Why I’d Rather JACK

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I’m pretty lucky. The job I have now probably allows me to be more creative in the stuff I create than any job I’ve previously done.

This is slightly disappointing.

Surely every person who works in the creative industries should be able to be creative all the time. But often rules prevent this happening.

When I worked in marketing at the BBC, the rules were often down to suitability of radio trail for   “network fit”.  Or limited by the visual TV campaign creative that didn’t contain an easily transferable radio creative. As a team, we’d normally find a way to make the creative work well on radio, and many times created a radio campaign that worked in really surprising ways. But I sometimes wish that I  had pushed harder on my campaigns. This was probably sometimes my fault – but also sometimes simply down to the nature that each radio network was very particular about the network sound.

This is one of the reasons why I moved back into working in a radio station, where I could directly help shape the sound of the station, contribute creative ideas, and ultimately, actually get the things I wanted to create on air without (many) barriers.

With JACK fm, everything I do is born out of the rules and rigours of the previous formats I’ve  worked on throughout my career.  I twist an idea, break a rule, or  try a different slant on things.

Because doing things the same way every time is predictable, and that is boring.

Many PDs at radio stations are pretty set in the way they want things to be done. In many formats, there’s a good deal of evidence why things should be done that way. But I truly believe that in almost every format, rules can be broken. Of course, it depends on the format, the market and the audience. But everyone likes to be surprised sometimes, so why not surprise them now and again?

Here’s a few examples of how we’ve done things a bit differently recently at JACK.

JACK PACK at COWES WEEK

Promos for station events can be a bit dull. There’s often very little reason to promote what you’ll be doing on air. Sometimes it’s part of a contra deal commitment. Or in order to get on site branding, the sales team have managed to squeeze in some on air promotion. This is fine if there is a genuine reason to promote something, but sometimes is little more than filling airtime to get in a sponsor or event name. We started using these 2 anchorman inspired characters to promote events where the JACK Pack were going to be at. Sometimes Chuck McGutsup would throw to a real JACK Pack reporter who’d add in event details, and sometimes, he’d throw to his friend Huw Jarse. It’s all a bit Simpsons in terms of stupid names, but for our audience, it’s suitably irreverent.

DON’T BE DAFT, PUNK

JACK plays what we want. We don’t often play new stuff. This annoyed me a bit as last summer, this song was huge. When I was driving through France on holiday, it played almost non stop on NRJ, and I kept singing “We Play What We Want” to hook of the song. On my return, I’d read a blog post by my friend Andreas on the Benztown Branding blog about how they’d been recreating the Daft Punk sound. So I gave him a shout and got him to record the vocals for this piece. Having made it,we forgot to load it on air and then started running it well after the song was a hit. That made it work just as well, as on JACK, music is pretty timeless so it didn’t matter that by then , most music stations had long forgotten it.

BAM BAM at BREAKFAST

There’s nothing remotely original about most of this. But it’s got a bit of a JACK twist. Many of these IDs take a hook or a line of a classic rock song that I  play with a sound clip or recreated BAM BAM voice sample added in. We have the additional resource of Marc Silk as a VO , so sometimes, we just make up voices and phrases at the end of the session. Most of these out takes and ad-libs are what make these IDs work.

Radio is such an easy medium to be creative in. You simply need an idea, a voice and some imagination to create almost anything. So if you are a producer and are about to create something this week – why not ask yourself which rules you can break. They don’t necessarily need to be big rules, and certainly don’t need to break your brand sound. But they might make for a slightly more interesting listen.

We’ve just added a musical theme to BAM BAM’s show too. Steve Martin has blogged about it (and has a premier of the “video”) on the Earshot Creative Review .

RADIODAYS EUROPE

I’m taking part in a panel discussion at Radiodays Europe in March, where we’ll discuss this subject in more detail. You can find more details here.

Breaking the Creative Rules of Imaging and Branding

James Stodd (UK), Goran Kurjak (Croatia), Andreas Sannemann (Germany)

The thing with radio formats is that all imaging and production has to sound the same… right? Wrong.

This session aims to break the myths of radio production – and show that whilst formatted radio is here to stay, there are many ways where you can surprise your listeners.

Join some of Europe’s most creative imaging experts who’ll show you how to break the creative rules of imaging and branding.

