Wednesday, 22 December 2010

"So this is Christmas..." 2010

It’s snowing outside my office window in the beautiful English countryside, so it must be time to write another ‘end of year posting’ as we come to the end of another exciting year in radio.

2010 has been a challenging year for many radio stations and many radio industries across the world. The difficult economic circumstances have meant a tough advertising market to operate in for the commercial stations, and many public service organisations having to make large cost-savings, which often affect programming departments and the ‘end product’ for listeners.

However, against that backdrop we see a sector that is as popular as ever with consumers. Taking the UK, the latest RAJAR (audience measurement) figures show almost 91% of the UK population tune in to radio every week, with digital radio listening hours up 23% year on year, and DAB ownership is up 10% year on year to 18.3 million adults.

And if we look at radio services delivered by the internet in the UK, we can see that 2.2 million Smartphone owners have downloaded a radio app with 16.3 million listeners claiming to have ever listened to radio via the internet.

Non-linear services are becoming increasingly important with a real growth in “radio that waits till it’s wanted”. 8.1 million adults in the UK have downloaded a podcast, and 44% of users say they listen to them at least once a week, showing how advances in technology is helping to maintain the relevance of radio and audio entertainment in a ever-changing mediascape.

The argument about the importance of radio having a multi-platform future with a strong digital broadcast backbone is, I believe, academically won. The challenge for 2011 is winning the ‘hearts and minds’ battle and the PR war that is currently being fought. Obviously, different countries are at different stages of digital adoption and it will be interesting to see how they develop over the next 12 months, but the signs are encouraging with announcements like the launch of DAB+ services in Germany in 2011.

Why does this matter for programme makers and radio creatives?

Well, for several reasons. Ensuring radio continues to be relevant for consumers is important for the healthy future of the radio industry in every country. Developments in technology mean more stations, more formats and more creative possibilities. That’s a good thing is you have great ideas and want to find a home for them. I look at the success of Absolute 80s in the UK in 2010, that has grown from ‘nothing’ to over half a million listeners across the UK on DAB in a very short space of time. That’s a niche format that has found a tribe of happy fans of 80s music on digital radio. (And it’s now joined by its siblings Absolute 90s and Absolute 00s too)

The other development that has started to take shape in 2010 in the UK is Radioplayer. It’s a simple, consistent way for users to access UK radio stations of all shapes and sizes and grow online listening as a result. It’s a partnership between the BBC and many of the big commercial radio groups and is a great example of where collaboration between public and private sectors in radio provides benefit to the industry overall. I look forward to seeing it really take off in 2011.

So, like it or not, we can’t get away from the fact that technology now shapes our industry more than ever before, but embracing this change rather than denying it has got to be the only way forward.

The good thing that hasn’t changed though is... ideas. We’re still an industry that revolves around great ideas. Great ideas for shows, great ideas for promotions, great ideas for outside broadcasts, and great ideas for music features... and the need for those great ideas is never greater.

So, let 2011 be a year we all work on generating even more great ideas for our radio stations!

Finally, in an Oscars style thanksgiving, let me thank all the clients I’ve worked with in 2010. I’ve boarded over 120 planes in the last 12 months (!) and flown all over the world to work with some great people who all love radio as much as I do, and it’s been a real pleasure to work with you all. And to those of you I’ve yet to work with... 2011 might just be the year!

So, as the snow gets thicker and I throw another log on the fire, and I hear the carols drifting from the windows of the snowy village pub... let me say Happy Christmas and Seasons Greetings to everyone... and here’s to a great 2011.

See you next year!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

"I Beg Your Pardon...??"

I’m always fascinated by regional and cultural differences when I travel to different parts of the world working with all sorts of radio stations.

I spent some time in India a couple of weeks ago with the team from CLUB FM in the Kerala region, and naturally the cultural differences between the UK and India are many, although the fundamentals concerning ‘radio programming’ are remarkably similar.

You would have thought that in Europe the differences are more subtle, and in many cases they are. However, one area that always amuses me is that of language... or more precisely ‘bad language’. So, when I was in Vienna with client station KRONEHIT last week, this commercial came on the radio and almost made spit out my Schnitzel with laughter...


That would not air in the UK, I can safely say!! The attitude to the word ‘fuck’ in most of Europe is that ‘it’s just another foreign exclamation’, and it’s not that bad really. So much so, that the word is not edited out of songs and alternative versions are not sought out.

Therefore in Austria, Cee-Lo Green does not ‘Forget’ anyone, but certainly sings very proudly... ‘Fuck You’!

Attitudes to language in the media change quite slowly over time, but I think I’ll be waiting a while before I hear that ad in the UK.

Fuckin’ funny though...

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Russell At His Best

Some of the best radio is when naturally entertaining poeple just talk... and one subject leads to another. Take a look at this clip of Russell Brand recording his show for TalkSport, and see how they get from reading a basic news story in the local paper about someone impersonating a policeman... to discussing the Nazis.

It's a great bit of radio and obviously relies heavily on Russell's unique talents, but the roles that Matt Morgan and Noel Gallagher play are actually really important in the whole thing too. Noel has 2 short, yet really important interventions and comments, and Matt plays the part of "questioning sidekick" really well. Radio is at its best when it can be this natural... and you don't need a big expensive studio to do it in either! Recording it in some backstage dressing room will do just fine!

Monday, 25 October 2010

New Logo

Attention radio station logo fans!

Do you like the new logo for this familiar brand?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Radio Festival 2010 - Review

So as the expenses forms are being filled in, and all London based radio types are still wondering if the drinks really are that cheap in the Ramada, the Radio Festival has waved a fond farewell for another year.

And what did we glean from the UK’s premiere “insular, naval gazing industry symposium”?

Ones and Zeros
We’re still talking about digital, and it’s still not resolved, but the principles of a digital future with a broadcast backbone seem to get most people agreed. How long that will take, and who pays for what are the questions no-one quite knows the answer to. As Jeremy Vine put it, talking about digital take up...“We’re not even half-way, to half-way!”

Together in Electric Dreams
Radioplayer was given its first proper demo in public, and is getting rave reviews. Commercial and public service stations in the radio sector can come together and do something for the good of the sector. Ensuring more people are listening to more radio as a whole has to be a shared objective, in whatever country you’re in. There’s still some natural tension between the sectors when it came to Radios 1 and 2 being a little ‘broad’, and that’s not to the liking of a Mr A Tabor of Leicester Square. But overall, the sense of some shared vision for UK radio did come across when the ‘cheeses’ took to the stage together.

The C Word
There was a lot of discussion about creativity this year, and the need for more of it in the commercial sector. The actually very nice and not normally shouty Jeremy Kyle, reminded everyone present of the need to ensure radio does not become too bland in a very engaging way. And who’d have thought that one of the most entertaining people on stage would be Timmy Mallett! Chris Evans was, as usual, excellent I must add. A real ‘radio guy’ who still loves the medium. Delegates could also be left with no doubt that although format music radio is a lovely thing, format music radio with added personality and creativity is a much more lovely thing, and likely to make more money and be more competitive. For the record, I agree!

The L Word
Local is still powerful and can command an audience. There are of course different types of local... small local, like community radio. Big local, like Key 103 or Radio City, and pretend local, like the Heart and Capital ‘national’ roll out. It’s just not really local radio, so I think as soon as they give up the pretence, the better for us all. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both great stations / networks, and sounds really good right now. But local, they ain’t!

