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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Local Radio Live…

Have a look at the picture above which was tweeted by BBC Bristol and featured on eRadio this morning with the caption, ‘lots of people watching in the rain’. Is this what BBC Bristol call a great picture of a great event?

This happens too often. I was recently walking through my local shopping centre and a station (one that really should know better) was doing what they call a ‘live OB’ of sorts. All they had was a table, nothing visually impressive at all with the exception of a few pop up banners and a presenter with a couple of promotional staff wandering around handing out leaflets and such like. What they did have in terms of outside equipment looked like it needed replaced but I stood and watched as people walked by. No crowds, no interest, nothing, it was embarrassing. There was no show of any kind, nothing to keep people interested yet here they were in all their glory. I shook my head and wondered why they were doing this. An outside event, no matter what, is projecting an image of who you are. Stations go to great lengths to sound good on the air but when they step outside, they often throw it all away. You simply can’t afford to get these things wrong today. You look cheap, you are cheap, you are not the kind of station I want to be associated with. These are the thoughts that are often going through the minds of those who watch you in action.

In between so called live links back to the station, there was nothing going on whatsoever. Once or twice, the presenter shouted something on a mic. No one cared, no one listened. There was nothing to listen too, he was just an idiot with a loud toy. The days are long gone when you can turn up and just expect something to happen. We live in a world where everything must be pre planned; this is your audience for goodness sake and if you are going to be outside, then you need to impress with some kind of performance or at least project yourself in the most positive manner possible. You have to be constantly on your game. Certainly, tweeting a picture that doesn’t show you at your best is to be avoided.

This OB lark has been a pet hate of mine for some time. Either you have the budget to do this right such as (Capital, Heart, Free Radio, Absolute, TeamRock etc) and have a plan of what you are doing when you are there or I would urge you not to do it at all. And this goes for BBC Local Radio too. I have witnessed them presenting a live show from some location or other while wondering why the hell they are there when they can do this just as well in a studio. There is no point going outside if it reduces the value of what you do on the air. Most presenters I know hate doing live events anyway. 20 years ago, I could present a show from Blackpool and a couple of thousand people might turn up, today one man and a dog with a copy of Exchange and Mart in his pocket might go along. Life today is very different and while some do indeed present themselves very well, others, as often seen in eRadio, need a lot more thought. The worst are those who have agreed to do something for a client and have dropped their trousers and standards for a few quid. It may be a revenue earner but sadly the station often loses more than they gain. A listener cannot unsee what they’ve seen! And while I am at it, can I vent my anger at the stuff local stations give out in the name of promotional gifts. Most people don’t want it, don’t need it or even value it. You don’t need lots of things, you just the right things.

When deciding to go outside or not you have to ask yourself lots of questions. Why are we there? What is the reason? Are we at an event or are WE the event? How are we going to do it? Is it because we want to or because we need to? Is there a good budget? Do we have a plan? How are we going to look? Are we going to entertain anyone? What is our image? Are we on a stage or in a corner? Is this for a client or to make some money?…. If someone came along and saw what we were doing, would they be impressed? You are promoting your brand, something you have invested greatly in. Are you sure you want to do this? PS. You don’t have to be a big station to look impressive either. The smallest can do it just as well with some clever ideas.

The bottom line is this: Radio stations should only venture out of their studios with the greatest of caution. Do it right or don’t do it at all. No one has ever rang a radio station to complain that you were not at an event, but thousands have often walked away disappointed when you did!

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Live from the Global newsroom….

I don’t usually wonder about mundane stuff but the recent move by Global Radio to have all their stations begin each respective news bulletin with the phrase…. ‘From Global’s newsroom’ has me scratching my head. It’s baffling and I’m not sure what it’s trying to achieve.

