Pop Up Radio

It’s great to learn this morning that Radio 2 is launching a new pop-up radio station (ie. a temporary one).

There is going to be a short term Radio 2 Eurovision service in the run-up to the big competition in May. The only previous time they’ve done this was during the Olympics when as well as Five Live, and Five Live Sports Extra, they launched Olympics Extra.

Australia is the pioneer of the pop-up service, having launched services for commercial and news reasons: for a Pink tour and when wild fires were ravaging the country were just a couple of them.

The reality is that this will cost the BBC hardly anything at all. The transmission is already covered, and the broadcast chains are already in place – used for red button or online services. A couple more producers and engineers will probably be needed, but the reality is that these kinds of services are remarkably cheap to do.

This begs the question – why don’t we see more of them?

This was something I always wanted to see happen, but there were a number of factors that mitigated against it.

If you look around – particularly at your local DAB mulitplexes, you’ll probably see that there is space for new services to “pop-up.” But the mux owners aren’t really set-up to offer the capacity this way. In the main the companies are run by people who do other things day to day. So the prospect of having to go through the process of offering and setting up stations for short terms doesn’t appeal. Then there’s the fact that they’re really looking for long term services. Why mess around selling capacity by the month if you can tie someone in for three, five or ten years? That’s much simpler to operate.

Then there’s the licencing regime. If I want to launch “Bowie Radio” on multiplex, once I’ve persuaded a multiplex owner to take my money for just a month, and I’ve worked out a satisfactory engineering solution to get the signal to the multiplex operator (e.g. Arqiva). That could just be via IP.

But then I have to get the multiplex owner to put an amendment in for its licence to Ofcom. Then I have to wait for Ofcom to have one of its regular meetings where changes are approved. Finally I get the go ahead, and I can be up and running within perhaps 6-8 weeks. That’s fine if I know about something ahead of time, but in the commercial world, having 6-8 weeks to put something together from final sign-off is a complete luxury. It just doesn’t happen. So despite the fact that an advertiser could easily launch a station, none has so far done so.

Then there’s the fact that even if I can get through all these hoops, I’m only reaching a single location. Prices can jump quite a lot if you want to get quasi national coverage. And if you want true national coverage? Well you’re out of luck as there’s no space.

It’d be nice in the future if once D2 is launched, there was perhaps a small amount of space – DAB+? – that was held over for pop-up services. Both service providers could utilise it for event such as the Isle of Wight Festival or V Festival, and advertisers too.

Note to anyone reading this and working in commercial radio: LOTS of advertisers would love to sponsor a Christmas service. Time to start planning that right now! (Seriously – you don’t think those Christmas TV ad campaigns aren’t already being planned?)

(Of course, there has been loads of radio news happening while I’ve been away, and I can’t say that I’m on top of it all – particularly everything coming out of Radiodays Europe which I’d loved to have gone to. But the two things that please me are that Bauer Radio is keeping One Golden Square and will be investing in building new studios and a new performance area (Zoo 2?), moving all its national brands into the building. The other really interesting news is that the BBC is going to experiment with DAB+. It’s good to see the BBC utilising its DAB capacity to try different things.)

Farewell One Golden Square

Today is my final day at One Golden Square.

After more than 17 years of Virgin Radio and Absolute Radio, I’m off to do new things. I’m not going to be able to begin to tell you what a great time I’ve had. In all that time, nearly every single person I’ve worked with has been excellent.

I joined Virgin Radio in November 1996 at a time when Russ and Jono were on breakfast. People like Robin Banks and Mark Forrest were also on the station. Alan Freeman did the Friday Rock Show and Paul Coyte presented the London only show that our FM licence required us to run.

I came from local newspapers and besides being an assiduous radio listener (I’d listened to Virgin’s test transmissions back in 1993), I knew nothing about how it worked – how programmes were really made, how radio was sold, or how ratings – RAJAR – was compiled. I was actually quite shocked that a team of around 70 was all that was needed for a national radio station when it took several hundred people to produce and print a local evening newspaper.

