Tomorrow’s BBC – Sunderland


97% of the UK public consume 18 hours a week of some sort of BBC output

This is quite a staggering statistic outlined at an event in Sunderland this week.

Some might argue that if you’re forced to eat their food by law, the figure will be higher than one might expect but few would subject themselves to 18 hours of something they don’t want or enjoy.

It also appears that many are reading, watching, listening or engaging with content without realising it came from the BBC at all.

Does this eye-watering statistic demonstrate the enormous value the licence fee offers – or does it highlight an over expansionism into areas they shouldn’t be in?

The debate at the impressive National Glass Centre called Tomorrow’s BBC, was attended by members of The BBC Trust led by Rona Fairhead and some BBC Execs, namely Tim Davie. The various links are here

They asked for views on how the BBC was doing. They got it in spades and was, perhaps, their liveliest debate so far.

A powerful theme emerged that the BBC needed to think more about the North. You can’t pitch your waggon in Salford and believe it’s job done!

Graeme Thompson, Dean of the University of Sunderland and a veteran of NE media himself pointed out the bizarre production issues of the hit TV series; Boy Meets Girl. Set in Newcastle, yet it was filmed almost entirely in Manchester. This news surprised the execs on the panel.

It may have done well in the ratings but it didn’t pass muster with those who couldn’t recognise the streets, restaurants and locations they were asked to believe in. In fact, so little was spent in the region that the programme has failed to meet the very basic criteria for entry into the NE RTS awards.

The message was loud and clear.

More money, more thought, more production and more considered ideas about the impact the BBC has in areas like the North East is essential. The area has talent; What it lacks is the investment and a real commitment to producing here.

On a personal note, I’m rather sick of ‘The North’ being shown as an old fashioned stereotyped location when the reverse is much more accurate. The North East, in particular, has some of the world’s leading businesses that succeed because it has access to an incredible workforce with bags of creative talent.

The BBC has a duty to show the region as it is today, not what it was yesterday.

One thing this 97% / 18hours stat suggests is that while the BBC can be accused of getting things wrong at times, they also get an awful lot right.

I still maintain that the licence fee is the best bargain in Britain and told them so, but I also know that my view is not universal. That is why you should make sure you attend one of these so called roadshows and make sure they hear your opinion.

If this amazing stat is right – and they confirmed it – there is a lot at stake.

Read More

Personality radio. Do you really, really want it?

imagesIain Lee’s departure from BBC Three Counties Radio is sad, but hardly a shock.

I’ve always liked him – and people like him – they make radio more attractive. I think he’s a great talent.

However, this was the wrong interview on the wrong station at the wrong time. It was also a subject that required a particular tone.

You can’t enter BBC local radio and not work within the system. You have to adapt. His role was to put questions forward that demanded answers. Very often interviewees like this hang themselves with their words, there is no need to attack them with your own.

Yes, of course, be challenging, but an aggressive stance has to be avoided. You can argue that his style and use of the word bigot etc. was right and proper, but the issue comes when you do it on a BBC local radio platform. You have to be a lot smarter.

Nick Ferrari gets the tone just right.

The problem for presenters like Iain Lee, Jon Gaunt and others like them, is that 95% of what they do is hugely entertaining, it is the other 5% that can make a manager think again.

Everyone has a boss. Everyone is accountable. A presenter generating complaints is a pain in the arse.

In Iain’s case, like so many before him, there were only a few until social media blew it into a storm. You can’t avoid that today, especially when tackling a subject like this.

Religion will always be trouble

Commercial radio, with its mostly vanilla output of music, doesn’t need outrageous personalities to succeed, and the same goes for the BBC. The fact is there is more than enough talent out there to do a decent job without generating this kind of hassle.

It is not as if radio itself is losing out. 90% of the British public tune in each week, a hugely impressive number where competition and choice are at your fingertips.

