Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Wonderful Christmastime...

So as another year draws tantalisingly close to an end, it’s time to get the chestnuts roasting on an open fire, get stuck in to that bottle of Port, and recline in my armchair reflecting on 2011.

What a momentous year, with the global political and economic reverberations still echoing around the planet for some time to come. Radio continues to play its part in the media mix, and is standing up well compared to some of the other ‘traditional media’, like press, who are having to face some difficult decisions about their businesses. But the coming year will no doubt bring its fair share of challenges for radio.

In the UK, radio listening remains phenomenally strong with over 90% of the population tuning into radio every week – still a remarkable statistic. And in June this year, we found out what people working in the industry have known for some time... that radio officially makes you happy! They did some science to prove it too, so it must be true!!

The debate about digital seems to have moved to a new level too with many seeing that a mixed ecology of listening platforms is a viable proposition (if distribution costs find a new equilibrium). It works for TV in the UK, and no-one seems to complain too much.

In 2011 we had some great radio conferences to feed our continuous thirst for insight; Radiodays Europe in Copenhagen was excellent, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in Barcelona in a few months time. I took some time out to study the market in LA while I was at the Worldwide Radio Summit at the end of April, and found the differences between Europe and US more stark than ever. And we welcomed a new kid on the block, Next Radio debuted in London in September and was a refreshing change in format, focusing on creativity and content. We look forward to its return in 2012.

This year, we also welcomed Radioplayer and since its launch, it’s nearly doubled the number of services on it, and launched apps on Google and Facebook. Continuing to make radio ‘easy to listen to’ is essential for the medium to retain relevance, and it’s something that the team at Radioplayer will continue to ensure moving forward.

Content and programming-wise, the battle for the number 1 commercial station in London continued with Capital and Magic being the main protagonists, and Capital had its fair share of industry headlines... first with networking, which caused much discussion at the time, but less than 12 months on, is seen as an accepted norm. They also dispensed of the services of one Mr J Vaughan of the Borough of Chelsea, and will replace him in January with a Mr D Berry of the Borough of “Really... Are You Sure?” I expect some churn in the market!

Absolute 80s became the biggest commercial digital only station, and I even dusted off the headphones and had some fun in the studio for a few months. Unfortunately, there’s not really time to continue with Cafe 80s in 2012 as I’m launching a new company in the New Year... but more on that in January!

As the sweet aromas of Frankincense, Myrrh and Waitrose’s rather excellent ‘Mulled Wine’ recipe drift across the office, and the sound of Christmas carols echo from the village Church, it’s time to put away the passport for a few weeks, and indulge in a little festive break.... which mainly involves sitting by the fire.

I continue to get the chance to work with brilliant clients all around the world, who are fantastic radio professionals. Thank you for the opportunity to work together, and I look forward to a creative and successful 2012 with you. I will find myself engaging with new markets and new stations in the New Year, which is always something I relish. But if we haven’t worked together yet, do get in touch if you think there’s a project we might collaborate on in 2012.

So, may I wish all readers of the blog, a very Happy Christmas and see you all again in 2012.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Radiodays Europe 2012 - 'The Hitman' in Barcelona!

Radiodays Europe takes place in Barcelona on 15th / 16th March 2012, and I was pleased to be asked to produce a session for the conference, which has rapidly become the meeting place for those working in radio in Europe.

Rather than put together a very traditional 'radio' session, I wanted to look at the changing nature of the relationship between radio and the music industry. For decades, the music industry relied on radio as one of its main sources of promotion. Those days are gone. So how is the new relationship between radio and the music industry being forged, and what can we learn from the past?

One person who has 'been there' and 'done it' and understands how the music industry works, and how it interacts with radio is Pete Waterman.

Pete Waterman is a pop music icon. As the force behind the ‘Stock Aitken Waterman’ team, Pete had massive success during the 1980s and 90s launching the careers of artists like Kylie Minogue and Rick Astley, and he shaped the sound of a generation. Stock Aitken Waterman are considered to be one of the most successful song-writing and producing partnerships of all time, scoring more than 100 UK top 40 hits, and selling over 40 million records worldwide.

Pete Waterman has a unique perspective on the record and radio industries. In the late 80s, at the height of his success he even had his own radio show on Radio City in Liverpool, where he debuted all his latest songs exclusively every week, plus he still presents a weekly radio show on Smooth Radio. In this session at Radiodays Europe I'll be 'in conversation' with him. He’ll share his thoughts on where he thinks the radio industry is going, what the future is for the record industry, and how to two industries can move forward together.

And of course, I'll be asking him about all those great hit record he produced! Never shy to give an opinion, this session will be a ‘must see’ for those attending Radiodays Europe, and I'm delighted Pete has accepted the invitation.

Espero verte en Barcelona!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The New Capital FM Breakfast Show... with Dave Berry

Congratulations to Dave Berry who has today been announced as the new host of the Capital Breakfast Show, to work alongside Lisa Snowdon who’ll continue in her role as co-host.

This isn’t really a great surprise, as he’s been hosting the weekend breakfast show for some time, and the fact that Capital were ready to announce someone only weeks after Johnny “left”, always pointed to the fact that it was going to be an internal appointment.

Is it a good move? Well... there’s no doubt that he has some traction with the younger end of the market through his TV work on E4, MTV etc... but as one of my late ’30-something’ friends tweeted to me today... “I’ve never heard of Dave Berry”.

