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Century Radio – North East remembered.

20 years ago today, the 1st September, 1994, Century Radio was launched in the North East. Exciting, emotional, fun and difficult – all rolled into one, but what an experience.

The format was woeful. 55% speech over a rolling four hour period from 6am to 7pm and yet, despite all that, somehow it worked. For those interested, there are quite a few pages in my book dedicated to the early years that include all the stories from the fights with Metro to the crazy publicity stunts, including some skirmishes over a bus at the Great North Run and the dangers of working with brand new technology called RCS.

Part of the programming included a 2 hour news programme from 5pm each weeknight, a format stolen from 1010 WINS in New York, albeit slightly altered so we could kind of rotate the news every 20 minutes. It was a way of us getting some music into the output across the day, but this was an all speech block that took some doing. Luckily, we had 13 people in the newsroom back then (yes just 13) who also had to provide local news of at least five minutes duration per hour, every hour, for 18 hours a day. The first day was a disaster, but that’s another story.

Metro complained about us playing too much music, we complained about them doing too much speech. It all got a bit messy and we were pulled into the regulators office for a bollocking. I declared war and marched the troops over the hill like some sort of demented leader. The truth is, I revelled in it.

Looking back, we made some mistakes although I suspect without that level of speech within the format, we would never have been as successful as we were. It meant we had to come up with new ways of making speech entertaining and we learned all of the tricks of the trade as we went along. Phone-ins, debate, discussions, gardening shows, news and business programmes were all sliced between the normal music shows and specialist output from Country to Classical. With the exception of about four hours a week, all of it came from the North East.

Anything was considered, everything was an opportunity. Above all, personality presenters were the key to success. John Simons and I occasionally chastised the team for NOT having enough complaints. We wanted them to push a bit more, be edgy, have more fun, take more chances. Some of the times, we were just trying to find out where the end of the line was, but we knew what good radio sounded like and always demanding high standards. When things went wrong, I blamed Simo, he in turn blamed me. We never blamed the team!

The staff were up for anything, Paul Gough, who later took over from me as the breakfast jock, did mad stuff like standing on the Tyne Bridge handing out sausages wearing nothing more than a Pink Pig outfit, all in an effort to promote a butcher! You would never get that promotion away on Heart, even back then.

However, it is what Century started that pleases me most. Brilliant careers for some, amazing radio experiences for all. Craziness was loved and personalities were adored but most of all, I learned about the value of content and the need for great communicators. Everything else is nothing more than window dressing.

I doubt Century would work today, the world has moved on, but for what it’s worth, we made our mark. I believe it’s the reason why the regulator gave us the licence in the North West. The rest, they say, is history!

The success to any business is down to the product you have, the people you employ and the atmosphere you create. There are far too many people to mention by name here but I will be toasting them all today in memory of a great station. The marketing campaign said it was ‘The Best Thing For Ears’….. ha. Fun times indeed

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Paddy McGuinness – I likey!

Despite my moans about their shady use of unpaid fresh-faced presenters, Bauer feature a lot in my recent blogs, mainly because they are doing some interesting things and that always gets my attention. The purchase and integration of Absolute Radio for example seems to have gone smoothly. It’s a fact of life that the acquiring company doesn’t always have the best staff and practices, so a smart operator looks, learns and integrates the best people and systems they find into the wider group, which is good to see.

The news this week that Paddy is to present a weekly show is an interesting development and something the old team at Absolute were very good at delivering. Comments on Radio Today suggest that this is another example of local radio’s demise, but there’s little local value in a jock who just bangs out the hits.

You could argue of course that Bauer should be doing more local – not less – after all they do run local stations, but what listeners need is better content and personality presenters are in short supply. Goodness knows I have moaned about this for some time, therefore I applaud anyone who values personality above liner card presentation and are bold enough to go out and employ them. We need more, not less and the courage to put these people on the air at at time when they can be enjoyed by the masses.

It’s a gamble though. Hiring a big name is just one part of the equation. You also need great support and the right formula. I expect they will still be doing local news but the format needs careful consideration and there is no point in having a big name if they are dead from the neck up or are restricted to working within a format devised for someone else. What we have here is a proven entertainer and therefore you need to give him room to do his thing. Sunday mornings? A good idea if you ask me. Look at the competition across the UK between 9am and 12. Even R2 is in automation with Steve Wright and most of the commercial networks are offering a limp listen at best. There is a big gap worth going for here and Paddy is in the right demo.