For those of you who’ve never been here, One Golden Square is an eight story building including the basement. At various times, the station has been tenants of some or all of those floors. When I started, you had to get in the lift and head to the second floor for reception. The company had floors 2-4 and 6. There was a TV edit facility on the first floor, and a certain H Bauer had the fifth floor.

Over the years, the station has been sold four times. Capital Radio tried first of all, but then Chris Evans’ Ginger Media Group gazumped Capital while the competition authorities did their thing. Chris cashed out with a sale to SMG (now STV), although that all famously ended a bit disatrously for him with a big and expensive court case. Then the Times of India came along, bringing with them, Clive, Donnach and Adrian. And Absolute Radio was born. And now, from the start of this year, Absolute Radio is part of Bauer Media.

In all that time One Golden Square managed to maintain a certain atmosphere. Partly because of its nature, and partly due to its size, it meant that most people knew most other people. And quite often you’d drink with them in the same pub after work – The Midas Touch is sorely missed. This isn’t just a social thing, it means that diverse teams of people talked to one another even if they wouldn’t ordinarily have much to do with one another inside the workplace. And that sparks some great ideas.

While for the most part I’ve sat alongside the sales team, helping out with commercial research alongside my other responsibilities, I’ve also sat alongside programming – having a desk adjacent to Brian and Roque when they worked on the breakfast show together was an interesting experience. Maybe it’s because I’m innately nosey, but it’s proved really useful trying to tie together disparate parts of the business and create some of those links.

There are way too many stories to tell right now, but here are two of my favourites.

Sometime around 2001, we’d done a deal at Virgin Radio to let Levis make a weekly radio programme called Global Sound Kitchen. It was dance music – definitely not something that Virgin Radio would ordinarily play. But in fact, the show wasn’t being broadcast on our transmitters. Instead, we’d licenced some space from Merlin Communications, the company that by then ran the BBC’s overseas transmitter network for the World Service. So this dance music show was being broadcast on shortwave. Anyway, a trip was pending to Cuba – being both a holiday and a stag do (yes – that does make it the most outrageous stag ever). We had some credit with Merlin, so I made a half hour radio show featuring Virgin out-takes, some favourite songs, a message from the “hen” and other bits and pieces. I put it onto Mini-Disc as required by Merlin. And so it came to pass that in the Hotel Nacional in Havana, we crowded around a shortwave radio with antenna hanging out the window, and listened to our very own programme beamed into Communist Cuba!

Then there was the time that one of my favourite bands, the Cowboy Junkies were coming in to record a session for Nick Stewart’s Captain America show on Sunday nights. Essentially, it was just the band, a producer, and me listening to the short session. Afterwards I got an album signed and was very happy. Unfortunately, the entire show got cancelled a day later, and as a result the session never aired anywhere. I do of course have what is probably now the only copy!

It’s obviously all change now. The difference between this sale and those that have gone before it is that Bauer is already a major player in the radio marketplace. I’m sure in due course, we’ll get certainty over who’s working in what building. But change was inevitable, and I hope that as much of the Virgin/Absolute Radio ethos can be carried through.

UK radio is going through a lot of change. We’ve now got certainty for the future of the stations that Global was prevented from fully owning by the OFT. I know it’s been a tough time for those working at Real and Smooth over the last few years. There’s been the growth of digtial sub-brands – led by Absolute 80s. From Kisstory to CapitalXtra, these are helping to drive digital listening and providing commercial impressions for those stations to sell (I love radio, but there is an imperative to make money – otherwise the stations just won’t exist).

Then there’s the challenge of new “radio” services. As Spotify, Blinkbox and Rdio co-opt our terminology, this is undoubtedly the biggest struggle that radio has ever had to face. Where once there was a delineation between music a listener bought and music they listened to on the radio, today those things are merged. Anyone who believes otherwise just needs to spend some time with teenagers to see how they use various services. And look for a radio in their bedroom while you’re at it. Getting younger people to listen to the radio is going to be a challenge. And we’re waiting – perhaps not with bated breath – for Apple to launch iTunes Radio in the UK. It’s going to happen – and probably very soon!