Capital’s total audience has always been propped up by a chunk of older listeners that were almost there by default. This was good for overall reach. Increasingly, as the station has moved a lot younger, the output has become less appealing to those listeners. For some, Johnny Vaughan may have been the last reason they had to listen to Capital FM. Dave Berry may not interest them, as they have no reference points for him. He just isn’t on their radar... at all.

And this may well be a deliberate strategic attempt by Capital to move those listeners on... ideally for Global, to Heart.

It’s interesting that Capital didn’t take their time and try and secure someone with more media equity. E.g. someone off the TV... a comedian... someone from Radio 1 etc. There were rumours about Scott Mills being approached, but I’m guessing he’s becoming more and more ‘embedded’ with the BBC (with additional TV work etc), so perhaps he didn’t want to upset Auntie too much. I can understand that, although I think he would have been fantastic at it, and done a ‘real breakfast show’... if you know what I mean!

Will it matter that Capital doesn’t have a particularly high profile male host? Probably not, although it will certainly be harder to drive new listeners to the station based on the personalities. I wonder if they'll market the breakfast show, or just the station now? Lisa Snowdon is certainly the highest profile host on the station now... and she’s sounding great in the role too. I’m glad she’s sticking around.

It feels like Capital have taken another step in becoming a pure music-driven brand, with little more to offer other than a slick format, occasional big (and excellently done) events and a contemporary sound. They don’t even feel particularly connected to London when I listen to be honest with you. In a world where music (and easy access to it) is now ubiquitous, will "the Capital brand" be enough to drive younger audiences long-term, or will listeners find substitutes that are as good at providing music content as Capital are? Or perhaps even better?

I still believe that the ‘stuff in between the records’ is becoming more important than a well-packaged, tight rotation of current songs, particularly at breakfast time. Will Dave Berry provide standout content that will make Capital Breakfast a must-listen with ‘decade defining’ cultural moments, such as Chris Evans did on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show in the 90s? Or will he simply blend into the background noise of an exceptionally well-produced CHR music format?

We shall see. I wish him and Lisa the very best of luck.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Amazing Everyday

Creativity is at the heart of what we do in radio. We’re always looking for great ideas, fresh thinking, a different way of doing things. We want to do 'The Amazing Everyday'. How can we appeal to our target audience, and attract their attention? In the over-communicated world, just getting people to notice you is becoming increasingly harder.

But great ideas are all around us. Here’s an example...

Nokia have recently launched their first Windows phone – the Nokia Lumia 800. It’s a rather lovely device and signals Nokia’s first serious attempt to reclaim some of the lost ground in the smartphone market. To celebrate the launch, the team at Nokia wanted to stage an event that would get noticed, and appeal to the target audience, as well as saying something about the brand and product.

And they came up with a great creative idea. What if a building ‘came to life?’. What would it look like? How would it sound? To make this happen, they staged a massive sound and light show on Monday night in London... using the most sophisticated projection system ever built, all beamed onto Millbank building on the bank of the River Thames... all synced with an amazing soundtrack put together by Deadmau5.

The outcome was pretty spectacular (as you’ll see from the video below) and thousands of people witnessed it as it happened, and many more are sharing it on social networks around the world.

Creativity is everywhere, and we can all be inspired by the great ideas around us every single day.

**Disclosure: I was a guest of Nokia’s for the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800 and am currently working on projects with them

Sunday, 20 November 2011

"Goodbye Johnny!" - Johnny Vaughan leaves Capital FM

The big news from the world of UK radio this week is the announcement of the departure of Johnny Vaughan as host of the Capital FM Breakfast Show.

The official version of events goes as follows:

Johnny did his last breakfast show on Friday 18th November and then Capital issued a statement in the afternoon, announcing his departure from Capital which included the obligatory slightly made-up quotes. Johnny said...

"I have just loved doing this job, but after all these years of getting up in the middle of the night, I really think the time is right to hand over the microphone to someone else. It's been a joy waking up London every morning and a thrill to have been part of the broadcasting tapestry of this great city."

And Richard Park, Global’s Director of Broadcasting said...

“Johnny has done a fantastic job over the years, particularly recently, building the programme with Lisa Snowdon, into London’s most popular commercial radio breakfast show. Johnny is a skilled broadcaster on radio and television, and we thank him for his time with 95.8 Capital FM, while wishing him every success for the future.”

To any observer with a mild interest in the radio industry, this all seems a bit odd. Sure, Johnny may have decided that he’s done it for long enough and wanted to go out on a high, but really like this? As I understand it there’s a little more to this than meets the eye.

The “he’s already done his last show” routine is always an odd thing, suggesting that the parting between the 2 parties is less than amicable. Plus the “we wish him every success in for the future” line is something you trot out to someone you’re quite glad to see the back of, not someone who has presided over one of the biggest radio shows in London for many years.

There are a several stories that I’ve heard in the last few days relating to this, which upon legal advice (no... seriously!) I’m not at liberty to write here!! These may explain the rather sudden departure of Johnny, and may come out in due course. We shall see!

I worked with Johnny during the early years of his tenure at Capital, and I found him to be very passionate about his job, always wanting to improve, quick to learn, and somewhat impatient of others whom he perceived held him back. He was part of the new wave of “people from the TV who were doing radio” and as a result I think he always felt a bit of an outsider, and more at home in the world of TV.

It irked him that his show never really got the recognition he felt it deserved and I'm not sure the radio industry ever really took Johnny to their hearts. I remember one year after the Sony’s when he picked up a Bronze, he duly went on the air the next morning announcing with deep disdain, the start of another “bronze award winning programme”.

