour. Not a great 'ask' you’d think. I tuned in expectantly the next day and felt somewhat deflated as between 7am and 8am, we managed to play…. Not 4, not 3, not even 2… but one solitary record! And to an insult to injury, it wasn’t even one I’d scheduled!! Haha!

Another moment involving Chris at breakfast was when I’d become Deputy Programme Director. During the show, Dan McGrath had likened a certain females genitalia to a, and I quote, “badly packed kebab”. It seemed I had assumed the mantle of ‘Head of Complaints’ too, due to the calm way I could talk down mad listeners from suing us, and sure enough the complaints came thick and fast for this one. Looking back now, it was a surreal moment discussing with Dan why this perhaps wasn’t the most appropriate topic for breakfast radio and how he ‘really should know better!’. Fortunately we laugh about it now, and a friendship forged by arguing over ways of describing a "lady-garden" on the radio has manifested itself in us now playing together in a fantastic covers band... currently available for weddings, bah mitzvahs, Christmas parties etc!!

There are too many fun moments to mention. Giving away ‘1 Million Pounds’; creating the station’s first proper festival coverage at V2000; spending a couple of hours chatting to Paul McCartney and making a documentary with him; helping break this unknown band with a curly haired lead-singer. They were called ‘Coldplay’ I seem to remember; Doing The Breakfast Show live from the Guinness Brewery in Dublin… on St Patricks Day!etc etc… (Oh – and I met my fantastic wife there too!)

Programming-wise, Virgin had its fair share of highlights through the years, and some real broadcasting greats passed through the doors of One Golden Square. Listen back to the retrospective on Friday, I was reminded of the huge variety of ‘real’ music that has been played over the years… everything from Tommy Vance’s particular bag of solid rock tunes, Pete and Geoff's new music on their great evening show, sessions in The Zoo by some real legends, through to Gary Davis’ Late Night penchant for some really obscure 80’s treats!

So as the sun sets on an certain era in UK radio history, we say 'Goodbye Virgin Radio'. Saying farewell to Virgin is a little bit like waving off a good friend that's been a part of your life for a while. Without sounding too slushy about a radio station, it will always remind me of happy times and has secured a certain place in my heart. But at the same time, I'm excited about being introduced to a new friend… ‘Absolute Radio’. Let’s hope it brings as many happy moments as my old friend did.

Monday, 22 September 2008


Rebranding and re-launching radio stations seems to be all the rage at the moment.

I spend a good deal of time working in Denmark with the fine people at Radio 100FM. The rival national commercial station that was formerly known as TV2 Radio (originally named after the parent company, TV2!) has been recently bought by SBS, and just re-launched as ‘Nova FM’. Not sure in a fast moving digital world I would have stuck the letters ‘FM’ in the title of the station, but there you go.

“Virgin Radio soon to be known as Absolute Radio” has set a date when it will fully become Absolute Radio… September 29th for all you date junkies.

And, as widely predicted, Global Radio in the UK recently announced that around 30 of their newly acquired stations will be re-branded as Heart, and have lots of networked programming. This will, it is claimed, provide a much clearer brand for potential advertisers to buy into. It probably will.

So, it will be interesting to see how heritage names such as Fox, Invicta, GWR, 2-Ten FM and Chiltern handle the transformation process on air. Having “a conversation” with your listeners is the very modern and transparent way that Absolute Radio has done it. Asked by listeners why they had to change the name, they answer…

“The old one wasn't ours, it was lent to us. That means we could not do all the other things we wanted to do, in spinning off the radio station into other areas which we feel you wanted. Our new name, which we own, means we are freer to do what we want, and it also says that we're re-inventing ourselves.”

Fair enough. I buy all that, particularly the last bit… (plus the fact that it would have cost an arm and a leg to continue ‘renting’ the name from Branson, but I genuinely don’t think that was the main reason they ditched it.)

So, how will Global approach the similar dilemma of ‘name change’, particularly when many of the stations are familiar local brands and have been on the air since the early 80’s. Of course, nothing has the divine right stay the same forever, but how do you convince local listeners that it’s in their interests that you need to deliver a consistent brand to national advertisers, therefore you must remove most of the local programming apart from Breakfast and Drivetime, and rename their familiar local brand, with a quasi-national brand named after a vital organ.