Listeners won’t walk on Downing Street because their favourite presenter isn’t on the air anymore. They might moan a little but the next day they simply get on with their lives. Your hassles are of little interest.

Is this latest development a sign that local radio’s proposal to adopt more personality is in ruins?

I don’t think so. Personality is not always about a controversy anyway.

Many interesting people on the air self-edit and believe me, self-editing is critical to survival.

You can challenge this thinking, of course. You can ignore the advice, but one think is absolute.

Without the power of the mic, you are a nobody. You’re just a listener.

Even if the station wanted to keep Iain, The Trust were never going to allow it because religion is the hottest topic and as such I suspect they were the driving force in making his exit a foregone conclusion.

For the record, I don’t think Iain’s interview created widespread offence, what he did do was offend the powerful vocal minority. We say we want personality radio, but if that’s the case, the silent majority have to stand up and say so.

165622eee785e5ba3b4e54f6ab4e2092 Is it sad? YES, it is. Absolutely.

If there were a station that had, Gaunt and Lee on, I would tune in, but I suspect it wouldn’t be around for that long.

OFCOM would see to that!

I wouldn’t have fired him or allowed him to ‘resign’ if that indeed was the case. I don’t know but reminding him of his role would have been sufficient or moving him to a slot where he could be more himself, but the world is not like that today.

If you really, really want personalities like this, it appears you have to go online. Tune into a ‘Gaunt’ podcast perhaps? His download numbers are impressive, but I’m not sure it’s a profitable one (yet).

NOTE: Blog slightly updated and amended since first published.

Read More

BBC Local Radio update


If there was ever a moment when BBC local radio needed to shine, or show some improvement at least, this was it. Up before the Trust, they could have done with some good news. Sadly, it didn’t materialise.

David Holdsworth will have some explaining to do, but numbers always give the clearest picture.

The lowest reach % performance under the current methodology.

Total hours dropping a further 4m on this quarter alone, to 57.1m.

I know it’s Halloween but even I dare not show you the graph over the past decade, it would scare the bravest of souls.

Why are listeners leaving? Why is the fall off so drastic? Why are those who are still listening, listening for less? Is the budget being spent in the right way and on the right things?

The bottom line is this:

Across the network, the loss of breakfast listening, is the single biggest issue.

It is not me saying it by the way; this from an internal memo.

When you have 40 plates spinning at once, a few will fall off but some worry you more than most. BBC Leeds is a prime example. A couple of years back, all it required was a little love and care from a knowledgeable programmer. Today, it requires the skill of a vastly experienced surgeon.

Many things are going well in local radio. BBC Manchester is showing definite signs of recovery. Up five quarters in a row and its best share since 2009. Does the fact that they have gone through 18 months of drastic change not suggest something?

The great stations carry on as normal and often unnoticed. That’s a shame because the good outweigh the bad, yet, something is wrong.

One point worth highlighting is the growth of the over 50s this time around, although it accounts for only 45% of the whole. For a division aimed at 50 plus, the route to success is staring them in the face.

Not everything is bad.

Believe me when I say that my love of local radio is absolute. I would rather a national network lost their funding before a local town lost their station but – and I know I’m a broken record here – if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you always got.

David Holdsworth’s claim that change is coming has to move from lovely words to decisive action. Right now, I see little sign of it.

Read More

Time to back Vanessa

imagesThere are a lot of good things happening in UK radio just now.

Radio X looks like it’s got off to a good start, UTV is progressing well with their new digital services, Kisstory is a standout performer, and Smooth Radio just gets better and better.

London is still the biggest battleground of course and while LBC has had a good run of late, the announcement of changes at BBC Radio London, suggests the fight is far from over.

I’ve never really been a fan of the station to be honest (I don’t think it belongs in a local radio network as such) but moving Vanessa Feltz to breakfast, is a smart move.