It is widely known that he was close to striking a deal to present the Heart breakfast show in the NW but for some reason that fell apart. I think it was the right decision and would probably have lasted no longer than a year or so, but a weekly show is another thing altogether. While the 9am to 12 slot on a Sunday has traditionally been a big time for local radio, if what we get is a personality who provides us with something new and fresh, then that must be better than jukebox radio surely? If, however, this turns out to be nothing more than a bland music show with the odd link thrown in, Bauer will have wasted a glorious opportunity. Please god, let it be live. A recorded show will always fail.

Let us not forget that for the first few years on Radio 2, Jonathan Ross’s weekend show was brilliant and drove millions to the network. He pushed the boundaries and made listeners laugh. McGuinness may be an unknown as far as the dark arts of radio is concerned, but he has a big Northern personality with a sharp wit who may just engage the masses and deliver something quite special. He’s also known to love radio as a medium.

I have some worries though. I cannot underline enough the importance of providing him with a top notch ‘radio’ producer and giving him room to breath, certainly Bauer must have the courage to cut back on the adverts (Three breaks Max – their current 12-14 mins per hour would be a disaster). They also need to manage complaints well and take a hit from time to time. The whole point of a personality is that you are asking people to like or dislike what they do. Both are useful when it comes to the overall success of a show. In any case, minor complaints will only drive up his popularity and for this you certainly can’t have a weak manager who buckles after the first negative email.

For weekend commercial radio, this is one of the best moves I’ve seen for some time and it is certainly one with potential. I only pray they don’t do it half cock. There is a lot at stake here because if this works, personality might be on the come back and that would be great for everyone. Is it local radio? If it delivers great entertaining content, I don’t care. I say yes, this is an idea I likey!

Footnote. Bauer has confirmed that the show will be LIVE each week.

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Bauer’s Magical Mystery

Bauer have changed the logo of Magic in London but not everywhere else because everywhere else is not like London. No, London is sophisticated and listeners in the North are not. One likes things to be soft, rounded and cuddly while the rest of the nation still prefers gritty edges and The Beatles! Who knew?

Anyway, don’t panic! For many years Heart in London was a little different to the output of Heart in Birmingham, Real Radio in Wales was always slightly different in tone and sound to Real Scotland and so on, but what they did have was a shared visual identity. What we see now is a differentiation in logo for the same brand. This flies in the face of normal practice so it is either completely bonkers or the efforts of a marketing genius. Or perhaps there is another reason entirely?

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Moving a variety of stations to a single brand was a driver to maximise revenue, ease in a raft of network programmes and to cut down on marketing costs. Now what we have – and I assume we are asked to understand the logic behind it – is that these are two different types of radio stations who just so happen to share the same name. Ok, but why you would change one and not them all unless there was a more devious plan to drop the name on AM going forward? I suspect that is the plan, in the digital world Magic AM will morph into something very different. In London, this is about trying to appeal to those listeners who may have defected to Smooth. It screams we are still here, still progressing, still warm, cuddly and sophisticated and worth trying again because we play great music. Although they never actually say that anywhere!

Steve Parkinson has been explaining his thoughts to Radio Today:

“This new brand identity for Magic 105.4 is an evolution of our current logo and references the contemporary positioning of both the London station and TV channel, which is a different offering to our Magic AM stations in the North which broadcast a gold format,”

There you go – it is evolution not revolution! Fair enough, but I can’t help but smile knowing how many people and hours they will have been spent thinking about that new jazzy rounded dot on top of the I. The truth is no one will notice, very few people really care, there will be total apathy towards it all with the exception of people like myself and those within Bauer who’s job it is to worry about this sort of stuff. And the cost of this….. please. Don’t dare ask!

PS. I quite like it by the way!

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You don’t need a badge to prove you’re a winner!

My grandson had a sleepless night, although he was way too cool to say so. His GCSE results occupied his thoughts and were his first big test in life, at least as far as he was concerned, and when they arrived they were better than he was expecting. More importantly, he is one of the nicest young men I know and that alone gives me more confidence for his future prospects than anything else.