There is of course the argument that much of commercial radio in the UK needs reinvention, and this is one of the only realistic ways to do it. Centralised control with some local management, product consistency and a uniform approach to marketing and promotions; A kind of ‘McRadio’ if you like. Hmmm…

Will listeners like this homogenised approach to local radio? Is there an unavoidable inevitability about it? And will the DJ’s have to wear brown uniforms and get stars on their badges for doing good local links? We shall see… but the most fascinating part of this is still to play out. How will the changes be communicated on-air. Or maybe they haven’t thought that far ahead yet?! Any ideas welcome!!

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

RadioCentre Training Days

Now the summer is behind us, and it's started raining properly again, we can get back to business... so it’s time for another batch of RadioCentre training courses! I ran a couple of these earlier in the year and for those who weren’t able to get to them, we’re repeating them at the end of September and beginning of October.

For those who don’t know, RadioCentre in London is the organisation that is responsible for building and maintaining a strong and successful UK Commercial Radio industry — both in terms of listening hours and revenues. It operates in a number of areas including working with advertisers and their agencies, working with government, Ofcom and policy makers, and also stations themselves. Developing talent (both on and off air) is vital to maintaining that healthy industry. Therefore, RadioCentre help facilitate a comprehensive training programme.

“How to be a Better Presenter” is a one-day seminar aimed at presenters broadcasting in small to medium size markets, on all dayparts. In a crowded radio market, how do you make your shows stand out from the rest? When you have fewer resources than the big guys, what are some of the ideas you can use to make your show sound bigger and better. It’s a practical seminar covering specific tips, tricks and techniques for making listeners listen longer - and keeping coming back for more.

“How to Effectively Coach Your Presenters” is a one-day seminar aimed at Programme Controllers / Programme Directors, Producers, and any one who is directly involved in coaching on-air talent. Investing time in developing talent is one of the most important areas within programming, but is often overlooked. How do you get the best out of your presenters? How do you manage big egos as well as focusing on developing promising new talent? What are the most effective ways of providing feedback to your presenters? This seminar will cover specific tips and techniques for coaching presenters and provides programmers with a useful and practical advice that will help them develop their talent themselves.

If you’d like to come to either of these, you can find out more by clicking here, or email me and we can chat about them some more...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

It's Absolutely A Logo...

The process of rebranding a station eventually requires that the 'logo people' get involved. And as we don't often get the a launch of a powerful new national brand in UK radio, I thought we'd pause for a moment and admire the 'amazing technicolour dreamcoat' of logos laid out for us here!
OK - that's enough on the logo! It's what comes out of the speaker I'll be more interested in...
Photo: Adam Bowie - Virgin Radio / Absolute Radio

Monday, 1 September 2008

"Absolute on Power Drive"

When you read the dictionary definition of the word 'absolute' you realise it's a pretty good word, as words go. It feels like a word you can rely on... a word you can trust... this word could be your friend. I find myself using the word quite a lot in my everyday speech. "Did you hear that breakfast show on your rival station this morning? It was an absolute disaster!!” Or... "Do you like my idea for a new morning show benchmark? I think it's absolute genius!" Things like that.

It also happens to be the new name for Virgin Radio as revealed to me this evening on an exciting, pan-European, satellite link-up live from London, from Clive Dickens, the head programming and operations honcho. (OK - he called my mobile).

I've had a little while to think about it while chomping away at my dinner, and here's the thing. They'll be a lot written about this over the next few weeks by an array of media commentators, brand experts, radio consultants and other interested parties. Some will like it. Some won't.

Some will say it's unoriginal or egotistical to name the consumer facing brand after the name of the company that will run the station. (For those who don't know, Absolute Radio is the name of the management company / owners / consultants that also run Jack FM in the UK / own FM 107.9 in Oxford etc) but I genuinely believe that if they knew they were going to call the thing 'Absolute' from day 1, they wouldn't have hired super-duper creative London agency Albion to help them develop the brand. And guess what... the listeners have never heard of a company called Absolute Radio, so there!! As far as listeners go, this will be a brand new brand.

