Friday, 16 January 2009

The Real Thing

I sent an email to someone I haven’t spoken to since before Christmas and said ‘Happy New Year’ on it... and then realised that we’re half way through January already! Christmas is now a distant memory and 2009 is well underway... so it's about time I got blogging again!

So far this year, I’ve travelled a total of 7986 Miles (around 12,500km) and we’re only a couple of weeks in! I’ve been visiting my stations (Radio 1 and Radio 2) in Dubai this week. Now, if you haven’t been, Dubai is an amazing city with lots of fascinating things going on. Here was the view from my hotel window looking across the main highway that runs through Dubai... the Sheikh Zayed Road.

The rather tall building in the distance on the left only happens to be the world’s tallest building! I drove up to the bottom of it a little later that day and it was, as billed... bloody enormous!

Dubai is brilliant... but it is full of things that are a bit surreal. From a hotel that chills the sand on the beach in case it’s too hot for your feet, to the shopping mall with the built in Ski Slope!

I thought I’d take a picture of it to share with you...

It’s a bit odd to say the least. There you are, in a massive shopping mall, smack bang in the middle of the desert, and there’s a ski slope that’s chilled to Minus 2 degrees all year round! If you turn around 180 degrees from where I took that photo, this is what you see...

There’s something about that fact that the ski slope is not ‘genuine’ which for me, makes it a little less appealing. Sure, it’s a novelty to see, but more like peering at something strange at the zoo, as opposed to seeing it in the wild. In fact, there are lots of things in that city which are not genuine. However you can look for reality if you try.

On my last night there, I went with some friends to a lovely little Lebanese restaurant, right off the beaten track. There were no tourists; no Westerners (apart from us) and no fake palm trees or ski lifts or anything. What you got was no frills, genuine Arabic food that just tasted fantastic. Actually, the fact I knew it was authentic made it taste even better for me. I knew that in an oasis that excels in the artificial, something that was real, was a treat indeed.

As I was flying back to London, I mused over the notion of ‘genuine’ verses ‘contrived’ and thought how the analogy for radio was a obvious one. When we listen to any radio station, we can all tell when presenters are being genuine... being real... being true to who they are, or if they’re just a bit fake. I’d go for the real deal every time... and I’m sure I’m not alone.

I’ve talked before about the need for stations to ensure that their presenters are genuine people who able to convey that sense of reality and reliability to the audience. Some can do it easily. Some need a little coaxing to relax and ‘be who they are’, but the results are always worthwhile.

I switched on the radio when I got back in the office and flipped around some stations for a few minutes. Sure enough, there were some fantastic ‘real’ presenters who I’m sure are actively encouraged to be as authentic as possible on air. But I also found some DJ’s who were just false. They talked like only insincere DJ’s can talk... “All this week we want to give you... yes you, the chance to win a brilliant prize. That’s right... a brrrriiillliant prize...” Sweet Jesus.

Let’s make 2009 the year we encourage originality, creativity and authenticity in all our on-air staff and banish the proverbial ‘ski-slope in the shopping mall’!!.


Sr. Hugo said...

I wonder whether you might be referring to Global Radio.

We have a Capital FM sounding worse than I have ever heard it. XFM is going the same way after Paul Jackson's first changes. His philosophy seems to be the blander the better - he's one of the least talented radio programmers with whom I have ever had the misfortune of working.

Then we move on to the sure-to-be disastrous roll out of Heart. (There are some excellent groups on Facebook defying these movements, incidentally.)

Aside from the determined aims at getting all of their stations to be as bland as possiblem another problem in London is that they have too many rolls in the basket. XFM - Choice - Capital - Heart - Gold - they're all treading on each other's toes.

Choice and XFM are both aiming at 15-30 year old listeners (albeit entirely different listeners in that age range). Capital and Heart are both treading on their toes. Both are predominantly gaining those 25-34 female listeners again.

The consequence for we listeners is a series of shambolic radio stations.

Nik Goodman said...

Sr Hugo...

Sounds like you didn't have a great experience working at Global!!

I guess you're saying that you feel all the stations are blanding out with the aim of 'causing least offence' to attract the biggest audience.

There are pros and cons with this approach depending on the format!

Now we're got the first proper porfolio approach to managing a cluster of stations in London, it'll be interesting to see how Global ensure they all dance in their own space.

To be fair... i think "shambolic" is a bit harsh, but hey... all opinions are welcome here!