Richard Bacon is a really good broadcaster and interviewer and all round likeable chap. Dave Lee Travis is none of the above.

The venue was really good and it feels right the Radio Festival should have a permanent home instead of wondering around like ‘The Littlest Hobo’ from year to year.

There are lots of other blogs and reviews to read, and the Radio Today coverage is really worth checking out.

Well done Radio Academy team and organising committee. Excellet job.

And there we have it. I saved you the airfare, train fare, taxi rides, ticket price, hotel cost, drinks bill etc... but suffice to say, if it’s as good as it was this year next time around, I’ll be back, and you should be there too.

As Richard Bacon put it... “For radio people... this is our Glastonbury”.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sponsored by...

How well does your station do sponsorships?

Take a listen to this...


Sound remotely familiar? Unfortunately, I can name plenty of stations where this is not comedy, but reality.

There are 2 reasons to play you that clip.

First, I was in a meeting today discussing a sponsorship for a station property and was reminded that sponsorships and sponsor tags can be an enormously creative tool for clients, providing the station has the balls to do something different and memorable... and providing the client has trust in the station, and allows it the creative freedom with its brand. Not all sponsorships have to be creative masterpieces... but plenty could be far more interesting and entertaining than they are. Not all sponsor tags have to sound like they do on ‘The Bash Breakfast’!

The second reason to play the clip was to highlight a great show currently on BBC Radio 4, called ‘Listen Against’. It can loosely be described as a ‘satire of Radio 4’, and it’s very, very well written and presented by Alice Arnold and the lovely Jon Holmes. (This particular sketch was written by Carl Carter). Now if you’re not familiar with Radio 4, its style and its output, it may wash over you a little... but it’s a very well targeted show, aiming exactly at Radio 4 listeners and poking fun at their network. The clip was from a fake debate they were having about creeping commercialism within the BBC, and they had a clip of some commercial radio to compare and to see if as Dr Fox puts it, “you hardly notice the sponsorships”.

Catch it on the iPlayer while you can!

“This blog post was brought to you by Lushy Bath and Shower Gel... Nothing cleans you more than Lushy”

Monday, 20 September 2010

Conference Call

Every year, there’s a slew of radio and media conferences to attend all around the world... some of which I’m asked to speak at, and some of which I’m a willing delegate.

In October, I have one of each. On October 2nd I shall be hosting a session at Radiodays Denmark where I will discussing with my colleague from the UK, Drivetime presenter Greg Burns from Capital FM, what goes into making a radio show on a music driven format in 2010, and how the role of the presenter has developed and changed over the years.

And between 18th -20th October, I shall set up camp in Manchester for the UK’s Radio Festival, which this year looks like it’s going to be an excellent conference debating and discussing everything from the ‘Art of Creativity’ to the business of making some money!

Finally, I should give a little plug to Radiodays Europe, which had its debut in Copenhagen last year, where over 400 delegates from 35 countries attended, what I believe, was a really good starting point for a new European radio conference to take the place of the old NAB Europe.

Well, good news. It’s returning on 17th / 18th March 2011 in Copenhagen, and I attended a networking meeting in London last week to discuss ideas on taking it forward. As you can see from the photo, lots of ‘post its’ were involved!

Radio is at such an interesting point in its evolution... perhaps the most interesting point there has ever been, that getting together and discussing, debating and dissecting the issues has never been more important. The more radio stations can learn about the way the industry is moving, the more they can lead in their own particular market... and not follow; the more they can profit... and not miss out on new revenue opportunities; and the more they understand the importance of the changing nature of the consumer, and what ‘content’ they actually want... and not believe all the old models of the past will apply in the future.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Capital UK

So as the ‘Army of Networking’ marches inexorably on, and a whole raft of stations become Capital FM, what are we to make of this latest move by Global? Is it another dark day for local radio or is it a brave move designed purely to simplify an offering to advertisers and maximise audience?

The answer is of course both.

We wave goodbye to the Galaxy brand, which has served audiences across the country well, and when it launched, provided listeners with a real alternative to their heritage ILR station. The local and regional stations Galaxy stations delivered some great shows and you felt instantly in touch with the areas they broadcast too anytime you tuned in. Over time and with increased networking, this sense of identity was diluted somewhat, but you can’t help feeling that a perfectly good brand has been ‘put to sleep before its time’.

And of course, the station that was the very essence of what is was to be Welsh... Red Dragon FM, is another brand casualty. It was and has always has been a station that’s proud of its nation, and used its ‘Welshness’ as a strong identifying factor. How will it fare by having some of its programming piped in from ‘over the bridge’?

There are of course many other cases to cite; Trent FM – another strong heritage brand going, and let’s spare a thought for the ‘Scottish station’... I hardly know what to call it now, after it has gone through more rebrands in a decade than most stations have in a lifetime!

So, laying the sentiment aside for a moment, is this a smart move? Well there’s no doubt that creating a strong single CHR brand makes it far easier to sell, and far easier to manage. Advertisers and agencies will instantly ‘get’ a pseudo-national Capital FM. And that’s the main reason behind this when all is said and done. They want to make more money, which is a perfectly noble ambition in business. It’s just that we get more attached to radio brands than we do to say, toilet roll or cleaning products... so there’s more of an outcry when it comes to rebranding to maximise profit in radio.

Of course the other argument used is about bringing a better product to listeners, and the theory behind that is perfectly sound... however as good as they are, bringing Roberto and 'The Bassman' on to replace you local offering during the day isn’t exactly going to have people skipping work just so they can stay home and listen all day.

The line touted to the media yesterday evening was very much along the lines of “this will be a station to rival Radio 1”. And sure enough the papers have bought that PR line, and reprinted old photos of Kenny Everett and Chris Tarrant to illustrate the ‘power of Capital’. Well yes – except that was the Capital of old, and the only real national star that Capital has now is Johnny Vaughan. So as it stands at the moment, Capital isn’t exactly a real rival to Radio 1 in terms of content. It’s just a very different offering indeed targetting a similar demo. (In the same way as Heart is touted as an alternative to Radio 2 - “Chalk and Cheese” anyone?)

Which brings us on to Johnny / breakfast. You get the sense that if the rules allowed it now, all local programming would be put to the knife, and Johnny and Lisa would be rolled out across the country. Surely it’s only a matter of time before the requirement for any local programming is quietly put to one side, and the true reason for all of this can be final made clear; Johnny Vaughan on Capital Breakfast and Jamie Theakston on Heart Breakfast... nationwide.

And once we have that, the plan will be complete... and then we can truly mark the demise of much of UK local radio as we used to know it. (There are of course notable exceptions and they continue to perform well... Key 103, Radio City, Wave 105 etc...)

Is it a ‘sad’ thing to see these latest stations disappear? Yes.

Is it a sensible move in a changing media environment? Yes.

So there we have it. The harsh reality of the ‘business’ of media ruling over sentimentality of it all.

A lesson for us all.

Monday, 23 August 2010

"Friends... Lend me your Talent"

How exclusive should your talent be?

How would you respond if another station wanted to “borrow” your morning show host to cover for someone for a week, and present an afternoon show on a completly different station?

Well that’s exactly what’s happening with Christian O’ Connell, morning show / breakfast host at Absolute Radio in the UK. According to reports today, he’s booked do a week’s cover of Richard Bacon’s afternoon show on BBC Radio 5Live.

It’s not the first time that Christian has ‘moonlighted’ with the station, as he’s hosted shows like the excellent ‘Fighting Talk’ before, and provided cover for some other 5 Live shows... but perhaps not as high profile as a big daytime shift.

