Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Sony Radio Academy Awards - 2011

Every year, I’m amazed at the quality and range of programmes in UK radio, celebrated and rewarded at the ‘Sony Radio Academy Awards’... the UK’s “Radio Oscars”.

The news from the night has already been pretty well covered. You can see the full list of winners here, and read some good reviews online.

The one thing I always leave the Sony’s with (apart from a large dent in my wallet. 'How much for a round of drinks?!!') is a renewed sense of optimism that in the UK, we have a radio industry that thrives on creativity and innovation, and is home to so many passionate industry professionals that want to keep creating brilliant programmes and formats.

From Ronnie Wood through to BBC 5 Live Breakfast, the range is just superb. So, if you don’t live in the UK, and want to experience the 'Best of British Radio'... take a look down the winners list, and track down some of their shows. You can hear a lot of live and previously broadcast shows here on the Radioplayer.

So... as Dan McGrath and I (pictured) prepare for our new radio show ‘Cafe 80s’ on Absolute 80s, which starts this Saturday at 9am... we have something to aim for next year!

Monday, 2 May 2011

Worldwide Radio Summit 2011 - Los Angeles

This update is brought to you with “Valley View Casino & Hotel and their all you can eat Lobster Buffet”.

OK – it isn’t... but the new morning show from Rick Dees starting this week on LA's Hot 92.3 actually is!!

You’ve guessed it. I’m in Los Angeles where I was speaking at the Worldwide Radio Summit that’s just taken place in Hollywood. So, what did we glean from this newest of conferences and what’s the current vibe in US radio?

It would be fair to say that a few themes and topics dominated the conference and also the chatter in the halls and lobbies of the hotel.

They were;

1. Social media, mobile and radio
2. The threat of streaming music services
3. The lack of personality in US radio
4. The economics of radio business

A lot has been said and written about Social Media and its intersect with radio over the last few years. If you thought that traditional UK or European media is obsessed with it, then spend a day here! It’s fair to say that it is THE topic that everyone discusses and everyone has an opinion on. There were plenty of sessions where a variety of angles were looked at, from how you develop a deeper relationship with your audience via Social Media platforms... through to building and sustaining your numbers.

There were some great quotes from the panel sessions, such as “Facebook is the new Elvis” so it’s easy to see how the importance of having a decent Social Media strategy is now essential. There were lots of ideas and suggestions that all had value, but let me point you to one person who I thought made the most sense and had a great understanding of the key issues. Lori Lewis is Jacobs Media ‘Digital and Social Strategist’ and she also writes a column for All Access. Here you’ll see some great tips on having a brand conversation with your consumers / listeners. If you’re looking for a specialist to help you develop your radio brand conversation, Lori would be a great starting point.

Regarding the threat of streaming music services, there is no doubt that the US radio industry is in a bit of a spin about Pandora, and what to do about it. There was the now pre-requisite debate on whether Pandora is actually ‘radio’ or not, which had a new and very ‘market driven’ argument applied to it; “If it takes ad revenues from radio... it’s radio”. Not sure I agree with that one, and my opinion on what Pandora / Spotify etc are remains. Streaming music services are great... but they’re not radio. The human element is what defines radio for me, and I while listening to Pandora last night in my hotel room, it did not inform me or discuss the death of Bin Laden.

There was the suggestion that engagement with ‘jukebox services’ diminishes over time but on the other hand, no-one can deny their growth and increasing significance, especially in the mobile arena. Fred Jacobs did a great presentation about the influence that mobile has on the lives of the US consumer Mobile is where it’s at... radio just needs to work out how we now fit in with this.

There was a great session on ‘personality radio’ and the organisers put together a fantastic panel of talent and agents including Rick Dees, Big Boy from Power 106, Dr Drew, Phil Hendrie and Tony Novia from Ryan Seacreast Productions amongst others. It was superbly hosted by former Xfm PD, Andrew Phillips, who now works from the ABC Network in Australia. The messages? Personality should be allowed to flourish. Don’t over research everything... allow your instinct as a programmer to have a say. Talent needs time to develop and if you’re fired from somewhere, that means you’re probably really good!!

The session reminded me of the ‘power of the personality’ and I written before here about the need to make sure we’re not diluting this on our stations, but encouraging it and nurturing it. The answer in trying to combat services like Pandora is not behaving just like them.

On talent development, the old philosophy still holds true: “It’s far easier to teach someone with a personality, radio skills... than to teach someone with radio skills to have a personality!”

Lastly, we had regular reminders of the fact that radio is still a business, and often the desire for ratings success forces stations to take the obvious path, and that which will receive least resistance. The problem is that this often is not the most creative path, and rarely differentiates your station. US radio is for some only about money, and the art and magic of radio has disappeared. I hope that the rise of Social Media and the perceived threats that now exist to the radio business will act as a catalyst to force groups to have a re-assessment of the role of creativity in radio.

In a great discussion over lunch, the aforementioned Andrew Phillips reminded me that if the fear of ‘losing’ is greater than the desire to win, then this leads to a proliferation of mediocrity. That’s what we have with SOME radio stations and groups both in Europe and the US. Those that are willing to be brave, will reap the benefits!

So all in all, an excellent conference and congratulations should go to Joel Denver and Sat Bisla whose companies combined to put this together. Radio needs events like this to ‘stop and chat’ and share some best practise and opinions. We won’t always agree, but it’s important to have the dialogue.

And on the differences between radio in the US and the rest of the world. Yes- there are some... but there more that unites us that divides us.

Now, remind me of where can I get an “All you can eat Lobster buffet” in this town?