Tuesday, 26 January 2010

"From the A's 4 to 41..."

I mentioned the presenter Richard Bacon in my last blog, and by coincidence was going through some old archive audio today and came across one of his 'fun' sung jingles, from the days when he presented his 'Go Home Show' on Capital.

I post this with no in-depth analysis and no strategic point to make, other than... it still makes me smile when I hear it.


"I Can See Clearly Now..."; Positioning Your Radio Station

I was reading a blog post from a former colleague of mine, Carl Lyons (he was Marketing Director at Capital FM when I was Programme Director), who writes a great blog about marketing in the digital era and how to “get famous and stay relevant”. It's called ‘Talkable Likeable’.

He’s posted a video showing Steve Jobs talking about 'branding' and how we live in a “noisy and complicated world” and that brands need to be “really clear on what we want people to know about us”.

This is a good lesson for all brands, let alone radio stations. But with that in the back of my mind, I was listening around to a variety of stations this morning, and perhaps the one station that was really clear on its proposition was BBC Radio 5 Live, with its new positioning statement, which you can hear here. (It was at the front of a ‘contact us’ sweeper).


“News, Sports and Entertainment” is a position worth commenting on for several reasons.

1. It’s certainly really clear on what the station wants us to know about it. No clever strapline, no play on words... just a very honest and precise definition of what they stand for.

2. They’ve added ‘Entertainment’! 5 Live was always about news and sports, but with the addition of people like Richard Bacon to the daytime line-up, and shows like ‘Fighting Talk’ not only retaining but adding to their popularity, it seems 5 Live have seen a gap in the market for ‘entertaining speech’ that is less stuffy than Radio 4, less contrived than LBC, and less moany than BBC London (which on occasion, can be like listening to several hours of people complaining every day!). Martin Kelner writing on Media Guardian says that news, sports and entertainment is a difficult mix to get right "...especially in the middle of a tragic natural disaster when the banter can jar somewhat."

So, in our noisy and complicated world, are 5 Live really clear on what we should know about them... or is the addition of ‘entertainment’ to the mix a negative step. Is having 3 things in your proposition providing less clarity?

Certainly it muddies the water a bit, but I think we’ll see more and more ‘entertainment’ in the mix over the coming years from 5 Live. As music stations and streaming services become a ubiquitous, amorphous glob... will it be ‘entertaining speech’ that’s the differentiating factor that provides real audience appeal?

Monday, 11 January 2010

Chris Evans First Show - Music Review

So, an expectant nation was tuned in to hear how Mr Evans did this morning. What will the reviews say? Well, the correspondents and bloggers have already been busy typing away, so we don’t have to wait until tomorrow mornings papers. But, as I always think it’s a bit unfair to judge a shows speech content and features on its first proper outing, I thought I’d look at the music content instead.

Here’s the running order from this morning's show:

Beatles – All You Need Is Love
Beatles – Got To Get You Into My Life
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon
Robbie Williams – You Know Me
Hockey – Song Away
The Seekers – Morningtown Ride
Paolo Nutini – 10/10
Madonna – Material Girl
Ocean Colour Scene – Magic Carpet Days
Fats Domino – Blueberry Hill

Bruce Springsteen – Glory Days
Elbow – One Day Like This
Tom Jones – It’s Not Unusual
Dionne Bromfield feat Zalon – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough
The Monkees – Daydream Believer
Mika – Blame It On The Girls
Neil Diamond – Pretty Amazing Grace
Rolling Stones – Honkey Tonk Woman
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind

ELO – Rockaria!
Glen Campbell – Wichita Lineman
Supertramp – The Logical Song
Bon Jovi – Superman Tonight

Despite what any other station may claim, I think Radio 2 wins the prize for “More Music Variety”!

There really was something for everybody, with the oldest song being from Fats Domino with his 1956 version of Blueberry Hill. Throw in some Sinatra and Beatles and you’ve got the older end pretty happy... and many of the younger end too come to think of it. You can’t really go wrong with them. And the currents were catered for as well with Robbie, Alicia Keys, the new one from Mika... and even a rather good new song from the ‘Evans favourites’ box, Ocean Colour Scene.

Chuck in a few 80’s songs for good measure, and hey... I think we’ve got a show!