There’s no doubt that after a tough start, plus the burden of taking over from Tarrant, Johnny got better over time. He grew to understand the importance of compacting the material into ‘short form’, and he really showed his skill especially when he was allowed a bit more freedom to ad-lib around topics and ‘go off on one’ occasionally. His style still retained a slight edge of aggression and danger, which was appealing to some, but also quite divisive. Getting him to sound warm was always a challenge. But he showed off his knowledge about almost everything on a daily basis. He really is one of the most intelligent and well-read people I've ever met, and it's a shame that he never really found an outlet for that on the show.

The string of co-hosts he had never really worked that well until Lisa Snowdon arrived. She was able to ‘deal’ with him and it will be interesting to see if she sticks around or not. Which leads us to the big question. What next?

This is a tricky one, as it’s a tough gig that needs someone with a certain ‘media equity’ but also with the staying power to have a good run at it. Will Capital opt for ‘someone off the TV’ again, or will they take a ‘radio presenter’ and go for the slightly less profile option? Greg Burns will be filling in for the time being, and the he’s a real pro and won’t rock the boat too much. The show is in good hands in the inter-regnum.

I wouldn’t put it past our friends at Global to “serve up a curve ball” as our American cousins would say. They have the clout and nous to pull something rather special out of the bag. I have a few thoughts, but will save those for another day!

In the meantime, let’s enjoy probably the best radio ad this country has seen for many years, overseen by the then Marketing Director, Carl Lyons.

Goodbye Johnny...

PS – If you want to read about the creative process behind the making of that ad, click here to read Carl Lyon’s excellent blog

Thursday, 27 October 2011

'Mix Radio' on the Nokia Lumia

I think it's widely accepted that increasingly radio stations need to offer more than just a music service with a nice brand behind it, if they are to continue to engage with listeners.

More and more streaming music services are available to consumers every single month, and this extends to handset manufactuers getting in on the action.

So to ensure they are keeping up with the pace, Nokia yesterday announced that as part of the new Windows phone... Nokia Lumia, you'll get something called 'Mix Radio'. It's a bit like a cross between iTunes, Spotify and Pandora... and a radio station!

It's nice that Nokia have chosen to use the word 'radio' as part of the offer... even if it's not how I'd traditionally define radio i.e. there's no human involved from the 'other side'. But let's leave that debate for now!!

So, now there's a little bit more competition for 'share of ear' and and even more choice for the consumer, which has got to be seen as a good thing. Whether this is a success for Nokia... we will see!

RAJAR - Q3 2011; "Here are the votes from the UK radio listeners..."

The latest UK listening figures are out, (RAJAR Q3:2011) and again we find out which stations are a little more 'tasty' than others. There are some nice headlines to be read, including the fact that listening via a digital platform is up again with 22.8 million people now tuning in to radio via a digitally enabled receiver; so that could be on DAB, on Digital Television or over the Internet. The growth of digital inevitably continues. If you want to read some posts about the changing nature of radio in the UK and the growth of digital businesses, you'd be hard pressed to find better analysis than that provided by two people who look forward to this day with an unbridled and somewhat unnatural enthusiasm, for which we are all grateful... Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie.

Meanwhile, the market I get asked about most whilst on my travels, London, sees another game of musical chairs. Last time Magic had the best of it in the commercial world, holding top spot in both Reach and Share, but nothing stays the same for long in this market. Capital have jumped back up to Number 1 in Reach, and Heart have leapfrogged the contenders to become Number 1 in Share.

'Reach' (or Cume for our American readers) always seems to be the most quoted of figures, so here are the Top 10 Commercial Stations in London based on Weekly Reach for Q3:2011

1. Capital London 2.17 Million
2. Heart London 2.02 Million
3. Magic 105.4 1.99 Million
4. Kiss 100 FM 1.70 Million
5. Classic FM 1.40 Million
6. LBC 97.3 841,000
7. Absolute Radio 771,000
8. talkSPORT 717,000
9. Smooth Radio 612,000
10. Choice FM London 562,000

If you add in the BBC, things look a little different...

1. BBC Radio 4 2.77 Million
2. BBC Radio 2 2.29 Million
3. Capital London 2.17 Million
4. Heart London 2.02 Million
5. Magic 105.4 1.99 Million
6. BBC Radio 1 1.80 Million
7. Kiss 100 FM 1.70 Million
8. Classic FM 1.40 Million
9. BBC Radio 5 Live 1.31 Million
10. LBC 97.3 841,000

Capital no doubt benefited from the exposure that the Summertime Ball gave them, proving once again that visibility is a key ingredient in the mix... a theme I'll return to in the not too distant future. And the BBC once again show that they still produce quality radio, all be it with a rather expensive price tag.

It would be rude of me not to mention 'in dispatches' Absolute 80s. First, because it gives me another blatant opportunity to mention my weekly show on a Sunday morning from 9am-12pm that I present along with Dan McGrath, called 'Cafe 80s'. Subtle plug huh? However, that's not why I mention them on this occasion. It's because they have become the Number 1 commercial digital-only station in the UK, with 1.01 Million listeners a week. That's a rather healthy increase of just over 80% year on year. A rather 'peachy' result... so well done to all the team there.

Finally, if you're that way inclined, you can look at some pretty graphs for all stations on Media UK.

Right - that's enough 'numbers stuff' until February 1st 2012!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

"The Magic Behind Magic"

Ask a listener what the main reasons are they to listen their favourite any radio station, and they’ll usually give you a variety of answers.

Often the answers they give say a lot about how successful that station is about communicating their core message.