Are we supposed to take the news more seriously because it comes from what appears to be a worldwide news organisation? It isn’t and it won’t and we don’t care anyway. The regulator and indeed the industry itself has done a fine job over the past 40 years or so in making sure the news provided by radio in this country is generally trusted. Every piece of research I have seen backs this up. Is this new policy therefore designed to subconsciously underline to politicians and regulators who might tune in that Global have a large news operation? I doubt it, those that matter, already know. It might be that they are simply putting down a marker that they are serious about news. Global could provide the national and indeed local news for every commercial station in the UK if they wanted to pitch for it, but who would do that? Who would want that?

The name ‘Global’ means nothing to listeners, it’s an important holding company for more than just their radio interests of course and you often see the logo at their music events and such like, but if listeners have made the decision to tune in to LBC, Heart, Capital etc, why confuse them by giving them another name to think about? That said, I’ve walked this path before them. When I launched Real Radio Yorkshire, we experimented going into the news by highlighting that we were part of The Guardian Media Group. We thought this gave us credibility because it is such a well respected news brand but it soon became clear that no one cared a jot and furthermore The Guardian itself were not best pleased either. Commercial radio and The Guardian…. Good god!

ID’ing what you do or using it to promote yourself is not new. In the USA, it used to be (and probably still is) a legal obligation to name the station at least once an hour and this was delivered through what they called a legal ID at the top of each hour. Most US music stations don’t carry any news so it just involved a longish jingle and the station call letters etc. In the UK, we adopted this to launch into our own news bulletins with some gusto. Some are more creative than others of that there is little doubt.

This new approach from Global is confusing because we are constantly told to speak less, focus on words, cut the crap, etc. The finest writers and the best programmers all work hard to ensure that words are not wasted. A jock is fired for waffling. Life is busy, time is crucial so what we say must be direct and to the point. How many PD’s have been telling presenters this very week to focus on their links, make every word count, get the information out within 20 seconds on a ramp etc. Yes of course tell us it comes from your own newsroom if it’s credible and makes you feel better, underlining the positive is always good, adding in stuff we don’t need to know is not.

So why do it at all? I have no idea. It can’t be for the listener. They don’t care. It can’t be for the politicians, they already know. It can’t be for advertisers because they can’t buy it so it must be a strategy to achieve something down the line, otherwise it is nothing more than misplaced vanity and Global are much smarter than that.

In the meantime, this has been John Myers, reporting Live from the Global home of Myers Media… Admit it, you think much more of me now don’t you?

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Does D2 mean DAB is successful?

Does the recent advertisement of D2 suggest that DAB is successful? After all, D1 is full (granted with stations mostly broadcasting in mono) so D2 will provide more choice and perhaps even greater digital quality, although let’s not open that particular box right now!

Digital Radio UK and others have done an excellent job in getting the message out and making sure that car manufacturers in particular are installing DAB as standard, but it has taken a lot of time and effort to get to this point. Everything always takes longer than expected but the timing of this advertisement feels about right. There are a lot of signs that things are progressing although we are kidding ourselves if we think we’ve cracked it.

For example, the regulator has no idea if there is enough demand for all the slots D2 will provide although they will certainly have had credible approaches from those who have said they will be willing to apply. They must have more than one good applicant that’s for sure although that is no indication of success in itself. There are many stations that were given licenses but quickly bit the dust. Look at the debacle of Local TV, many applied and more than one will be returned, of that there is little doubt. To be fair this is not the fault of the regulator, this is firmly at the door of that idiotic fool Jeremy Hunt. Nevertheless, the chosen winner of D2 will be enormously important for a number of reasons. In my digital Britain report of 2009 for Lord Carter, I made the argument that no holder of a radio license should ever be allowed to own a multiplex. It was my view then and it remains so today. There are simply far too many conflicting interests driving the price of entry up for everyone else. In any case, I can’t see FM being switched off within my lifetime. There is still a place for it within the overall landscape because as a transmission network, it works.