But we’ve also got the continued growth of DAB. Certainly it could be faster. Yes, I wish more services were in higher quality. However FM is full, and without DAB we’d not have Absolute 80s, 6 Music, 5Live Sports Extra, or a national LBC. And I also know that listeners love the new services. And while the internet will at some point usurp broadcast, we’re a way off that. You have to pay for the internet, and it’s not universally available – particularly in cars where 20% of our listening happens. Poorer people and those in more rural areas either don’t have it at all, or struggle to receive decent connectivity. Broadcast is here for a while.

2014 will see Ofcom advertise “D2″ – a second national commercial multiplex. This is an opportunity for smaller services to step up nationally and for new stations and formats to launch. Hopefully it’ll provide some price competitiveness and keep the costs as low as possible for services.

So it’s still an exciting time for radio. There will be challenges, but also opportunities. In many respects, I think of the On/Off switch on a radio as the “Entertain me” button. It takes little effort on the user’s behalf, but they get hours of free music, speech, information and above all, entertainment. The cost base will always be challenged, whether from a new round of Licence Fee negotiations or from digital interlopers trying to reduce the advertising spent on commercial services. But that’s a fight I think most are ready for.

Finally, to give you an idea of the spirit of One Golden Square, I put together a little “best-of” video as a sort of leaving gift. Apologies to Bob Dylan for co-opting his song. The video doesn’t include nearly everybody, and while I shot a lot of it, I didn’t shoot everything (notably the ads).

One Golden Square – 1996-2014 from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

As for me?

Well in the very short term, I’m spending a month touring the US. I shall almost certainly be listening to a lot of radio and audio while I’m out there. They make the miles fly by. This blog is highly likely to take a change in direction towards being a travelogue while I’m away.

But it will of course be continuing in its slightly odd radio/photography/video/media/cycling/rants form once I return.

Once I’m back in the country I’ll be looking for something new to do. Feel free to get in touch.

If you want a bit more on the history of the place, I’ve written quite a lot in the past.

Here’s a Virgin Radio star that I made in 2008:

I collated many Virgin Radio ads together here and here.

I put together a brief history of Virgin Radio over for the One Golden Square blog, which I republished a day or so ago

And I wrote a piece on the history of Golden Square itself also republished this week.

25 Years of the World Wide Web

We all know it’s 25 years since Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web on us. Although a worryingly large number of people seem to think that it’s 25 years of the internet that we’re celebrating today. As any fool knows, the internet pre-dated the web by many years, and to think otherwise is to somehow imagine that we only built roads when the car came along, somehow forgetting that horses, bicycles and foot traffic needed roads for many hundreds of years beforehand.

Anyway, it’s always fun to look at archive.org’s Wayback Machine. They were looking after the web because we certainly weren’t (and still aren’t).

Anyway, here’s a 1996 screenshot of my first website www.friday.demon.co.uk – a site that was only permanently killed last year when I finally changed ISP.

Now you’d never have seen that much text on the screen because the resolutions I was using were far smaller. And weren’t frames ace? That mention of Iain Banks at the bottom? That was a ticker no less. James Cridland might be pleased to see that I even had a link for his Media UK site back at that time. I was also linking to the fine folk at Mediatel. I may have been a little obsessed by Helen Baxendale, but the one clear thing missing is photography.

Although we didn’t use the term, that site was really a blog.

In 1995 or 1996 I put the Swindon Evening Advertiser – known locally as the Adver – online and here’s what it looked like.

I used to have to ask editorial each day which stories I could give away free. But a key part of the site was the Swindon football reports – something that you really couldn’t get anywhere online except via the Adver.

But back to my first site. If you linked through to the right place, look what the Wayback Machine captured from that early December capture!

A Brief History of Virgin Radio

[Republished from 2008 after first appearing on the One Golden Square blog]

So as the lights come down on 15 and a bit years of Virgin Radio, I thought it might be worth giving everyone a whistlestop history of Virgin Radio – how it came about and some of the things that have happened here over the years.

virgin-stars

1990-92

Virgin Radio really started with the 1990 Broadcasting Act, which for the first time allowed national commercial radio services to come into existance. Up until that point, there’d only been local stations, with regional ones to follow. The BBC was the UK’s only national broadcaster.

