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.