We all face tests of some sort every single day. I can recall striving to win my first swimming badge for splashing across the width of a pool, right up to getting picked for the school team or passing my driving test. Every day there was something or someone that tested my ability to navigate through life and the older I got, the bigger those tests seem to be. Exams are just another hurdle to jump over and of course, we should all congratulate those who received the news they were hoping for. However, for those who may be disappointed, the only question anyone should ask of you is this: Did you do your best? If the answer is yes, then that should be good enough. Some will always do better than others but that does not make them a better person or even a more rounded individual. The only thing exam results demonstrate is a persons ability to learn and recall at will. Nothing more, nothing less and while many an employer will take this as evidence you can work to a certain standard, life is much more complicated in real terms.

For me, I look to hire people who are likeable. In my book, I bang on about the importance of working with people you like. Being likeable is a gift that opens far more doors than a list of exam results can get you and it is so very often under-valued. You should note that after some 30 odd years in the workplace, not a single person has ever asked me what I’ve achieved academically, instead, all they wanted to know was if I could do the job asked of me and if I was honest, hardworking and reliable – and likeable! There is no exam for being likeable, it is a life thing, something that comes from having the right attitude and adopting a ready smile on your face. A huge number of people have become enormously successful, multi-millionaires even, with nothing more than a gift for getting people excited about what they’re doing and where they are going. They are leaders with a gut feel for something special. Leaders are the most sought after people in the world and a great many of them left school with nothing but a smile and a magnetic personality.

So don’t let anyone kill any dream you may have simply because you failed to get the exam result you wanted. You don’t specifically need a badge, a certificate or a diploma of any kind to succeed, although I admit it can do no harm. Those who have degrees and certificates filling their briefcase but come with no life skills will bite the dust very quickly.

If you are young and really want to get on in life, I urge you to learn how to talk to people with confidence. Get off your phone and get in my face, talk to me about your passion, the world around you, your life and ideas. Make me want to get to know you more, why are you interesting? Show me hard work, drive and ambition and a love of life and I promise you, just about every single door in the world will open up for you. Very few people will ever really ask what kind of certificates you’ve got in the drawer, all they want to know is what sort of person you are and what you can do.

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One of life’s great mysteries!

The great thing about standing in as holiday relief for a couple of weeks is that it’s often a stark reminder about why you don’t do it full time anymore. The biggest jolt to the system is the 4.45am alarm call. That is still a killer, you constantly feel tired, always want to sleep and can do so at a moments notice on a clothes line. To be able to jump out of bed with a smile on your face, while armed with a positive attitude, remains a breakfast jocks greatest asset.

At Sun FM, where I’ve annoyed listeners for the past fortnight – I know that because they ring up and tell me – I’ve noticed that asking for texts is not something we do now, instead it’s all Facebook comments which seem to be working too. Text messaging overall seems to be in the decline from what I hear and a tweet I noticed recently suggested that BBC Radio 1 had the lowest number of texts to their shows for some years. It’s hard to keep up!

The flip side, in the commercial world at least, is the advertising-log. Why or why does it grow in length just because the weekend is upon us. Over the past two days my log has been very busy indeed (perhaps a sign of their commercial success) while over at Metro it’s also chocker and Capital are no different. We are a long, long way from the original 9 minutes an hour idea. However, come Monday it will be back to normal and that seems to be strange to me because most RAJAR books I’ve seen show the start of the week to have the largest audience on a day by day basis. I know emotionally that clients and advertising agencies think the majority of buyers are focused on weekends but I’m not sure that theory still stacks up today. I doubt it has been researched at all, yet we live in a world of 24 hour shopping, on-line ordering and a 7 day a week work mentality. Furthermore, if agencies are buying what they call a 4 OTH campaign, (this is where they want listeners to have an opportunity to hear an advert at least four times) then starting it on a Thursday does not really make sense because you rarely hit a 4 OTH figure until the very end of the campaign, a Sunday in most cases!

So why does this happen? Michael Tull is an Insight Manager at the RAB. He explains that there is no specific research as such but…:

The weekend is the biggest period of activity in terms of purchasing. So focusing advertising around these days help them to be top of mind at the crucial time. We’ve done a bit of work around ‘reaching people at relevant times’ for our Snapshots tool utilising things like the classic ‘recency theory’ which suggests that advertising is more effective when talking to people at that right time – e.g. shop promoting weekend offers on a Friday evening.

