Shock News: Car Drivers Quite Like the Radio

Isle of Wight-7

It has been a bit of a bugbear of mine in recent years that car manufacturers who are busily building their “infotainment” systems (aka the ever more complex multimedia thing that sits where once you found a radio/cassette/CD player), don’t really know what their users want.

The speed of consumer technological developments does not align well to the lifespan of cars, so as first GPS and then Bluetooth came along, manufacturers slowly added these their vehicles. They foolishly tried to get into the app game – even though the technology underpinning their apps is significantly out of date by the time the first model leaves the first forecourt. And only very recently are they ever-so reluctantly ceding a certain amount of control to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – effectively turning over the car’s screen and controls to your phone. In the future, your much more up-to-date phone will power these systems and provide the heavy lifting.

But in the meantime, as systems have to do more – Bluetooth, mapping, streaming audio, voice control, contact lists, traffic, WiFi and so on – radio feels as if it has been relegated in importance.

Where once the only option you had in your car was the radio, it now feels like it’s almost consigned to a sub-menu on your in-car entertainment system. Literally in some instances.

In particular, AM radio is already disappearing from cars (although in the UK, at least, it’s replaced by DAB where for the most part, you can still get your favourite AM services).

My particular frustration was a conviction that vehicle manufacturers, who’s expertise is really engineering large vehicles, had no real knowledge about how their owners actually used these entertainment systems. Yes, give drivers options like streaming services, but are users actually using the radio for the most part?

Remember that in the UK RAJAR tells us that 22% of radio listening is in-car. And in the US, it’s the dominent place to listen – with 44% of listening happening there according to one report.

So it’s excellent news that RadioPlayer has conducted some research into how important in-car radios are.

Across UK, France and Germany they surveyed 1500 new car owners, and found that 82% of drivers would not consider buying a car without a radio. That in itself is perhaps not surprising, but these same drivers said that 75% of all in-car listening is to the radio, with 84% saying they always or mostly listen to the radio on every journey.

These are key findings because, while I wouldn’t foresee any manufacturer actively removing a radio from its models, the lure of the new sometimes blinds them as to what drivers are actually doing in their cars.

Yes – we might like to stream Spotify or listen to podcasts as well, but those all require a certain level of curation. Radio is simple. You press the button and only have to choose your preferred station. They handle everything else.

Indeed 69% of drivers said that given a choice, radio would be the one option they kept!

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This is a really useful piece of research, highlighting the importance of the medium. While your response might be: “Well, of course radio is important in-car!” I’d say that it’s always worth just pointing that out, which this piece of research does nicely.

Here’s a RadioPlayer infographic, and full details of the research are on their website.

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Sell Me Personal Use Music Rights

I like making the odd video, and invariable, I prefer to use music on the soundtrack. Given that I’m not about to commission my own music for my little projects, I have two choices. I can either use a music track I already know, or I can go to a music library and for a relatively small amount, buy the rights to use a piece of music for my video. As long as it’s for personal use, the costs is usually pretty low.

Now here’s the thing: I much prefer to use music that I already know. Certainly there is good music to be found in some of the online libraries, but you really have to hunt for it. And it becomes quite a big procedure relying on the library’s categorisations to hunt down the sort of thing you want.

If you use music you already know, it’s a lot easier. You simply pick something from your own music library, that you’ve heard on the radio or whatever. If you don’t already have it, you buy a digital copy for 99p and away you go.

Except, you don’t have the rights.

If you upload the video to YouTube, Google will probably monetise your video for you, correctly sharing any revenue with the rights owner. But it may not, depending on what agreements it has with the appropriate rights owner. If Vimeo spots unlicensed music (and it’s a bit more hit or miss), it simply doesn’t allow it.

And these issues can vary by territory.

What would be great would be to be able to licence music I’ve actually heard of for personal use. So no monetisation by me of the video on YouTube, and no commercial use. But just so I can put some music I’ve heard on my little video. I’d be happy to be a few quid for this – more than the 99p the track would cost me from a download site. I’d happily include a licence code that could be checked. Artists and rights owners make more money (more than they’ll make from advertising on a video that will in the scheme of things get very few views), and I get to feel good about using music legally.

How about it?

NB. I did write about this previously, but the intervening few years, the problem remains, and I’ve not found a solution.