The Broadcasting Act wanted to introduce a diversity of services, so of the three services that were to be licenced “one is a service the greater part of which consists in the broadcasting of spoken material” and “another is a service which consists, wholly or mainly, in the broadcasting of music which, in the opinion of the [Radio] Authority, is not pop music.” This restriction is still in place and these services are today known as TalkSport and Classic FM.

Entertainingly, the Act defined “pop music” so that no wily service operator should later turn Classic FM into a rock or pop format. It was defined as including “rock music and other kinds of modern popular music which are characterised by a strong rhythmic element and a reliance on electronic amplification for their performance (whether or not, in the case of any particular piece of rock or other such music, the music in question enjoys a current popularity as measured by the number of recordings sold).” So now you know.

The licence that was to become Virgin Radio was to broadcast on the old Radio 3 AM (or Medium Wave) frequency. In those days, it was also used to broadcast cricket commentaries during the summer.

In total there were five bidders, including Virgin Radio which at the time was a 50/50 joint venture with TV-AM. The bid wasn’t the highest, but Virgin Radio got the nod when the company that bid the most was unable to come up with the cash they needed to launch the service. Virgin Radio moved from temporary offices in TV-AM’s Camden Lock building to No. 1 Golden Square where studios were built, and where the station has been since day one.

1993-4

On 30 April 1993, Virgin Radio started broadcasting at 12.15pm from the Manchester Virgin Megastore. Richard Branson launched the service and back in London Richard Skinner played a cover of Born To Be Wild which had been especially recorded by INXS.

Other DJs who broadcast on that initial schedule included Russ Williams who presented the breakfast show on his own, Mitch Johnson in the afternoon, and Tommy Vance on drive. Nick Abbot was on late nights, and on Saturday mornings Chris Evans presented The Big Red Mug Show. Over DJs on that first schedule included Kevin Greening, Emperor Rosko, Graham Dene and Jono Coleman.

Image

Fairly soon after launch Chris Evans had left the station, and Jono had joined Russ on breakfast to form the Russ ‘n’ Jono breakfast show. But at a managerial level, the fight was on to get Virgin Radio onto FM in London. The only national commercial FM service had been awared to Classic FM, but the Radio Authority was still licencing new services in London and elsewhere.

russ-and-jono-and-kylie

1995-6

By 1995, the campaign had born fruit and Virgin Radio was launched on 105.8 FM from 10 April that year, beginning with a message from David Frost at 6am followed by the Russ ‘n’ Jono breakfast show. Part of the licence requirements for the London service meant that a daily London “opt-out” was broadcast on FM, presented initially by Roland Rivron.

roland-rivron

In mid-1996 Virgin Radio launched its first website and began streaming – making it the first radio station in Europe to be available to listen to via the internet.

And Russ & Jono won Virgin Radio’s first ever Gold Sony Radio Award for a music based breakfast show. Virgin Radio also won the On-Air Contest/Competition Award for a competition based around the opening of the film Apollo 13 in cinemas.

4x4s-and-helicopter

1997

Then in May 1997, it was announced that Virgin Radio was being sold to Capital Radio, the group that owned the flagship commercial radio station in London and a number of other cities including BRMB in Birmingham, and Red Dragon in Cardiff. Because of the size that the new business would be, the merger was referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) in July that year, before the deal was actually allowed to go through.

In the meantime, Virgin Radio scored something of a coup by signing up Chris Evans to present the breakfast show with his old team from Radio 1. Evans had previously presented Channel 4’s Big Breakfast before presenting the Radio 1 Breakfast Show from where he’d been fired at the start of 1997. Now he was being brought to Virgin Radio on an initially limited contract basis.

chris-evans-broadcasts

Quickly realising that he liked the relative freedom Virgin Radio offered him, he entered into discussions with Virgin Group and agreed to acquire Virgin Radio for £85m via Ginger Productions the company through which he was also making TFI Friday for Channel 4. He was able to do this because the MMC investigation had effectively put Capital’s merger on hold. But there was nothing Capital was able to do, and the deal was completed ahead of the MMC report that said that Capital would either have had to divest itself of Capital Gold or Virgin Radio FM on completion.