So, is this a good idea... to lend out your key talent to another broadcaster? With a weekly reach of over 6.5 million people, it could be part of a strategy to allow talent to ‘do other projects’ in exchange for the benefit from the exposure that those projects bring. In this case, maybe core listeners to 5 Live will enjoy what they hear, and possibly seek out Christian on a daily basis?

Or is it a slightly dangerous game to play, especially with the BBC, who have a habit of occasionally filtering off commercial radio’s best talent luring them over to the network with promises of bigger audiences and multi-platform exposure etc. They’ve never been particularly gentlemanly when it comes to competition over talent!

I understand the Christian recently re-signed a deal with Absolute to continue with the company for a couple more years, and there’s no suggestion that he’s looking to move elsewhere... but I guess it’s always nice, as a host, to know you have a potential home somewhere else should it all go horribly wrong!

Doing a breakfast show each morning and then a quite intensive afternoon show every day for a week, will be a good stamina test for sure!

I look forward to tuning in to see how it sounds...

Friday, 20 August 2010

Let It All Flow

It has to be said, I’m a bit of a sucker for new gadgets or innovations, especially when they have something to do with music, music production or radio. So I was quite excited to hear about the launch of FlowSongs from the manufacturers PURE, who make lots of lovely radios, including the rather splendid Sensia.

If you haven’t read about it yet, FlowSongs is a new service which you can use to identify tracks playing on any radio station and buy them in high-quality MP3 format directly from any PURE radio with the Flow technology firmware installed.

The neat thing is that FlowSongs works on any digital, FM, or internet radio station you happen to be listening to. If you hear a song you like, just press the ‘FlowSongs’ option on your radio. For me, owning a Sensia, I press the little icon on the touch screen. FlowSongs the identifies the track (using the technology rented from Shazam) and then shows you the artist, and price etc. You can then buy the song if you’ve set up your account and loaded it with some credit.

So it was with some eagerness that I tried the Beta version of the service, which went live in the UK this week.

I was quite sceptical beforehand. Would it actually work and how difficult would it be to set up?

After I’d updated my Sensia with the new firmware, I eagerly tuned in to a station on DAB, and waited for a song and hit the little FlowSongs icon. Sure enough, it whizzed away and within about 10 seconds it told me that the song playing was Synchronicity II by The Police. (It was BBC Radio 2 playing it, for the record).

However, my radio then told me that this track was not available for purchase. OK – as PURE say, not all tracks you hear on the radio you’ll be able to buy. FlowSongs uses 7Digital’s ‘backend’ to sell the songs legally and the catalogue’s pretty good. It even sells Synchronicity II by The Police, so something didn't work perfectly there. But hey - giving them the benefit of the doubt, it's still in Beta I guess!

So I tagged a few more songs on a range of DAB and stations streaming online. And sure enough, the tagging worked every time and when I fancied some Hip-Hop, I was reliably informed that I was now listening to NAS and ‘Made you Look’ on New York’s ‘HOT 97’.

When I tried the ‘purchase’ function it was actually really easy and within seconds whilst listening to Kiss 100, I’d tagged and downloaded ‘Stereo Love’ by Vika Jigulina and Edward Maya, and was playing it directly on my Sensia. The track was also available to download onto my laptop, and pull across to any portable device that I wanted.

So, all in all... so far so good. It seems to work pretty well and for the occasions that I hear a track that I like and don’t know, I can tag it and buy it. Or as the marketing says “Hear It, Buy It, Love It”.

The real question is, will it replace iTunes as my default choice for legally purchasing all my music online? Well... no it won’t.

Despite being a cool bit of technology, it’s still a bit fiddly to work with the Sensia screen. Plus there’s an annual subscription of £2.99 just for privilege of tagging and ID’ing songs (which is to apparently to pay for the Shazam licence). Will I pay that after my 90 day trial period is up? Not sure yet!
Also, I’d prefer to ‘pay per song’ downloaded instead of pre-loading the account with multiples of £10. Likewise, I have to wait for a song to come on the radio in order to tag it and then buy it. I can’t just go to their online store to use my credit up. Finally, as I use an iPhone the integration is seamless, and that’s the one big advantage it has.

Will it encourage me to purchase the odd song spontaneously whist listening to the radio? Probably, yes.

Is it a clever use of radio and IP. Certainly.

Will the whole country be rushing out to get a PURE radio equipped with Flow technology this weekend?

We shall see!

Friday, 13 August 2010

"Can You Kick It?" - Absolute Football

The Premiership football season in the UK starts again this weekend, and there’s something slightly different about it this year. Not only will you be able to hear live commentary of certain matches on BBC 5Live and TalkSport, but there’s a new player on the pitch. Absolute Radio.

Absolute Radio has won the rights to broadcast Barclays Premier League football commentary as part of a three year deal that kicks off this weekend. The station will bring live commentary from 32 exclusive Premiership matches during the 2010/11 season.

So – there are a few things to discuss here...

1 - Does adding football commentary to a music radio station blur to definition of the brand, or add another exciting dynamic to it?
2 - Has the strategy to launch an additional DAB channel, Absolute Radio Extra, to host to the commentary, and the 'split output' been effectively communicated so far?
3 - Will it work, both in terms of audience and revenue?

Let’s deal with the ‘brand’ thing first. Absolute Radio is a music radio station first and foremost. But there are 3 additional factors here. First, it’s a music radio station aimed at men, who traditionally are likely to enjoy football more. Second, it’s a station that has driven the concept of providing ‘entertainment’ in all sorts of forms, particularly in the digital space. And finally, the station has a long connection and heritage with ‘football as entertainment’, with the “Rock n Roll Football” brand being invented by Chris Evans back in the old Virgin Radio days. (The ordering of the 'Saturday afternoon take-away' on air was always a highlight!)

So adding football to the mix on Absolute Radio seems to be a perfectly logical thing to do, and in my view, it falls well within the brand boundaries of the station, and certainly adds a new dynamic to it, and will potentially drive some new listening, as well driving more brand awareness through natural talkability amongst fans.

Regarding the communication strategy... I was slightly confused about how to listen to be honest. I know from listening to the station over the last week, that live commentary is happening on Saturday, but it won’t be on 105.8FM or the national DAB signal I listen to. However, there is the usual Rock ‘n’ Roll football show from 3pm on those channels (Music and goal flashes etc). If I want to hear the live commentary, I need to tune to 1215AM, or listen to Absolute Radio Extra (a new DAB station), from 1:30pm, where I’ll hear commentary of Aston Villa v West Ham, presumably with a 90 minute build up. Then from 5pm, I can hear new signing, Ian Wright’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Football for 90 minutes, which presumably will be similar to 5Live’s ‘606’ show... comment, analysis, phone-calls etc. This, however, will not only be on Absolute Radio Extra, but on 105.8FM and the Absolute radio national DAB channel. Still following?

As one presenter said on air yesterday, "You need a flow chart to follow what’s going on!" I’m not sure if enough has been done to explain this all to listeners, or if it will just naturally fall in to place? I believe that real fans actively ‘seek out’ live commentary, so if a Villa fan tuned in to 105.8FM and couldn’t hear their team’s game, I’m sure they would try and work out where it was. Plus, I’m believe it will be heavily cross promoted at the time. E.g. “For those of you wanting live commentary, re-tune now to our sister station etc...”. After all, it works for BBC 5Live Sports Extra quite well. But even today, I heard some talk up of the commentary, and no mention was made of the fact that I will need to retune waveband or find it on another DAB station etc.