Therefore while a ‘beauty parade’ may be the law, the reality might involve a slightly uglier choice. A list of wonderful services will not beat someone with the right infrastructure, the right experience and an ocean of cash to support losses which could last for up to a decade. And then there is the sticky problem of the coverage area being less than D1 and the actual service providers themselves. How many are lining up to fork out circa £1m a year for decent transmission costs and if so, how long can they maintain this significant obligation? DAB+ might offer some solutions to this – and that might be a possibility – but I doubt it. The cost of the build out still has to be met. It is a business first and foremost so if some fall away, you will need deep pockets to keep it all going until you have found new providers. We all know that stand alone DAB services are rarely profitable.

D2 is a risk but it is also progress. It is a very positive message for DAB overall, driven by demand and as such there will be no shortage of applicants, all promising a rainbow of services research will indicate listeners want. In the coldness of the regulators boardroom however, the discussion will be much more focused: Which applicant has the least amount of risk attached and won’t embarrass the regulator or the industry? Which is the safest choice? To have another Channel 4 would be a complete disaster so it all points to the big boys getting the nod and rightly so if you ask me. Mind you, nothing is certain, OFCOM do make some strange decisions. If they do so this time, the regulators own credibility will be in the frame and Ed Richards is much too smart for that surely?

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It’s all going to cock up North

For the past few years Bob Shennan has had to defend his all male strategy in day-time Radio 2. The figures are his greatest defence of course but he knows that when a slot becomes available, he will be under enormous pressure to put a female into the daytime line up. I can only imagine therefore how delighted he must have been when Jonathan Wall released his new schedule for BBC 5 Live today. I had a vision of Bob skipping into work knowing that the pressure was off and someone else was going to be in the firing line.

You have to hand it to Jonathan Wall, this is a new controller with a new vision and he’s doing it his way. The man has balls and it appears he likes his main presenters that way too. We all know there is a problem in having a network as big as BBC 5 Live coming from Salford as this can reduce the available talent pool somewhat but this is a national station and a great one at that. People will walk over hot coals to be on this station. Replacing top quality presenters is never easy but it’s a key part of the job of a controller. You have to know who you want, when they’re available, in what price range and understand their desire to work for your station. When the time comes you pounce, balancing the new schedule with people who can deliver variety, skill, talent, entertainment, journalistic flair and a great deal more to boot. This has clearly just happened with 5Live, yet even the most casual of observers might be forgiven for thinking that the new schedule looks a little unbalanced.

First of all, this is The BBC. There are always going to be some politics to contend with and none bigger than the leader and his vision. Last year, Lord Hall announced to the world that he wanted to hear more women on the air – NOT less! He challenged BBC Local Radio in particular but it was not exclusive, he meant everywhere. So much so, he’s signed off funding and budgets to ensure women are found, trained, helped, encouraged and installed into key presenter positions (Breakfast for example). He wanted this new vision to be rolled out wherever possible. All laudable stuff.

So how does this new 5 Live schedule sit with him right now? One can only assume that he wasn’t consulted because if he was and he signed all this off, then he has underlined the belief by many that his demand for more women on the air was nothing more than tokenism at best.

Of course, Jonathan quite rightly reels off a team of great female presenters prickled across the schedule and very good they are too but only one is flying solo. I suspect the media won’t let that go by without significant comment and debate and this very action will hound JW for some time. Nevertheless, if that is what he believes is best for the station then that is his choice. That said, I am really struggling to accept that within the whole of UK radio, there is not a single female who could have made the jump to head up a show in her own right and without the aid of a male safety net. Perhaps they looked everywhere and concluded that none came up to the mark. If that’s the case, it is really quite sad.

Despite all this, BBC 5 Live needed a kick up the backside and a new zest of life so we should applaud Jonathan’s directness and bold approach. There is nothing wrong with the men he’s chosen by the way, the debate is much more complicated than that. I for one hope he succeeds but I suspect the issue of female solo presenters is not going to go away.

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