A Breastfeeding Dyke!

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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.

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Commercial radio on the up…..

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Despite all those who wish radio was like all our yesterdays, the latest data suggests Commercial radio is on the up again and I’m inclined to agree.

The brands have now settled in, both Global and Bauer are doing well and speech stations in particular are showing positive growth.

Capital is back in the game, Smooth NW is the biggest commercial station outside of London, Heart is the UK’s biggest commercial brand and Kiss just marches forward with Kisstory, a winner in itself. LBC reaching nearly 1.5m listeners nationally, is a milestone for celebration.

It’s a little strange that Absolute 80s seems to be bigger than Absolute Radio, especially as the latter is a station that’s home to a lot of personality and engagement. I wonder if this suggests that personality is on the wane and that brand led music formats are on the rise? I hope not, but you could certainly make the argument.

Locally, UKRD demonstrates the power of localness and knowing your respective community. It is also a nod to those allowing managers to manage.

In the world of digital, there is a lot of good news. While the BBC may run the top three performing digital stations (6 Music, R4 Extra and 5Live Sports Extra) Bauer is the UK’s biggest digital operator and their adopted strategy of some time back looks to be working.

There are some challenges of course, KEY103 in particular looks like it needs a great deal of thought. Times have changed in Manchester but this is something that can be fixed.

A couple of others really stand out to me. I know they have little competition but Manx Radio in particular has a massive 63% reach these days, but it is their 4 week reach of 82% that is truly eye watering. Can you imagine the joy of working in sales at this station.

Sir, look outside your window. 8 out of 10 people walking past listen to our station. The only reason they are not coming in to buy something from you today, is because we have not invited them to do so. Shall we put that right?

The same can be said of Island FM. Their listeners love it so much they tune in for 15 hours and 36 minutes a week attracting an amazing 44.4% of all radio listening in their area. If the old adage is true that no-one listens to crap for long, they are clearly doing well.

Two points worth making. Digital radio in cars is still too damn complicated to work, if you ask me. Secondly, while the industry is riding high, it has got to get better value for the audience it delivers. Fewer ads at a higher price delivering a greater impact must continue to be the goal.

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Football commentary, so yesterday!

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The news that another commercial radio group in the UK is to ditch live football is no surprise. Orion is simply following Bauer, Global and many others who have concluded that live commentary has had its day. Certainly, within the local commercial arena it no longer makes any sense. The world has moved on.

The first reason is value

The price of delivering live commentary just goes up while the revenue goes down. Rights, commentators, co-commentators, technical stuff, travel and accommodation make it a costly affair.

The second is revenue and timing

When I launched Century Radio in the North West with exclusive Manchester United coverage, TV games were mostly restricted to 4pm on a Sunday and a Monday night football show. All the others were still played at 3pm on a Saturday with RAJAR continuing to show a healthy number tuning in. Today, there is no ‘penis on the page’ effect coming from a surge of listening as the games are practically on every day and at every time of the day. RAJAR just can’t measure it and stations just can’t sell it at the right value.

The third reason is the changing media landscape

Gone are the days when listeners depended on their local stations for commentary or news about their favourite clubs. I can watch NUFC play each and every time through a variety of media outlets, some legal, some not and if not at home, I know a few pubs where the game will be screened. If it’s a big game, the excellent TalkSPORT or 5Live will have it on. Social media wins.

The fourth reason is the greed of the clubs themselves

Football clubs have long used local radio stations as their free PR machine, plugging games, tickets and more without paying the station a penny. That was fine when it was a two way street. Listeners tuned in because we had the information but now that they can get it instantly and from numerous sources, the need to turn to local radio for their fix is no longer compelling.

Tuning in to a local radio station for live commentary is so yesterday

Furthermore, clubs are control freaks. Many ban reporters if they don’t like what they’re saying and put announcements out on their own website well ahead of any trusted local media.