So, tomorrow morning at 7:45am, the 'conversation' will begin where the current listeners to Virgin Radio will be introduced to their "new best-friend-word"... Absolute.

Like any new brand, I'm sure it will take a small while to get used to it. I remember when this mobile phone company in the 90's decided to name their company after a citrus fruit. And then this other mobile phone company in 2001 decided to name their brand after the vital ingredient in 'air'. Ahh... whatever happened to 'Lemon' and 'N2'.

The point is, after we got used to them, they just became another brand and we were de-sensitised to their 'newness' and they entered into our everyday vernacular. I'm sure the same will happen to 'Absolute'. (I'm just learning to say Bauer instead of EMAP mind you.)

Apparently, in their 'game for a name' that they just played, they wanted a real word (unlike Ocado or Skype), a word that could cross global boundaries (like Big or Fun), a single word (but not 'BigFun' as that would remind me of the band!), and something more importantly that could trademarked. Developing value in the name of your brand is essential in today's brand-ridden world. If you haven't got a strong, cross platform brand, you have nothing.

So, in 12 months time, we'll have forgotten all the fuss and will no doubt be enjoying shows called things like Absolute 80's and Absolute Classic Rock... and listening to the Absolute Weather. "It's absolutely pissing down with rain...” OK - we get the idea Nik.

Comedian Jasper Carrott once said "I'm amazed at radio DJ's these days. I'm firmly convinced that AM on my radio stand for Absolute Moron. I will not begin to tell you what FM stand for!" I'm certain that 'Absolute Radio' will deliver a fresh approach to radio not seen for quite some time in the UK, and the definitions of the word that mean "free from restriction or limitations" and "not comparative" are good omens that will have Jasper re-writing that particular routine. And without further ado, this re-branding gives me a great excuse to play this!!

Breaking News - Absolutely Fabulous!

Reporting live from a hotel room in Copenhagen I have some 'Breaking News'!

I've just been told the new name for Virgin Radio in the UK!

Are you ready... sitting down?

Here we go...

It's gonna be called...


Let me compose some thoughts and get back to you!!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"A Local Show... for Local People"

Another week goes by and another 'networking' announcement for us in the radio business to absorb. This time it was the turn of Bauer's Scottish stations (that were formally the SRH group) to succumb to the temptation.

Radio Clyde will be the base for the weekday evening programming with Romeo (so good he's only known by the one name... think Madonna, Kylie etc.) doing a Scottish version of the 'In Demand' Show, and then Clyde's Gina McKie doing the late show. The weekend stuff is still to be announced, but I think we can expect more off-peak and overnight networking, perhaps with some specialist shows thrown in for good measure.

The justification for all of this is 'quality of product' and not cost-saving, according to Bauer and their delightfully enigmatic MD of the network, Travis Baxter. I buy that. They're not going to save a whole load of money by culling some badly paid late night jocks. The argument is that by wielding the 'power of the group' the quality of sessions / interviews etc improves, as those promoting their wears have a one stop shop to visit, rather than schlep around rainy Scotland... sorry, I mean travel in style around the most delightful shores of the British Isles.

Will listeners care that their 'local' DJ has been replaced in most cases by someone from out of town? Scotland is quite tribal in many ways, and radio is no exception. Many of the stations have built up loyal audiences, all be it quite young and sometimes quite small, in the evening. Is it a nostalgic and romanticised notion to want these evening shows to continue to exist, or has the radio world changed so much that local only makes sense in peak time?

Growing up in Liverpool in the 80's, my connection to pop culture was principally through the radio, and mostly every evening from 7pm till when I finally fell asleep. Tony Snell was the DJ on Radio City (he's still going strong on BBC Radio Merseyside now I'm glad to say) and through him I felt part of my home town, I knew what was going on... I knew the places he was talking about... I knew the schools he was mentioning... and I knew that somehow I was connected to all the other kids in my area via this strange and wonderful evening show that he presented and everyone listened to. (Tony also highlighted a whole load of bands to listeners and knew so much about music, but DJ's who know about music... that's another conversation!)