I’ve met her, but I don’t know her. Those that do tell me she’s a complex and engaging character, an excellent communicator with a deep love of London, but something stops her from making significant inroads into her competitors. To many, she’s a marmite presenter but in radio, I’ve always seen that as a positive.

She has her fans of course. In a taxi last week, I watched as the driver listened to her intently and then switched immediately to LBC, the moment her programme finished.

On Radio 2′s early show, she does an excellent professional job but something is missing, I wonder if it’s little warmth. I can’t put my finger on it. It’s the same when she stands in for Jeremy Vine, a show she does well although just occasionally, she uses words that I have to rush and look up.

Nevertheless, listening to her last week reminded me of just how good she is. Her conversational intelligence is outstanding, although, in my view, her best feature is her attitude.

Speech breakfast is a different ball game to music radio.

Speech radio is difficult and challenging, to win will require total focus. LBC, where Nick Ferrari is top dog and has the brilliance of a common touch, is the one to beat. He’s also got bags of humour, big names, great contacts and all the political guests you could want. It’s then delivered up as an entertaining, opinionated sandwich of joy.

To compete, Vanessa has to be totally committed. It is why I worry about her decision to remain on Radio 2′s early show, something that requires getting up at 3 am. I know it’s a national gig but doing both sends the wrong signals in my view.

For the first time in years, BBC Radio London has a chance to move the needle and change perceptions. Anything that gets in the way of that goal has to be avoided.

Competition is good for radio; it is also splendid for London listeners. In a years time, it may even prove to be the move that saved the station.

Read More

Carlisle – where the people are doing it for themselves!


There is something rather delightful happening in the UK city of Carlisle right now.

Often promoted as the ‘gateway to the Lakes’, its core population is less than a full house at Old Trafford but the noise they make is just the same, especially around business and regeneration. Best of all, it’s led by local people rather than by national politicians. That, in itself, is quite unique I think.

I’m from Carlisle and proud of it. I know the people, they know me and as far as I can tell, we get along. The city is no different to many others in that it fell into a bit of a decline after successive governments forgot about ‘The North’. That said, and if the truth was our guide, it also suffered from a lack of innovation from within with anyone even looking like an entrepreneur being viewed as deeply suspicious. That was then, this is now.

Carlisle has always loved its own.

The local press performs well alongside the local television news programme which delivers such loyalty and affection that it dwarfs that of other regions. BBC Radio Cumbria is one the best in the network while the commercial alternative, CFM Radio, a station I launched back in 1993, is a UK success story all on its own.

Again and like so many other areas, it had an industrial workforce but as businesses fell away, others were created that required the population to retrain and work differently. Those skills have not gone unnoticed and today, some of the largest names we know and love have set up home in Carlisle.

None of this is the real story in my view.

Where this tale really starts to become interesting is when you notice that it is the community itself that is doing all of this. They seem far from ready to accept a raft of state handouts believing instead that they can do better, and they are doing better.

A new breed of entrepreneurs has sprung up. They are injecting new investment, hiring local talent and taking on risky projects. It is working too, with the public responding positively and a real sense of pride has returned to the streets.


What Carlisle has become is quite inspirational. There is a sense of togetherness that is both heartwarming and respectful. Many tell me that their goal is not just to do better for themselves but to improve their surroundings for future generations. How good is that?

Furthermore, this action has gelled people from all walks of life. Even the council – led by the impressive Colin Glover – has moved from being retrospective and risk averse – to one that is forward facing and supportive.

This is not happening everywhere, but it is happening in Carlisle.

Positivity is a good word, but that in itself does not make things happen. What it does do, however, is provide a platform for growth which is far more helpful than being around those who see things negatively.

keep away from those who say you can’t and spend more of your time with those who believe you can

Those who do believe and are doing something about it are a group called: Carlisle Ambassadors and their ‘give a day to the city’ project which is all about giving something back, is particularly impressive. This group is the engine room for future growth.