Greed is driving this along with a need to control the message. The money they get from their TV rights (Premier league clubs in particular) has made them drunk with stupidity about the real worth of their radio rights. Even those lower down the league often expect fools gold. Most people who run the commercial end of football clubs (not all) are commercially inept.

The CEO of Middlesbrough FC once complained to me that our radio commentary was the reason thousands of people no longer turned up to his ground anymore. I replied that this had nothing to do with our radio coverage whatsoever and more to do with the fact that they were, in that particular season, crap!

I recall telling David Holdsworth, who looks after BBC Local Radio, that he should dictate to his managers that no local station should pay more than £25K for football commentary rights. They don’t want it exclusive so why pay an exclusive price, I argued.

Knowing that practically all local commercial radio stations have walked away from live coverage, BBC local cannot continue to pay more than a token gesture, if they pay anything at all. Of course they should cover their local sides – and be keen to do so – but they now have the local market all to themselves.

They should ensure they benefit from that.

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WOW. Radio 1 Ibiza proms

Its not often I sit and watch something rather special happening before me.

Last night, I did just that. The Radio 1 Ibiza Prom was not just a magnificent fusion of talent, skill and excellence, but I doubt anyone other than the BBC could have pulled it off. Certainly, not on all platforms and with that range of talent.

The corporation is an expensive beast and yes, there are times when it conflicts far too much with the commercial sector, but when they create experiences like this, when the Arts, music and culture come together, it reminds us of why the BBC is important.

In fact, it made me proud to be British. It made me feel good to know that the world doesn’t have what we have.

The event itself is just one of six Proms curated in collaboration with six BBC national radio stations – 6music, Radio 1, Radio 1Extra, Radio 2 and Radio 4. Yes, even Radio 4 is getting in on the act.

So criticise all you like, but remember to vent that anger in the right direction and not at the staff and the people who simply go into work each day to do what they do best.

Hey, even the corporations harshest critic was moved to wax lyrically about it all.

Make no mistake, this was a great event. It generated talkability and brought together the best in the business who delivered a unique experience for the public to enjoy and remember.

You could argue of course that this is what the BBC should be doing more of – and that thought may have some traction – but regardless of whether you are in the target market or not, you have to stand up and applaud the fact that it exists at all and it is all ours.

It’s all gone Pete Tong? Well yes, but not without the brilliant Ella Eyre, John Newman and Jules Buckley and The Heritage Orchestra

Watch it again here

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What! You want me to talk?

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Liverpool 2015.

Bauer’s application to put City 2 on FM and downgrade the Talk station to AM makes good commercial sense. That does not make it right.

The talk station they launched in 2006 has been nothing short of a disaster from day one and they’ve been trying to change it to something else ever since. If this latest move is approved, it will be the fourth format and the third change in just nine years.

The drive for change comes from competition.

Global’s Smooth Radio (formerly Jazz fm) is a giant in the North West, raking in cash and listeners galore. It’s the Apple of radio up there. This, and their recent acquisition of Juice FM (soon to be Capital FM) turns the screw even more against Bauer.

It’s easy to see therefore why they’d want to move City 2 to FM as it will offer more protection commercially. The fight is about music radio.

If any further evidence is needed, Bauer have just announced that they are to drop live football coverage from next season, something they have carried since 1974. This will not win them any new fans especially in a city where sport matters!

For the record, I like the Bauer 2 network. It’s my second favourite station right now but changing platforms is of little benefit to the Liverpool listener. It is already on DAB, a growing popular platform and something that Bauer claims to be the future.

This is nothing more than a way of commercially making sure they have all their guns focused on protecting revenue. It has absolutely nothing to do with extending listener choice.

Can you imagine the outcry if Global suggested dropping LBC to AM across London just so they could put Heart Extra on FM? It would never be allowed and it should not be allowed here.

Having said all that, if I were Bauer and faced with losing my Liverpool crown, I would probably try the same thing.

