A Demon of an Opportunity

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Media department of De Montfort University in Leicester. I was there as a guest of Rob Watson, who runs the Media Technology Degree.

Every year, they invite a load of industry practitioners from various areas – from business, to engineering to creative – to talk to the students about their real world experiences. We were on a panel called “It’s all going interactive”. You can read more about it here.

My fellow panelists were  Andrew Dudfield – who manages navigation for BBC Online and Chris Skinner who is a freelance producer for shows like Dave Gorman on Absolute Radio and The Bugle Podcast. We all shared some of our experiences in getting into radio, and I also shared some audio tips on creating and developing audio brands.

What was good to see was the enthusiasm from so many of the students. What also really amazed me was the opportunity they have available to learn new skills.

Rob showed us around the facilities of the department – and there’s a jaw dropping amount of learning spaces. From fully specced Pro Tools HD suites to acoustic engineering workshops; a green screen studio; AVID suites and even a mixing studio with a huge analogue NEVE desk.

And then there were the facilities on offer to the students who work on the student/ community radio station – Demon FM. All of the students on the course have the opportunity to get involved – planning, producing and presenting shows. They have 4 production booths for pre recording and prepping shows. Plus an office/ talks studio too. And they’re equipped with access to all the IRN feeds and news management tools to be found in any big newsroom. To be blunt – a wealth of opportunity they are unlikely to have to hand in many real world stations.

The temptation for many is to emulate what already exists. Some want to produce station sound that emulates Capital or Radio 1. Some want to be just like Chris Moyles or Greg James. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, this will probably be the one station that they get to work in where they can pretty much do what they like. Test out some new formats,
devise new ways of doing things, write some experimental drama, broadcast some sound art, or try out some comedy. It’s precisely the place where you can try and fail.

I really hope that they realise that this is their chance to experiment and create something fresh and exciting, learn some new skills and think differently. And then hopefully reap the rewards that should follow when they create something extraordinary.



What’s your Red Cup?

The Red Cups are about to return in Starbucks branches around the world.


For years, every Christmas, Starbucks have added the red Christmas Cups to their stores with a number of special Christmas flavours. Christmas music appears in the stores (they also sell the CDs) and it feels a little bit closer to winter. Over the past few days, the number of mentions of Red Cups in my Twitter feed has been increasing. I’ve noticed loads of video ads at Underground station telling me the Red Cups are Coming. There’s even a dedicated websitefor them counting down to the big day. It feels like Starbucks (just like Coke Christmas ads ) are doing their best to “own” Christmas.

In the UK, Smooth Radio have  again launched Smooth Radio Christmas – non stop Christmas songs and a great way to cross promote to Smooth Radio. I’m guessing the thinking is that people who don’t necessarily think that Smooth Radio is for them might like a Christmas station. Add in some cross promotion and hopefully gain some listeners.

Christmas stations are nothing new. There are loads online. Many AC format stations in the US flip format in November and December to do the same thing. In Denmark, Radio Soft – sister station to Radio 100 becomes all Christmas too.

But can Starbucks teach us anything about brand extensions?

The Red Cups work because they tie in with a specific time of the year where it’s easier to create a Mood. I’m not sure Starbucks summer cups would have the same effect.
With radio, it’s easier to do brand extension with musical decades (such as Absolute 80s and the like).

But whatever happens – in a crowded (coffee) market, the sight of the Red Cups instantly makes me think of Starbucks and Christmas.

So what’s your Red Cup moment?

Is syndication really killing the radio star?

So, according to a report in today’s Media Guardian syndication of radio services is killing the radio star.

In a way, it’s true. Fewer stations or on-air shifts mean it’s harder for new entrants to break in. But many (including Global Radio‘s Ashley Tabor) would argue that there were many mediocre presenters on air anyway, so at least the new wave of “syndication” is improving quality.

Image By AndyBee21 (CC) Flikr

This article set me thinking though about whether this trend by Global and others may have actually increased opportunities for people to get into the new era of radio?

Capital Fm now has a 24 hour team of producers turning around content and links to keep the national feed of the service on air. They (along with the Heart network) also have a fairly large team of imaging and promo producers turning around everything from contest promos to local sponsorship ads. Sure, it’s may not have exactly the same levels of creative freedom that existed years back when I joined the original Capital Radio group. But if I was a new producer, currently in student radio and wanting somewhere to aim, this is a huge opportunity. An opportunity to learn the mechanics of how huge brand scale radio works – skills which are transferable across the digital marketing spectrum.