Speakers: James Stodd (Senior Producer at Celador Radio in the UK),  Andreas Sannemann (CEO, Benztown, Germany) and Goran Kurjak (Creative Director, Otvoreni Radio, Croatia).

You can find more details here.

Possibly the best (but most expensive) Digital Radio I’ve ever bought

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Yesterday, I bought a new radio.

It has a touch screen. It is really portable. Yet it won’t work inside the house.

Luckily, it’s in the new car, so hopefully it won’t ever work in the house. But its features were certainly an influencer in my purchasing decision.

I’m not a car snob – just need something that is fairly cheap to run, has a good load space and is comfortable. I’ve ended up with a new Peugeot 2008. To be honest, it could have been a Vauxhall Meriva or a Nissan Juke (too ugly) or even a Ford BMax (the kids loved the sliding doors). But I’ve had a 206 and 206 SW in the past so Peugeot won out in the end.

These cars all have DAB radio as standard, but this version has a pretty easy to use touch screen system which seemingly makes using digital radio easy. And whilst it looks a little functional and dated, it works really well (unlike other touch screen radios I’ve used).

You can tune between station simply by using forward and backward arrows, and yes, it’s still a bit clunky but it’s fairly painless – getting local, regional then national stations one after the other.

What I really like is the way that when you save stations as favourites, it allows you to save both DAB, FM, and even AM stations if you wanted to on the same list. Now, looking at the photo I too, it looks like you can also have a list of Music and Speech stations too which will be useful. But what I love is the fact that to tune between them, all I do is push the station name and it tunes to the relevant medium – DAB, FM or AM. Now it won’t allow me to add streaming stations to that list (and knowing the costs often discussed recently, I can understand why I wouldn’t necessarily want this option), but this sort of useability makes the DAB listening experience far more pleasant. The added bonus with this radio is that it will seek out the FM equivalent version of stations who broadcast across digital and FM so that if you loose the DAB signal, you can carry on listening. Now this doesn’t solve anything of the DAB vs FM debate, but at least it gives options. And as well as using the radio, I can plug in a USB stick and play any downloaded audio too. And display photos (though why you’d want to is beyond me..)

What did strike me, when I was going through the process of test driving, is how little information there is available about makes and models of cars with DAB options. It may be available from people like a Digital Radio UK, but at point of sale in dealerships, there’s very little messaging getting through (in my limited research).

So whilst you may not like my car choice, I’d recommend giving this system a look – it may improve your in car listening experience.

“That sounds a bit complicated…”

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A listener called today. She was mid 60s, with a name like Maureen or similar. She listens to JACK fm..as do many of her friends.

“Hi there. I’m trying to listening to your station and I can’t hear it today..”

“Where are you listening?”

“I live in Midhurst..”

“Well, that’s on the very edge of our area so our signal may not reach that far”

“Well, I can normally hear you, but some days I lose reception, so I switch to Smooth Radio. Can I get you on Digital Radio – I have a digital set but haven’t really used it..”

We are on digital radio. Have you looked for us”

She looks and lists the stations she can see..

“I can see Absolute, BBC stations, Premiere radio. No, I can’t see you..”

“I’’m sorry. Have you tried listening online – or maybe tried our mobile apps”.

“Sorry dear – I’m a bit old fashioned – I just want to listen in the kitchen – that sounds far too complicated”

“Ok – we’ll hopefully you’ll get the signal back soon”

“I’ll do that. I love your station. Do you know why I listen?”

“Tell me..”

“I found your station and started listening because you have the same name as my son. He’s called JACK too”.

I’ve heard many reasons why people listen – but never because the station is named after a family member.. but what are the real reasons people choose to listen to stations? The fact that she liked the name hooked this listener (someone who is out of our target). She likes the music (though I’m not sure what our overlap would be with Smooth Radio).

But the thing that struck me the most was her comment :

“Sorry dear – I’m a bit old fashioned – I just want to listen in the kitchen – that sounds far too complicated”

She’s an older listener.

She’s open to listening on Digital.

She can’t be bothered about how she gets the stations she wants.

She just wants them in one place in one box – and she doesn’t need to think about how to find them.