As I said in my blog last weekend

Anyone who thinks commercial radio will fill the gap in a diminished BBC is either drunk or deluded.

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Thoughts on my BBC

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There is no doubt that the budget for BBC Radio 1 and 2, (£39m and £46m respectively) is an eye watering number especially to all those working within commercial radio. As I highlighted within my BBC Report a couple of years ago, how and why it costs this much is difficult to discover, it’s a bit like wading through thick fog wearing sunglasses.

The controllers have about a third of the published budget under their direct control (still a good number) with the rest being re-charges for things like news, engineering, copyright and housing etc. Normal practice in business perhaps, but the level of recharge is higher than the true cost in real terms. I have no idea why.

No one told them to do it this way, they just do.

In 2009, I pointed out that at least 60% of commercial radio was going bust. To survive, it required a new plan, one that included a change to the law, new formats and more networking. Part of the argument was that they needed to make more money in order to compete more effectively against the BBC. They got what they wanted and today the vast majority of stations are on the right side of profitability.

The two biggest groups, Bauer and Global, are banking more than £50m in gross annual profits between them. Yet, outside of the brilliant LBC and TalkSPORT, many would struggle to hear any of that cash being invested back into the important bit – the bit between the songs.

Instead, the industry has focused its efforts on providing low cost popular music services rather than investing in rich and more expensive content that may have challenged the BBC’s dominance more effectively.

In my view, this has resulted in commercial radio becoming a poorer, blander and more predictable listen than at any time over its 40 odd year history. Even the much trumpeted D1 is music or brand extension driven. D2 promises to be different.

Commercial Radio

None of this is intended to decry what they do, quite the reverse. It is a hugely successful and fills an important role, one that attracts millions of listeners. Local content is still delivered offered differently to the way it once was. Nothing stands still forever.

Certainly, there is little sign of market failure and so they are right to ignore those pompous fools who suggest there is. The regulator has few complaints.

It has to be said though that the current direction of commercial radio only highlights the very distinctiveness of the BBC. Knowing what we know, anyone who thinks commercial radio will fill the gap in a diminished BBC is either drunk or deluded.

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£115m is spent on a 40 station network yet their overall audience is plummeting. David Holdsworth, the boss of local radio, is charging forward with a new vision and some of it has merit. Good for him. Personality is back. News – while still important – will no longer be the dominant force and the music they schedule is going to be looked at.

While I applaud the initiative, I always worry when the same people who got you into trouble appear to be the same people now charged with getting you out of it.

One other point worth highlighting is marketing.

You can’t change what you do and keep it a secret. They will need to spend real money on inviting people back to sample the new sound of local radio and where they will get that in these times, outside of cross promotion, is anyones guess.

The BBC are not without fault

Nothing in life is perfect. There will be changes and the things we value the most are often the things that give us the most sleepless nights.

From a personal perspective, I’ve always found that those who see the price of everything and the value of nothing, are very dangerous people indeed.

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Radio Centre – Sound, Commercial, Sense

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Every CEO loves a new logo and Siobham Kenny at the Radio Centre appears to be no exception. I don’t mind that as she outlines a solid reason for change although I always worry if an industry body such as this should go to all the bother and expense of it all.

A new energy

The most important aspect of the Radio Centre surrounds its vision and what it stands for. I sense a new energy within the glass building in New Oxford Street, which also houses the Radio Academy, RAJAR, Digital Radio UK etc. I’ve always had a soft spot for everyone in the house, they care about radio and while I may sometimes disagree with a particular stance on occasion, that does not diminish its importance to the sector as a whole.

The new slogan: Sound, Commercial, Sense is a good one.

An industry body is not measured by snappy slogans though, the only thing that matters is what it does for its members and associated parts. The Radio Centre is a force for good. It is committed to showing the industry in a positive light. Their conference and awards of this week did just that. Equally, they are also there to lead the radio debate, drive change and create the framework for the future of the UK radio industry.

