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