I know, anecdotally that sometimes it’s because of client-specific research/analysis of web traffic that reveals their key times – e.g. an insurance brand see biggest traffic on their websites on Sundays and Mondays so they target their airtime on those days (and the couple before) when people are doing their paperwork and making their decisions.

Good answer, but when I look at the adverts that have been scheduled, they seem to be non-weekend specific. Anyway, I’m not totally convinced, I think it’s a training issue but I am happy to be wrong. It could be nothing more than one of life’s great mysteries, just like the disappearing golf ball. You hit a great drive, you know roughly where it’s landed but when you get there, it has totally disappeared. Have a good weekend!

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The BBC and the fight over distinctiveness!

The BBC Trust recently announced a review of their national music stations and one of those under the microscope is BBC Radio 2, an enormous beast requiring an eye-watering public service budget of £47m. To be fair, only about a quarter of this lies within the gift of the controller, but that’s still a lot by commercial radio standards. The rest is untouchable, hidden within the dense fog of central costs. A record 15.5m listeners tune in each week to enjoy a wide range of programmes, packed with content and presented by some of the best radio stars in the business. There are three other good reasons why it’s successful:

* They have the best transmission service on planet earth. You can pick it up on a coat hanger.
* They don’t play any commercials.
* Commercial radio has changed dramatically.

I’m told Siobhan Kenny, the new CEO of The Radio Centre, is a shrewd political operator. She will need to be, as this is currently a fractured membership that lacks the bite it once had. Both UKRD and UTV Radio severed their ties some time back, blaming a misguided policy on DAB and an uncomfortable feeling that Bauer and Global control all the big decisions anyway. If either of these pull their funding, it is goodnight Vienna. That said, they will do their best to maximise the opportunity this formal review provides and history has shown that, when called upon, they can deliver a stinging critique of their competitors.

Radio 2, under the guiding hand of Bob Shennan, has seen big changes over recent years. The biggest risk was replacing Wogan with Evans and putting Simon Mayo on drive time. They’ve also added and improved their content and audience figures have gone up. The off-peak and weekend output is much more diverse of course but weekdays is hardly a pop station. Commercial radio often complain about the music Radio 2 plays across its daytime hours, claiming it replicates their own stations much too closely, but this is simply not backed up by the research*

If you look at the data between the peak 0600 to 1900 hours of both R2 and Heart FM for example, crossover of songs sits at around 10%. Hardly competitive! Do that again between Radio One and Capital and it runs at about 16%. You could spend all day analysing data and you will struggle to get a figure over 20% on any station playlist, but is this really the core question to ask anyway?

Taking The BBC to task is hugely important. I sat on the commercial industry board for many years and participated in some heated discussions with BBC management over their dodgy practices at the time. One of their favourite tricks was to embark on a heavy marketing campaign just before new commercial stations were launched. They claimed it was a co-incidence while chuckling away under their M&S cardigans and drinking decaf skinny latte’s. They’ve had years of practice therefore at defending their corner so any attack has to be planned and well thought out. When pressed, The BBC always retreat to their stock defence that what they do meets the traditional Reithian vision of high-quality public service broadcasting, a fair point in my view. Equally, The BBC know that they have to be seen to be helping the commercial sector whenever possible. Pressure was applied to Ben Cooper for example with regard to the average audience age of Radio One, although RAJAR is hardly the only measuring tool to use in this regard. It was a sign that they are prepared to listen when a valid argument is put forward.

One of the problems the Radio Centre has when going on the attack over distinctiveness, is that it’s a bit like pot calling kettle. Localness, which has been the key distinguishing part of commercial radio for nearly four decades, has practically disappeared from many of their own member stations over the years. There is a good reason for this. I led the government report into commercial radio in 2009 and it clearly highlighted that 80% of the industry was about to go bust unless radical and decisive action was taken to reduce costs and improve revenue. Too many stations had been licenced by the regulator, revenue was falling and costs were going up. This was a time when you needed to be multi-platform, on mobile, on-line, Freeview, DAB, SKY, and more. The BBC simply took this cost within their central areas, having no effect whatsoever on their programming budgets, while over in commercial radio, it became an enormous financial burden. Critically, it was also when public ownership was turning from a very good thing to a very bad thing! Suddenly the minds of most Chief Executives moved from running radio stations to fighting for their lives or trying to buy a competitor. Self preservation kicked in and many took their eye off the ball.