So, finally... will adding football commentary work in terms of audience and revenue

In terms of revenue, having unique content that can drive a decent sponsor is always a great starting point, and the Premier League comes from the top drawer of content (even if they are the 2nd pick of Saturday afternoon matches). So it’s a no brainer for Sky Sports to sponsor the live commentary Rock ‘n’ Roll Football, and all the pre and post match shows as well as having an online presence. (They’re doing the same on TalkSport). This will bring in a healthy amount of revenue to Absolute. The price the station paid for the rights hasn’t been made public as far as I can tell, but presumably the sums add up to make it a worthwhile enterprise, as well as the invisible value it brings to the station. Will their notorious transparency extent to letting us know how much they paid for the rights? ;-)

In terms of audience, we shall see. Commentaries are a funny thing, as they tend to drive loyalists to those teams, but don’t always attract the masses. Splitting the output may well be the wisest thing to do, as there’s now a choice consumers can make. Football... or with music! We shall see this time next year how much of an impact it makes, however I suspect that this is not all about pure ‘generic reach’. It’s about the value of a listener that has a deeper connection with specialist content... and that’s worth a lot more to advertisers.

So – I look forward to hearing the coverage this weekend, as we’ve been promised "an alternative style of football commentary", and the commentator, Jim Proudfoot, is a really excellent communicator on radio. (Believe it or not, he used to read the sports bulletins when I was on the radio about a hundred years ago!!)

Good luck to all the team at Absolute Radio this weekend. Let’s hope they get a home win / score goals with the audience / are top of the ratings table / bag 3 points every week... **insert your own footballing cliché here!**

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

A Passage To India

My whistlestop tour of two of India’s great cities, Delhi and Mumbai is over and I’m happy to report that commercial radio is thriving, and the passion for the medium in the country is undeniable.

I’m working with the ‘TV Today Network’ who are probably most famous in India for their Indian News Channel ‘Aaj Tak’, but the company owns a host of other TV networks, along with a large magazine and publishing empire (including the India Today magazine), as well as a radio business.

The network of 7 existing radio stations across the country are about to be re-launched with a new brand hitting the airwaves over the next few weeks.

Working alongside their RJ’s, producers, imaging staff and music programmers in advance of the launch was a real treat, as the level of creativity and energy that they all possessed was enormous.

One of the key things that came out of all the sessions was the need to “keep things simple”. In an over communicated world, we are bombarded with all sorts of content and messaging than ever before. Just as an example, when I arrived in India, I read in The Times of India that Indians are sent over 100 Million junk SMS’s per day, advertising all sorts of different things! The amount of “stuff” that’s just circulating around is phenomenal, and in a country like India, that’s only ever going to grow.

Therefore, cutting through the clutter is more important than ever, and a radio station that offers ‘simplicity in complex world’ is something that has a chance of finding a space to breathe and grow.

Sure... the new station will play great music, and have great RJ’s... but being concise and clear in all forms of communication is something that I confident will help the station to slowly carve out a niche for itself, and it’s something that we worked hard on during my time with the teams in both Delhi and Mumbai.

It was my first trip to India, and I was enthralled by its media, particularly it’s TV rolling news channels, however it’s a sign of the times that the world is becoming a much smaller place with the same familiar formats being repackaged for a new domestic audience. (I’m sure I wouldn’t complain if I held the rights!)

Radio in India is fresh and exciting... and I can’t wait to go back!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Indian Summer

One of the most interesting things about being a radio consultant is the opportunity to find out about how a particualr country’s radio industry is set up and operates. So, I’m looking forward to getting on a flight to India later today to work with a new client on a network relaunch, and find out a little more about their thriving radio industry.

Some of my colleagues in the world of radio consulting and research have had, and still have great clients out there, so it’s been fun hearing their stories, good and bad, not only about the radio industry but also just going about ‘doing business’ in India. Sure, there’s a little bit more paperwork than normal... but so far so good!

Everything I’ve seen and read makes it out to be the most fascinating of places and, although I’m only spending a week there, I’m going to try and soak up of much of it as I can and also learn as much about the Indian radio industry as possible in a short space of time. If there's one thing for sure, a country of 1.2 Billion people needs lots of radio stations!

I’ll be working in both Delhi and Mumbai, so I get to squeeze in 2 big cities while I’m there. (I’ll try and take a few interesting pictures and update the blog whilst in India, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to top the artistic heights set by another ‘radio traveller’ friend of mine)

One radio-related statistic that I was told which, if correct, I find staggering... is that up to 40% of listening to radio occurs on mobile phones! It’s differences like this that make the role of advising stations in different countries so interesting and challenging.

And I’m very much looking forward to the challenge. And the curry!

>Photo: James Cridland

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Made in Birmingham

Lots of people are very proud of the city they were either born in or live in. Cities have heritage... they have an identity... and have a story to tell. People are quite tribal by nature, and like to associate themselves with a particular clan or group, and are rightly proud of their roots. Cities also tend to have things that they are famous for. For Liverpool, the city I was born in and grew up in, it’s ‘football’ and The Beatles. Not bad.

Becoming part of the ‘fabric of a city’ is something which can only be built up over time. With any luck, a local radio station can also be a part of that fabric... that DNA of a place that makes it so unique, and hopefully a great location to live and work in.

Trading on the heritage of a city and what makes it special, is a theme that Birmingham station ‘BRMB’ in the UK has done with its “Made in Birmingham” positioning and campaign. BRMB launched in February 1974, so I think it’s qualifies as old enough to trade off being a part of the fabric of Birmingham!

They’ve just produced a nice piece of marketing which places the station alongside other famous Birmingham ‘products’ and places the city as ‘the place where great things begin’.

It’s fun, very local, and at a time when much of the UK’s local radio is in an undergoing major heart surgery and slowly being dismantled piece by piece, it’s good to see a station and brand that’s proud to be local.

In a media world where global mega-brands are born, grow up in a matter of years, and sometimes disappear as quickly, it’s reassuringly comforting when a familiar name is around for a little while, hopefully giving the same quality as it did all those years ago. It’s hard for radio brand to trade off its heritage yet convince new listeners “it’s not the old fashioned station your mum used to listen to, but a modern version of it!”

But I think BRMB are managing it. ‘Made in Birmingham’ connects with local listeners, and surely that’s what it’s all about.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Passion 1 - Mediocrity 0

Passion is a wonderful thing. Combine the passion felt for a football team... add a person from a infamously passionate country, and then broadcast it on a medium the excells at being able to convey that passion to it's audience... radio. What do you get?

The Spanish radio commentary of when Iniesta slotted home the winning goal in the World Cup 2010 against Holland.

A passionate radio moment!


Passion in radio is good.

Baby You Can Drive My Car...

Outside Broadcasts on Breakfast / Morning Shows can sometimes be a bit hit and miss. But what about doing it from the hosts house?

Well - if you have a great reason, and a garage full of the most valuable cars in the world that you're going to let listeners drive, and the resources of the BBC... to make it all work... then why not?

Here's a great summary of the 'Drive and Dine 2010' Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2, live from Chris Evans house in the beautiful Berkshire countryside.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

5 Years On...

It’s 5 years ago today that terrorists attacked London.