RAJAR Q4 2015

RAJAR

Once again, this post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 9 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis in association with it. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

Radio X

The big excitement in the radio industry this time out was to see how Radio X has done, having been re-branded from Xfm and had a huge splurge of cash spent on both new presenters and a particularly substantial marketing campaign. When Global decides to get behind something they do really get behind it.

The new station has a reach of 1.225m, up 17% on the previous quarter, and up 30% on the previous year. Both very decent figures, but I suspect that Global is looking for more.

Hours have a better story with a 43% increase on the quarter and a 49% increase on the year.

But of course the station marks a return to national radio of Chris Moyles, with much of the marketing revolving around him, including the complained about TV ad. His first book shows a reach of 671,000 up 42% on the last quarter and 41% on the last year.

The average age of the Radio X listener is 34, on a par with the final Xfm age, but perhaps a little lower than in the past.

The key thing to note about Radio X is that it’s a 6 Month weighted station. And that means that only three months’ of Radio X has been included in these numbers. So you can confidently expect the station to grow when Q1 2016’s figures are released in three months’ time.

A decent first time out, but there is still plenty of room for Radio X to grow.

Overview

Radio reach in the UK remains solidly at 90% with just over 1 billion hours of listening. But the number of hours per listener has fallen to 21.0 for the first time – people aren’t listening to quite as much radio as in the past. There are a lot of audio choices available these days.

Between the BBC and commercial radio, things are fairly even, with 53.5% of listening to BBC services, with 44.1% of listening to commercial radio.

Interestingly, commercial reach has just overtaken BBC reach for the first time, with 66% of the population listening to a commercial service against the BBC’s 65%.

Digital

It was a fairly uneventful quarter in digital terms with no growth in overall digital listening. Last quarter there had been quite a decent bump, so this was perhaps not unexpected.

The chart above shows that most platforms were basically flat this quarter. Traditionally we tend to see a bit of growth in the quarter post-Christmas when new gadgets are used for the first time. So stay tuned for Q1 2016!

Networks and Groups

6 Music has broken another all-time record, now having a reach of 2.2m (up 0.6% on the quarter and 5.7% on the year). Hours actually slipped back 1.5% this quarter so no record there, but it’s obviously a strong performer across the board.

Radio 1 saw a small fall of 2.2% on the quarter and 1.0% on the year in terms of reach. The hours story is a little worse with a fall of 7.5% on the quarter and 7.3% on the year. This again shows that while younger audiences continue to listen to the radio, they’re not listening quite as much – a challenge for everyone in radio.

Radio 2 had a modest reach increase of 0.5% on the quarter and 1.2% on the year, although hours slipped back a little to “just” 179m. Radio 2, let’s not forget, accounts for 17.5% of all radio listening in the UK more than 1 in 6 hours listened to.

I notice that the controller of Classic FM having another dig at Radio 3 in the press recently. I’m never quite sure about why that is because Classic FM has an audience of 5.5m (up 0.6% on the quarter, down 0.9% on the year) – way ahead of Radio 3’s 2.05m reach (down 0.9% on the quarter, up 1.0%) on the year. 819,000 people listen to both stations. So while a full third of Radio 3’s audience listen to Classic FM, only 15% of Classic FM’s audience ever listen to Radio 3. That suggests that Classic FM is a far bigger threat to Radio 3 than vice versa.

Radio 4 had a good quarter up in reach (1.4% on the quarter, 1.5% on the year) and hours (3.9% on the quarter, 4.6% on the year). And Five Live also had a good set of numbers with reach up on the quarter (1.4%) althouhg down a fraction on the year (-0.4%). Hours were stronger, now up to 11.5 hours a week – placing it as a station with one of the most loyal audiences.

Radio 4 Extra just fell behind 6 Music again in the BBC’s internal digital only battle, while Five Live Sports Extra fell back quite a lot with less compelling sport at the end of last year. Cricket in South Africa should bolster the station next quarter.

Talksport had a mixed quarter, with a reach that fell 2.9% on the quarter although up 1.9% on the year. It remains just over 3m. More concerningly, the station’s hours fell 11.8% on the quarter (down 9.4% on the year) to just over 18m. That means that the average duration for Talksport listeners is now just under 6 hours for the first time. The station will be looking to grow overall hours with the addition of Talksport 2 from next month (it launches at the Cheltenham Festival). It’ll also be interesting to hear what happens with Premier League radio rights in the coming months and whether UTV will be seeking to increase its investment to support this new service.