Clarity is key when communicating any message, and if an audience can gravitate around one main theme, then you probably doing something very right.

I recently did a session at 'Radiodays Denmark' with Magic 105.4 PD, Pete Simmons. We discussed the ‘magic behind magic’, and why it was such a successful radio station.

When Magic listeners were asked “What are the main reasons you listen to Magic 105.4?”... these were the top 5 reasons they gave...

1. It’s relaxing to listen to
2. It plays music I know and love
3. It plays music to put me in a good mood
4. It plays the best songs for my taste
5. It plays the most music, with least talk

Here’s a radio station which is clear in its purpose, focused in its strategy, and executing it continuously well with a quality product.

Listeners know what the brand does and it’s reliable in delivering that. The music quantity, lack of clutter and the mood enhancing qualities of the station have lifted it to the Number 1 Commercial Station in London, and the station currently has more listeners than any other music station in London including the BBC! No mean feat.

So if you asked your listeners what are the main reasons they listen to your station, would there be a few clear themes that their answers cluster around?

In the over-communicated world, stand for something; then clearly communicate what that is. And if you stand for something that consumers want, then you’re on the right road.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Monday, 3 October 2011

What Makes A Good Radio Conference?

What makes a good radio conference?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been ‘conferenced up’ attending and speaking at a good variety of events. So what are the things to look out for?

Do It Differently
nextrad.io was an attempt to redefine the genre somewhat. Short, snappy presentations on a whole range of topics worked really well. It meant that as a delegate, you never had the time to get bored with anyone, plus you got a vast range of information that you could draw from take away with you. And it also meant that as a speaker, you focused more on exactly what you had to say, always aiming for that radio mantra... “Less is More!”. I’m certain nextrad.io will be back next year, even better then the debut event.... which was actually pretty damn good to start with. So ‘doing it differently’ is one angle that certainly works

Do It Well

I spoke an event in Cyprus on Friday morning called ‘The Radio Breakfast Show’ organised by Dias Media Group, a big Cypriot media company. It was a simple idea executed well;

• Get media agencies, clients, PR firms and other interested parties all in one room in a nice hotel... about 300 of them.
• Make the room look fantastic
• Give them a really nice breakfast
• Put on a short ‘morning only’ session with 4 interesting speakers
• Let everyone go back to work at 11am

I spoke about the changing nature of radio and advertising and was pleased that what I had to say struck a chord with many delegates. But it was just all very well put together, making the experience a good one for delegates (and speakers)! So getting the conference right and ‘doing it well’ may seem simple stuff, but you’d be surprised at many who don’t.

Speakers Who Share
I remember back in the days of the old 'NAB Europe', many a time I would turn up at a session where I thought I’d learn something... often to find that someone was trying to sell me something instead. #FAIL. A conference session should not be sales session. They should be about sharing knowledge and insight. Do your sales pitch in the bar afterwards!

Getting speakers who share is crucial. I was lucky to have 2 speakers who were fantastic at sharing during my two sessions at Radiodays Denmark over the weekend. First Pete Simmons, the PD of Magic 105.4 took everyone through the strategy behind Magic, and why it’s number 1 in London. He was open, honest and shared everything. The delegates really got some fantastic insight thanks to Pete, and I enjoyed chatting with him on stage about the format and how he overcomes challenges.

Likewise Andy Parfitt, in his first real ‘event’ after stepping down as Controller of BBC Radio 1 was equally candid. I created a session where Andy would take us through the Radio 1 strategy, how it functions as a station, and along the way telling the importance of everything from Live Music to Online. And he didn’t disappoint. He was brutally honest, perhaps being able to talk more openly than ever before, as he is now free from the responsibilities that heading the network brings with it. My only regret is that the session was not recorded so a wider audience could share in some of the insight that Andy shared. Mind you, maybe if it had been, he might not have been so candid! So ‘speakers who share’ is vital to the success of any event.

With all that in mind, it’s only about 4 weeks to go until the Radio Festival in Manchester. Much more on that to follow no doubt!

Monday, 19 September 2011

"Never Knowingly Undercreative"

Once again, the retailer John Lewis have come up with a fantastic ad using great music and 'the power of retro' to place their flag in the sand. They have been, and continue to be the retailer when it comes to buying electrical goods. A great idea, well executed.

And we like those!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

9/11 - 10 Years On...

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is naturally getting enormous coverage on TV and radio around the world. The numerous documentaries bring back the true horror of the day, and the sights and sounds still shock me, even 10 years on. In fact, I doubt they'll ever fail to shock me.

Radio stations all over the world are reflecting the anniversary of a day that undoubtedly changed the world.

Matt Deegan alerted his Facebook friends to a particular piece of audio that he'd discovered, which has been posted on the 98.5 KLUC website. They're a CHR station based in Las Vegas. (Big hat-tip to Matt)

10 years ago there was a version released of Heaven by DJ Sammy featuring the words of a 5 year old girl who lost her father in the 9/11 attacks. This new version marks the 10th anniversary and is the updated story of a girl from aged 5, right the way through to today, and her high school years.

The power of emotion is one of radio's greatest tools, and when meaningful words loaded with feeling, and an evocative piece of music are blended... the result is breathtaking.

As the KLUC guys say, we bet you can't keep a dry eye through it. I certainly couldn't.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Audio of Quality and Distinction

Here’s a self-evident truth; audio generally has to be interesting to grab the attention of the listener. Whether it’s a radio commercial, a DJ talking or even a sonic logo... it needs to cut through fairly quickly to make me want to give it some of my ‘ear time’.

This should also be true of podcasts.

