The Sweet Sound of Student Success

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Another year, another Student Radio awards.

As I write this, I’m guessing most of the students are still on the dance floor of the IndigO2 enjoying the sound clash from Greg James, James Barr and others.

It’s hard to know where to start really. This was another fantastic night that celebrates all that is good about Student Radio. It’s a far cry from when I did student radio, but it would be wrong if things hadn’t moved on.

This was a room full of enthusiasm and excitement – and frankly a radio awards show that both the Sonys and possibly Arqivas could learn from. It was hosted by Radio 1 breakfast host Nick Grimshaw and Capital FM Breakfast host Dave Berry. They made a fantastic pairing and gave the whole event a real sense of fun. And it was great to see Global Radio fully involved with the awards again. Whilst its easy to sneer at Global as the bad guys of UK radio, they should be a company that people aspire to work for; they have some fantastic brands and they really know how to market them. Their video that played during the event showed a slick operation – and it’s those sort of values that they translate on air too.

Last year I wrote that the most important thing about student radio is that it allows you to fail. And you need to fail and be given the room to fail in order to succeed. Good bosses and producers know that they need to let their “talent” do this in order to succeed. Whilst its hard to always get the opportunity to do this on commercial radio, it’s important to remember that creativity comes in all aspects of a job. And just because the format of the station you end up working at requires quick links, you need to be able to think of new ways to be entertaining in those short spaces.

It was nice to see this thought repeated in a blog by a recent Student Radio graduate, Robin Murphy.

It was somewhat appropriate then that he picked up 2 awards tonight for his station URN. They won more, but I’m particularly interested in one – that for Best Marketing and Station Sound.

You can hear an example of what their entry sounded like here:

I hope that Robin and the team at URN will come and describe what made their marketing entry award winning on a future Earshot Creative Review Podcast – and hopefully some of the other finalists will be able to contribute too. The guys backstage caught up with Robin to find out his reaction on winning

When I was on the tube home from the awards, I was chatting to a student from Bristol Uni. She said “you won’t have heard of our station. We’re pretty small and don’t have huge funding – but we’re getting better”. She was really fired up after the awards – and that’s really what they are all about isn’t it? And it’s worth remembering that not everyone is a URN or Fly FM – there are loads of smaller stations that are just as enthusiastic and striving to produce output as good or better than these stations.

So, if you won, you impressed a lot of important people. If you just missed out – it was probably by the slimmest of margins. And if you didn’t win again – go back and think what you can do differently this year. It’s not necessarily the awards that count. It’s what you learn whilst trying to win them that counts.

How do you promote your best content?

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I just saw this on Twitter from @dannywallace and think it needs sharing.

http://soundcloud.com/the-xfm-breakfast-show/behind-the-scenes-documentary

http://soundcloud.com/the-xfm-breakfast-show/behind-the-scenes-documentary

There’s a tendency, particularly in commercial radio, to run a breakfast show promo that contains a quick clip from the show. The normal reason for this is that the show is sponsored, and as part of the deal, the Sponsorship team have added in promo trails. The real reason it’s there is to get across a sponsor message. And the breakfast show clip is essentially the filling in the sponsorship sandwich.

Often, the promo is pretty rubbish. The reason; it’s pretty hard to distill the essence of a great breakfast show into a single, punchy clip.

So why do shows insist on doing it? Would it not be as effective to use the trail to give a tease of some great audio that’s actually worth listening to, and maybe direct listeners online to hear the whole section? And now that a significant number of your consumers are online, maybe there are new ways to promote the show too.

I like this “behind the scenes” “documentary” because:
It’s funny.
It’s irreverent.
It’s probably something extra that wouldn’t necessarily appear on air.
It’s really shareable too.

I’m constantly amazed why more stations don’t use clips of content from interviews in on air promos and imaging to drive the listeners online to hear more. If you’ve spent the time recording and editing a great interview with a guest, don’t assume your listeners were actually listening when you broadcast it. Why not use it to promote your show and then reward the listeners with more content online.