It’s been another excellent quarter for the Absolute Radio Network reaching a new record high of nearly 4.4m reach (up 4.9% on the quarter and 12.7% on the year), although hours fell a little on the quarter (down 2.9%) while still being well up on the year (12.9%).

Absolute Radio itself remains very strong, flat in reach on the quarter (0.1%) but well up on the year (24.6%) following the inclusion of the Midlands’ FM transmitter. Hours will be a little more concerning, down 10.5% on the quarter while still 24.7% up on the year.

Absolute 80s remains the biggest commercial digital only station – the closest competition being Bauer stable-mate Kisstory. The station is up 0.9% on the quarter and 11.7% on the year. Hours are even better up 7.2% on the quarter and 13.4% on the year.

The Kiss Network is flat in reach terms on the quarter, but up on the year. But the strong performer, as mentioned, is Kisstory which is up 7% on the quarter and 33% on the year in reach terms. With the upcoming changes to multiplexes for both Absolute 80s and Kisstory (see below), we could well see Kisstory overtake Absolute 80s in the future.

The Capital Network looks to have done OK, up a little in reach, and down a touch in hours, but it should be noted that the former Juice FM in Liverpool, which has just been rebranded as Capital, is included in this number.

The Heart Network is basically flat in reach terms, both on the quarter and on the year. With the upcoming sister service, it’ll be worth watching to see if the brand continues to grow.

LBC nationally had a slight fall on the quarter (down 2.8%) but is still 8% up on the year to 1.44m. There’s a similar story with hours where it’s down on the quarter but up on the year. That all said, many stations would kill for the 9.8 hours a week its average listener spends with the station (even if it was once much more than even that). It’ll be facing renewed competition from TalkRadio soon, and it’ll be interesting to see both how the two compare in the future – not just in terms of audience but also in tone.

Smooth as a network did OK, but I’m curious a little about Smooth Extra. This is only the second quarter that it has been reported and it actually fell from 930,000 to 904,000. Now for one month of that period, it was rebranded as Smooth Christmas and played only Christmas music (Clearly I didn’t listen to it). But that seems to have actually harmed rather than help its figures. But would a RAJAR diarist know that Smooth Extra and Smooth Christmas were the same service?

And finally there’s another new service this quarter – UCB 1 (formerly known as UCB) – the Christian service. Its first reach was a very creditable 236,000. Given that the service is effectively funded by its own listeners, this performance isn’t surprising. The operators obviously know that they have a substantial listenership. Whether this means that UCB 1 will be taking advertising soon is another question.

London

London is a bit of an oddity this time around, in that everyone seems to have done well. Well nearly everyone!

The issue really comes from the fact that last quarter, All Radio listening in London fell quite precipitously from 89% to 85%. This seems to have been a one-off, and listening in the capital has returned to 89% this quarter.

But that increased reach means that most of the big stations did fairly well in London.

Capital regains the commercial reach crown from Kiss, although the competition remains close at the top. Both services had very small falls in reach this quarter, -0.4% for Capital and -3.5% for Kiss. But LBC has the most commercial hours in London, in a hotly contested field with Kiss, Capital and Magic all with over 10m hours. LBC has had a quarter on quarter jump of 21% to leap ahead of the pack to 10.9m hours.

Capital has been hardest hit. While it was basically flat in reach, its hours fell 21% on the quarter (although remain flat on the year).

The rebranded BBC Radio London (formerly BBC London 94.9) saw an increase on the year (up 8.9%) although a fall on the quarter (-2.1%) as perhaps listeners learn and adapt to the new schedule.

Finally, this quarter saw a first result for The Wireless from Age UK. This is a service that has run on DAB in London for a number of years. It does report nationally since it’s available online, but a reach of 24,000 suggests that going onto RAJAR mightn’t have been advisable.

Breakfast

Nick Grimshaw saw a small increase of 0.4% on the quarter (a fall of 2.0% on the year) to 5.8m this time around.

Chris Evans saw a small dip on Radio 2 of 1.6% on the quarter and 2.0% on the year to 9.409m. While on Radio 4, the Today Programme is up 2% on the quarter and year to 6.9m.

On Absolute Radio, Christian has had a decent set of numbers. Down 2.5% on the quarter, he’s up 3.2% on the year to 1.84m at breakfast across the Absolute Radio Network.