Still work to do.

As they’ve outlined this week, far too much faff still exists with regard to things like T&C’s in ads, radio advertising needs to be valued much higher up in the chain and we need to make more noise about the great content we deliver as an industry (yes, there is still a lot) not to mention all the positive things we do within respective communities up and down the land.

The Radio Centre is working on all of this alongside keeping an eye on the BBC, a particular thorn in their side. They also have to continually remind those who worry about the demise of local radio that their fears are unfounded. It is NOT all regionalised or nationalised, as some might suggest; far from it.

Most of all, the Radio Centre must have significant political clout.

This comes from togetherness. It is ironic therefore that while many at the conference talked about ‘trust’ and ‘value’, those words are not guiding the Radio Centre’s own board, who still won’t allow or should I say – find a way – for UTV and UKRD to return to the table. There may be faults on both sides but right now, such is the divide, these two important groups won’t even enter the commercial radio awards. How can that be right for this great industry of ours?

I like Siobhan, she’s a smart cookie and under her guidance, the Radio Centre has gone from good to impressive. It could so easily be outstanding, if only they could come together as one.

Whoever resolves this will be the one showing true leadership.

One voice, one vision, one message.

This is what makes Sound Commercial Sense to me!

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Tony Hall’s big cull!

Tony Hall believes there are too many managers. He’s dead right there but this is not news!

I can point to many reports, including my own, that have all said the same thing but as most were delivered into the arms of the very people under threat, not a lot was done about it.

This cull was always expected even though it looked slightly rushed when it came out.

Tony is politically astute enough to know that managers are often despised by the troops to a certain extent, especially those in the middle ranks, so he was hardly saying something people didn’t want to hear. While I applaud the ambition I do worry about how they are going to go about it.

The bad managers cannot be allowed to decide the fate of the good ones. If so, the corporation will be in the control of those egotistic fools who wouldn’t know a great plan if it fell on their head.

The BBC is something we should be proud about.

The BBC has excellent journalists, programme makers, presenters and technical staff who deliver truly world beating content right across the board. It also has many excellent managers but the number to be cut only points to the failure of those at the top. It is they who allowed it to get to this point, it is they who ignored the warnings of ‘management creep’ mostly through a desire for mind numbing bureaucracy.

If we are honest, HR also failed to get rid of the dross early on, preferring promotion to dismissal. Few were ever sacked.

The big worry for me now is who decides who leaves and who stays.

You have to go through this task carefully, respectfully and with a great deal of experience.

You have to know who’s good and then ensure you keep them on side. Those who are asked to leave are equally entitled to ask, why me? The reply needs to be honest and direct, not HR speak. There is nothing worse than being fired by someone who couldn’t lace your boots.

Who stays will fundamentally determine the very future of the BBC.

Tony must surely know where all the deadwood is by now, he’s been there long enough. If he needs any clues, he just needs to ask the staff on the ground floor. They can tell you without a hint of self preservation.

For the record, anyone who believes that the world would be a better place without the BBC is absolutely and categorically wrong.

If we lose what we have, we will never get it back. The British public has invested far too much in an organisation that is the envy of the world. I agree with the plan and the ambition but the focus should firstly be on who’s swinging the axe before deciding who’s head is being chopped off.

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Stephanie Hirst – BBC Manchester is not the answer

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Stephanie Hirst has gone through a lot this past year and in doing so is a much happier person all round but this blog is not about gender, it’s about talent and bizarre decisions.

Stephanie is widely known for hosting the biggest breakfast show outside of London. She’s imaginative and creative and until recently, the entertaining ringmaster of a morning show that delivered big audiences.

Yes, of course she can also do a good music show but it’s not what she’s best at.

She’s at her best when delivering content that people like to hear.