The commercial sector turned to the regulator for help and slowly and surely the rules and indeed the law changed in their favour. While the politicians pondered, the competition quietly and swiftly moved their ships to fresh waters and hired new presenters with mass appeal. Commercial radio responded by introducing the shiny new commercial model we see today. The mindset moved from programming what they thought listeners wanted to programming for how they felt, a significant change but one that could still be argued was distinctive and retained some public service at least. Mood stations were the new holy grail, anything local was re-named and sold to agencies as a sparkly one stop demographic shop. Who would have thought that a Heart listener in London is exactly the same as a Heart listener in Glasgow? At the same time, management got busy cutting back on staff and introduced vast swathes of networking. Some buildings were closed down, news bulletins became a shadow of their former self and due to fewer people being around, less content was produced. A tragedy ? Not really! The RAJAR numbers look pretty healthy overall and with this new formula in play, you can actually accept less people tuning in if you’re banking more money. Some would call this a triumph!

Moaning about The BBC therefore while all this has happened is a little rich. They will claim commercial radio has more than moved the goalposts themselves, practically changing overnight from being locally relevant to being nationally attractive. (not totally correct but you get my drift). All of this should not suggest for a moment that I am against taking The BBC to task, quite the opposite in fact, as some of what they do certainly needs explaining and especially around artist promotion. That said, considering BBC radio stations are packed with tons of content and commercial radio has mostly gone down the music and brand route, surely the gap between the two is now wider than ever? If that’s a reasonable summary, how can anyone suggest that the output of BBC Radio is not distinctive? Of course, if this was a boxing match, the odd jab might get through, but no bookie in the world would give you any odds whatsoever on a knock-out blow being delivered.

Whatever the argument, The Radio Centre will require a united front but I very much doubt that will happen if they can’t even agree on format relaxations. The BBC must look at this and wonder what the hell is going on!

As any successful business leader will tell you, the only way to drive change is to lead the charge yourself.

* music research undertaken by John Simons Consulting. Further information obtained from Bauer’s CompareMyRadio.

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Radio – where low pay and no pay is all the rage

In 1982, I was a presenter at Red Rose Radio in Preston, a station that played ‘The Hits’ and I loved it. The show fee of £25 was a flat rate inclusive of production, travel expenses and the time required to fill in all those dreaded PRS forms. Fast-forward to today and I can’t think of any other industry where rates of pay have not kept up as much with inflation. It is one of the reasons why people have left the medium. They just can’t afford to be in it anymore.

Last week on twitter I mentioned that presenters had been in touch who had not being paid at all. A lot of this was directed at one company in particular but not exclusively. I’ve also received emails from presenters bitterly complaining about low levels of pay, although to be fair, this has always been the case from all but the biggest stars. The general feeling however, is that things are getting worse. There are complaints of bullying where people are told ‘the fee is the fee’ so take it or leave it, the inference being that there is always someone who will. It doesn’t matter that you might be more creative, creativity is out, stations just want you to crunch and roll without complaint. Many are so desperate to work in this industry that they dare not speak out for fear of not being invited back. Those who do work without a show payment do so in the faint hope of some paid fill in work at a later date. Some times, these fresh faces are left alone in a station. Yes, the poor unsuspecting souls are in charge! Let’s hope they are across the many complex broadcasting rules.

I wanted to check the legal position so I called Paul March who is one of the best media lawyers in the business. Clearly he would need to have more details but he believes these practices are highly questionable indeed. The law states that a minimum legal wage must be paid to everyone, no matter what. In this country that is currently at £6.31 for adults over 21 year olds, (rising to £6.50 in October) so if a presenter or a tech-op is overseeing a live four-hour show, they must be paid £25.24 at least. For the record, I am not saying this is a fair figure; rather it is what the law dictates to be the minimum amount. If someone is called in for a voice tracking session and it takes two hours to record a weeks worth of output then again they must be paid for the time it took them to produce that work. You see this a lot now with TV continuity. Many digital stations bring in voice over artists and pay them accordingly, they certainly don’t offer up a daily fee for when their voice is on the air. That is legally permissible and commercially understandable.