In London, the Today Programme is the most listened to breakfast programme with nearly 2m listeners. But nobody is interested in that. They want to know about the commercial fight. Lisa Snowdon finished her final quarter on the Capital breakfast show with Dave Berry as the market leader. It was up 10.2% on the quarter and 14.8% on the year.

It’s more than 100,000 clear of the next nearest commercial service – Magic Breakfast with Nick Snaith. That show has bounced back from 771,000 last quarter to 935,000 this quarter – a 21.3% jump.

Kiss has also seen a jump, increasing 15.5% on the previous quarter (0.1% on the previous year), while Heart breakfast positively leaps 44.2% from the last quarter (a more modest 8.8% up the last year).

And on Absolute Radio, as Christian O’Connell was approaching his tenth anniversary (since passed) he was up 22% on the quarter (29% on the year) to 422,000.

All of these astounding leaps are likely to be down to some very low overall listening numbers in London last quarter as mentioned above.

The chart above shows Radio 2 and Radio 4’s performance across the day, and I think demonstrates their importance in the overall radio ecology.

If we remove All Radio, you can see that although Radio 2 is the bigger station, there are times during the day when Radio 4 is bigger.

At 8am in the morning, the stations are particularly closely matched.

Overlaps

I did some of these a few quarters back, and I thought it was worth looking at again. Here I’ve shown the overlaps between sister stations of the same brand to show how not everyone who listens to the sub-brand listens to the main station as well.

Note that in terms of design, these are only rough approximations and not accurately sized. Also each chart is only really consistent within itself. Still you can see easily the relative sizes, and the numbers are accurate.

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This is the biggest example here of a unique audience to the sub-brand who don’t listen to the main service.

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D2 – The Second National Commercial Multiplex

Also just announced and worth mentioning, although not really part of RAJAR, is the full line-up for Sound Digital – the second national commercial DAB multiplex. They’re going to squeeze a massive 18 services onto one multiplex. I think it’s fair to expect that none of the regular DAB services will be in stereo (The DAB+ services will be however!).

Yes – most DAB radios are mono. But some aren’t, and a mono service just sounds worse than a stereo one. Music is, after all, made in stereo. The real place where it makes a difference is in car. Listen to Radio X and 6 Music in a car, and the difference is massive. One sounds much more enveloping that the other. Even as a listener if you don’t know why one sounds better, it will. Moan over.

For the most part, the new services launching – both here and elsewhere – are spin-offs of known brands. In due course it will be interesting to see whether audiences are pulled over from the BBC, or whether the current audience to these services will be divided up a little more. In some ways, neither matter. If new services can be delivered on a cost-effective basis, and audiences are happy with what they get, then that works well for radio groups.

A few services like Planet Rock and Absolute 80s, are shifting across to the new multiplex – leaving space for the likes of Heart Extra to launch on D1. The move to D2 will cost those services listeners however, since the geographic coverage of D2 just isn’t as good, and some people currently listening to those services on DAB will no longer be able to.

On another note it’s interesting to see a few new services not previously announced appearing on the mux.

So we have Magic Chilled (a second Magic sister service) which will be sitting alongside the also the new and now slightly renamed Mellow Magic (as opposed to the slightly odd ‘Magic Mellow’ as it was initially announced).

British Muslim Radio will now be called Awesome Radio. And as previously announced, Share Radio will be taking slot that was initially going to be used by TalkBusiness.

Finally, both Fun Kids and Jazz FM will both be appearing in DAB+ (in stereo), which is good news for both services. The big unknown is what percentage of DAB radios currently in use are DAB+ compatible. I’ll know doubt be evaluating the radios in my own home come the end of the month.

Further Reading

For more RAJAR analysis, I’d recommend the following sites:

The official RAJAR site and their infographic is here
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Go to Media.Info for lots of numbers and charts
Paul Easton for more analysis including London charts
Matt Deegan will have some great analysis
Media Guardian for more news and coverage
The BBC Mediacentre for BBC Radio stats and findings
Bauer Media’s site.
Global Radio’s site.

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 20 December 2015, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else, including my employer. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Drop me a note if you want clarifications on anything. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

January Books

Every year in January, I note something in this blog about including more books, and then I don’t really write about them. Well I’m making the same promise again, but more broadly I want to round up what I’ve been reading at the end of each month. We’ll see how I get on. Links to all the books at the bottom.