If you haven’t visited Carlisle of late, please do so. You can see the changes for yourself. New hotels, new businesses, improved infrastructure, fast times to London and best of all, a self-belief. The excellent Carlisle Living Magazine highlights this and more every month.

It is easy to offer criticism when things are going wrong, but it takes effort, real effort to make a difference. Carlisle is showing others the way forward in this respect and the people are to be applauded for getting off their backside and making it happen.

Pride in the place that you live and pride in the people you live with will ensure that this momentum is maintained.

Read More

Is the game up for local TV?

Regular readers will know that I’m no fan of Micro local TV. I used to be, I was an advocate but that was over a decade ago and the world has changed a lot since then. When the Government minister promoted the idea as part of a ‘Digital Britain, it looked miles out of date before it even got started.

The financials of those launched so far make for grim reading. An ocean of red ink across the bottom line point to the fact that it just can’t continue for much longer. The costs are too high, the revenue is too low and any re-examination of the business model as suggested is just missing the point. There are a couple of good ones by the way, but they are the exception rather than the rule. Their success won’t help much because the basic idea of a nation filled with micro local TV, is deeply flawed.

The BBC cannot be forced to continue to financially support the idea either. Just how many ways can you cut the licence fee for goodness sake? Any suggestion of an extension on the present deal will be laughable.

When you can’t cut costs, you look to blame others or change the model but to do so is a fruitless task and has to be resisted. Not because change is impossible, but because local TV is so yesterday and not the answer in a world where watching a fixed screen is clearly on the decline. Few people want it and even fewer want to buy it.

Only madmen fuelled by their own importance want to keep it going.

Sometimes, despite the enormous talents of those around you and the passion shown by many, someone has to call it a day and agree it was an idea that was deeply flawed. I’ve had many ideas that bit the dust but recognising a dead horse when you see one is fundamental to your survival. The government should ask that the regulator and their ministers concentrate their efforts on the next big idea, whatever that happens to be.

John Whittingdale can do so while pointing the finger of blame at Jeremy Hunt, who went to America and forgot that the UK is a very different country entirely.

Just imagine if he was in charge of something important?

Read More

Moyles…is back!

chris-moyles-radio x

I tuned in this morning expecting not to like it, but I did.

Radio in the UK has been missing someone like him and it was annoyingly refreshing to have him back, even if it was very ‘in’ at times (the digs about Radio 1 and his old boss, the comments about Richard Park and Stephen Miron, the CEO of Global Radio etc). Radio is certainly better for his return and DAB especially.

He’s grown up a little but in other ways, not a lot.

The banter about the news from Global news was amusing and his comments about adverts getting in the way of creativity is something most listeners can relate too. The content was OK for the first day especially when the first day is not that important, but this was all about getting on and getting it over with. The team as a whole is also good.

I was surprised by the The TV commercial. Global are the kings when it comes to producing fantastic TV adverts to promote their radio stations, but this time, they produced one of their worst. OK, it is all subjective and I know many people love it, but the creative suggests that what we are getting is the old style Moyles when I kind of like the new one. Perhaps it was the right way to drive trial, they could be right.

Nevertheless, credit where it is due.

Moyles is a refreshing listen and I genuinely liked the show, he got some good stuff out of his guest but for this to succeed and live up to the hype, he has to stop being the poor mans Howard Stern (even the imaging gives a nod to that) and instead kill us with fantastic content that people want to share and talk about. This week, he will settle down, get into a rhythm and Parky (The PD) will be offering some guidance, that’s for sure!

He does makes it sound easy though and for listeners, that relates to it being enjoyable. He breaks the rules and gives the impression it is all being thrown together, which is far from the truth. Those tuned in want something edgy but as this show progresses, they will also demand something unique. We didn’t get that today but it was a tighter Moyles, he played more music and I guess there is a need to talk about the past before marching forward with the new.

Best of all, personality is back!

Scores on the doors for the first show: 7/10.

Read More

Can you stand in ?