On-air, the station briefly split its AM and FM services during daytime, but by Christmas 1997 they were back together as a single service. 1997 also saw Virgin Radio win a Sony Award for its On-Air Station Image, and was the joint winner of the Themed Music Programme award for Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s Friday Night Rock Show.

fluff

1998

1998 saw Johnny Boy’s Wheels of Steel show start, and the on-air positioning statement was changed slightly to “Classic Tracks & Today’s Best Music” – dropping “Album”. Jonathan Ross began his radio broadcasting career on Virgin Radio in March 1998, and the following August Rock ‘n’ Roll Football began on Saturday afternoons.

wheels-of-steel1

The autumn of 1998 saw another first for Virgin Radio as Sky One started simulcasting the breakfast show each morning for an hour between 7.30 and 8.30am. When a track was played on the radio, viewers would see a video at the same time. Remote-controlled cameras were installed in the studio as well as a roving cameraman. Chris Evans was a Bronze Sony Award winner for his breakfast show, but he won the overall Gold Award that year as well.

virgin-football-team

1999

Pete & Geoff joined Virgin Radio from Key 103 in January 1999 presenting their evening show at 6.45pm if you lived outside London and from 7.30pm if you lived in it (Paul Coyte was by now presenting the London opt-out show). Jonathan Ross’ time at Virgin Radio came to a finish at the end of January, and Gary Davies joined as a late night presenter in March that year. Meanwhile Harriet Scott started presenting TFI Nightly as the London opt-out show.

terry-venables

By July 1999, the Virgin Radio website had reached its third major version with new streams being introduced, and the start of the new football season in August saw Terry Venables join Russ Williams in a show that would precede Rock ‘n’ Roll Football.

In November 1999, Digital One launched which meant that for the first time, Virgin Radio was available nationally on DAB offering a superior sound quality to those outside London. Although initially radios were very expensive, they’ve gradually come down in price over the years, and as they’ve done so, more people have been able to listen to the station via DAB.

At the end of 1999, with the TV programme Who Wants To Be A Millionaire having not given away its top prize, Virgin Radio became the first radio or TV station to make a listener a millionaire as it gave away £1m to 35-year old Clare Barwick at the culmination of “Someone’s Going To Be A Millionaire.” A week later, someone won a further million on TFI Friday.

millionaire

2000

Then in January 2000, Scottish Media Group announced that it had reached agreement to takeover Ginger Media Group including Virgin Radio. As well as owning STV and Grampian in Scotland, they then also owned Pearl & Dean, the cinema advertising company, a poster company called Primesight, and the Glasgow Herald newspaper group. The takeover was approved in March of that year and the new owners moved in. March also saw The Radio Authority fine Virgin Radio a then record £75,000 for a breach of impartiality following Chris Evans’ support of Ken Livingstone as he ran for Mayor of London.

In April, Leona Graham joined the station, taking over from Gail Porter who had been covering weekend evenings.

In June 2000, the second London DAB multiplex formally launched including Virgin Radio Groove as the first digital spin-off service. The first song played was ABC by The Jackson Five. This was also important because Radio Authority rules meant that services that broadcast on DAB had FM licence extentions automatically added. By November 2000 Virgin Radio Classic Rock had launched as an initially online service.

2001-2

On the 28th June 2001, Virgin Radio confirmed to the media that “Chris Evans is no longer a presenter at the station.” Following widely reported media coverage of his absence, the management felt unable to keep him on as a DJ.

Steve Penk, Virgin Radio's new breakfast show host.

Steve Penk joined Virgin Radio in July that year, and began his stint on the breakfast show, and June 2001 also saw Ben Jones join Virgin Radio.

ben-_and_chad_kroeger

Daryl Denham joined the station in January 2002, initially presenting the drivetime show, but then was parachuted into breakfast a few weeks later. Also in January 2002, the third London DAB multiplex, DRG, launched, including a service owned and operated by Virgin Radio called Liquid.

team000

2002 also saw Jezza – aka Jeremy Kyle – joined Virgin to present his late night Confessions programme. And Jon Holmes was sacked, and the station fined £75,000 for playing a late night game on-air called Swearword Hangman with a child. Meanwhile Pete & Geoff won the Gold Sony Radio Award for Music Programming.

pete-geoff-paul-mccartney

2003

January 2003 saw Pete & Geoff move into the breakfast show slot, with Daryl Denham moving across to Drive. In the meantime legal proceedings were moving apace, and in June 2003, Mr Justice Lightman ruled that Chris Evans was not entitled to any damages for being sacked by Virgin Radio. Indeed at a hearing the following month, the court ordered him to pay Virgin Radio’s court costs.