It’s also a fact that the global (small g) marketplace is continually shrinking. When I wanted to get into presentation and production, my only hope was to send out a demo (cassette) to various programme controllers. Now, I can start up a blog, share audio with colleagues worldwide online and maybe come up with and produce stunning visuals and share them on YouTube. The ease with which content and talent can now be showcased makes the world your marketplace.

And since Radio 2.0 is now where we are at – it’s the web/marketing/digital skills that are (almost) more important than the DJs themselves. I started my career striving to be a DJ. When I finally got on air, I was relatively successful but quickly became bored with a (then very loose) format. Presenters would kill for that level of freedom now. But even then, I could see that to survive, you needed to be able to do far more than just play the hits. S ave for a precious few, this is still the case.

And new talent is definitely out there.  As Clive Dickens noted in the article; “Student radio has become the new hunting ground for new talent”.  Having judged the Student Radio Awards for a number of years, I can only agree.

When I was at Puretonic Media, we found a new temporary producer – Andy Jackson – who very quickly became full-time. He’d only worked on a very small station in The Wirral. But he had immersed himself in radio online, read loads of blogs/ sites/ articles. And had amazingly creative production skills. And, more importantly, was willing to learn.

And through this blog, I’m in contact with producers around the world who ate equally striving to make it.  One such producer is just 15 years old – Nik Kelly. Already creating imaging on a national night show in Australia. And gaining attention of the international imaging guys at Benztown Branding in the process.

So if syndication IS killing the radio star, it may also be providing many new opportunities in the process. But you have to be prepared to find them. And maybe adjust your skills accordingly.

Absolute Radio – Behind the sound

Absolute Radio logo
Image via absoluteradio.co.uk

This week at the Radio Academy Promotion and Marketing Awards, Absolute Radio picked up another haul of awards.

Along with the Creative Gold Award, they won Best National On-Air Promotion (with Faces for Radio), Best On-Air Sponsorship (for Baddiel and Skinner) and Best On-Air Imaging. This adds to the bronze award they picked up at this year’s Sony Radio Awards for Best Station Imaging.

A couple of weeks ago at the Broadcast Symposium 2010 in Nuremberg, I presented a session on Station Imaging in the UK, which featured a video with Absolute Radio’s Creative Director Vince Lynch.

Take a look now behind the thinking of what makes the sound of Absolute Radio.

You can hear more about this year’s awards on Steve Martin’s Earshot blog here.

You’re gettin’ hit with the (blah blah) radio


I’ve been driving a lot around the UK recently to various family events and a couple of weddings. And one thing has become clear. I need to get a DAB radio in the car this Christmas. Partly for the need to be able to get FunKids. Partly to be able to hear BBC 6Music. But mostly to be able to hear Absolute Radio  in listenable quality.

A couple of things have struck me during these journeys. Firstly – the rollout of Heart hasn’t ruined local music radio. It’s eminently more listenable than many of the previous offerings found on the drive across country. Wall to wall classic hits, hardly any talk – “does what it says on the tin”. It’s not my choice – in fact hearing the same songs every day in a slightly different order would drive me insane- but you can tell it will probably work well for them in the short to medium term.

Secondly, it’s become really obvious that the BBC doesn’t really cater for my listening needs fully. In fact, if I had the previously mentioned in car DAB, then  I’d probably have a hefty dose of Absolute Radio on the menu.

Out of habit, my first choice station is BBC Radio 1. I like Chris Moyles (in small doses) and think Scott Mills does a really good job. And the odd times I catch people like Zane Lowe, I’m hooked – mainly by his energy and by his enthusiasm. I caught most of the chart show and the first part of Switch last Sunday night – and it made me wish I was 15 again – just the sort of show Radio 1 should be doing.

Radio 2 is rarely a listening choice. I occasionally catch a bit of Jonathan Ross at the weekend, but rarely get the chance to hear Chris Evans. And once the children are in bed – it’s usually stuff on the house, work or TV that grabs my attention.

And whilst I feel BBC 6music should be up there for me – I probably hear more of it’s output via the Adam and Joe podcast.