The reason I mention this is I’m currently working on a project with my colleague Dan McGrath, advising a company wishing to develop an audio podcast strategy. They work in the technology sector, and as part of my research I thought I’d listen to some of the other ‘techy’ podcasts that are out there and seemingly doing well at the moment. And boy was I surprised.

The vast majority of them are really badly produced, badly presented and just badly thought out. Sorry – but it’s true.

Now, I know that I’m applying radio production standards to what are (mostly) plainly not radio shows, but I don’t think that’s a genuine excuse for badly produced audio. The same principle should still apply. It should interest the listener and grab their attention, and make them want to listen more, or subscribe or come back for more at a later date. Many of them had me hitting the stop button. And, for the record, it’s not that I wasn’t interested in the subject either. I’m as geeky about technology as the next geeky guy with glasses!

So do the listeners of these podcasts merely ‘put up’ with the poor quality, as that’s the price to pay for getting niche content? I guess so. Or is it the case that the very ‘DIY’ nature of some podcasts are intrinsic to their appeal? Has the democratisation of the means of production meant that now anyone with a laptop and a £9.99 mic from Maplin can be an ‘audio content producer’, and therein lies the appeal? Is the allure for listeners to these that the media is no longer controlled by the elite, but by the masses? Possibly... but if the masses could make it sound a bit better and try a bit harder, then that would be lovely thank you very much.

I’m looking forward to the session at the forthcoming nextrad.io conference called “Top 5 Reasons Why Podcasts Are Different To Radio” presented by Francesca Panetta, who is Head of Audio at The Guardian. She should know, as she used to work for BBC Radios 3 and 4, and is now heading up the Guardian's audio offerings, which are on the whole pretty good. I hope she’ll point out the positive differences that podcasts have with radio, but still at least want to maintain a minimum quality threshold.

I really like podcasts. The on-demand world of speech content is now a very rich and varied one, with every conceivable topic covered, and the fact that more and more people are consuming audio content is a great thing.

And although podcasts do have differences to radio, isn’t it funny how some of the most popular podcasts with consumers are just re-packaged radio shows, and if they’re not... they have some really solid radio production techniques behind them.

So – a plea to larger FMCG brands who have podcasts, and other corporate or semi-corporate entities who have branded audio content in this arena. Please do think about how the quality of these reflect on your brand, and don’t settle for something that’s sub-standard just because “it’s only a podcast”. Produce quality and they will return, and return again.

And then the relationship with your consumers can really begin.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Back To School...

September always feels like the 'back to school' month after the long, hot, balmy summer that we had here in the UK. Well... not really, but anyway...

And with that comes a glut of conferences to attend, clients to see and projects to develop.

At the tail end of August, it was great to hook up with all the guys from P5 in Norway at their summer conference. It was an opportunity for all the team to be updated on the current state of the market, new initiatives moving forward and what lies ahead for 2012. But even more than that, it was a great ‘team’ event. It’s easy to be cynical about these kind of get togethers, but I witnessed first-hand the great effect that making members of your station ‘walk the plank’ can have!! If your station doesn’t do events like this every now again, start doing them!!

There’s a good buzz about the nextradio.io conference in London in a couple of weeks time. There’s a fantastic line-up of speakers and I also have my allotted ‘9 minutes’ to deliver some sage words to the assembled crowd. I hope this event proves to be an annual get together, offering a forum for new, fresh and innovative ideas in radio.

Cyprus is a country I’ve not been to before, and I’m really looking forward to speaking at the ‘Radio Breakfast’ at the end of September organised by Dias Media, who are one of the big media players on the island. Any opportunity to drive home the benefits of using radio as a great medium for advertising is one that I can’t resist, and they tell me the sun always shines in Nicosia this time of year!!

Denmark’s annual get together of the good, bad, and erm... ‘damn good looking’ of Danish radio takes place at the start of October. Radiodays Denmark (from which Radiodays Europe sprung from) is always a great day, and the fact it’s combined with the Danish Radio Awards on the same night ensures it’s a hell of a party. I’m doing a session with the PD of London’s Number 1 Commercial station – Magic 105.4, Pete Simmons. We’re looking at “The Magic Behind Magic” (the title was too easy I know) and we’ll be dissecting the factors that have made that station consistently perform well in a tough market.

So, in between all that, I think some visits to client stations in Austria and Slovakia are in order, as everyone is now ‘back to school’. Plus **plug alert** my Saturday morning show on Absolute 80s (‘Cafe 80s’) which I present along with Dan McGrath, is going great guns and keeping us busy... so I guess that it’ll be a pretty busy month ahead.

Plus there’s another very exciting project in development... but more about that when the time is right!

Welcome ‘Back to School’ everyone!!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Why Music Matters

Ever wondered why music matters?

If you work in music radio, then here's a nice reminder of the power of music, courtesy of the greatest band to ever record together...

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Big Mistake?

When is an idea burnt out and when does it just need a new twist, or a little tweaking to reignite interest in it?

This week in the UK, Big Brother returns and it’s over a decade since it first hit our screens on Channel 4. After the ratings started to flag and the idea wore a bit thin, they dumped the show, for it then to be picked up by Channel 5.

They’re debuting with a series of ‘Celebrity Big Brother’, and of course with different hosts and a different team working on the show, we can expect the show to have a somewhat ‘new’ feel.

But is the format worth hanging on to, or is it just a turn off?

In radio we face similar dilemmas on a regular basis. It may be related to a particular benchmark, or perhaps a Morning Show that has seen better days, or even the format for the whole radio station.