It’s great being the regular jock on a radio station but what happens when you are asked to dep’ on a show. What are the rules? What should you know and be prepared for?

I spent many of my early years filling in for presenters on all kinds of programmes and there is a knack to getting these slots. You quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. Here is my list of do’s and do nots but feel free to add some of your own.

1. Remember you are standing-in, not taking over.

2. The audience understands that their favourite regular jocks will take holidays. While they might expect to hear different voices coming out of their radio, they don’t expect to hear a totally different radio station.

3. Good jocks respect the person they are replacing so be happy to deliver regular features if required but do so in a way that doesn’t irritate the audience. Put your own style on it but keep to the format. Furthermore, know that being instantly forgettable once the main jock returns is a good thing.

4. Always double check with the PD that it’s OK to add some of your ‘amazing’ personality into the show. They may indeed want that but the fastest way to annoy the person who hired you is to surprise them with content they didn’t expect.

5. Remember, you are being asked to ‘hold the fort’. Do it well and you may be asked to do it often. What the PD doesn’t need is someone he has to keep apologising for.

6. When the boss wants someone to fill-in, they are mostly after a solution to a short term problem. Be professional, do your job!

7. Always be early, always listen to the output, always research the area you are broadcasting within. If you can’t listen live, listen back to the show you are asked to cover. Know the show, know the features, know the audience. Never just turn up!

8. Never, ever be tempted to forward, respond or promote any tweet, email or comment on social media from anyone who might suggest you are better than the presenter you are filling in for. Keep that to yourself!

9. Always be positive about the station and the area you serve alongside the music, the staff, fellow jocks, the environment and especially, the boss!

10. Love what you do and show it. Never moan, talk with a smile, say hello to everyone you meet and be likeable. Talent always rises to the top and will eventually get noticed so enjoy the thrill of being on the air.

Oh and one more…

Always thank the boss for the work…and keep in their face and memory if you want some more. Be seen around the station, call in for a coffee, get noticed, be a solution.

Remember my motto: Always say yes!

Read More

Moyles and Generation X


So three guys in their 40s (Vaughan is 49) are spearheading a new station for a new generation, formerly known as XFM.

While I’m not sure about the name Radio X, the news is really all about the return of radio leg-end Chris Moyles. Some might suggest he’s only back because all other options have fizzled out, but kinder and more considerate souls believe this to be a positive for radio and commercial radio in particular. I agree.

Moyles is a proven winner, Vaughan is a great broadcaster and Kay, well he’s a name at least.


Much will be made about the competition between him and Radio 1. It’s a fight he won’t win and a fight Global won’t want because being compared to Radio 1 all of the time will only highlight how wide the gap between the two really is. They are also close to 6music.

A significant rise in audience for Radio X might be great for Global but appear tiny against their competitor who’s on on both FM and DAB. Radio X is mostly just DAB.

While I applaud the initiative, I wonder if the return of Moyles is in fact two years too late. Yes, he will generate press and excite the anorak nation but I’m not sure this will mean a lot to the audience at large. Will they care enough to turn that dial? I hope so, but it’s not a given.

Three years is a long, long time to be away from the ears of listeners. People have moved on, radio has moved on and the new kind of audio star doesn’t even require a radio platform at all to succeed these days.

People forget easily.

The other issue is that Moyles is well known for being a bit of a dick. He was hardly Mr Popular at the BBC. Sometimes that works for you but mostly it doesn’t. For Chris to become popular again he will need to learn a little humility (as in Chris Evans). Perhaps he’s already done that as I hear good things of late and he certainly looks great.

Global will support him and the station with significant airtime but it won’t match the budget he’s had in the past when he was the self proclaimed saviour of Radio 1 and there will be very little cross-promotion, if any.

Radio is interesting again

Nevertheless, you have to hand it to Global. They are investing in radio and for that alone, I admire them. They are driven by a self belief that comes with a passion for winning.