And that’s why this week’s Radio 2 news has excited me (though not my friend Steve – younger than me but far more musically diverse in taste – who is a staunch TOG). There will now be a real reason for me to listen at breakfast and possibly later in the day. Many people, such as Matt Deegan, Adam Bowie, Nik Goodman and James Cridland have written in detail about what these changes may mean and the opportunities and/or threats they will make for Commercial Radio. For a show and station like Radio 2 that is so dominating the audience figures – a change such as this could be catastrophic – particularly if they lose their core listeners. But it also presents an opportunity for everyone else

For me, I hope Evans brings something new to the mornings. Terry Wogan is genuinely one if the best speech broadcasters. It’s just his style doesn’t suit our frenetic routine in the morning. Now, I’m not expecting Chris Evans to replicate his old Radio 1 show again. But he’s shown in the afternoons that he can be entertaining, play great music and (more importantly) interact with every listener whatever their age. If he can do that – with maybe a little more pace in the morning- then so much the better. The rest of the daytime lineup isn’t so much my thing – though Jeremy Vine works well. What interests me is the talk of Simon Mayo coming over to do drivetime. My friend Steve thinks that if this happens, the BBC will have to issue everyoneone with free Valium. I however would welcome him – particularly if it created a show which were part music, part current affairs and had some if the classics 5live elements such as Mark Kermode as well.

I briefly mentioned Absolute Radio earlier. I wouldn’t discount them, though from all of this. Commercial radio keeps bemoaning the fact that it’s hard to compete and there’s no room for creativity. The fact they now have signed Dave Gorman to add to Frank Skinner in their weekend lineup shows that there are some operators who are slowly gathering their weapons to start taking on the BBC in the battle for my listening hours.

Seacrest Gets Viral

Twitter is taking brands – whether commercial, radio, or celebrity – to a whole new level. It allows consumers or “fans” to get something extra. Some of it is an interesting insight into people’s lives and some is dull. But it certainly furthers the levels of interaction. In radio – loads of people are doing it. I learn what’s going on from Absolute Radio. I get the latest travel news from Southeastern trains. And I find out what the new big tunes are on BRMB via Tweets from Darren Lee.

In America, Ryan Seacrest has taken it to a whole new level. Not content with being on air in Los Angeles on KIISfm,  his show is  also syndicated across the country. Plus he does American Idol. And wherever he goes – he tweets. He’s great at interacting with his followers. And you get updates on all his sites as well. In short – he (and his team) – are masters of self promotion.

And if you’re as well known as Seacrest – why not join up with one of your other Twitter chums like Ben Stiller  – to up the number of followers with a viral video?


Absolute Get it Wight

Image from www.absoluteradio.co.uk
Image from http://www.absoluteradio.co.uk

Do you picture this lot as typical listeners of Absolute Radio?

Last week, I wrote about Capital FM’s coverage of their excellent Summertime Ball, and how the online offering was a little lacking for the tech savvy, online audience. I also hoped that Absolute Radio’s forthcoming coverage of the Summer’s festivals would prove that online content can be engaging, fun and also in some cases perception shifting. Having photos of listeners like those above helps them shift perceptions from being a blokey station to having a wider audience profile.

To me, Absolute’s coverage of this weekend’s Isle of Wight Festival punched well above its weight. Not only were there tons of photos posted during the weekend – both official and user generated. But there was a fair degree of interaction with their audience away from the event.

Via twitter, I got updates on when the acts were onstage and when new content was available online.


I also got a few updates live onsite from reporter Andrew Bailey via Audioboo

This was rough and ready live reportage – giving a bonus behind the scenes feel to the coverage. For the station – it was simple to create – needing just an iphone and a free program -plus the simple know-how to link to it via various platforms.

In addition, the audio from a number of stage performances is online – not with video but with photo slideshows. This again was something that could be achieved fairly easily with fewer resources needed than creating full video packages. It was also supplemented by video interviews by the key artists.

The beauty of Absolute Radio’s coverage however is how every piece of content is neatly tagged – so that music fans can search for their favourite band and easily find all the relevant content from them. Searching on Stereophonics for example brings you the backstage interview from the festival, plus backstage interviews from a couple of other events. Alongside that, there’s an artist biog and links to buy songs. But more importantly, a link to the 1,189 other Absolute Radio VIPs who also like the band – allowing more interaction and enhancing the station’s online community.

Having seen this offering, I’ll be interested in seeing what they continue to offer across the Summer of Live.

And this is how they did it..

U2 Buy The BBC?

So, U2=BBC. A brilliant marketing coup for a record label and band. Or a misuse of a publicly funded broadcasting organisation’s airwaves and webspace?

Image (C) BBC
Image (C) BBC

Let’s get one thing clear. I’m a massive U2 fan – and thought the whole concept was fantastic. And it worked on so many levels. From the Culture Show to Radio 1 to Radio 4’s “Front Row” to the rooftop gig. I’m not complaining – I got a text from a friend around 6pm and managed to get to near the front – an almost perfect start to a weekend.