The problem arises when inexplicably, it appears people are not paid at all. The law has changed a lot in this area.

We have allegations as to practice of non-payment and they should be investigated. If such practice is found to exist and the evidence to date suggests that within at least one group, it may well do, the legal consequences are serious. Earlier this year the government announced plans to legislate so that employers will be given penalties of up to £20,000 for each individual worker they have underpaid, rather than the maximum fine applying to each employer. In the most serious cases, employers can also face criminal prosecution.

Let me state immediately that I accept the principle that in order to gain work, some people may offer to undertake work experience or volunteer to make the tea. They are not Chris Evans, they are perhaps just out of university or student radio, it is the getting the foot in the door kind of thing and we have all been there and done that. I would have walked on hot coals to get into radio so I volunteered on a Saturday sports programme for example. People need a little time to work out if this is really something for them and they want to dedicate whatever time and effort it might take to get noticed. That is to be applauded but it is the moral duty of a manager to protect these people from themselves. Therefore, such time of unpaid work experience or to borrow the ever more popular American phrase for this, internship, is not and should never be open ended. Any sensible employer should state right at the start and in writing how long the free period is going to last. Expenses should always be a given!

One company in particular kept dropping into my timeline who have an alleged practice of not paying some of their presenters and that is Bauer. I contacted them for a response and a Bauer media spokesperson admitted to the policy by way of this statement:

We have a small handful of volunteers on The Hits, Kerrang! and heat radio seeking experience or exposure. In some instances they come to us direct from student radio for a kick-start to their radio careers. This is a situation seen across many creative industries and other radio companies.”

I was really quite stunned by this. A volunteer in my view is often found in community or hospital radio stations. A volunteer may come in and help out for a few days. Volunteers may participate in occasional station promotions or at a charity event etc but surely anyone would be surprised to learn they are working regularly on a national digital radio show – without payment – while the company sells advertising into those programmes and earns around £25MILLION or more a year in profits. They may call it volunteering, I call it something else! Surely, they can do better than this?

Of course there is a counter argument that putting presenters onto a national platform is a wonderful opportunity for those involved and I agree, some will always do it for nothing, but there comes a point – and I would argue it is very early on – when free must become paid. Companies like Bauer, who encourage new talent and provide people with training and support are to be given credit but people and especially young persons starting out in their careers have multiple drivers in seeking a position. Yes they will work for free but usually the ability to eat does factor as a consideration too! They are also the ones who very often need a few quid the most.

I find Bauer’s policy uncomfortable, especially for a company of their size and profitability, and bearing in mind their public promotion of people and values. But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps this is why they do deliver so much profit. Perhaps this is the modern world. Perhaps, it is unfair of me to single them out. That said, Bauer must know what they are doing, they are a respected and admired company but while presumably this practice has got through their HR and Legal and Business Affairs department, it begs the question how? Aside from the legal questions and the serious consequences as may flow, how does Bauer (or any company for that matter) reconcile such action with the more general questions of basic corporate responsibility? Surely there is a moral issue here?

What is more depressing is that just this week Bauer have waxed lyrically about the success of their digital stations while neatly forgetting to mention it partly comes from the labours of desperate individuals who will do anything for a gig. The practice of not paying people for longer than a month or so by way of a reasonable trial or training period has to be questionable. I endorse The Academy idea but once you start to take advertising money from the efforts of free labour, you must surely offer up a payment as a basic morale obligation. Quite how this can be reconciled against employer obligations under the National Minimum Wage Act is beyond me.

I wonder if we are looking at a scandal within our industry the equivalent of the frequent and depressing mis-selling scandals in banking? Is there a class action just waiting to happen? It’s a tough industry of course but I hope not.

Rates of pay for producers, presenters and more continue to be a thorny issue within radio. Perhaps consolidation is to blame, who knows! I’m told show rates are at an all time low, just above the legal hourly minimum, yet others tell me differently. Some stations would like to pay more but can’t, they have borderline profits. Some companies might not survive without volunteers. Whatever the reasons, I think it is time for someone to undertake an independent review of pay within the sector (not me), as many complain they can earn more driving a bus than from a radio show lovingly created after years of experience. I wonder if anyone can make a living as a jobbing presenter these days? Radio is not alone in this by the way; I see similar instances of sharp practice going on within many so-called digital industries where companies look for unpaid internship to boast their ranks.

