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 prĂ©cis 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?