My point is this. Would I have felt less of a connection to my hometown (and loyalty to my local radio station) if the show was a generic networked show, produced... say... from Manchester. Actually, I probably would have done. Radio City gave me a little piece of my own tribal identity as a kid from Liverpool growing up in the 1980's. I felt there were others like me and a sense of localness was really important to me at age 13. After all, at that age, there's not much that defines you more than where you are from.

So, I fear, there will be a generation of kids growing up in the Scottish towns and cities who will no longer be served by their 'own' little evening / late shows, but by a rather generic product imported from another universe. Will they care? Possibly. Possibly not. But I know that having that connection to something very real and very local certainly gave me something to cling on to in those 'interesting' teenage years of development; a sense of identity and a reference point that was unique. 

The debate about local v networked will no doubt continue, but the drip, drip effect of more and more networking seems to be irrevocably eroding the very fabric of what still makes radio different. It's localness.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Only 'Special' People Need Apply...

"It takes a special kind of person to consistently rise early and give the public the level of entertainment they expect each morning. Denise requested the opportunity to break her contract immediately and we obliged."

I quote from GCap’s statement on the departure of Capital Breakfast co-host Denise Van Outen.

So… no love lost there then? I thought the implication that Denise hasn’t got what it takes to get up in the morning and therefore isn’t very “special” was a little harsh, but hey… she started it by asking to leave!

But what next for once impregnable Breakfast Show for Capital Radio, London?

In my view, the show sounded much better with a strong female co-host. Johnny was less dominant and ‘the girls’ had someone to take their side / reflect their views. Lisa Snowdon who’s morphed from being “guest co host” to just featuring as “Capital Breakfast with Johnny Vaughan and Lisa Snowdon” started off a little static, but has warmed up as she’s got more ‘flying time’ under her belt.

Will she be the obvious choice as replacement? Will they get another co-host at all? And how will the audience react to another change to the station? Trying not to fiddle with your morning show too much is one of the cardinal rules, so I anticipate a little bit of churn as a result of her departure and the arrival of someone new. And accepting the job of co-host to Johnny is a little bit of a poison chalice really. Becky Jago… Zoe Hanson… and now Denise Van Outen have all ‘left the building’. Maybe they should go for Neil Fox next??

We shall see in due course what the Plan B was, however it had been rumoured for some time that keeping Denise at Capital was going to be tricky come the end of her contract. Looks like we didn’t have top wait that long!

It’s worth noting that Denise’s agents refute the allegation also included in the GCap statement that the early starts were impacting on Denise’s health, and are apparently seeking legal advice! Just wanted to make that clear!!! Denise is fit and well everyone. Although ITV1's “Who Dares Sings” is enough to put anyone in a coma…

Friday, 25 July 2008

RAJAR Qtr 2 2008; "Now That's Magic!"

I‘ve spent quite a lot of time recently talking to radio stations about ‘doing the basics really well’. My belief is that getting these ‘basics’ right accounts for at least two thirds of the total ‘job’ a station must do in order to perform well. Take a listen up and down the dial in any market in the world, and you’ll find some stations that do the basics really well, plus a whole of other good stuff that set them aside from the competition. But there are also stations that haven’t quite mastered those basics yet, which is always frustrating to listen to, as they could be so much better than they are.

The latest listening figures to come out in the UK yesterday from Rajar, reinforces the point in spectacular fashion. In London, Magic 105.4 is the undisputed number one commercial radio station whichever way you want to slice it. It’s got the top spot in reach / cume, listening hours, market share, and it also has the number one breakfast programme with Neil Fox and his ‘More Music Breakfast Show’. The station has now topped 2 Million listeners a week and sits on a 7.4% share. Well done to all the guys at Magic on this brilliant result.

So how have they pulled this off then? Take a listen and you’ll soon realise that it’s a fantastic radio station, not because they throw lots of bells and whistles at the audience… quite the opposite. It’s because they get the basics right, all of the time. And what are these ‘magical’ basics then, and if it’s so easy, why aren’t more stations doing them? Well, the good news if that lots of stations are… but I think it’s always useful to revisit them. Let’s use Magic 105.4 as our example:

Clear Branding and Positioning
Magic 105.4 own the powerful position of ‘More Music, Less Talk’. It’s been that way for quite some time now! You can’t listen to Magic for any length of time without having this reinforced by very clear and concise branding and a strong jingle package that fits superbly with the sound of the station. They don’t confuse the position with too many different ways of saying what they do. And more importantly, the really deliver on their promise. They do seem to play more music, and certainly have less talk than other stations on the dial.