With 10 songs an hour, there certainly wasn’t plenty of music, so they ‘quantity’ box gets a tick. I’m certain there was a great deal of attention paid by Head of Music, Jeff Smith, to ensure that the playlist was suitably skewed as not to turn off the older end, suitably modern to appeal to a new generation of Radio 2 listeners, and suitably eclectic to ensure Radio 2 does not get criticised for being too mainstream.

I think he achieved that.

It will interesting to see how the music content develops over the next 12 months, so we’ll repeat this exercise again in a year’s time if that’s ok with you!

As for the speech content, we’ll leave that for another day... although I daresay “man who holds ‘blowing up hot water bottles’ record will never make another appearance on UK radio.... ever!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

"Wake up... It's a Beautiful Morning..."

Tomorrow morning at 07:00, there will be a new dawn in Breakfast Show radio in the UK. The Chris Evans Breakfast Show will debut on BBC Radio 2.

Chris’s road to 'rehabilitation' has been well documented and there’s no doubt he feels blessed to be at the top of the tree once again, this time on BBC Radio 2.

Fans of morning shows... and more importantly fans of well structured, entertaining and engaging morning shows would be well advised to tune in at some point over the new next few months and take a good listen to how it’s done. (I say ‘few months’ as it’s always tempting judge a show by its first outing, which is dreadfully unfair. Give it a few weeks to bed in!)

I’ve always been a fan of Chris from when I used to listen to his BBC Radio1 Breakfast Show. And later when I then got the chance to work with him at Virgin Radio from 1999 onwards I became even more appreciative of what he actually did and what he brought to the programme.

The thing is, Chris makes something look so easy, when the truth is it's devilishly difficult and very few people can carry it off. Having worked alongside him for those years, here’s what I think Chris brings to a Breakfast Show:

Great Ideas
There’s a creative mind at the heart of every great Breakfast Show and turning up each day with loads of ideas to try on the radio is at the core of that.

Usually the most spontaneous sounding shows are the most prepared. Tight running orders, thorough preparation and always having a good reason to open the microphone are essential elements. A strong production team behind you helps, and having a Producer who’s ‘married to the job’ is worth their weight in gold. (The Exec Producer for the new show is Helen Thomas, who is a fantastic talent. During the Radio 1 days it was Dan McGrath, who again was the backbone of 'making things happen')

Looking at new and different angles to topics is a sure fire way of getting engaging content. What’s the angle? How do you get into a topic? What will amke the way you do it different to way everyone else does it?

There’s no point in anyone presenting a breakfast show if they don’t really turn up each morning with 100% energy and 100% commitment. Yes it can be tough doing morning radio (especially when it’s dark and Minus 10 when you open your front door), but having ‘the love of doing the job’ is something that comes from ‘deep within’.

BBC Radio 2 have produced a great video documenting the behind the scenes moments at the recording of the full pilot. It’s a lovely insight into how the show is put together and a brief taster for what we have in store staring tomorrow morning.

Good luck Chris, and good luck to the whole team. I’m certain that the show will be a fantastic listen, and we’ll be talking about it on this blog on frequent occasions!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Snow Business

When it's snowing badly across the UK, you want your local radio station to swing into action on air. But are they also using online to give the more detailed info of school closures, advice to listeners etc...

Perhaps like this...

Well done Key 103 in Manchester. Front page... nice and big... job done!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Programmers Checklist 2010

Happy New Year everyone!

I'm now into my 4th year of blogging and I'm glad to say it's still really enjoyable to share my thoughts and opinions with everyone. Last year, you were one of several thousand readers from 85 countries aound the world. So thanks for reading and I'll do my best to contimue to write some challenging and thought provoking articles in 2010... and have some fun too!

Just before Christmas I was asked by the lovely guys at Blue Revolution to revisit an article I had written about a 'Programmers Checklist' for 2010. If you're a PD, here's a Top 10 of things you may want to think about on your way back to work tomorrow!

1. Music
Consumer choice in the field of ‘listening to music’ has never been bigger. There are more and more opportunities for people to listen to music aside from listening to it on the radio. Therefore it’s essential to make sure your offering is providing that something extra. Go through your core categories and to ensure that the big songs are still rolling round regularly, and that each category has not got bloated over the year. But also question whether you have got a structure for placing those ‘Oh Wow’ songs that make the listener turn the radio up and give an extra layer to your station. Is there a list of those songs you can draw on when you need to pull something special out of the bag? Having a ‘sound’ to your format is still important, but understanding that radio formats must evolve to still retain a sense of ‘stickiness’ with the audience is even more important.