I should admit that the list is perhaps a little longer than usual this month because I’ve chucked in a couple of books read over Christmas, and I’ve picked up a couple that I’d not finished from last year. Oh, and I’ve mentioned a couple already, but I’ll mention them again for completeness here.

438 Days by Jonathan Franklin is the story of Salvador Alvarenga, an El Salvadorean fisherman who managed to survive for over a year, adrift at sea in a tiny fishing boat. I remember vaguely reading the story when it was published around the world when he’d been found, and filed it away as a little unlikely. Then I read a long extract in The Guardian last autumn and was given the book at Christmas. It’s an astonishing story, and undoubtedly true. Franklin does a wonderful job of telling that story.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, is a slight book, but a powerful one. It tells the story of Andreas, a simple man born in the Austrian mountains for whom life really happens around him. It’s set during the 20th century and encompasses World War II and later the growing tourism boom in the Alps. It’s a small delight.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, was something that I of course read because of the BBC adaptation. I read it just ahead of the TV version, and actually the adaptation is very close. Of course the book itself has been altered since its original publication to remove racial epithets, but the story remains the incredible story. And if for some reason you don’t know who did it, then it’s worth reading.

Cyclogeography by Jon Day, I have already written about. But it’s a fine meditation what it is to be a cycle courier, and where cycling fits into our world.

What Goes Around by Emily Chappell, is the more rounded book on being a cycle courier. She explains in more depth what the world of courier is like, and just how tough it is. About now is when many of us aren’t on our bikes so much, yet the courier is still out there delivering. It’s also more of a memoir, and details Chappell’s life and relationships.

Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers, is another golden age crime novel. I caught some repeats of the Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter TV version recently, and thought that it’d be interesting to pick up a copy of the novel since I’ve never read Sayers. It’s smarter and sharper than I’d realised and I think she’s probably a better writer than Christie. I’ll read some.

Slade House by David Mitchell, was something I originally picked up towards the end of last year. Mitchell largely writes chunky volumes, but this is a ghost story of sorts and is meant to be read at a perhaps quicker pace. Slade House has a mystery, and every few years strange things happen. A well-told tale.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot came to my attention via a review by Will Self in The Guardian, and I wasn’t sure if I was interested in reading a book about additction. Liptrot had left her home in the Orkney Islands to live in London, but there she developed alcoholism and her life began to fall apart. She managed to climb out of her downward spiral, returning to the Orkneys and eventually an especially remote island. This is her memoir on that addiction and her life afterwards. It’s very well told, and I was glad that listening to Liptrot on The Guardian’s book podcast won me around to reading it.

Everest

This film is now out on DVD and download, but I actually saw it in the cinema and then failed to publish my review!

I’d been meaning to see Everest for a few weeks, but there’d been a rush of decent films. I had to see this film however, because it’s a dramatisation of true events from the tragic 1996 ascent, about which much has been written. And I’ve read quite a lot of that material.

Most famously there was Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Krakauer was a participant in this story, attending to write a piece for Outside Edge magazine. There was also The Climb by Anatoli Boukreev, also on the mountain, and written I believe, partly in response to Krakauer’s book which he felt didn’t treat him fairly. Another participant, heavily featured in this film, was Beck Weathers, who also wrote about the events in Left For Dead, although I’ve not actually read this one. And then there’s The Death Zone by Matt Dickinson who was climbing the other route up the North Face that day.

There are no doubt other books beyond this. What is clear is that in the confusion of the key 48 hours, the books don’t all tally up with one another. Krakauer’s is undoubtedly the best book, but this film isn’t based on his work – there was a pretty average TV movie that used his book back in 1997. And we have now learnt that Krakauer doesn’t like his portrayal in this film. Instead this film is based on Weathers’ book and some other sources. It’s an amalgam.

But back to the story. Essentially it begins with Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) of Adventure Consultants. They were one of two commercial expeditions tackling Everest that year, Hall having popularised the commercial expedition model. He has his group including Texan Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), postman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) and writer Krakauer (Michael Kelly). In base camp is the key figure of Helen Wilton (Emily Watson) running things.

The climbers begin their acclimatisation programme, making sorties up the mountain and to neighbouring mountains, with the May 10 date as being the likely ascent date. But it’s also clear that there are an awful lot of people on the mountain that year, and they don’t all see eye to eye as to how they should space themselves out on the mountain. If they all go at the same time, there’ll be pinch points and time will get wasted – the body doesn’t do well at over 8,000m (the “death zone”), and oxygen is cumbersome and limited.