Getting Naked at Breakfast

Photo (C) Global Radio

This morning, Global Radio’s XFM did their Naked Breakfast

They took the Danny Wallace show and broadcast live from the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. But what made this different is that they did everything live. This wasn’t simply a normal outside broadcast with some live links and special guests. Everything was be live – the music, the jingles, even the adverts.

There was a pretty impressive lineup too:

The Stereophonics were the House Band. Plus comedians Tim Minchin and Ross Noble and Paul Weller also featured.

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of anything being done in quite this way in the UK. It would have been fairly common back in the early days of Commercial Radio in the US in the 1940s and 50s when it was common for the announcers to voice live ads within live shows. But doing something like this on a very formatted station like XFM is quite a challenge.

I’m guessing they’ve had to carefully plan what airtime was sold within the show. Because they had to perform the ads live – they had to sell some brave creative to the advertisers too – so that  the ads became part of the performance.

Whilst it’s not something you’d want to hear every day – this is a great example of creative programming that gives the listener something to really interact with. You can listen again to it here:

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.

Hwyl fawr Red Dragon FM

Red Dragon FM holds a place dear in my heart. I worked there from 1998 (just after Capital Radio group originally took it over) and left there in 2002 (to head up the production department of the original Capital FM network). Those 4 years were really special – due mostly to the friends I made, the stuff we did and the City I still love. It was even the last station I did an on air shift on – covering a week of drivetime. From what I remember, the advice of the Group PD at the time (Clive Dickens) was to “shut up and just play the hits, mate”. Good advice!

Since hearing that Red Dragon FM was to become part of Global Radio’s Capital FM network, I’ve been trying to work out what to write as it breathes its last breath.  And now that day has arrived.

I spent a couple of hours last night searching through a box of CDs listening to audio – and was pretty proud of what I heard.

This was the first huge station I’d worked at and it had a large  pool of creative people. When I joined, Andy Johnson was the PD and the station was operating from the original premises in West Canal Wharf. On my first night, I was given a whistlestop tour of the patch by the drivetime guy, Warren Moore and the station producer Richard Firth. We ended up drinking beer looking over the Bristol Channel and having chips from a Chippie on Barry Island seafront. Class!

Capital Radio had bought the station from Emap and set about updating facilities and output. Capital’s influence on the station was pretty big to start with, but we always retained a distinctly Welsh feel to the sound and output. Within weeks, we were running the Birthday Bonanza promotion along with Capital’s BONG game. We even took some of the Groove Addicts jingle package of the time.

On air at that time (on Red Dragon and Touch AM); Jason Harrold and Emma Hignett on breakfast, Bobby McVay and Chris Moore, Tony Wright, Warren Moore, Charlie Power and Chris Bloomer. Then later, Ben Weston, David Francis, and Justin (Dai/Welshy) Waite. Beverly Cleall-Harding was MD, Nick Davidson ran the (huge) sales team and Andrew Jones ran an equally large news desk. Over time, people like Eirwen Parker, David Couch, David Rees and Simon Price joined the team with people like Alun Jones, Steve Martin and many many more. It was testament to the skills and creativity of that team that so many people moved on to other bigger roles with Capital or GCap. And so many more continue to make a massive contribution to radio in South Wales.

I guess much will be written about how another heritage station is being wiped off the map. But things change. Capital FM is sounding great as a hit music station in London. And Red Dragon has sounded almost identical to  Capital for the past year or so anyway. Of course, there are some things that it’s harder to reflect in a station mainly produced from London, as I noted back in September.

To be honest, Red Dragon has changed loads since when Capital first took it over in 1998. The name may now be gone, but Red Dragon was always about an attitude, a pride in a city, a culture and a lifestyle. That has evolved as Wales has changed over the last decade or so. This is probably just a natural progression. And there’s no point aiming criticism at the team in Cardiff. I’m sure they  are just as passionate about their station as they were when they joined.