Well Researched Music
There is no doubt that Magic’s active database is very well researched with exactly the right sample makeup helping to shape the list. Magic is glued together by a very federating sound where artist and song are more important than era, and where compatibility and fit are the driving factors. Every single song is a winner. You don’t hear a bum song on Magic… ever. How many stations can claim that? Sure, they run a tight database and songs roll around quite often, but that doesn’t matter… coz they’re playing great songs. Take a look at their Top 25 most played artists:

Take That
Michael Bublé
Elton John
Leona Lewis
James Blunt
Phil Collins
Robbie Williams
Bryan Adams
Whitney Houston
Will Young
Cyndi Lauper
Bee Gees
Richard Marx
Snow Patrol
Righteous Brothers
Carly Simon
Lionel Richie
Savage Garden

Interesting list huh? Era-wise, there’s 60’s right the way through to currents. But again, the songs selected from these artists all fit together really well. Compatibility of sound is one of the most overlooked areas of music research, but an absolute necessity and Magic demonstrate how to make it work and look effortless at the same time!

Neil Fox completely reinvented himself when he moved from Capital to Magic. He’s a warm and genuine presenter who’s really connected to his audience. He doesn’t try and be funny, (but occasionally can be) and understands who’s listening, the type of life they lead, and what kind of show they need from him in the morning. It’s a very different show to the other ‘personality’ shows that are available, but perhaps that’s its secret… it sounds like it’s not trying too hard.

Understanding the Audience
Magic really know who they’re aiming for and who listens to the station, and the type of life they lead. Everything from the music selection and the type of content they do, right through to the commercial partners they work with are expertly targeted. Just look at some of their current key feature / show sponsors: Dove Cream Oil Body Wash, Galaxy Chocolate, The Science Museum; Any chance this is a station aimed at women with kids?!!

All good stations have some strong programming sub-brands. Magic is no exception. Mellow Magic (relaxing songs from 8pm every evening), The Test of Time (10 songs from one year each morning at 9am) are two of the strongest, but there are others. They all give excellent hooks into the station and reasons to tune in again and again.

Strong Style Guide
All the presenters on Magic sound like they have been cast from the same mould, but still with some of their own personality allowed to cut through. Remember, this is the more music, less talk station… so we’re not looking for guys and girls who can talk the hind legs off the proverbial donkey. However, they all understand the style guide of the station, and stick to it religiously, and the result is a clear and consistent sound.

Magic 105.4 currently defines consistency in UK radio. Every time I hit the button, I get what I expect… a soft and relaxing AC sound, seamlessly blending artists and eras with little interruption. Consistency is one of the most fundamental of basics. Define what you’re going to do, and do it… repeatedly. Ensuring you’re delivering on your listeners expectations at all times is essential to long term growth and long term success.

Magic have got the basics right… really right. And their patience and persistence have been rewarded with a fantastic set of audience figures. Suddenly, doing the basics well seems like a pretty good idea, doesn't it!

Monday, 7 July 2008

Radio Festival - Glasgow 2008 - The Verdict!

So, as the whiff of ‘vats’ of mass-produced Haggis subsides, and the unmistakable hangover that cheap Scotch gives you is a now all but a distant memory, we can collectively stand back and admire the event that was ‘The Radio Festival – Glasgow 2008’.

For our international readers, although the word ‘festival’ implies images of tents, mud, pyramid stages, fire-eaters, strange pagan rituals etc… I can assure you that if you substitute the word ‘festival’ for the word ‘conference’, you’ll get more of a sense of the occasion!

Some of the more interesting stuff that occurred included the findings from the Digital Radio Working Group, much of which had been publicised in advance, but nonetheless made for quite an interesting listen. You can read the whole report for yourself here, but some of the most salient bits included the recommendation for a full migration to digital radio in the UK. When? Well – that’s the $64,000 question they dodge by saying… ‘When the market is ready’, but at latest by 2020!