Long reaches an agreement to merge teams with Scott Fischer’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) Mountain Madness team, but it’s clear that not everyone in either party is quite up to the task in hand. There’s a telling scene where another group is having to explain to its climbers how you attach crampons to your boots.

It’s not worth getting into what happens next, but there is an initial weather window, and many of the team get up. But there are issues along the way. Then there are delays and the weather closes in. Climbers are trapped and they’re short of oxygen.

There probably never will be conclusiveness about absolutely everything that happened over those two days, but the film shows confusion very well. This is a film that you need to concentrate on. Sometimes it can take a moment to work out who a particular character is. I think that Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur does a decent job of jumping between characters and trying to explain their relativity to one another. The screenplay by William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy also keeps things moving.

The film looks gorgeous. It was filmed partly in Nepal, but also in the Italian Alps and Iceland. But you don’t see the joins and it always feels very real. I would have been happy to sit and watch the impressive aerial mountain photography even more, although that’s what proper IMAX cinemas are for.

Clarke and Watson are particularly good, and even the cameo from Keira Knightley at the end of an international phone line is very moving. Overall, I must say that I was impressed by this film.

What the film doesn’t really do is get into the rights and wrongs of commercial expeditions. Are there too many people on the mountain? I’m not sure that it properly showed the mess that Everest Base Camp is, with old oxygen bottles and kit strewn around. At one point we do see the climbers pass a long dead body, left frozen at the side of the route. That’s something that I find particularly horrifying. Indeed most of the bodies of those who die on Everest remain there, never decaying because of the frozen conditions. Hence the discovery of George Mallory’s body in 1999, 75 years after his death in a 1924 attempt to summit.

And in some ways I was surprised that the captions at the end of the film didn’t mentioning the continuing danger on Everest. For the past two years, the mountain has essentially been closed after tragedy struck. In 2014 16 Nepalese guides were killed on Everest while fixing lines up the mountain. Essentially without those lines being in place, expeditions would take much longer to get up the mountain. Then this year a massive earthquake hit Nepal killing at least 9,000 people and leaving many homeless. At Everest Base Camp this triggered avalanches that killed at least 19 more people. The film-makers are raising money for Nepal however.

Nepal is so impoverished that it relies on the licence fees that climbers have to pay to go onto the mountain. Those expeditions also employ Nepalese and bring much needed money into the country (The recent TV series, Walking The Himalayas noted the reduced number of tourists since the earthquake and the effect that was having on the local economy). On the other hand, those same people are working a very dangerous job. There is a real moral conundrum.

I’m not a real climber. I love the mountains, but will never climb Everest. And if I ever catch myself thinking: “Well if I had the money, I could practically be pulled up the mountain by one of these companies,” I can follow this marvellous advice from Andy Kirkpatrick on Alistair Humphrey’s site.

But I do think the film is better than some have given it credit for. It doesn’t have a perfectly structured narrative, but then real-life doesn’t fit into neat three-act structures.

London Six Day Racing

Six Day London 2015-26

Note: I began writing this last year, and then like so many posts, I left it languishing in drafts until I’d got around to processing the photos to go with it. Then I was lax about getting up to date with processing my photos. And so finally, three months later, here’s the whole piece.

I must admit that I was quite excited when I heard that six day racing was returning to London. Mark Cavendish was the promotional front man behind it, and I suspect he may well have been racing the series were he not still recovering from injury.

Essentially a two-man team competition, it’s racing in a velodrome over six nights, with an overall winner determined from the cumulative results. In between events for the six-day competitors, there are other races so that entrants to the main competition aren’t actually on-track non-stop all night.

Six Day London 2015-16

That all said, the racing is fast and furious, designed to keep an audience attentive. As soon as one event finishes, the next is on track – although most track racing is like this. Allied to the cycling are the lights and music. In London we had a Ministry of Sound DJ in a purpose made booth right in the centre of the velodrome. He was providing us with a non-stop soundtrack of music for all the events, ramping up the volume accordingly.