U2 on the rooftop (they're where the bright lights are..:-) )
U2 on the rooftop (they're where the bright lights are..:-) )

But predictably, there were many people not so pleased with it including Tory MP Nigel Evans who complained (to the Daily Mail under a headline of “The Bono Broadcasting Corporation”) about why licence fee payers should pick up the cost of publicity of the new U2 album. For the BBC, this will have been about delivering something exceptional for the audience (not all, but a wide part of it) and it was able to tick many boxes. It was a subject that had a broad fanbase which enabled the project to be spread across 2 music networks and the speech network. It allowed some innovative online ideas from Red Button coverage to online microsites. And quite probably will have bought audiences into programmes that they might not necessarily have sampled before (such as The Culture Show and Front Row). Added to that – it created a couple of one off musical events that people can say “only the BBC can do that” – all things that should keep the BBC Trust happy.

As a licence fee payer, I’m more than happy for this to have happened – as part of what the BBC’s remit is to me. I don’t want to watch or listen or read about everything that they broadcast or publish. I have no real interest in Antiques or horesracing but I don’t have a problem with the BBC covering either of those subjects. And I can add it to the list of shared musical experiences where I can say “I was there”.

Of course, the BBC’s commercial competitiors (and I used to work for one) constantly bemoan the fact that this is the sort of thing they’d like to have done if they had the resources or the budget or similar. But quite often it’s the case that they quite simply don’t have the ingenuity to think of it. As I’m now coming to expect, Absolute Radio did a sound job of covering the U2 album too (with far fewer resources and no less quality). As a fan, I’ve downloaded the podcast and will devour their video special when it’s online too (made on a far smaller budget no doubt).

So did the BBC give over their airwaves to publicise a record. Not really. They were presented with a unique opportunity to create a wide range of content with one of the most popular bands in the world. To have turned it down would have failed me as  a licence fee payer.

I just hope the album is worth the wait…

I want it all. I want it now.


aol-radio-iphoneImage http://www.geardiary.com

“I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now”. And so sang Freddie Mercury back in 1989.

Back then, the thought of an “on demand” world was little more than a pipe dream on “Tomorrow’s World”. But I have seen the future , and it sits in my living room now. I fire up the Virgin Media box and that’s pretty much what I get – down a fibre optic line. Want the Christmas “Doctor Who”? Simply select the BBC iPlayer and it’s there on screen in seconds. Fancy an old episode of “Spaced”? Click on 4OD and it’s there just as quick. And maybe anything from a massive catalogue of stuff from Warner Brothers TV in the US – just as easily.

So has this really changed my viewing world, when just a few short months ago, I was singing the praises of the Freeview recorder box that we watched everything on – never in real time? Not really – but now I can get the iplayer or 4OD (and soon ITV content) whenever I want it.

So what about radio? Will I ever consume it in a similar way? Sure – there’s the iPlayer to catch up on whole shows. Or the many shows (both BBC and commercial) that I can download as podcasts. But maybe I don’t want it quite that way. Maybe I want to become the scheduler just like I can be on my TV. Maybe I want my “radio” to be exactly how I want it.

In my future world  I’ll want to be able to do this…log on to “My BBC” and create my whole experience to take away on my iPod – something that updates according to my choices every day. I’ll choose what content I want and choose the music as well from my iTunes library. My music that I own and the BBC content that I’ve paid for. But why just BBC content – why not let me have the best commercial radio can offer as well (served up in a data packet with an advert bolted on)? 

So maybe my morning commmute will have me listening to this 30 minute example on my Ipod – which I will have synced before picking it up to leave the house at 7.30.:

Random ipod track

BBC News from 5 Live

Most recent BBC Travel from BBC London

Random ipod track

Chris Moyles show guest from yesterday

Radio1  session track from the Live lounge 

A guest from Geoff Lloyd’s show on Absolute radio (with an ad bolted on)

Business news from the Today programme

A most played track from my iPod


Sure – there’s a million and one things to prevent this happening – but when websites can pull together content and generate meta data tags to personalise the visiting experience, I’m sure there are ways and means of exporting this data into an application that works with my portable music device – or even to my DAB radio. Don’t ask me how – I don’t work in R&D – but I bet someone here could make it work.

But how would you promote your content when people weren’t consuming the media in a traditional way? Well there’s a topic for a long night in the pub…