A conference for people like me

There’s a lot of radio. And there are lots of radio conferences. But it’s rare for 2 to come along on the same week.

nextradiologo2-300x44If you work in radio as a producer, programmer, presenter, marketeer, or in fact anywhere in a radio station – then you should definitely check out NEXTradio. It’s a one day conference in London with loads of short, sharp presentations – and you will learn loads. I’ve been twice, and have always come away inspired. There are even videos on the site from previous conferences, so you can see what you missed last time.

Logo_TheImagingDays2014_FullBut if you are someone involved in imaging, marketing or station sound, it’s rare for a conference to have more than a session or 2 totally devoted to discussing and celebrating the  deep down and dirty skills required by the modern day audio ninja. That’s understandable – but this September, there is one, and it feels amazing that there hasn’t been one like this before.

The Imaging Days takes place in Amsterdam on September 8th and 9th, and will feature producers from across Europe and the rest of the world – gathered together to talk, listen and share ideas, skills and experience.

img_1892I was asked by the organisers to create a panel session of UK producers to discuss imaging in the UK – and am delighted I’ll be sharing the stage with Dan Mumford, former Head of Station Sound at BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, and Nathan Freeman, Station sound producer of BBC Radio 6 Music. Together, we’ll be delving into our archive of 40 plus years of radio imaging and production to share some of our favourite pieces, discuss how we came up with the creative concepts, and share some tales form the radio battlefield. We may also be brave and pull out examples of our first forays into radio production, to show that everyone needs to start somewhere..!

I’m really looking forward to hearing stories and strategies from some of the best producers in the business – but also hope to meet loads of new radio people with a passion for creative audio production.

If you love sound, create sound or work with people who do, head over to the website, grab a ticket, and maybe we’ll see you there…

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.


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.


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.


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 .


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.

Bass. How low can you go?

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The guys at the Benztownbranding Blog posted a great tip this week about the amount of bass you have in your final mix if you’re an audio producer. Now many of you may not be hands-on audio guys, so maybe skip this post. But for those who are – their blog raised a couple of interesting points. You can read it in full here.

One thing that is definitely key is the amount of bass you have in your final mix. Every piece you add in to a promo or imaging piece will have differing amounts of bass frequency. The more you add, the more is added to your final mix. And of course, the more that happens, the louder it gets and the harder to hear the overall piece clearly.

The key to any piece is using the frequencies to find places for all your elements. Something I was taught by a great producer, Linc Kelly, was how you can easily scoop out a place for your Voiceovers by cleverly scooping out a certain frequency in music to let the VoiceOver cut through more cleanly. Equally, when you come down to the master channel, or maybe the aux that you route each VO into, you need to to ensure that you roll off some of the bass at the lower end (in the frequencies that most normal radio listeners won’t hear). If you find your VO has too little bass, there are plug in such as Waves MaxxBass which add “pseudo bass” without adding much bass to the resulting sound.

One other basic tip (a bit Production 1.01 but relevant nonetheless) is to ensure you are monitoring your final mix through smaller speakers than your huge studio monitors. Either have a smaller pair of monitor speakers that emulate a domestic hifqi, or even , plug in a pair of headphones and listen through them whilst they are lying on your desk turned up – they’ll emulate a small bedside radio. When I first started producing, I’d listen via the monitor speaker on an old Studer Reel to Reel machine – but doubt any studio or radio station even has one of those lying around these days!

I’m no engineer – I’ve picked up my skills through years of doing and reading – but if you’re new to the game, you’ll find loads more tips on the Benztown Branding blog and others beside. Do take a look around – you never know what you might find..


Is the jingle really dead?



So, apparently, the radio jingle is dead.

Or at least it’s dead to BBC Radio 1.

Or it is according to a report in The Guardian

This is of course not true, but it’s interesting what “real people” perceive as radio jingles and imaging.

Chris Moyles is a huge fan of radio craft and heritage. He’s worked on stations that used jingles as a core part of their station sound throughout his career, including stations such as Radio Luxembourg, Chiltern Radio and Capital FM. And he was on these stations when the station sound included huge chunks of sung jingles. And he worked with them extremely well. So it was no surprise that when he took over the breakfast show on Radio 1, he commissioned a huge number of jingles over the years. But he did this deliberately to create a brand for his show. These jingles were always OTT and deliberately had a very clear nod to the past in their mood and construction – pastiching the work of the huge US jingle companies such as JAM Creative Productions. And to add to that feel, he used original Radio 1 jingles from the 80s and early 99s during his weekly Golden Hour.

Since Chris is moving on, there is no surprise that radio 1 is “killing the jingle”. But actually,it’s not.

Jingles have always been a part of creating a station’s on air image. “Imaging” has always been around on radio, but wasn’t always called that. And an audio identity for a station is more than just jingles, Voiceover, production effects and music. It’s all about the personality of the station brand.

For a station like Absolute Radio and Jack FM, it’s about the voiceover,the way the promos and liners are written and the way they execute things on air. For BBC Radio 2, it’s as much about the jingles and VoiceOver they use and also the presenters themselves. Jingles are a part of it, but not all of it.

The pitching document for the new imaging package for the Radio 1 breakfast show with Nick Grimshaw states:

The Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw launches in late September. We are looking to commission a strong sonic identity for it.
The new Breakfast Show will sound young, exciting, big and confident. It needs to stand out and not sound like any previous BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Shows.
The new theme will need to sound slickly produced and original, including a significant element of live instrumentation and an identifying motif (logo).
Please steer clear of sung jingles and variants of Breakfast themes and identities past and present.
* update* The following line should be included in the imaging – ‘The Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw’ – Please use a voice you think would be appropriate.