Yet, despite being off air for nearly a year, and a track record of winning, there is little evidence of commercial radio waving new contracts in her face, which is bewildering to say the least, especially when commercial radio needs great talent.

There are perhaps a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly Capital are still paying her salary so until that runs out, they call the tune but there is life outside of Yorkshire. She can work elsewhere. She has a driving licence, owns a car, has sat-nav and can read a map and for those who worry about these kind of things, she also has ISDN, a full studio and even a great Internet connection.

Secondly, she wanted to take some time out of radio herself. Fair enough, but now she wants to return and commercial radio is strangely absent.

Instead, she’s having to trundle over to BBC Manchester to do a 90s show. It just doesn’t stack up.

While I’m at it, why is BBC Manchester airing a 90s show anyway?

Surely, management have much bigger issues to sort out than this. They’ve made some changes recently – some of them look positive – but a 90s show is neither demanded by the audience or a solution to their problems. In addition, the city is already stacked with stations playing 90s songs every hour of every day so it all points to creating a show just to have Stephanie on the air.

I’m therefore left to ponder

The 90s show is far from exciting so this must be part of a wider plan. Maybe, the BBC and Stephanie are using this as a trial run to see how things go, allow her to re-find her radio voice and then, if successful, move her up the schedule somewhere.

If I was going to hire her, I would give her a wider playlist, a better time slot and above all, get her to talk to the audience in a way that delivers compelling content. She’s good at that!

Whatever the reason, I really hope this is not the BBC delivering diversity box ticking bollocks. She’s deserves better!

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Can Evans remain in Top Gear?

I admire Chris Evans, he’s a rare breed who’s as good on the telly as he is on the radio, (I’m excluding The OneShow here)

The news that he’s to present AND producer Top Gear while continuing to host the R2 breakfast show, might be good for his bank balance, but I can’t see it lasting long term.

First of all, let’s consider radio.

He’s got the pressure of hosting the biggest breakfast show in the UK. Nearly 10m listeners tune in and they expect nothing less than 100% from him. Right now, he’s (mostly) focussed on the job, constantly texting his team, changing running orders, full of ideas, – everything a great breakfast jock should be.

However, anyone who’s ever done a breakfast show will know that getting up at 4.45am is mentally exhausting and totally draining. It saps your energy, you often have to take cat-naps just to get through the day.

Now, let’s consider Top Gear.

This is a global programme for BBC Worldwide, generating a mountain of cash. It works because it’s different. It may have cars as a central theme – and knowing about cars is important – but since it’s re-incarnation, it’s really an entertainment show where three guys mess about while amusing us with their idiotic view of life. We’ve loved it, even the trouble they got into.

Anyone who thinks this is just a car show is bonkers.

The show is not just recorded over nine weeks either. It’s a constant production process that requires a great deal of commitment from all those involved, especially if you are the exec-producer. (They don’t do the detail by the way, they do the oversight). Furthermore, the show has a complicated filming schedule that involves long, tiring global travel that aims to deliver big high production elements.

And what about all those ‘live’ arena shows?

Let’s consider something more

Chris currently has about 10 weeks holiday a year from Radio 2. They can’t film everything around this and in any case, he will need proper rest time. This all points towards more weeks away from the radio. If that happens, he’ll be accused of taking listener loyalty for granted.

At some point, either Chris or the BBC will call time on one or the other because you can’t do justice to both while doing both.

With Top Gear, he’s be hounding, challenging, questioning and demanding because he won’t be able to help himself. Winning is the goal, nothing else matters. It will be all consuming and because of that, I fear for radio.

Finally, let’s consider the public.

The audience love who they love but presenters are a bit like having very rich food. Just enough is wonderful, too much is sickening.

I suspect BBC radio bosses might be silently pondering over who his replacement might be but there – in a nutshell – is the real problem:

Chris Evans in 2nd gear is usually far better than most people in top gear.

One thing is for sure, you can’t underestimate him. That said, the audience will decide.

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