With 7 Millions sets in the UK, DAB is doing quite well. But we seem to be in a bit of a no-mans land currently. We’re too far away from the tipping point to set a date for full migration, and far too far down the road to say ‘Let’s ditch DAB and go with something else’. Certainly, a lot of clever minds are on this one and it was nice to see them demonstrate that they’re thinking about it. Getting it right is the most vital thing the UK radio industry has probably ever faced.

A debate about ‘rights’ and the current agreements in place regarding PRS-MCPS and PPL, although sounding fairly dull, was actually pretty interesting. Although the guys from the collection societies stated that they “weren’t coming to get us”… I think they are! With declining physical sales and the number of illegal downloads outnumbering legal ones by a factor of 10 to 1, the record companies and artists are going to squeeze as much as they can out of anyone who uses their content, and radio is no exception. I did feel like pointing out that there are territories like the UAE, (where I work in the Dubai market), where there are no copyright agreements in place and big media organisations are paying absolutely nothing to artists for using their copyrighted material to make large profits. Meanwhile in the UK, PRS are chasing the owners of sandwich shops making sure they’ve got a licence! Perhaps they should try and recoup some money from these territories? Back at home, the ‘promotional value’ that radio offers is still a good argument, particularly in light of some interesting research that shows radio is still the most significant factor for people in discovering new music. Expect fireworks on this topic soon!

The session on the future of music radio seemed to conclude that the answer was…. speech! Well… actually it was the importance of personalities and DJ’s within the music radio setting to be honest with you. And new music, of course. People reassuringly still use the radio to hear new music. But it was nice to see some recognition of the role of the DJ as personality or ‘trusted guide’. Otherwise, we’ll all become jukeboxes with different bit of production, which anyone can replicate these days.

Other sessions worthy of a mention include the ‘Showbiz news’ session, where some argued that we’re all obsessed with the cult of celebrity and it has no place on the radio. Well at least on Radio Scotland! Rod McKenzie from BBC Radio 1 was eloquent and considered in his view on this topic and others, which is probably why overall, BBC Radio 1 News is in such a good state. He wrote some interesting thoughts about this session on his Editors Blog.

And Matthew Bannister reminded us why he rose to the dizzy heights of Director of BBC Radio and went on to become Chief Executive of BBC Production and the Corporation's first Board-level Director of Marketing and Communication. This is because he’s bloody good at getting a point across, and his view that ‘compliance is stifling creativity’ was made with both wit and gravitas. He touched on something that everyone in a creative role should remember. Don’t ‘not do’ something because you might get in trouble, or too many rules may prevent you. "Fortes fortuna adiuvat” (I knew that Latin GCSE would come in handy one day!)

Finally, a couple of less so positive points; If you’re going to have a debate about ‘localness in radio’, please get people who actually understand something about local radio on the panel! The GMG debate that kicked the festival off was really quite terrible in the choice of speakers and in the arguments that were presented. And without sounding unkind, the Community Radio sector, valid as it is, seemed to be an unnecessary distraction in the programme of sessions. I suggest that there should be a separate day for community radio, as sitting though a detailed analysis of why ‘Celtic Music Radio’ is such a success in certain parts of Glasgow, made me want to stab myself repeatedly with my cheap, disposable, ‘delegate bag’ pen.

All in all though, a worthy trip north of the border and The Radio Festival continues to be a good forum for debate of some of the key issues that face UK radio currently.

Right – I’ve had enough of rainy Britain. I’m off to Dubai to form a royalties collection agency…

Monday, 30 June 2008

Radio Festival - Glasgow 2008

So it’s time to head for Glasgow for another ‘festival of radio’… otherwise known as… er… "The Radio Festival". The programme of events looks like the usual mixed bag of ‘Must see’, ‘Might see’ and ‘Sorry I don’t think I can come to your session, I’ve got to check my emails!”

The media reporters will all be out there in force, writing up things as they happen, giving live blogs and up to the minute interviews etc. And I’m sure their coverage will be first rate as usual. I will try to take a more considered approach (!) and bring some of the highlights once all I’m safely back south of the border!!