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We’re not making things easy for people like “Maureen”. They are getting the digital message. They  are starting to understand the range of choice. They want to listen to the content. But some of them just don’t understand how to get hold of it or can’t be bothered with the hassle.

The sooner someone cracks the connected box that has a menu that lists the stations and tunes to the station whether its via FM, DAB, online stream the better. It’s great that the team at UK Radioplayer (with others from Global Radio and Absolute Radio) are doing just that. This is the sort of radio I want..

As for us, we’ll just home the wind is in the right direction for Maureen to listen on FM. Or maybe I’ll record some output and post it to her on a cassette…

UPDATE:

Matt Deegan posted a blog today that included a presentation from James Cridland – all about the need for user experience to be better in all digital radio. It’s certainly worth a watch.

When the Aliens Take Over

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 09.28.34You’ve all heard about the time when an Orson Welles radio broadcast sent America into panic, right?

Well, it’s happened again. This time, at The New Star 94.9 in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

It started when the station started broadcasting a test signal featuring “Aliens” talking about how they’d taken over the station and would make an announcement about the change at a certain date and time. It seemed to backfire as the station was flooded with calls, children refused to go to school and in a bad case of Chinese Whispers, an alien invasion turned into a bomb threat. As attention to the stunt grew, the station quickly updated the messages. My favourite part is when the Aliens bring in a PR consultant.

The reaction was more than likely down to Social Media – and probably seemed to surprise the station.

“People are saying we’re broadcasting threats to the community — I’m like, what in the world are they talking about,” program director Brian Rickman tells the Shoals News. (INSIDE RADIO)

Screen Shot 2013-09-02 at 09.28.17The great thing about this project was how they quickly managed to update it all. This was mainly due to a decision not to make the aliens sound how you’d typically expect in a promo, but to utilise the text to speech voices found on any Mac. Production is incredibly simple, really nicely written and funny too. It actually makes me think that a fun show could easily be created this way on some formats. In fact, this could be a fun thing for a station like FUN Kids or similar to do – easy to make and easy to have fun with.

Of course, in the UK, we’re all familiar with the Birdsong test transmissions. Well, the aliens are too:

It’s all a little knowing, certainly tongue in cheek – but really creative. And really simply produced too.

And it’s got them a whole load of press too.

So – the result. They’ve morphed from an urban station to a format described as “Modern Hit Music” – anything from Genesis to Pink, Kings of Leon to Lenny Kravitz, Imagine Dragons to Adele. A pretty broad playlist – maybe one for John Ryan’s Listened In blog to analyse..

If you are going to relaunch or stunt – a project to analyse for ideas, flaws and improvements?

UPDATE

I’ve not listened since they were in their test transmission phase, but judging by their Facebook updates, they really are listening to what their audience wants and are asking for honest feedback too. How many other stations would be brave enough or open enough to do that these days?

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New notes at BBC Radio 2

Photo (C) Wise Buddah
Photo (C) Wise Buddah

There’s been a refresh to the sound on air at BBC Radio 2 again. It’s an expansion to the package introduced on air last year.

The reason is due to how the original heritage logo had to be licensed from the original composers – Groove Addicts in the US. This time, there’s a newly composed musical logo from the guys at Wise Buddah. It’s all to do with the ways the publishing deal is done…

You’ll find full details about the changes on the Earshot website

But, here’s  a nice video that the guys at Wise Buddah have produced with a bit of behind the scenes session action.

Mashing it Up – XFactor Style

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A nice video landed in my Facebook inbox this evening via my friend Kirsty Mullan who is the Entertainment marketing manager at ITV. It’s for the new series of the X-factor.

They’ve used a technique much popular in radio by the likes of David Konsky at 2DayFM and also by DJ Earworm. Instead of simply taking the biggest hits around, they’ve taken clips from some of the 33 number ones songs that the XFactor has produced over the years. It’ll be used on TV (and  I’m guessing on radio adverts too) in the coming weeks.

To celebrate a decade of the X Factor ITV have created the Ultimate X Factor Mash Up. Using a selection of hits from artists discovered on the show over the years to create an infectious medley.

See what you thing of the result. Oscar Carriss, head of creative at ITV and remixer / DJ Robin Skouteris are the guys responsible – and I’m guessing it’ll be a big hit too.