As I’ve said many times before, winning is addictive.

They care about nothing else and on this point alone you can bet that Richard Park will be on Moyle’s case every single day – and rightly so.

Anyone who has ever run a station will know that if the breakfast show sucks, the station never gets going. Furthermore, Global have now gone public that personality matters on Radio X. Thank goodness for that.

What the jocks do between the songs is the real X here.

I suspect OFCOM might be busy but on this they just need to be brave and have a budget for fines. Vanilla has been the norm for too long and it has to change. Let us applaud big decisions like this and support them.

So congratulations Global for launching a station with personality and engaging people like Moyles again.

Just how talented he is and how much the nation really cares about him…we are about to find out!

Read More

A Breastfeeding Dyke!


Alex Dyke is a local radio phone-in host. He’s a personality of sorts, perhaps not in the same league as a Jeremy Vine, but nevertheless, that is his job. His style is well known to his audience and certainly to management.

He has an opinion.

His mission is to drive callers and get people talking. There are many ways to achieve that goal, but his preferred method is to walk the line of acceptable boundaries (something I guess his manager has been happy to accept to date) and at times, he will fall over. When that happens, a good boss will simply dust him down, provide more training and continue to offer support.

This furore over the way in which Alex went about the discussion on breast feeding mirrored his established style and approach. There is nothing new here. In taking such a bonkers approach to the subject matter he is regarded as being immature, ignorant and perhaps even foolish. Few would disagree with that.

Nevertheless, something doesn’t stack up. Are we really being asked to believe that his producer and station Editor were totally unaware of what stance he was going to take before going to air? If that really is the case, where were they when this discussion started to gather complaints. How come – if what he said was so unacceptable – management didn’t jump in and ask him to edit, apologise or tone down his approach to callers. If he is guilty of a crime then the producer and Editor are also in the dock with him.

I agree that his choice of words and phraseology could have been more intelligent. His viewpoint took him into a cul-de-sac that few experienced presenters would have found themselves, but this is a training issue. It is hardly a reason for a suspension. Unless of course, there is another motive here!

What this really shows is the flakiness of local management. This says to everyone who works for BBC Solent that if mistakes happen, if things go a little awry, if you are foolish for whatever reason, don’t expect much help from your boss. Instead, you could argue that they are already sharpening knives ready to thrust into your back.

A shameful way to act.

Managers manage, that is what they are supposed to do. They DO NOT panic and give in to a mob demanding a public execution. You never EVER heard Alex Ferguson blame his players for a poor performance, but at this station, they appear not only to apportion blame, they also bring out the firing squad at the same time.

What the manager should have done is simply say that we all know that Alex has strong views. The station does not always agree with those and they don’t on this occasion, but they do and always will do, stand behind his right to say what he believes is his point of view. However, they will speak to him about the tone used to get his message over etc. Perhaps this is the result of an outdated useless HR system at work.

I have said it many times before, Listeners don’t have the right NOT to be offended. Radio has to be bigger than that, managers have to be stronger than that. Yes, of course it is right to be respectful but you also need to be challenging.

The greatest leaders are those who show leadership at times when leadership is required. That means protecting, encouraging and leading your team. It means standing behind them publicly and bollocking them privately. It does not mean firing them in the full glare of the media while dissolving yourself of all responsibility.

For the record, I think Alex Dyke’s programme lacked oversight and intelligence and it was a dumb approach to take but suspending him is madness. It is weak management.

If BBC local radio really believes the way to deal with issues like this is to immediately suspend the person involved then all we will get is safe, boring, predictable and completely worthless output. Presenters will broadcast through fear, becoming robots rather than take a chance at being entertaining.

We need more colour in the output of radio, more opinions, more variety and more personality. Not everyone will like it and yes, some might find that offensive. We should face that head on.

There is nothing wrong with complaints. The trouble comes from those who have little experience in how to deal with them.

Read More