I remember that day really well... getting on the Bakerloo Underground line at around 8am, passing through Edgware Road, to hop over to Piccadilly Circus and then the short walk up to Leicester Square, where I was working at Capital FM as Programme Director. It was a beautiful day and London was on a high after just being awarded the 2012 Olympics the day before.

I was in the radio station around 8:30am and was preparing for the day ahead. I wondered over to the newsroom just before 9am, where the news editor at the time, Matthew Schofield, was looking a little concerned. He’d just had reports in of smoke being seen coming from an underground station. At first it was thought to be an electrical fault, with a related fire, but as the minutes slowly ticked by, the true horror of that day slowly started to unfold.

As the nature of what was happening became apparent, the whole team at the station swung into action with a kind of reflex that is shown at times of crisis by true radio professionals. Reporters dispatched themselves across London, taking considerable risks, as no-one was aware of the extent of the threat at that stage. Were there more bombs to come? No one knew.

Within minutes we had correspondents live at various different points across the capital feeding eye witness information and describing minute by minute, what was happening. Then the listeners kicked in with their stories... and they were a massive help in piecing together what was a jumble of facts and rumour at that stage. Every available team member was answering phones, recording, editing, putting calls through to the studio. It was an amazing sight. The whole programming staff felt the gravity of the situation, knew this was unchartered water, but at the same time instinctively knew what to do. It was incredible to be a part of.

Here’s an extract from the day, quite early on in the morning, with one eye-witness describing the scene of the explosion on the bus;


And at 10:30am, Capital FM went ‘all speech’ and simulcast with other London stations Xfm, Choice FM and Capital Gold, as the need to provide Londoners with the best possible information regarding a very fast-changing situation became the over-riding concern.

From then on until 8pm, there was nothing but news. No music, no ads, no interruptions, just a constant flow of information as the facts started to emerge. It was the only thing to do, and throughout the day we even got reports of the emergency services on the ground, not knowing the full extent of the attack, sitting in their vehicles tuned into Capital for the very latest. That day, it felt we had a really important role to play, and the sense of responsibility became very tangible. It’s a very different feeling to playing pop records, I can assure you.

For days following the terrorist attacks, we received a huge amount of emails and calls praising the coverage. That’s a very humbling experience when you realise you’ve done something that has helped people enormously at a time of real panic across a city, and something you don’t get every day if you work in a commercial radio station.

I remember one email in particular. It was from a woman who was working in the centre of London. She’d been using the Underground only minutes before the attacks and this had really shook her up. For hours, she couldn’t reach her boyfriend who was also working in the centre of London, because the mobile phone system went into meltdown.

She stayed glued to the radio all morning to hear what was going on. Eventually they made contact and he was OK, and had made his was back out of the centre of London and headed home. As all the transport was down for the rest of the day, there was an enormous exodus of people on foot heading out of the West End in the afternoon , crossing the bridges, looking for a way back home.

This particular women said she had to walk for several miles, but fortunately she had a portable radio with her and plugged her headphones in to keep listening to Capital on the long walk back. She still felt frightened, shocked and very confused as to why this had happened, but in her email thanking us for the coverage, she paid a lovely compliment. She said that walking home listening to Capital was like “walking home with a friend”.

So 5 years on, not only do I pause to remember the 52 innocent people who lost their lives in the attacks, but I also remember with great pride the hard work done by a really dedicated team of radio professionals at Capital FM who kept London informed at a time when information was the thing listeners strived for most.

I felt the true power of radio that day.

The Programming team on July 7th 2005 consisted of...

News Editor: Matthew Schofield
Content Directors: Sheena Mason, Annie O’ Neill and myself
Producers: Nathan Freeman, Stephen MacKay, Becky Rogers, Jamie Scott, Richard Spencer, Rich Steel & Jo Stoller
Presenters: Richard Bacon, Neil Bentley, James Cannon, Gareth Roberts and Matthew Schofield
Reporters: Hugh Broom, Paddy Bunce, Tracey Spurrier and Margherita Taylor
Journalists: Olly Barratt, James Keates, Andre Morgan, Debbie Ramsay and Tony Shepherd

Friday, 25 June 2010

"There's something rockin' in the State of Denmark..."

I've always been a fan of radio stations getting behind the national footbal team at times of World Cups and Euros etc... and what better way than to stage screenings in iconic locations. So, here's a picture of the 'Town Hall Square' in Copenhagen last night as Denmark had their 'do or die' match against Japan. This is 'the' place where large crowds gather for big event and things like New Year's Eve etc... and is the Danish equivalent of Trafalgar Square if you want a UK comparison! Over 35,000 fans were entertained with live music, and DJ's from the Radio 100FM team hosted the whole thing. Brilliant event. Shame about the result of the match if you're Danish!

Absolute Adolf...


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Enjoy The Silence

Here's a nice bit of fun, entertaining and topical video content from client station Kronehit in Austria, and their Morning Show.

What can make a Vuvuzela quieter?

Friday, 11 June 2010

May The Force Be With You...

Regular readers of the blog will know we like to highlight and celebrate great creativity, wherever and in whatever form or medium it appears in. So to mark the start of the World Cup today, here's probably the best current World Cup football related TV ad. And my choice has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a massive Star Wars fan...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Summertime Mash-Up

Well done to all the team at Capital FM who delivered a great show at Wembley Stadium at the weekend. There are lots of videos, pictures, interviews etc on the website, which is well worth a look. In the meantime, this is getting quite a lot of attention at the moment - it's a mash-up of all the artists that appeared at the Summertime Ball. Great idea and really well executed by DJ Earworm!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

"Adjust the bass, and let the Alpine blast..."

'Happy June' everyone... and 'Happy Summertime' I guess!

As summer slowly approaches, so do the series of radio station events. In the UK, we’ve already had BBC Radio 1’s One Big Weekend, which showcased the might (and resources) of the BBC in all its glory. And a great job they did too.

Next is the turn of Capital FM’s Summertime Ball, which takes place on Sunday 6th June at Wembley Stadium. The line-up is great. Usher, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Cheryl Cole, Ke$ha and “many many more!” as they say...

Here’s a nice thing I noticed that dropped into my email box...

It’s from Capital FM, but basically a promo message from the sponsors, which is a leading UK online clothes and fashion retailer. The email invites me to get the Summertime Ball look and buy the clothes to make me look more like my idols! I can then choose the Usher look, or the Beiber look or even the Dizzee look!

Now, if you’re 15 and going along to this gig, then you’d probably want to look your best and get some new clothes etc, so it’s a great piece of direct marketing from the show sponsor to encourage listeners to visit the store and buy some new clobber. (Maybe it’s a week too late allowing for delivery times etc?)

The email links through to the Capital FM site and then I can click on the item I like, and it takes my directly to the site where I can buy it.

Perhaps they could have gone a step further and put together a mini Summertime Ball section on with all the different looks and clothes. There is a festival section mentioning everything from Lollapalooza to Roskilde, but no obvious link with Capital and the Summertime Ball except for a competition to win tickets which is tucked away somewhere. However, the sponsor presence on is really strong.

So – there we go. A nice example of offering a sponsor some ‘added value’ and linking the sponsor of an event with the actual event itself in a clear and relateable way.

Just waiting for my Justin Beiber style “Jersey Zip Through Hoody” to arrive and I’ll be all set for Sunday!

Monday, 24 May 2010

"Because Your Station Is Worth It..."

As we're getting closer to the World Cup, radio stations in those countries involved in the action are plotting their different ways of reflecting the excitement, fun and national pride that the tournament generates.