The internet was moving apace, and a fifth version of the Virgin Radio website had launched by November 2003. Meanwhile Liquid was replaced by Virgin Radio Classic Rock on DAB in London and online. The first record played by the station was the original version Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf. Richard Skinner was once again the first voice of the station, with Leona Graham presenting the following show.

leona-graham-in-studio-3-june-2003

Dominic Mohan won Virgin Radio a Gold Sony Award for his Who Special, while Ben Jones won a Bronze for Virgin Superstars.

2004-5

In June 2004, Jezza’s Confessions programme ended. Then in April 2005, it was announced that Fru Hazlitt would become Virgin Radio’s new CEO. In September that year, Virgin Radio Xtreme launched, and on 16 December, Pete & Geoff presented their final breakfast show by inviting listeners off the streets and into the studio. Many took up the opportunity!

img_8408

2006-7

The 23rd January 2006 saw Christian O’Connell present his first Virgin Radio breakfast show having joined from Xfm, and Geoff moved to a new late night slot. In July, Virgin Radio launched on Freeview meaning that the service was now available on all the digital TV platforms as well as many other platforms.

christian_studio_06

In August 2006, SMG confirmed that it had received a merger approach from UTV plc, owners of TalkSport amongst others, in which SMG shareholders would receive a 50% interest in the merged entity. By September, merger talks were off, but following a profits warning from SMG in October, the merger talks between the two were back on.

In February 2007, the merger talks were off once more, and there was a major reorganisation of the SMG board as a new Chairman and CEO were put in place. SMG now announced that there would be an IPO of Virgin Radio.

Meanwhile, Christian won a Gold Sony Award for Who’s Calling Christian.

2008

The 2008 Sony Awards saw Geoff win a Bronze for Music Personality of the Year.

On 30 May 2008, SMG announced that it had agreed to sell Virgin Radio to TIML UK Ltd, a division of the Times of India group of companies. This sale was completed on the 30th June 2008, with a new management team in place comprising of Donnach O’Driscoll, Clive Dickens and Adrian Robinson. The sale did not include the rights to continue to use the “Virgin” name, and so 1 September 2008, the new name of Absolute Radio was announced.

This Monday at 7.45am, we officially become Absolute Radio (as well as Absolute Classic Rock and Absolute Xtreme). So that brings us up to date. From this coming Monday morning, the start of the new era of this station begins as we become Absolute Radio.

[Obviously there are another five years' of history to be added to this story at some point!]

A Brief History Of One Golden Square

Republished and slightly updated from 2008 on the One Golden Square blog.

Absolute Radio is based at One Golden Square, and Virgin Radio has been based at the same address since its launch in 1993. Golden Square is in the heart of Soho, and it actually has some fascinating history including a wonderful musical past in this very building.

Today when you head into London, you may well head towards the West End to shop or visit cinemas or theatres, but of course, London grew out of the City which is east of where we’re based.

There’s a great book called The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson about the last great cholera epidemic in London, in the part of Soho surrounding Golden Square, detailing how the disease was finally understood to be spread by contaminated water.

An early paragraph in the book sets the scene:

In the middle of the Great Plague of 1665, the Earl of Craven purchased a block of land in a semirural area to the west of central London called Soho Field. He built thirty-six small houses “for the reception of poor and miserable objects” suffering from the plague. The rest of the land was used as a mass grave. Each night, the death carts would empty dozens of corpes into the earth. By some estimates, over four thousand plague-infected bodies were buried there in a matter of months. Nearby residents gave it the appropriately macabre-sounding name of “Earl Craven’s pest-field,” or “Craven’s field” for short. For two generations, no one dared erect a foundation in the land for fear of infection. Eventually, the city’s inexorable drive for shelter won out over its fear of disease, and the pesthouse fields became the fashionable district of Golden Square, populated largely by aristocrats and Huguenot immigrants. For another century, the skeletons lay undisturbed beneath the churn of city commerce, until late summer of 1854, when another outbreak came to Golden Square and brought those grims souls back to haunt their final resting grounds once more.

