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…

Bob gets the job. But “can he fix it?”.

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So with a minor amount of fanfare and somewhat little surprise, the BBC Radio 2 controller job is going to Bob Shennan – former head of 5Live and most recently Channel 4 Radio’s Director of Radio (until they bailed out of radio).

Is this a good thing – and is it really a surprise?

Well – he knows the BBC politics inside out (having run 5Live for 8 years and launched 5Live Sports extra). And maybe Radio 2 needs a steadying influence over the next few years – to help recover from the blows it’s been receiving. Does it matter that he’s not got much music radio experience? He’s got the incredible music mind of Jeff Smith to steer the music – so no worries there. And he’s injected a large dose of personality (and ego) into 5Live – so maybe he’s the man to bring the new blood in.

But what are his main challenges?

1)Decide what to do when Wogan goes? Evans? Baker and Ball?
2)Protect Wossy. The pressure is being piled on him by the tabloids. Let the guy do his job and give him the editorial confidence to do it
3)Tweak the focus – let me know exactly what I’ll get when I listen.
4)Ignore all the armchair pundits – what do we really know?

The trouble with Radio 2 is that it has a really loyal core audience (much like Radio 4 – where it’s impossible to make any wholesale changes to the schedule without angering the career complainers). It’s a station with a split personality. At one end of the room, there’s the cool furniture where Chris Evans and Jonathan Ross sit- being entertaining and edgy. Then there’s comfy leather sofas where you’ll find Wogan and Ken Bruce chuckling away and delivering a warm cosy feeling. Steve Wright sits midway – doing the same sort of radio he’s always done. Jeremy Vine sits in a big chair by the window reading the Broadsheets (whilst secretly wanting to rock out all day). And out back, there’s the old time shows, musicals, big band – and buried away, the excellent documentaries

I want to like it – and I listen loads now. But I want to love it.

Will we get a killer lineup of Chris Evans, Jonathan Ross, Simon Mayo, Danny Baker (with Zoe Ball), Nicky Campbell, Stuart McConie, and Mark Radcliffe. Oh – and throw in a side order of Wogan at the weekends. And yes, Whispering Bob for late night Saturday night drives. And could we dare hope for Richard Bacon too?

It’s a dream job Bob. Enjoy…

They’ve done it again

So Radio 2 have created another brilliantly conceived, yet simple TV ad to showcase what the station is all about.

 

There have been many attempts to create compelling TV ads for radio stations and radio shows. Some worked and some didn’t. Coming myself from a commercial background, the only one recently for my old station Capital 95.8 that I feel worked  was the one we created to launch Johnny Vaughan’s breakfast show. It showed him dancing all over London to a version of “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”. This was fairly big budget and designed to create an affinity between Johnny, Capital and London.

This new Radio 2 ad is a mash up of songs they play on  the station; Blondie’s ‘Atomic’, David Bowie’s ‘Sound and Vision’ , James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’, plus  Run DMC’s ‘Walk This Way’ and KT Tuntstall ‘Black Horse and the Cherry Tree’.

To me, you get hooked in by the clever cutting of the music, plus visually how the video clips are cut and recut, as if to mimic sampling of the songs. 

The ad features many of the stations star names including Jonathan Ross, Russel Brand and Chris Evans (though no Wogan). 

The clever part will be to see how they extend this message this time. I’d expect the clip (now available on You Tube) to be a viral success. They are running a version on air which includes the musical soundtrack, cut together with audio clips from all the shows – taking the idea in a different direction, but making it work on the radio station. Not quite sure how it would translate into print…talking bus shelters anyone?