I have no idea how big a problem all this is, it may turn out not to be one at all, but it is a subject worth highlighting. Who would have thought that the fee rate I moaned about back in 1982 is now something to aspire towards three decades later. Allowing for inflation, that rate today would be around £80 per show. I am not saying this is the figure to pay, (size of station is relative) but I am saying that no pay at all for longer than a month as a maximum, under any trial or volunteering system, should be banned.

It is worth remembering that thousands of people got their break in radio by offering up their services for free. That very act continues to have value and everyone loves people who are keen and are keen to show it. We need to discover the new stars of tomorrow, to lead by example and inspire them to take a career in radio seriously. Training is one thing, paying embarrassingly low show rates or not paying anything at all is quite another and hardly the best of starts no matter how much ‘experience’ we think they are getting. The law has changed and so must we. Make no mistake, no organisation can claim to have a people culture, if that culture only applies to a selective few.

Note: As of 17th August, I understand from some of the staff at Bauer that the company is reviewing this policy.

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RAJAR ponderings…

I was going to do a blog on RAJAR results but honestly, I can’t provide any better analysis than the thoughts of Radio Today, Adam Bowie, Media.info, Paul Easton, Matt Deegan, alongside my personal favourite RAJAR smilies. They provide more insight than I can so please go there. However, I can ponder and comment!

Lots of positive figures this time around and the spin from most has some substance at least. Many have numbers to smile about inc TalkSPORT but the top hat goes to Global and in particular for their Smooth performance and the early success of the switch from Real to Heart. The Smooth brand in particular just gets better and better even though it is perhaps the most boring station on the planet. There is a market for this output as I have mentioned before in a previous blog and they should be applauded for their success. That said, more work is required in Scotland and in particular the change from Real to Heart. Listeners up there will never tune into a station with mostly english presenters in the line up so investment in appropriate talent and a re-think on strategy is required for this to succeed.

It is depressing for me to see the fall of this station over the past few years, it appears to have gone from worst to first and from first to worst, all within a decade. All that sweat, passion, people, investment and effort of yesteryear seems a long time ago. As someone told me just yesterday, the biggest sandcastles always get swept away by a new tide. That is true and I really hope they build it back up again. I should give a personal nod to Smooth NorthWest in particular, what a staggering performance and not just now, but over the past few years. If there is an award given out in commercial radio for station of the decade, they would walk it.

As I always say, RAJAR results should never be read over a single quarter but we should congratulate Premier Radio. They are going in the right direction and God is clearly on their side, he must also love Chris Evans too. In the world of digital, you can’t help but ponder if Bauer have quietly and confidently stolen a march on everyone…. time will tell. Overall, everyone seems to have had a good book and that’s good for radio.

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This is what failure looks like folks….

It had to come but even I was surprised by how quickly Local TV screamed for help. I’ve said it before and I will do so again, local TV is the idea of a political madman, funded by people with too much money. It is vanity over sanity.

Many years ago, I was on the board of Channel M which was part of GMG, a billion pound media empire that walked into local TV just as ITV were marching out. They threw millions at it but it failed because it was ahead of its time and had a poor signal. You can debate the strategy and you might even argue about the programming but Mark Dodson, the original visionary for this station was on the right track. The biggest killer was revenue, up against a big ITV company in Granada who had the agencies by the balls with share deals in place that vastly reduced any money for a start up like this. To be fair, the agencies couldn’t understand the appeal of it anyway. Not many did and even fewer could find it on their TV screens. Despite many promises by government to resolve the signal issues, they didn’t. In the end, GMG pulled the plug. The public didn’t care because they weren’t demanding more local TV anyway, they were already in digital la la land. That was then, this is now and believe me, asking for local TV to work in this decade is like asking for the return of Long Wave. The world has moved on, the boat has sailed.