So, when is it best to add a twist or something different... and when is it best to just say goodbye?

Fans of Big Brother in the UK will no doubt remember that producers always liked to add a twist to each series to refresh audience interest. Viewers were treated to Live Tasks, Big Brother going ‘evil’, Secret Missions, an All Female House, Fake evictions, and even the public choosing the final housemate to enter the house.

Over time, our attention was kept by this simple process of keeping the basis of the format, but adding something fresh to it.

This can work in radio too. Take your biggest benchmark. Is it time for a twist to be added to it? How could an extra element be added to make it more entertaining? What could that twist be?

Think about the big station promotion that you’ve done for the last 5 years in exactly the same way. Sure... it works, but would the audience be more interested in it if you added a new surprise element to it? What would that be?

If we’re thinking about a programme, the twist may be something more permanent. Is the Morning Show getting a bit too ‘set in its ways’? Would a new character or person on the team add a different dynamic? Could it be a younger female added in to make an impact? Maybe a new travel person? Again, you don’t always need to throw the basics away if it’s not quite working. Adding or even taking away an element may do the trick.

But there are some occasions when something’s run its course. If your brand thrives from always bringing fresh ideas to the audience, hanging on to something ‘past its sell-by-date’ can do your brand image some serious damage.

It might be that old promotional idea you trot out every summer, or that benchmark you’ve had on air now for 4 years without it really making an impact. Be brave. Cast aside dead wood. Don’t carry a 'corpse' of an idea around with you.

There are plenty more great new ideas, formats, and promotions out there... so never feel like you’re committing a sin if you get rid of something. Even if the Sales team tell you that they can still get a sponsor for it!

The trick is, of course, to get rid of it before it becomes an ‘infected toe’ and starts to spread its rot through the body of your brand.

I think that's what Channel 4 did when they axed Big Brother in 2010. Yes, it was still pulling in 3 Million viewers and had a lucrative sponsor, but it had become a tired format that was symptomatic of a channel that was in danger of losing its way. They jettisoned it; just in time in my view.

So, as the new series debuts this week on a new channel, it will no doubt get some 'half-decent' viewing figures, and generate some sponsorship revenue for the broadcaster, but I’d rather be in Channel 4’s place... of working on the next new idea, the next creative moment that can shape the brand for the decade to come.

So – remember to regularly add a twist to keep your ideas fresh. But also know when you should move on.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

"You Spin Me Round..." - RAJAR Spin

With the publication tonight of the latest RAJAR results for Q2 2011, there will no doubt be a flurry of activity and the ‘in house’ radio station Alastair Campbell’s will be doing their best to spin the results one way or another. If your results are great, that’s perfect... you can let your figures do the talking and can quite rightly shout out loud. All power to you and your message.

If however, you get a tricky book, (as we all do from time to time) then here are some firmly ‘tongue in cheek’ methods you can use when putting your press release together to send off to the local paper.

If you’re not Number 1 overall, just find a demo you’re number 1 in...
E.g. “We’re the Number 1 station for in our area (Men 50-59)” And be a bit generic about it all too. Paint the impression of success without quantifying it too much.

Confuse people with terminology...
Some journalists at local newspapers aren’t that clear on the difference between reach and share, so use the words ‘listeners’ and ‘listening’ quite liberally over your press release just to confuse them a little, and again create that sense of ‘victory’! E.g. “Listening at key times has increased once again, with even more listeners tuning in every week too.”

Find an increase that sounds better when expressed as a percentage...
For example, if you’re share in a particular demo has gone up from 5% to 8%, then you can quite rightly claim that “We’ve increased listening by 60% with women aged 30-39”. Sounds impressive, though in reality it may mean very little, and your overall share may gone down.

Change the range...
If you’re down quarter on quarter, then take a look at the year on year figures, and see if there’s an increase there. Then talk about the important long term growth of the brand. Or just mix it up a little! E.g. “More people are tuning in to XYZ-FM than this time last year, with an impressive increase in listening over the last 3 months to Freddie and Barbara in the Morning”.

Compare Apples with Apples...
If you’re a commercial station, make your station sound even better by just forgetting the BBC! After all, they’re a “different animal” aren’t they? In some markets, the BBC are clear market leaders with BBC Radio 2, or in London with BBC Radio 4. If that’s the case, just use the phrase “We’re the Number 1 commercial station in the area”, which for many will be perfectly true.

Star comparisons...
If your station has more listeners at breakfast time than say Chris Moyles, or Chris Evans... stick that in your press release, as comparisons with national personalities always make great copy for local newspapers. Plus, the local papers don’t really get stuck in to TSA size that much. You’re judged by the company you keep! E.g. “Debbie and Dave at Breakfast now bigger than Chris Evans”.

Include a quote...
Detract attention from generally bad figures by making up an anodyne quote from the breakfast show team. E.g. “Phil from Phil and Morning Crew said ‘I love getting up at 3am every day to entertain the people of Scunthorpe. It’s the best job in the world. We’re delighted that even more people are hearing about our show and we’re making it more successful every day. And don’t forget, the Mystery Word jackpot is at £63 tomorrow morning!’... etc...”

Ultimately, these kind of press releases are really designed for non-industry types, with the hope that people outside the sector will get the impression that your station is successful. What is it they say about perception being reality? And why not. All brands need to paint the picture of success to a certain degree. Consumers like to be associated with winning brands that are going somewhere. It confirms they are making the right choices in life.