In other words, Golden Square is built over the dead bodies of four thousand people who died during the plague 340 years ago.

The map extract below from 1658 shows the edge of the city of London as it then was. Golden Square is somewhere near the windmill in the top-left hand corner of this image – a field in countryside. The crossroads just below it is now Piccadilly Circus, while the bottom right hand corner shows Charing Cross.

map1658-450x360

Having been known as Pesthouse Field following the burying of the plague-bodies, it then became known as Gelding Close because horses had been kept thereabouts. It’s also thought possible that there was a tavern called the Gelding.

But as the area was divided into plots, the new residents thought that Gelding Close wasn’t refined enough for them and the name had been changed to Golden Square by the early eighteenth century.

The map below shows how all the plots were divided up, and it’s thought that Sir Christopher Wren might have had a hand in determining how this happened. Buildings on the plot had to be of high quality, made from brick or stone. There had to be “substantial pavements” and “sufficient sewers”, while “noysome and offensive trades” would not be tollerated (In Soho? Never).

As you can see, plot 1, was then, as it still is, in the top right hand corner of the square.

goldensquaremap-330x450

One Golden Square was one of the last sites to be developed with the first building going up in 1705/6.

The first occupant of the building was Lord Maudaunt, but he spent most of his time fighting wars in the Low Countries with the Duke of Marlborough’s armies. Then the 4th Lord Byron – an ancestor of the poet who would be born a hundred or so years later – lived here for a while, before the building and several adjoining ones were bequested to a foundation that provided scholarships to children of the poor. The Bishop of Salisbury also resided here temporarily.

Between 1794 and 1861 a certain William Stodart took up residence – beginning the site’s musical heritage. His firm made harpsichords and pianos; there were a number of makers and manufacturers of the instruments based all around the square including the famous Broadwood firm who had a warehouse at number 9.

stodartgrandpiano

Stodart’s father, Robert, patented the first “Grand” piano a few years earlier, while William Stodart patented the “Upright” piano.

stodartpiano

Stodart’s piano was described by a competitor as “a new mechanism which combined the utility of a bookcase with the musical use of this odd piece of furniture.”

stoddartglab

There’s still a heritage of musical instruments in the square with Foote’s music shop at number 10 [2014 Update - this has now moved to Store Street].

Charles Dickens used Golden Square as the home of Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas’ antagonistic uncle in The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby which was published in 1838/9. Dickens also reflects the square’s musical links in this description of the square from the novel:

Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practising vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.

By the turn of the twentieth century Golden Square was at the heart of the textile trade with a tweed manufacturer taking residence, Henry Ballentyne & Sons. But in October 1913 the building was badly damaged by fire and was finally demolished in 1927 before being rebuilt as it is today.

[2014 Addition]

During the Second World War, the poet, Dylan Thomas, worked on scripts for propaganda films at a company called Strand Films. He sometimes took a turn on the roof of 1 Golden Square looking out for fires during the raids. Although it seemed he had other reasons to be up there.

Adam

For more information, as well as the book mentioned above, you can read about the history of Golden Square at British History online. And thanks should also go to an un-named local historian who wrote into the station many years ago with some background history. And thanks to Lee Price for the photo of the Stodart piano detail.

#radiodetritus

This week is my final week in One Golden Square. More about that anon.

However, one of those things you have to do when you leave, is have a bit of a clear out. One way or another, I’ve accumulated quite a pile of “stuff” over the years. My already cluttered flat has a pile of old Virgin Radio photographs. And a browse through my YouTube channel will reveal a load of old Virgin Radio adverts scraped from a variety of sources.

As well as Virgin Radio and Absolute Radio material, there’s also a pile of Capital bits and pieces. Not because I’ve ever worked there – I haven’t – but because when Virgin was being set-up, copying the Capital model was probably the sensible thing to do.