So, let’s not dwell on yet another change to the radio landscape. If you worked there, be proud that you did. If you listened, thanks. And if you work for the new Capital FM South Wales – good luck.

And maybe play a little Tom Jones/Manic Street Preachers/ Catatonia  on March 1st. Would it really hurt?

PS: Does anyone really know how many people (and animals) Cerys Matthews had in her entourage back at THAT Party in the Park??

Diolch

——–(And now a little nostalgia)———–

For those who like a little nostalgia, here are a few gems from the my archive for you.


 

 

Goodbye Mercury FM – You taught me so much..

It opened on October 20th 1984. On Monday July 26th 2010, Mercury Fm in Crawley ceased to be – another of Global Radio’s stations that have been rebranded Heart. This is progress – and makes absolute sense in their business strategy. But is another marker in radio history. UPDATE: and not everyone is happy about it.
This was station founded in the great early days of Independent Local Radio. The days when there was enough money to have the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra record your station theme.
My first paid radio work came at Radio Mercury in Crawley. This was after years of hospital and student radio. At Mercury, I gained experience in all aspects of the radio craft, from producing programmes, reading news bulletins, working the radio car and all aspects of studio craft.
It was a big station back in those days. Located in Broadfield House in Crawley, it was a large scale traditional ILR station. There was a newsroom (in the old stables) with a team of 5 or 6 people. A commercial production team of 4. And in programming, the PD, his secretary, a head of music, 3 producers, a couple of programming assistants and maybe even a music librarian. Plus 3 receptionists!
And it was the PD, Martin Campbell, who gave me my break into radio – letting me loose on producing the station’s Guildford breakfast show. And once in, I never left.
When I arrived at Mercury FM, all I wanted to do was be on air. I’d spent years at hospital radio and 3 years at uni mainly hanging out at the student station. In fact in 1982, I’d even won “Best Male DJ” at the original Student Radio awards. And it was Mercury that let me on air. Firstly on many shifts (mostly overnight) on the “Weekend if a Thousand Hits”. Then a time covering lates and sometimes even evenings. And then in 1985, I spent a year as drivetime presenter on Mercury Extra AM. (You don’t remember that station – well, frankly, neither did the listeners). After that experience, I decided I’d rather spend time in the production studio, which I’d been doing all the time I’d been there, and so switched over to be the Commercial Producer – and also gained my first “Station Sound” role too – though that particular term hadn’t been thought of at that point.
In fact this is how we sounded back then. (BTW – this audio breaks my rule from my Capital FM days; Simpsons Grabs = demo tape bin. But this was way back in 1996 – so is just about OK..) (Oh, and the whole Power of Radioactivity thing came from the fact that Crawley was designated the UK’s first Nuclear Free town. Or something. Go figure..)
Back in the 1990s, stations like Mercury gave you the opportunity to grow, to develop, to learn. And I learned from many people still making their mark in radio in many fields. People like Will Jackson (GTN / Traffic Radio), Will Kinder (Radio 1), Matt Smith (SKY News), Dan Wright (Koink).
Now with consolidated stations, networked hours and fewer ways into the industry, is it maybe time for the industry to create a unified qualification and training programme to ensure that future entrants are fully equipped with skills and relevant experience needed. There are precious few stations now where anyone new to the industry would be able to gain the skills that I learned there. Maybe such a scheme could use BBC Local radio stations as a feeder – with those making the best progress able to compete for placements and experience at larger networks or national brands. Whilst college courses fulfill some of those needs, the best place to learn these skills is on the job.
Ironically, it probably is Global Radio who are currently doing the most in this direction, with the establishment of the Global Radio Academy. Hopefully this will give as much insight to the industry’s new young hopefuls as Mercury FM did many years ago.
So RIP Radio mercury – I owe you much more than you ever could know.