Those in the radio industry know the tricks, so can spot them when a rival station uses them. We all know if a station is doing well or not. And as long as everything written is within the rules, and you’re not making stuff up... that’s kind of OK in my book. It’s the game we all play and will continue to play. Spin is nothing new.

If you spot any great examples, do let me know by posting a comment below!

So good luck to all UK stations today. I look forward to reading later that “more people than ever before are tuning in!”

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

"And You Can Tell Everybody..."

We all love a good ‘list’. Lists help us to define and order the world we live in, giving us a sense of what's good or bad. In an over-communicated world, lists are a kind of a cultural shorthand.

So I always enjoy it when any radio station does a list of any kind. Sometimes, a classic idea just keeps on working.

And when you can tie in a TV partner too, it works that much better by providing additional marketing and promotion for the radio station along the way.

With all that in mind, Absolute 80s and VH1 are teaming up to bring you “Your Song of the 80s”. Pick your favourite from a pre-determined list of 60, and then on the pre-determined bank holiday (Monday 29th August), both radio and TV will “count ‘em down”.

I mention this not only because I like ‘lists’ on the radio, but when I hear the promo, it reminded me of the classic ‘montage technique’; get as many songs as you can in to represent what you’re trying to communicate – in this case, great 80s songs.

So take a listen to the promo, and see how many great 80s songs you can spot. I counted 13, but there may be more!!

Your Song of the 80s (mp3)

Disclosure: I produce and present a weekly show, with Dan McGrath, on a Saturday morning from 9am on Absolute 80s called 'Cafe 80s'. You can listen here

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Listeners Top 10 Criticisms of Morning Shows

What are the Top 10 things listeners don’t like about Morning / Breakfast shows?

I’m sure we could all come up with a pretty decent list of our own, but the good news is we don’t have to! Last week I was invited to attend the ‘Lokalrundfunktage’ 2011 in Nuremberg. It’s a gathering of the great and good of German radio, particularly hosted for the radio industry in the state of Bavaria, which has around 12.5 Million inhabitants.

The conference is a fantastic opportunity to get under the skin of what’s happening in German radio, and there’s loads going on... including the exciting launch of national DAB+ multiplexes.

There were the requisite speeches from politicians and industry leaders, and of course a sprinkling of interesting sessions.

One which caught my eye was a session on ‘personality radio’, and the importance of it / what it means to the German market etc. The session was kicked off with a great contextual presentation from Christoph Pöschl, from the German media research and consulting company, Brand Support. They’ve done lots of analysis of Morning Shows, and have a great research perspective on what works and what doesn’t.

So, here’s the Listeners Top 10 Criticisms of Morning Shows in Germany. (I’ve added some thoughts below each one)

1. Uninteresting Topics
Nothing annoys listeners more than topics and themes that are just plain boring! If you’re going to do topic, please make it interesting for the listener!!

2. Uninteresting Conversations
We’ve all heard those ‘talky bits’ that don’t go anywhere, and the hosts are just chatting for the sake of it. Feel free to do them, but the listeners are going to go elsewhere!

3. Hosts that talk too much
We all can think of hosts that can’t ‘put a sock in it’ from time to time. Give the listeners a break. Don’t keep going on and on, and on and on....

4. Promotions and competition that aren’t entertaining
Next time you’re sitting in that S&P meeting and the idea seems a bit dull, don’t agree to it. Give it another 10 minutes of creativity. If your competition is boring and flat, listeners will tune away.

5. Too many commercials
Not a problem in public radio, but in commercial radio PD’s need to just keep an eye on the total durations of ads. Different markets have different tolerance levels, but we all know when we’ve reached “too many”!

6. Too much self-promotion
Promoting your own station is fine, but don’t do too much of it so it starts to annoy your listeners, particularly in the morning show. The primary job there is to entertain listeners, not to continuously cross-promote all your other stuff.

7. Non-relevant content that doesn’t touch the listener
We know that creating relevant content that really connects emotionally with listeners is the most powerful way of getting people to listen. Audiences can quickly detect when something is there just for the sake of it. Do stuff that matters to you, and matters to your listeners, and that they can connect with.

8. Too little music variety
Listeners continuously tell us they like a bit of variety in the morning. If you have the right personality on the air, it’s probably the one place you can push the boat out a bit. Don’t be afraid... listeners like variety!!

9. Too little music
I always think that more time, money, resources and effort have gone into producing a brilliant 3 minute pop song, than have gone into producing any link... so don’t skimp on the music. Listeners love the songs. Some hosts think they “get in the way of the content”. Wrong. They’re part of the content of the show.

10. Too much repetition of the same songs
Morning shows are probably the most habitual listen for any radio consumer. So ensuring that the rotations are correct, and that the ‘mix’ is right in the morning is vital.

So there we have it... Listeners Top 10 Criticisms of Morning Shows in Germany. But I think it’s a pretty universal list, and is shows listeners around the world are remarkably similar. The same issues crop up in every market I have worked in.

The good news is we can do something about it. If we know what listeners don’t like, we try to ensure that we do the opposite... right?

If you work in radio station, think of your own morning show. Does it do any of these things on the list? Once you know what listeners don’t like, it’s far easier to do stuff they do like!

**Thanks to Christoph Pöschl from Brand Support for sharing his presentation. If you want more info from him direct, I’m sure he’d be happy to talk to you.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

"Happy Radio!"

Radio makes you happy. It’s official.

I think it’s something that if you work in radio, you subconsciously know... ‘what you do’ connects with people, and puts them in a good mood. But now, the research has been done to prove it. You can read it all here. And you can't argue with science!