Six Day London 2015-14

At one end of the velodrome’s centre were the racers’ cabins. Usually in London, where the 250m circuit leaves quite a big space, a good half of the area is handed over to riders in sectioned off areas. But they can also easily escape downstairs to toilets and changing facilities. Traditionally riders rarely left this central area during a meet however, so the only privacy they were afforded were these wooden cabins with curtains they could pull across. More importantly seigneurs could give them regular massages to keep them loose between races. In London this wasn’t strictly necessary, but they kept the cabins on for form’s sake.

Six Day London 2015-11

So what did I make of the night – the fourth of the six days in London? Well I enjoyed myself a lot. The music wasn’t pounding house music, but stuff you might actually know. It’s probably a cliché, but who wouldn’t want to hear the Ride of Valkyries when the Derny bike pilots lined up for their specific race? On top of that, the lighting made for a great atmosphere. Normally inside the London Velodrome, the lighting is bright and harsh, but for this they’d made things quite special.

There was lots of food and beer available for sale, and the crowd was having a good time. I suspect it’s not quite as riotous and chaotic as some Continental six day races, but it was good fun.

Six Day London 2015-10

The crowd could have been larger though. I suspect it’s quite an uphill struggle to fill a velodrome on six consecutive nights. And I’m not sure that starting on a Sunday and finishing on a Friday is the best way to do things. I notice that in Ghent they start on Tuesday and finish on Sunday. At least that way you get big Friday and Saturday nights. On the night I went, they reallocated tickets to lower area for anyone who’d bought an upper level seat.

Six Day London 2015-5

I think cheaper tickets would have been smarter too. My front row ticket actually cost £60 which is damned expensive however you look at it. The night before Bayern Munich fans were protesting the £64 price of their tickets at Arsenal to see two of the top football sides in the world play! Upper tier tickets were cheaper, but lower prices would probably have seen more tickets sold. Yes, cycling can be very middle class (much more so in the south-east in my view), but that’s a lot of money for any sporting occasion. And when you factor in £5 a pint Heineken, you’re looking at expensive evening out.

And I do note that whereas in Ghent, the centre of track costs €19 for standing, in London the part not given over to riders is for hospitality. There was a very expensive BMW parked in the middle, and a smaller number of people enjoying very pleasant corporate hospitality.

But they did put on a proper show. We had both in vision presentation from OJ Borg, short films to explain race formats, and of course commentary over the races which was separate from the TV commentary heard on Eurosport. You have to do that if you want to properly mix the sound for TV. The Revolution series tried using Hugh Porter for both track and TV commentaries a year or so ago, and it really didn’t work. My only complaint there was that some of OJ’s interviews were drowned out by the music underneath. Crank up the volume of those interviews, or drop the music down even lower.

The organisers made full use of the screens with lots of bespoke graphics, and it was good to have a few cameras attached to bikes for live pictures.

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The riders are also aware that it’s a show as much as competitive. Indeed exactly how competitive they really are is a good question.

Most of the riders we saw are regulars on the six-day circuit, and have been riding around Europe for a few months or so doing this. But they play to the crowd enormously, bigging up the audience ahead of a time-trial, and taking their wins fulsomely. We got trackstands and “argy-bargy” that wouldn’t be allowed in a UCI event. It all adds to the interest – although race times remain good, and this is more than exhibition stuff.

I listened to The Cycling Podcast’s coverage of the Six Day meeting, and came away feeling a little the same. The other big velodrome racing in the UK is the Revolution series which has slowly expanded out of its Manchester home as we’ve seen new velodromes open. It’s now up to six rounds, usually with an afternoon and evening session for each round.

Because these events are limited to a single day, they’ve done well in attracting big name British riders to help fill the stands. They’ve had Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas ride rounds for example. I note that the ticket for the same seat at the London round of Revolution only cost £38.50. Except, I couldn’t have bought it if I wanted to, because they’d already sold most of the better tickets.

I’m not saying the Six Day racing shouldn’t continue as well, but I think it needs to be made more affordable. This may sound odd, but the event they probably want to aspire to is the Darts World Championships at Ally Pally. Big groups of people going along with express intention of having a good time.

I’d love to go to Ghent and see some racing there. Maybe later in 2016…

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Photography Page

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I’ve been redesigning my Photography page to be a bit more contemporary, but still based around Flickr, because that’s the most convenient place to store my photographs.

I’ve used a WordPress plugin called Justified Image Grid which seems to do the trick quite well and has lots of flexibility for pulling in photos from other sources.

The problem now is that the Photography page puts much of the rest of the site to shame. I’ve got a bit more work to do then.