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…

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.

Moyles World Cup Commentary

I’ve just watched the first half of the World Cup match between Spain and Germany and was listening to the alternative commentary by Chris Moyles for the Spain v Germany match.

This was a really clever idea (though shame it wasn’t on Freeview). Clever use of radio talent to provide something extra. This was squarely aimed at Radio 1 Chris Moyles fans. And it wasn’t really commentary. It was Chris doing what he normally does – with most of his audio props. It’s not something you’d necessarily watch if you were a real footy fan – but for someone with passive interest, this was great.

I noticed the BBC did something similar for F1 coverage last year – with a CBBC aimed alternative commentary. It was another way of extending the output to new audiences.

Of course, not everyone is a Moyles fan. But this was a really clever (and entertaining idea). Hopefully it won’t be a one off.

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

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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.

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…

It’s not TV. But I like it.

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This morning’s Chris Moyles Show was streamed online to allow you to see the whole show – in all it’s behind the scenes glory. And I really like it. 

On the Radio 1 site, it’s viewed via the Visual Radio Player. This allows you to see live video of the show – cut live by Radio 1’s online team plus a load of enhancements such as moderated text messages, a realtime show blog and also song details/artist biog etc which display instead of live video when the songs play. I didn’t try accessing it on my iphone and guess it may not have worked – but a mobile option would be great – particularly on the train (bandwidth issues notwithstanding).It’s an enhanced listening experience – but is it TV – or radio with pictures?

Radio1 have done this before online – and it works as an added extra – not so good if you’re on the move, but a fantastic extra, particularly for the many people listening at work – have it open on the desktop and click on it if you really want to see what’s going on. It would work especially well if  the show was live at an event – say backstage at The Brits or all weekend at Glastonbury – as an enhanced experience. 

It worked today because they did the show as normal – not really playing up to the fact to the cameras being there – and that’s the main point. This is still visualisation for radio rather than creating a TV viewing experience. But that’s not to say that radio shouldn’t be an enhanced experience. The idea of being able to listen to a station on the move, click on the application to bring up travel information or buy the song playing is available on most radio station websites. But added extras and new ways of presenting the information are all things that differentiate one station from another.Compared this to the trial last year when the Scottt Mills show ran on BBC 3 as a TV show; it worked really well – but many of the features felt like they had too many contrived visual elements.

So this is the BBC – big resources, big ideas and fairly big budgets. But what about those who need revenues to do the same? 

This application from 95.8Capitalfm does a similar thing (in smaller measures)…

ipod2-1228758140-article-1Whilst it works best in a wifi area-  (data usage is quite high) – it allows you listen to the station, get “now playing information” and, really useful for a local station, live tube data and traffic camera pictures. It also allows you to switch between a number of Globalradio’s services – keeping it in the family.

Of course, if you can see the presenters doing their job on screen – how long before  video  well and truly kills the radio star? Will  “a good face for radio” still be acceptable? 🙂

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

etc.

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…

The mighty Power Tower is no more

It was a Sunday morning – 4th December 1988. I was waiting for the gates to be unlocked to get into the school hall at Portsmouth Grammar school for a technical rehersal for a school play. And we were sat around a radio listening to this…103.2 Power FM

 

Instead of non stop Phil Collins and Heart and Tina Turner, the South Coast had a cool new radio kid – playing Ton Loc, Whitney, Pet Shop Boys, They Might Be Giants, pop hits through and through, but delivered with an energy that hadn’t been there before..(Ocean Sound/radio Victory anyone?). Plus DJs who were young, and a bit more edgy and fun – Pete Wardman, Bernie Simmonds and Chris Kelly . Let’s face it – the only real competition was Radio 1 – with Simon Bates, Gary Davies and Steve Wright. And as Power FM grew more confident, it sounded cooler too. It was 90s radio, and for a while, it rocked.

 

Fast forward to 2008 – almost 20 years later – and Power FM is now no more – replaced at the weekend by GALAXY  

As time moved on, Power FM has found it harder to sound different in a market that has become more crowded. As resurgent Radio 1, local  competition from Ocean, Wave105, The Coast plus countless more local stations. Where Power once was cool and new, the world of radio has moved on and it’s now all about brands.

Galaxy launched in 1990 in Bristol, and whilst it’s music policy has evolved between stations, it’s always been one cool customer – riding the waves of Dance and R n B.

And let’s face it – the South coast has been crying out for something like this for a long time. I’ve got mixed views on whether the “destruction” of truly local stations is a good thing or not. The bottom line is, if it were my money, would I do the same and try to generate a maximum amount of revenue for my investment – whilst keeping local advertisers happy? I guess the answer is Yes. Do listeners necessarily care where the programme is coming from as long as it’s entertaining and delivers what they want? Probably no? Sure, it’s another local station gone in name – but was Power really ever a truly local station- more a  music station in a local market. It always wanted to be bigger than that – so will a change of name and a tweak of format help? Given that the Galaxy brand is well established, and pseudo national – then probably yes.

So,the world moves on, Power FM has grown up and the mighty Power tower has been demolished.