Jeremy Hunt then raised his idiotic head and led the charge from a political stance. He had a dream based on something he witnessed in America but those with an ounce of common sense knew it wouldn’t work from the start. For the record, it was never going to be about how good the programming might be or even about the quality of the people, instead it was all about how much revenue they could attract. Very little as it happens but that didn’t stop people applying for licences and guess what, despite a number awarded by OFCOM, many have still not launched. Birmingham is way behind its launch date, the North East is looking dodgy and many others are on life support. People who promised finance have now woken up and sobered up. Many have gone into hiding and funding therefore is not that easy to find anymore. You might as well stand on Tower Bridge and throw £10 notes in the air, at least that might be fun.

If there is anyone on planet earth who still believes local TV is a good idea, the problems of London Live should put an end to it once and for all. After just four miserable months on the air they are at the regulators door begging for mercy, pleading to have their local programming hours reduced, although they aspire to do more when they can. Ha! Local TV will not work because the business case just does not stack up. No one is tuning in, no one wants to buy it. I feel for the staff but the stupidity of those who applied should not be rewarded. Revenue will always be as rare as a Lib-Dem voter!

The regulator needs to do the right thing here and that is to smile nicely, walk to the door marked ‘for emergencies only’ take out the shotgun and put the desperate dog down. It will be seen in years to come as an act of great kindness. And to think that a huge amount of public money has gone into this and Jeremy Hunt is now heading up health….be afraid people, be very afraid.

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Are you sweating the small stuff…

If you’re involved in management or work within the sound of a radio station you will know that some things matter more than most. Presenters of course take up your time but so does the everyday stuff like promos, meetings, managing people, creative chats, news briefings and such like. Meetings are often a waste of time. I always ask the following questions: Why am I here, is a decision required and will my absence make any difference? If not, I tend not to go. Believe me, there is nothing worse than a meeting you don’t need to be at.

Another area of frustration are presenters who say things like….. (example) here is a bit of Abba. What bit? The start, the end, just the middle or what? It makes no sense! Then there are those who insist on telling me they’ll be back after the news or whatever. What, where are you going? Most presenters say this because their brain has slipped into auto-mode, something we are all guilty of at times. How often have we driven from A to B and can’t remember actually driving the journey?

Really good programmers sweat the small stuff. The kind of things most people may dismiss as irrelevant. If it goes on the air, it is ALWAYS important! One of those small but important things is the way a radio station goes into the news, often the hourly ID and something I’ve talked about before on a blog. It is an interesting subject because it’s so varied. BBC Radio 2 prefer to lead into their news with a reminder of how you can listen. On line, on digital, on FM etc. Free Radio prefer to highlight where you can listen with the phrase….in your home, on the move and where you work. This is perhaps more emotionally engaging. Others want to highlight where their news comes (as if we are interested) while some take the opportunity to remind you who is on the key breakfast show.

BBC Essex run ‘Essex and proud, this is BBC Essex. An interesting idea provided those listening believe Essex is an area to be proud about! Heart FM in Bristol go for on FM, online, on your mobile and on digital radio, this is Heart… However, before it was networked and rebranded, it used to say: …from the world’s best city, complete news and information, Bristol’s GWR FM. Which is more engaging do you think? I understand BBC Stoke used to say… BBC Stoke, news with personality. Wow, what exactly is personality?

The question is whether or not you want to use this hourly junction to be promotional, emotional or a statement of fact. What do you want listeners to embed in their brains when they hear it? Is it a reminder of how to tune in or is it a reminder of radio’s mobility. I think people know how to tune in, they already are, but telling them they have other options can be useful. Running a huge station promotional sweeper at the top of the hour requires careful thought however. It can often hijack the news bulletin and only really works if you are doing something rather special. Not that many are, listeners are never as excited as you expect them to be.

News alerts are also interesting. Does your station tweet when something big is happening in the local news arena? SKY annoy the hell out of me by alerting me to stuff (with audio) that is hardly breaking news. It is getting to the point where I think they are abusing their alert system.

The news intro is very, very important. This is the one thing that listeners will hear more than most so what is it you want them to remember? If in any doubt whatsoever, keep it simple, but I often lean towards using it to promote something else on the station at the same time. If you want to promote where to find you, where to take you and where the news is coming from then so be it, but I often wonder if it’s a lost opportunity. There is no right or wrong answer by the way, just different styles but you have to be sure it delivers the right message.

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