One piece of imaging caught my ear last week. It's from BBC Radio 5 Live (I know... I must stop writing about them!)

Imaging Producer, Stephen Mackay, and the rest of the team there have recuited the voice of Stuart Hall (familiar to those in the UK) and written some real stand out pieces of production that just grab your attention because the set up is very different.

When I emailed Stephen asked about the promo, he said that they've gone for the 'off the wall' approach and are going to "...up the weirdness as we get closer to the tournament!"

I look forward to that. But in the meantime, enjoy this short piece of imaging and the very creative approach they have taken to hook you in the the subject.

Funny stuff...

Thursday, 13 May 2010

How To Increase Your Ratings In One Easy Step...

I’ve cracked it. The thing we’ve all be searching for, for all this time. It’s called “How to increase your ratings in one easy step!”

Here is the step.

1. Announce that the station may be closing
2. Err... that’s it!

There will be outcry that the much beloved ‘jewel on the radio dial’ would be sorely missed. Campaigns will be started, Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags will be in surplus and all the kerfuffle will cause a massive surge of interest in your station.

Economic theory shows us that often when something is in short supply, then demand increases. So, more and more people will then tune in to see what they’re about to lose, and hey presto... ratings increase by 50%!!

‘Surely some sort of drug fuelled fantasy caused by an overload of rolling news and too many late nights Nik’... I hear you say? Well – no... not really. Look at the following graph I borrowed from the lovely Media UK.

Those of you not familiar with BBC 6 Music, it’s a national DAB station playing an eclectic mix of new music and cooler classics. The BBC have threatened to close it as I’ve talked about it on this blog before. And hey presto... after the announcement, the latest figures out this week, show a huge rise is both listening share and reach. The ratings have rocketed!

So there we go. How to increase your ratings in one easy step!

**Disclaimer – Do NOT try this at your radio station. Your radio station may be at risk if you do not keep up investment in content or fail to apply appropriate levers to generate audience.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Don't Mention the 'E' word!!

If you tune in to any UK radio station today (particularly from abroad to hear about the General Election) you may think that we're a bunch of very untopical and disconnected people, hardly bothering to mention the election at all. Well, just so you know, the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (the UK broadcasting regulator) forbids all broadcasters to discuss the election on election day itself. There are all sorts of other election laws in the UK that relate to broadcasting. Here are the relevent bits of the Ofcom Code...

6.4 Discussion and analysis of election and referendum issues must finish when the poll opens. (This refers to the opening of actual polling stations. This rule does not apply to any poll conducted entirely by post.)

6.5 Broadcasters may not publish the results of any opinion poll on polling day itself until the election or referendum poll closes. (For European Parliamentary elections, this applies until all polls throughout the European Union have closed.)

As you can imagine, press and the internet and not so tightly regulated, so it's a bit of a free for all in that area, but all us responsible people (!) in TV and Radio try and abide by the rules. How very British of us! Good sense of fairplay and all that...

It's quite funny really. We're at the peak of election fever, you can't really talk about it other than mentioning that the polls are open!
I will be popping along to my local Polling Station later to cast my vote later. It seems quite quaint that it's in my village hall, next to the village pub about 100m away from my office, where I'm typing this blog from now! All very Enid Blyton and not very high tech / 2010 at all!

Fear not however if you're feeling starved of coverage. Come 10pm and there will be an explosion of 'Icelandic Volcano' proportions from all media outlets declaring that... well... we'll see!

Friday, 30 April 2010

"My name's Nik and I'm an addict..."

I have a confession to make. I think I’m an addict. Not to crack or ‘Meow Meow’. No... something far more addictive. It’s BBC Radio 5 Live.

Maybe it’s down to the UK General Election and the natural amount of news that is circulating as a result of that, or perhaps it was the recent volcanic ash cloud and the ability of radio to really convey the changing nature of the story minute by minute, but I’ve probably spent more time with 5 Live than any other station over the last few weeks.

For those of you not resident in the UK or not familiar with it, let me try and explain what it does.

• It’s a speech station
• It’s main areas are News and Sport
• It also covers entertainment and popular culture
• It’s not stuffy
• It’s very conversational
• It doesn’t always rely on the ‘phone in’ as its main tool
• It has a sense of humour
• It employs some of the best speech broadcasters in the UK
• It has appointment to listen programmes
• It’s broadcast on Medium Wave (!) which is how most listeners hear it, but never mentions this fact on air!
• It’s also available on DAB, online, and all the other platforms too...
• It’s bloody good! Sorry - did I already mention that?

I have a lot of conversations with stations at the moment about how the ‘speech content’ is more and more important as a weapon to a music station these days than ever before. So my appetite for speech stations has grown considerably over the last few years, so perhaps that explains the current love affair with 5 Live.

But I thought I would cheat a little bit on my new found love the other day when I travelling in the car, and tuned into London speech station LBC 97.3, where James Whale was doing the afternoon show live from Bristol where the 2nd Leaders Debate was happening that night. Nice move to put the show in town, but after about 5 minutes of a pretty good interview with William Hague, the show went rapidly downhill with some formulaic callers and then the mother of all technical cock ups where presenter could not hear callers, but callers were on air and then the engineering talk-back went loudly into the headphones, bleeding on air, putting off James even further, until eventually the talk back actually went live in air! (It gets funny from about 4:40pm onwards and it was last Thursday 22nd April if you have access to a London station logger!)

Now, the point of telling you this was not to put a downer on LBC. Nick Ferrari at Breakfast is a great broadcaster and knows his audience very well and really connects with them fantastically on a daily basis, as do many of their other presenters. The point was to point out how difficult really great speech radio is to do and then to heap large amounts of praise on 5 Live, saying that they get it right, day in, day out.

Now, before you cry foul, I know they have “jacuzzis of cash” and a huge team to make it work, but I’m delighted they do, and as a listener I enjoy every bit of it. From 5 Live Breakfast to Richard Bacon, from Danny Baker to Tony Livsey, and from Fighting Talk to Simon Mayo’s Movie Reviews. It’s all good.

It’s far too easy for us who work in the industry to be overly critical when listening to the radio and give opinions on how things could be done differently or done 'far better’... but sometimes we don’t take time out to give praise where praise is due. So I thought it would be nice to do that once in a while, and this is blatantly one of those occasions. (Maybe it's the sunshine or the bank holiday 'feelgood' vibe that has gone to my head!)

I’ve never worked for 5 Live, but I know a couple of people who do. I hope they’re having as much fun working at the station as I’m having listening to it currently.

Happy weekend!

Thursday, 29 April 2010

'Brown Underpants' Moment on BBC Radio 2

If you're looking for a good reason as to why you should always have cameras rolling when you have big name guests in your radio studio, this is it...

So... if you haven't got the kit already, go and get your engineer to worke out a tech solution to allow at least one 'locked off' camera in a single position, with an easy way of capturing audio and video from the guest. You never know what you might capture!

And it may just change the course of history!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"Classic Tracks and Today's Best Shaving..."

On the plane back from the conference I was speaking at in Lisbon last week, I opened the locally printed version of The Daily Mail (it was the only paper they had and not my regular choice of paper... honest!) and I came across this ad.

Nice to see a bit of marketing for radio station, even if it is pretty basic. These days it’s kinda rare to see any radio station running press ads!!

I actually went online to Central FM and tuned in. (Shame the positioning statement on the website doesn’t match the marketing however...)