If you’re not going, don't worry, I’ll bring you all the hot news and any interesting stories that are developing in my next blog. If you are going to Glasgow, I’ll see you at the bar where I'll be organising a whip round for GCap. We're looking to raise £1.1 Million so... as they say, please give generously!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Secret Scam

“Gross failure of senior management”… “Serious, repeated and deliberate breaches”… “Fundementally misleading and inaccurate”. These are not words you would wish to have used to describe your company, or the way it behaved regarding an Ofcom investigation.

The phrase ‘damning indictment’ hardly does justice to UK regulator Ofcom’s adjudication that’s just been released regarding the (almost defunct) radio group GCap Media, and its breaches of the Broadcasting Code in respect of their networked ‘Secret Sound’ competition.

I’ve read a few adjudications in my time (and been part of a few too!), but having just finished all 29 glorious pages of this particular one, I don’t even know where to start!! You can read it for yourself here… but be warned, this is like ‘hardcore regulator porn’. It’s dirty stuff and you may need a stiff drink and a lie down after reading it.

I’ll try not to recount the sordid tale in all its details, as I would need…well… 29 pages… but in essence GCap ran a Secret Sound competition across its One Network for 4 weeks. The problem was that the practise of deliberately putting callers to air with wrong answers to prolong the competition was agreed by a “Director” responsible for networked output. Basically listeners were paying on a premium line to enter a competition that they couldn’t win, and people within GCap knew this was going on. Oh dear…. Oh dear!

Some brave individual grassed GCap up and Ofcom launched an investigation. So did GCap. Only, apparently GCap's investigation wasn’t really very good and “… not thorough or extensive” with “… no formal or written report produced”. In fact, Ofcom thought that GCap didn’t take the matter seriously enough.

When they did finally issue a statement (4 months later!) on their corporate website, GCap said something like ‘Terribly sorry listeners... Didn’t mean any harm... No hard feelings?’ Actually what they really said was, that this was an “an isolated incident” and a “system error”, when actually they knew it was a little bit more than that. This part has really annoyed Ofcom .They said today in their ruling...

“For GCap to describe this deliberate and repeated unfair conduct as “an isolated incident” and a “system error” was fundamentally misleading and inaccurate and represented, in Ofcom’s view, an inept attempt at “news management” on GCap’s part. The fact that GCap’s Board had authorised the wording of this statement, and its publication on GCap’s corporate website, was a matter of serious concern to the Committee.”

Spin gone wrong! Very badly wrong.

There’s quite a comedic moment in this story which refers to the fact that listeners could get a refund if they wanted to... but as GCap only publicised this on their corporate website, and not on station websites... or on air, out of the 297,215 entries they received, they refunded... wait for it... a single listener the grand total of £2!

Ofcom’s tongue lashing didn’t stop there. They go on to say that they...

“... considered it wholly inadequate that GCap had demonstrated an unwillingness to disclose for several months the specific details and seniority of those responsible for the unfair conduct. This was the first case of its kind in which the behaviour of the licensee (or as in this case, the parent company acting on behalf of the licensees) had effectively hindered Ofcom’s investigation.”

Sweet Jesus!! Could this get any worse? Well yes actually. As a direct result of this hindrance, the fine was going be higher. Ouch. How high in total? Well how about £1.1 Million! There goes the Christmas Party... for the next 20 years!

The list of bad practice goes on and on... from allowing junior members of staff to run a huge network competition with no apparent managerial supervision, to no accurate record of entries, to lack of proper training, to the GCap board signing off on a statement that was ‘economical with the actuality’!

All of this resulted in a... “...significant breakdown of the fundamental relationship of trust between 30 local station and their audiences” which according to GCap is its “most valuable asset”. Funny way of showing it I guess!

So, as GCap is in its final throws as a company, with this rather ignominious end to its life, what can we learn?

Simple. Don’t con your listeners. In any way. It will come home to roost.

Meanwhile, new owners Global are having to get out their cheque book. And just in case there was any delay, on the front page of the ruling Ofcom have made it clear that cheques are “payable to HM Paymaster General”.

How very helpful.