The RAB in the UK commissioned this study to see how media improved people’s moods, with the hope that radio would do well, and to measure the emotional influence of radio relative to other media. The aim then was to ‘promote radio’ as a place for advertisers to spend their money persuading us to buy different goods and services etc.

Radio did very well. In fact, radio generated the highest Happiness and Energy levels of the 3 media measured (TV and online being the others).

When I think of my own radio consumption, I think this ‘happiness’ concept really spans formats too.

I was driving back home from an evening meeting in central London the other night and Magic 105.4 had a fantastic sweep of 10 songs that relaxed me in the traffic and ‘made me happy’.

I was cleaning up the kitchen the other night (I like to make a mess when I cook) and stuck on Absolute 80s for my regular retro fix, and that ‘made me happy’ as I turned up Madness ‘Night Boat to Cairo’ really loud!

A few weeks ago, listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Just a Minute’ (via Radioplayer) made me laugh out loud a-plenty, and that ‘made me happy’.

Last Friday night, I nipped out to collect the regular ‘Friday Night Curry’ and Friday Night Kiss was playing out some top tunes, and that ‘made me happy’ (or was it the thought of the curry that was awaiting my arrival?)

And listening to BBC Radio 5 Live’s excellent Wimbledon coverage today has ‘made me happy’. (Who would have though tennis on the radio could be so entertaining?).

So it’s not just the wacky, zany morning shows that have the power to make listeners happy. The whole spectrum of content that’s broadcast on the radio can do so. And it’s worth thinking about the mood altering effect that radio has, and ensuring your on-air talent fully appreciates the role they have in shaping “the mood of the nation”.

Finally – a word about the research. Well done to the team at RAB and Sparkler who put this together. When there are stories of war in Libya, riots in Greece and strikes in the UK, it’s the perfect antidote to all the bad news that’s around... and a fun story for other media to report on. (Like here and here) Great work and good timing!

Right - I’m off to get another ‘fix of happiness’.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Next Big Thing In Radio?

I spend a lot of time with radio people of all types; Owners, CEO’s, Managing Directors, Sales Directors, Programme Directors and yes... sometimes even Engineers too.

I always enjoy spending time with practitioners though – people who actually make radio; people who are at the ‘coal face’ doing it day in / day out. If you have a background in programme making (as I do), and have spent many thousands of hours in a studio, I think regardless of where you progress to in the radio industry, you always have a secret soft spot for the process of ‘making radio’ and the people who do it.

So when I was asked to be a part of a brand new UK radio conference that was perhaps more for people involved in the job of making radio, and people who just like new radio ideas, regardless of what department they work in, I didn’t hesitate to get involved.

NEXTRAD.IO was launched this morning, and as the organisers say...

“At last – a radio conference for radio people. It’s not designed for the suits. It’s not something that will just appeal to you if you work in a particular part of the radio industry. It’s designed for people who like radio, who want to be inspired by new ideas, who recognise that technology will help it to change and adapt and for those who want to meet like minded people.”

It’s being put together by “professional conference attendees” James Cridland and Matt Deegan, who have set out to design a very different type of radio conference. It’s a pretty good starting point, as many conference can be a bit ‘samey’, and lack a real ‘inspirational vibe’. I’m confident that this will have a different feel, and as the model is the TED conferences, that’s a great reference point to work from.

It takes place in London on 15th September 2011, and tickets are only £99... and I’m really confident it will be a fantastic event (and real value for money too). Being Year 1, the guys have limited it to 120 people, and honestly... without trying to create an artificial demand for tickets, I’m pretty sure they’re going to sell out fast.

So, I look forward to hanging out with some like-minded people, who love radio and want to share and discuss ideas.

And if you’re one of them... maybe I’ll see you there.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

"Today is going to be the day..."

This happens today on BBC Radio 2. A great idea developed to showcase the range and quality of the output of this network...

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Best Radio Commercial Ever?

The RAB in the UK recently published its Top 10 scoring radio ads during Q1 2011, based on their rather clever 'RadioGauge' system, which measures the effectiveness of commercials.

There are some good ads on the list, and it prompted me to revisit some of my favourite radio commercials in my archive. And every time I go through them, I'd always drawn to this one.

Simple. Powerful. Effective.

Radio commercials can be beautiful.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

"Dear Sophie..."

Here's the US version of the same ad for Google Chrome...

Content that stimulates an emotional response always works best.

Now think of the last opportunity you had to do that on the radio with a promo? Did you use the "power of emotion"?

Sunday, 5 June 2011

"Dear Hollie..."

I love this...

That's all :-)

"Dearly beloved... Please welcome on stage..."

The radio station 'intimate gig' with some competition winners and a selected invited audience is nothing new. It works really well; reinforces a music image or association with a particular artist; and adds some sparkle to a station, whatever the format.

But to add that special something, the choice of venue if often the factor that can really make the difference.

Last week, Absolute Radio launched their 'Summer of Live' with an intimate gig with one of the most sought after live bands in the country, Elbow.

And the venue? A crypt in a church! Oh... and not any old church. It just happened to be St Paul's Cathedral in London.

Tonight, Absolute Radio broadcast the entire gig on the radio (which sounded great by the way)... but of course, being the digital brand that they are, they filmed it all and you can watch it in super HD quality here.

So... intimate gigs for your station? Yes please - they work well. Venue that captures the imagination? Go for it! Once you open the box of creative possibilities, the project takes on a whole new and exciting dimension.

If a radio station can manage to stage a gig in the venue that hosted the funeral of Winston Churchill as well as the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales... then anything is possible!!