I listened for 10 minutes out of interest... and the DJ was doing a promotion for a device that extends the life of your razor blade. Basically, if you use this device, apparently you can get over 100 shaves from just 1 blade. It was nice to see they’d extended the activity online, and had pictures of the DJ’s and a count of how many shaves they’d had from just 1 blade each etc.

But blimey... this link went on forever and ever, and I felt like I was listening to a TV shopping channel. “Undue prominence”? Ofcom would have had a field day if it was in the UK!

From what started out as a bit of interesting promotional content that I was actually genuinely intrigued about, I ended up hating the brand and never wanting to hear about it again, and promising to myself to grow a beard in protest.

Moral of the story... Don’t think you’re doing a favour for your clients by overselling their product or brand. It’s a turn off and actually does more damage than good.

By the way Central FM, there are far better records by The Hoosiers to play than Cops and Robbers! :-)

Monday, 29 March 2010

Absolute Classic Rock - 'The Great British Guarantee'.

UK station 'Absolute Classic Rock' relaunched today with a rather nice music propostition. At the start of every hour, every day, they'll play some great British songs back to back. They call it 'The Great British Guarantee'.

I tuned in today to take a quick listen, and sure enough... at the top of hour I got The Who, Billy Idol, David Bowie and Genesis. Very nice and very British.
It's true that British Classic Rock is a very definitive genre and hangs together well regardless of the era that it's from. You can easily draw a line from The Kinks to Blur, from The Beatles to Oasis and from David Bowie to... well, to everyone!
The interesting question to ask is why this move has taken place? I guess we can assume that analysis of research over recent years has shown that British Classic Rock has proved particularly popular in terms of artists and songs, and also as a 'cultural definer'. There's something about the ongoing 'coolness' of bands like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin that make a station playing old rock records seem relevant in a contemporary radio offering.

I wonder if there's an attempt to differentiate between Absolute Classic Rock and Planet Rock, the other commercial Classic Rock station that's available nationwide on DAB.
As a very crude experiment, I randomly listened to 3 'Top of Hour' songs from Planet Rock last week. I got Nirvana, Kiss and Pearl Jam... all US bands. Coincidence? Luck of the draw? Or do Planet Rock have a more US skew which Absolute are trying to provide an alternative to? Alice Cooper on Breakfast is great... but is just very American!

The listening figures show Planet Rock reach 698,000 listeners every week, whilst Absolute Classic Rock reach 217,000. So there's certainly some room for Absolute to grow in the Classic Rock space.

And perhaps playing more British Classic Rock is the key.

Rock on!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Radiodays Europe - Rewind

The first ever ‘Radiodays Europe’ took place last week in Copenhagen. Designed to fill the gap left by the increasingly redundant NAB Europe, it provided a fresh perspective to many of the issues being discussed right around Europe. The conference was really well attended with more than 400 delegates from over 30 countries.

So what did we all glean from this orgy of European radio chit-chat?

Well, I think it’s fair to say that one of the main themes was addressing how radio evolves in an integrated media world, where there are multiple platforms for content consumption. Radio is at a huge crossroads and this was communicated passionately and eloquently by Tim Davie, Head of BBC Audio and Music, who quite easily dismissed the notion that radio has no option but to seek a digital future. It can’t be the only medium just to bury its head in the sand and pretend FM will do just fine thank you very much.

Many, including myself, agree completely, but there are always a few nay-sayers. When even the Book industry is turning to digital delivery and technologies, it’s time for us all in radio to embrace the digital future.

The debate about which technologies will become dominant is somewhat immaterial, as the most vital thing for radio is quality content... a sentiment echoing throughout the conference. Quality radio needs to be available to our listeners on as many platforms as possible and making it easy for listeners to find and enjoy our content is the next big challenge.

The UK Radio Player, an initiative between BBC and Commercial radio got a good reaction when demonstrated, but talk in the corridors was very much ‘we couldn’t get that kind of collaboration in our country’. Well, guess what? You can! It just takes the each domestic radio industry to try and put aside short term differences and focus on the long term survival of radio, let alone growth. Short termism would be a nail in the coffin of radio.

The topic of visualising radio as well as interacting with audiences via social networks was also discussed in many sessions. There is no doubt that devices in future will all have screens and we need to put something on them, so working on solutions is important. There are already lots of great examples out there of good work in this field. Videoing great bits of audio content and putting them online for a deeper listener experience is NOT bad TV. It’s something completely different, and again, some Luddite radio purists said that they never want to see a camera in radio studio in order to preserve the ‘magic’ of radio. Well, I’m afraid the world has moved on and radio is a bit different these days. “Play Misty For Me” was 1971!!

There was great case studies and stories of radio using social networking to get a richer experience for listeners and to spread the brand and content from it to a wider public. I think a lot of stations will be revisiting their Facebook strategies after hearing some of the presentations last week... and quite right too. It’s a massive tool in the battle for ‘share of ear’.

And finally, let me mention Rachel Mallender and Marc Haberland from BBC Radio 1 and 104.6 RTL Berlin. They both over see their respective breakfast / morning shows and shared the secrets to success in a really entertaining session that I produced and hosted. Everyone was surprised that RTL has up to 16 people working on the morning show! Investing in content in the morning has resulted in a very successful show being on the air for 19 years!

Moyles has done nearly 7... and realistically won’t get to 19 years on Radio 1... but it was great to hear Rachel share her thoughts and talk so passionately about producing the breakfast show which is such a well-oiled machine these days. Hopefully everyone enjoyed the session as much as I did!

So, overall I think it’s fair to say Radiodays Europe was extremely well received. Conferences can sometimes be a bit dull... (well, they can can’t they!) but this was an important gathering at a key time for the radio industry in Europe which actually addressed many of the hot topics. We sometime forget that we have more in common than divides us, and sharing best practise and discussing the issues is one of the best ways to create a bright future for us all.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

BBC 6 Music and Asian Network Face The Chop

The media is changing before our very eyes. Traditional media is drastically re-thinking its business model. New media is being outsmarted by ‘newer media’. Social networking is now a major source of information and entertainment. And radio is striving to stay relevant, connected and mass market.

In the midst of this, the world’s greatest broadcasting corporation, the BBC, has to navigate and chart a course that balances public service, quality programming making and journalism, value for money, political pressure, and viewer and listener benefit.

The BBC’s ‘land grab’ into digital during the last decade was, strategically the right thing to do. Move, and move fast or risk being left behind; the symbol of a bygone era... an ‘IBM’ in a Google world.

So a raft of digital networks, both TV and radio, were created and the investment online was spectacular.

This was at a time when most commercial rivals, in all media, were doing well. And although some voices were raised, the opposition was not too vocal.

Fast forward to 2010, and the world is a very different place. The BBC has grown bigger and bigger, and concurrently, commercial rivals are being challenged like never before, many with declining audiences and declining revenues. The BBC had just got too big in many people’s eyes.

Read their annual report to see the scope of its work (and read the budgets, if you really want to bring a tear to your eye!)

So the announcement yesterday by Director General Mark Thompson of a Strategic Review into BBC services was always going to be met with some sort of reaction. After all, in the UK, we all feel we “own” the BBC and have a close personal relationship to it. It’s ‘our’ BBC. And due to the licence fee UK citizens pay, it’s all funded by us. So everyone has a sense of ownership, more than with, say a brand like ITV, or Sky.

The headlines tended to focus on stuff that’s going to close, which brings me to BBC 6 Music and Asian Network. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are 2 national UK radio stations available on DAB, Online, Digital TV etc.