2. Clocks
New Year is as good a time as any to refresh your clocks. If you have a good clock structure in place, the temptation is to leave it be. That’s not bad practise, but it’s always nice to refresh the order of things. Just by swapping around the openers or by changing the order of the first few songs at the Top of Hour can break the pattern of predictability. You’d be surprised at how your station can feel a lot fresher by making these simple changes. Also, does every ‘listening occasion’ (a sweep of around 20 minutes) really represent the sound of your station? Now’s a great time to check!

3. Production
Consistency in production is a good thing, but be careful not to use consistency as an excuse to allow things to get stale. Is it time to write some new liners? How about changing those ‘vox-pops’? Have the music imagers been running for too long? If your station has limited production resource, as many do, then the temptation is to leave things on air a little too long. But try and find a way of doing a refresh. It might not only be in the content of the production, but also in the style. For example, topical production (writing and producing cuts that are applicable to current events or the time of year) can really add a positive dynamic to the sound of your station.

4. Feedback
One of the most common complaints that DJ’s have is that they don’t get enough feedback or that the PD never has enough time to spend on them. All presenters have an ego, and it’s part of the PD’s role to attend to that regularly! Not only does it make for happier DJ’s but it’s one of the most effective ways of improving you product. The talent that you have is the single biggest category investment your station makes, and leaving ratings success down to between 5 and 10 people who don’t have regular feedback is a gamble you shouldn’t be prepared to take. When staring at the diary for 2010, blocking out regular weekly sessions for giving feedback will be time well spent.

5. 2010 Activity
The arrival of a new year is good time to look ahead and start to put together all your on-air activity. It’s a really useful tool for programmers and will guide you through the year ensuring there’s always something on the table for listeners. Not only can you plot all your station led activity and major promotions on it, but you can plot all sorts of things that might appeal to your listeners and have an on air angle to it. Lady Gaga’s coming to town? The station can ‘Go Gaga’ for the day. Valentine’s Day? Plan something different than a Love Songs show! Use it as an excuse to stay connected and topical as well as control over your content.

6. Cross Promotion
How well do you let your core audience know about all the other great shows and activity on your station? I believe it’s always easier to get an existing listener to listen longer than try and get someone to switch to your station in the first place, so investing time in a plan for 2010 to cross promote more effectively might be a good idea. Morning Shows always get good cross promotional airtime but what about all your other shows? Put together a schedule where you plot in some airtime to promote other shows. You can’t always promote everything all the time… but you can put a great plan together to make sure you’re recycling listeners back into the station.

7. Online and Digital
Every year ‘online and digital’ becomes more of an integral part of the business of a radio station than the previous year. Make 2010 the year that you invest time, energy and (if you have any) money into this area! How good is your website? Is it content rich? Is there exclusive content? Are your DJ’s blogging? Is there a great photo gallery your loyal fans can visit to see all the good guests that have stopped by? And can visitors to the site find out how to ‘listen live’ really easily? Having a social networking strategy is now essential for any station. You need to bring content to where your listeners are congregating. And, you need to work out how you can monetise all of these things.

8. News
The bits in between the records are now as important (or even more so, some would argue) as the records themselves. And news is a vital part of the mix. Revisit the news strategy. How can you make your stations news an ‘event’ every hour rather than just background? Radio news has sounded the same for far too long and listeners can now access news anytime and anywhere, 24 hours a day. So, be bold. Make changes and provide radio news that jumps out of the dial!

9. Target
The first programming meeting of the New Year is a good opportunity to gather your team together and remind them of the focus of the station. You are we targeting? What are these people like? What do they do with themselves? What kind of content are they interested in? Ensuring everyone understands exactly who they’re talking to will really help the on air team to focus on your audience.

10. Sponsorships & Promotions
Schedule a meeting as soon as you can outside your normal ‘promotions’ meeting to talk about your expectations and ambitions for your on-air sponsorships & promotions in 20010. Was the prize level last year a little on the low side? Did you carry some promotions with no brand-fit whatsoever? And did the sales guys agree to a really long tag line without getting programming approval first? New Year is a great moment to wipe the slate clean and lay out your vision for how S&P will integrate into the product in 2010. Sponsorship and Promotions is an increasingly significant revenue area so getting it right is now a crucial part of the mix. Start the year off on the right S&P foot!

So there we have it! That should keep us all busy for the first full week back in 2010!