Celebrating the Royal Birth the Eagle Radio way

Picture - Eagle Radio
Picture – Eagle Radio

So – a new Royal baby.

What is your station doing to be topical?

Renaming the station?

Playing non stop baby songs?

 

Eagle Radio in Guildford have come up with a great idea – which has a strong community feel – and something really nice at the end of it.

Yasmin Bodalbhai and Lou Nash from Eagle Radio came up with the idea of “A Quilt for Kate“. It’s a really simple idea – to create a patchwork quilt to celebrate the royal baby – and involve loads of local schools from across the county.

It’s probably generated loads of local PR, schools have involved their pupils and at the end of the day, they end up with a nice gift that can be sent to the Royal Baby too. And whilst the Royal Couple will probably be inundated with plenty of similar gifts, I’m sure this one will be noticed too. And it’s a nice example of a radio station working with the local community to create something really special.

Here’s a clip of Lou talking about the project

You can find out more about the project here. I’m guessing it will be a strong entry in next year’s various radio awards in the community category too..

 

Nothing Beats an Award Nomination

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It’s really easy to get tied up in the day-to-day grind of working in radio.

Deadlines.

Difficult clients.

Presenter egos.

And it’s sometimes easy to forget that radio is about being creative.

Tonight I’m really proud that the team at JACK fm South Coast are nominated for a coveted SONY Radio Award.

I’ve been nominated before – in other categories, and at other stations. I’ve won a Bronze, and been involved in a couple of events that won Gold Awards too. But I’ve never had a nomination  for the Best Station Imaging category. So this is really special for me – and for everyone here at the station.

Some of our team have been nominated before – for other awards – and at other stations. And it’s easy, particularly if you are part of a huge group, or the BBC, to treat this type of event as something that is deserved – or expected. For a lot of smaller stations, this is a really big deal.

And it doesn’t actually matter if we win a Gold, a Silver, a Bronze or even are just finalists. The fact is, we’ve been recognised as being good enough to be nominated.

I’m proud to say that I’ve also worked alongside or with most of the other people or teams that are nominated in this category tonight. And that makes it a bit more special too – as if we don’t win the biggie, we can cheer on other people who deserve the win as much as we do. The Earshot Creative guys have written a nice blog about it too. And you can see all the nominations here.

Sometime’s it’s not the monetary reward that motivates people (though it helps). Sometimes a little recognition or a thank you is all that is needed.

Good luck if you are nominated in any category tonight.

And if you fancy taking a listen at our entry – it’s here

Owning Big Events

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Tonight sees the Brit Awards in the UK. Unlike the Grammy Awards (with over 100 different awards), the Brits are a more manageable affair – celebrating mostly British artists and talent with a few overseas categories thrown in (to make it a bigger show).

For many radio stations, this is a huge deal – particularly for stations Capital FM and Radio 1.

There was a time when the whole of commercial radio got involved with helping choose the British Single (essentially the biggest songs played on commercial radio that year). Now, it’s purely the preserve of Capital FM listeners to have their say. And it’s surely one of the biggest days in Capital’s music calender – along with the Summertime Ball and Jingle Bell Ball.

Back when I worked at Capital, it was a pretty big deal. We’d run packages supporting the voting, have weekend giving away tickets and of course do a couple of shows from backstage too. But now, it’s way bigger than that. Take a look at their website and it’s nothing but Brits. Listen on air for the last couple of weeks and its been all about the tickets. And today, it’s everything Brits. And let’s face it – it’s all about the music that (on the most part) is at the heart if their playlist.

They are absolutely owning it online already – watch this great backstage video

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But as well as being jammed full of relevant, relatable content for their listeners, it’s obviously a huge opportunity for Capital to shout about their brand to anyone who listens. It’s live on ITV, so expect to see their current TV advert at every opportunity as well.

As with any radio brand, it’s all about talking abou t the content that’s relevant for your listeners. There are still many sales people in particular who have a lack of understanding of what brands would work alongside their radio brand. I doubt it happens as much now, but there was a time when even the sales team at GCap bought us promotions briefs for a dog food winning weekend.

And whilst Capital will be getting its branding in everyone’s face tonight at the Brits, I doubt you’ll see any of these on the tables – which I actually think are their best piece of targeted visual marketing ever. Beans Means Hits..?

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