A quick look at the numbers for you; BBC 6 Music has a weekly reach of 695,000 and 0.4% market share. In 2009, BBC 6 Music costs £9 Million pounds to operate.

BBC Asian Network has a weekly reach of 360,000 and 0.2% market share. In 2009 BBC Asian Network cost £12.1 Million to operate.

Many in the commercial radio across the world will baulk at these figures. It’s no doubt that these networks aren’t exactly cheap to run! Could or should they perform better given the budgets? Or is that missing the point? Are we so obsessed with numbers and performance we forget that the BBC is meant to be a cultural body, safeguarding and feeding our cultural needs in the UK, whatever they may be.

It’s a nice sentiment, but the BBC doesn’t operate in a complete vacuum and has to function in a market environment, even though it has guaranteed funding.

(By the way, BBC Radio 1 cost £43 Million to operate in 2009, and Radio 2 almost £51 Million! Nice.)

So, why axe BBC 6 Music and Asian Network? It seems the answer is that the BBC feel that much of what 6 Music does could be incorporated by Radio 1 and Radio 2, which I actually believe to be true. It would certainly make those channels even more distinctive, and the crossover with commercial radio even less.

Likewise trying to group all Asians together and provide a UK radio station for them was always going to be a challenge, and the BBC believe that it can serve the Asian community better by more targeted programming through local radio, TV and online, which is probably true. The fact that neither of the stations were performing very well is true, but should not be the main argument for closing them down. They do become more of a target however, due to their low performance and high operating costs.

The BBC can’t be seen to grow to large. And it has. So it’s trying to do something about it. And fair play to them.

The reaction to the proposed closure of BBC 6 Music is unsurprising. The vast majority of its fans will be educated, highly computer literate, socially networked, and independently minded. The ‘Twitterati’ have sprung into action, so a visible and sustained campaign to keep it open will now follow.

I’m less certain how the majority Asian Network listeners will feel as it’s harder to define a ‘tribe’ that isn’t united by music or attitude, but rather defined by which continent their motherland was. However, nobody wants their favourite radio station to close down, so I’m sure the passion is there too.

So, do BBC 6 Music and Asian Network do some great programming? Yes... no doubt. Are the networks too costly to run? You bet. If they close, can some of their output feature on BBC platforms? Probably... yes. Will commercial radio benefit from their closure? Not greatly. Is there an over-reaction to the closure of 2 DAB stations? Undoubtedly – but they are ‘BBC’, so that’s expected!

The strategy review is now out to a 12 week consultation, and it’s the BBC Trust will ultimately decide the fate of these 2 radio services. You can have your say too, and if you feel strongly enough, I’m sure they’d welcome your thoughts. Just click here.

If these stations do close, I’m not overly concerned that the cultural backbone of the UK will wither and die. It won’t. I’m actually more interested in reminding everyone that these stations are staffed by a whole load of talented radio guys and girls that may lose their jobs at the BBC, and even their passion for radio. And that’s one of the sad consequences of all of this.

The media world has never seen a more turbulent time than now.

Good luck Auntie.

Monday, 1 March 2010

3 Things To Remember...

Programme Directors often place signs in the studio to remind their presenters of some of the key style points they need to remember when they open the microphone.

I particularly liked this one taken at Capital recently...

Extra points for guessing which DJ's Facebook page I stole the image from!!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

The BRITS 2010... in Danish!

It's the BRITS tonight in London, and Radio 100FM in Denmark are airing the whole show live and unedited, as it happens, from 21:00 CET, with a 2 hour warm up show runing from 19:00 CET.

I will be on standby, on Messenger, providing explanation of any overtly British jokes by host, Peter Kay... so their true comedy value can be appreciated by the Danish audience!

If you want to hear how it's promoted in Danish... take a listen to the promo...


Even without the translation, you get the idea.

'Big up' to the guys at Somethin Else for facilitating it all. It's nice dealing with professionals!

Monday, 15 February 2010

"Welcome to the show..."

Want a little laugh on a Monday? You may have seen this reported last week (and heard the audio) but in case you haven't... here it is!

Model and all round 'action-girl' Jodie Kidd was sitting in for Lisa Snowdon on the Capital Breakfast Show with Johnny Vaughan last week.

The weather finishes, and the Top of Hour jingle fires at 6am, and listeners were treated to this...
Not much to say really is there? Telling your listeners to 'fuck off' is certainly a fun and entertaining way to start a show! And I'm not sure there was a technical problem... the mic was working perfectly when Jodie started talking. ;-)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Reach or Share?

If you looked at last week’s RAJAR figures released in the UK, and perhaps read a few of the press releases, you may have been slightly confused as to who is Number 1 in London?

Well – nothing’s changed insofar as the devil is in the detail and if you’re doing well in one metric you shout about that... and if you’re doing well in another, you shout about that.

Magic 105.4 are number 1 commercial station in share, with 6.1% and Heart 106.2 are number 1 commercial station in reach, with 1.881 Million listeners a week

And although they don’t shout about it as much, as they’re perhaps a little more restrained about such crass self-promotion (due to the “unique way they’re funded”) BBC Radio 4 are actually the number 1 station in London in both share and reach, with 14.7% share and 2.380 Million listeners a week.

At breakfast time, Capital have the largest breakfast show with 1.231 Million listeners whilst nationally, Terry Wogan’s much publicised last quarter delivered 8.102 Million listeners.

The biggest surprise was the growth of London talk station LBC, which has overtaken Capital and Heart to become Number 2 commercial station in share terms, with a highly respectable 5.7%. There’s no doubt that LBC is the star performer and gets the teachers 'Gold Star'!

So what can we glean from all this?

Capital’s current format is always going to deliver stronger reach than share. CHR always tends to do that, due to the deliberately repetitive nature of things. The average hours of 5.5 a week are actually pretty good. But Capital has historically always been about reach, so that’s the most important metric for that station I believe. Remember...reach before revenue!

Heart’s format should allow it to generate more average hours and 5.7 a week feels a tad on the low side. As we know, their ‘variety’ position is more of a myth (sorry... marketing position) than reality, as they tend to play a pretty tight bunch of songs over a week. So perhaps they’re playing more of the reach game than the share game currently.

Meanwhile, Magic seem to have got the formula right and although they may not play significantly more tracks than Heart in any given week, the image of being a ‘you can listen to us for ages’ station seems to have cut through... hence the 6.1% share. Plus there's no real significant difference between them in terms of reach and the other 2 competitors.

Meanwhile LBC’s average hours are up at 13.6 a week! They’ve got a growing cohort (841,000) of fans who just love that station. I didn’t know London had that many cab drivers!! This figure compares really well with say BBC London, who have 7.4 average hours a week and actually beats BBC Radio 4 nationally, which is at a mere 12.6 a week.

Often it’s smaller or more niche stations that have really high average hours. LBC has some way to go if it’s to be Magic 1152 in Hull (15.2), 107 The Bee in erm.... Blackburn, I think (15.4). And finally, come on down Premier Christian Radio with average hours of 16.6 a week. I know it’s difficult to compete with GOD. And some of those sermons go on forever...

So reach or share? Which is more important? Well of course, the answer depends on which one you’re doing the best in... and whichever that is, that’s the most important!

Actually – they’re both important. Lots of listeners, listening longer. And in London, this time, without sounding like Paul Daniels, you’d have to say... “That’s Magic!”