Increasingly, the line between “jingles” and “imaging” has become blurred. Radio 1’s current on air imaging was produced in Europe by the jingle company Pure Jingles. It’s has a hugely distinctive sonic identity and energy that fits the radio 1 sound. And that’s essentially the crux of this. The station sound of any station needs to blend and be appropriate for the type of music the station is playing, the feel of the station and the personality that the PD is attempting to generate for their station. Sometimes that means traditional jingles will work. Sometimes that needs a new approach.

And there is no right way to do this.

When I was making Imaging at Capital FM in London, we were asked to change the station sound ( and on air name) a number of times. Each time, the on air sound changed with it. Sometimes we used vocals. Then we used a traditional package. At one stage, the imaging had no jingles as part of it, but used samples of old jingles within it.

The problem for Radio 1 is that essentially it has become 2 stations. The Chris Moyles Show is one part, and the rest of the station is something else. Both have completely distinctive sounds and both complement each other to a degree. But for a station that has to become younger and lose the older end of its audience, having a breakfast show with imaging that sounds like the station did 20 years ago, however ironic, doesn’t necessarily help.

So expect a new sound. No big vocal harmonies. And a more coherent sound across the whole station.

And once Moyles leaves breakfast, maybe the end of jingles.

But then again, he has a new show coming – so don’t count on total death of jingles quite yet.

Sony Radio Awards nominated

Finally, one of my projects has been nominated for a Sony Award. For those who don’t know – the Sony Radio Academy Awards have been going for 28 years now – and celebrate the best of UK radio – from stations to presenters to producers and programmes. I’ve been part of a couple of winning entries including Lights Out London for Capital FM a few years back , but this one is purely production.

My work on the campaign for BBC Radio 3’s Composers of The Year Campaign has been shortlisted in the Best Promotional / Advertising Campaign category. And it’s up against some pretty big names too.It’s good to see 95.8 Capital FM get some nominations again this year – even if it means up against my friend Arden Hanley for his “Jingle Bell Ball” campaign. And there seems to be no stopping Jack FM too – produced by Joe Thomas. There are also entries from the BBC World Service and Real Radio too. So it’s a wide and varied field.

The Radio 3 campaign supported a very visual TV campaign which ran on TV last year. The challenge was to get across the key idea of stepping out of the “mundane” into a world where you could lose yourself in music. Here’s one of the TV trails:

These awards can be quite frustrating for a producer though as you don’t often get to hear the other entries you’re shortlisted against. So – in the spirt of sharing, I’m posting the audio from my radio campaign entry here.

Here’s Jack FM’s entry (thanks Joe):

If the other producers read this – please feel free to send me yours too and I’ll post them here too. That way – we can showcase some truly great (and very different campaigns).

[All audio (c) BBC. We acknowledge all rights held by the owners, creators and performers of the recorded works which are included solely for the purpose of review].

Capital – (Hot Rockin’) at Last?

It’s been over 12 months since I left Capital FM.

When I left, I had mixed feelings. Here was a station which I’d put loads of time and effort into as part of a dedicated production team who had been passionate about making it succeed, despite many changes in direction, format and leadership. We’d had to face being judged day in day out by media obeservers, the press and at many points, by the City.  Yet, throughout it all, there was a core team of people who really did want it to get better.

So you can maybe understand that I was a little cynical about the sound being created by the new owners in the months after I left.

Well, for the record, I think they were probably right. To make a wholesale change, you really do need to be brutal – strip stuff down and get back to basics. As an imaging producer, for me the sound was too simple, too basic. But it has probably done the job it was intended to do. Strip it back, let  the music talk, and then start building on a few core things; big events, the biggest hits and the big stars. And that’s what they’ve done.

And I think it’s an important point to be aware of. You can’t just produce the type of radio you want to hear as a producer. It has to be attuned to how the listener hears it, and relate to them in the right ways. What I find now in my current job, working for Pure Tonic Media, is that there’s a real need to be able to switch your ways of thinking depending on the particular project you’re working on. In one week, I can be making material for CHR format stations, a rock format and then, like last week, BBC Radio 3 and 4

But there has to be room in station imaging for touches of humour or topicality.  And there are odd moments of that in Capital’s current production used for the Jingle Bell Ball. In fact this morning I heard a brilliantly simple piece featuring Sir Michael Caine uttering the line “even I can’t get tickets; the only way I’ll be able to get in is to blow the bloomin’ doors off”. Simple, creative and fun. I hope they’ll start doing this more on occasion – otherwise it can all begin to sound a little one dimensional.

In fact, events like the Summertime Ball and currently the Jingle Bell Ball now show how much Capital is heading back on track.

Nik Goodman mentioned recently how he thought the current TV ad for the event had pretty poor production values for such a big brand. I do agree it doesn’t look a million dollars and doesn’t sound that creative. However, it is in your face and has a pretty simple message: we’ve got the biggest stars, you want to come ,and the only way you can is to listen to us. Yes it’s big, bragging and boastful – but good or bad, that’s what Capital does well. You don’t go to them for insightful analysis. You go there for Johnny Vaughan having a laugh with the punters, the latest Black Eyed Peas song and concert tickets. And if they can win with that in a crowded market, they should keep doing it.