Anyway, today I posted a pile of stuff on Twitter with the hashtag #radiodetritus, and I thought it’d be nice to repost it all here:

Chronicle of BBC Three’s Death Foretold

Today news began to leak out about how the BBC is next going to be saving money. BBC Three is going “online-only”. The official announcement isn’t until tomorrow, but there seems enough truth to the rumours so far.

From a selfishly personal perspective, I’m rather glad that it’s BBC Three that’s getting the [online] “chop” rather than BBC Four. I believe that BBC Four is irreplaceable, whereas large chunks of BBC Three are. But that’s perhaps reflective of me and my viewing habits.

The TLDR version of the story is that BBC Three goes online and saves lots of broadcasting costs.

However, I imagine that there is slightly more to it than that.

In the most recent Annual Report, the costs of BBC Three and BBC Four are as per the following chart.

What you’ll quickly note is that the distribution costs – those largely attributable to broadcasting the channel over a range of platforms – are relatively modest. Indeed, in recent days we’ve learnt that the BBC has agreed with Sky that it and the other PSBs shouldn’t have to pay carriage on that platform. I imagine that it’s seeking similar deals from other carriers – notably Virgin Media.

Indeed, while it might save £4.6m by switching the service off, I’d anticipate that the proposed BBC One+1 channel would swallow those costs right back up again. Indeed I’d imagine that the BBC would like to keep the relatively high channel numbers available for BBC One+1.

The really big cost of BBC Three is the nearly £90m for “Content.” That’s the actual programmes it shows. Simply putting the same programmes online on iPlayer isn’t going to reduce any of those costs. So we might must be looking at some quite severe curtailing of what output BBC Three continues to deliver.

Some of those infrastructure costs probably need to be looked at carefully. I suspect that some costs are pretty fixed and that they’re “recharged” within the BBC to the various channels that use them. Removing a channel from the mix doesn’t actually save any money in the end, and it just bumps costs up for other channels.

While there is little reason in an online world for BBC Three to “show” repeats of Eastenders, Top Gear and Doctor Who, that’s not really going to save any money. The films that randomly pop-up won’t make much difference either.

Original commissions are bound to fall. Comedy is the obvious target here, although there is also drama that will end up being cut. I can’t see that the BBC could continue to buy imported shows for the station. An opportunity for someone else to pick up free-to-air Family Guy rights?

What I would say about comedy though is that before BBC Three launched, the natural home of developing “edgy” comedy was actually BBC Two. And in many ways it’s lost out. Yes – we’ve now got Inside No 9 and The Trip – but I feel certain that Uncle or Bad Education will either live on online, or could find a home on BBC Two.

It has to be said that the 16-34 target audience that the BBC Three service licence says it should be aimed at, is well looked after commercially. ITV2 and E4 also offer free-to-air channels that target this audience. Certainly they’re not as good as BBC Three and have little if any public service values.

Then again, the BBC has to offer this audience something to safeguard the licence fee. Does the BBC properly cater for this audience beyond BBC Three. They need to be persuaded of the value of the Licence Fee too.

Going online only does bring some questions though.

In metropolitan upmarket London, every 17 year old might have a laptop or iPad with which to watch Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents, but that’s still not the case nationally. So are younger people in poorer environments losing out?

The most recent Ofcom Technology Tracker data suggests that while tablet penetration has reached 35%, and among 16-24s it’s reached 37%, for those in the poorer DE classes, it’s only 20%. And amongst with household incomes under £11,500, it’s at 15%. The same pattern is true for other devices like laptops. Indeed only 66% of DE households, and 52% of low income households have the internet at home. Online only does disenfranchise a lot of people.

And the other implication is that this does, as Tony Hall said in a speech recently, give the BBC a much stronger argument during Charter Renewal, to demand that anyone watching iPlayer online needs to buy a TV Licence. Although this was always on the cards anyway.

Still, look back to that chart above. If the costs are reduced to BBC Four’s overall cost levels, that would save roughly half the £100m that they’re looking to find.

The detail will make interesting reading, as will the the BBC Trust’s view. I’m not sure that there’ll be quite the backlash there was when 6 Music was threatened, or that there would be if BBC Four was in line for closure. But on the other hand, there’s already a nascent campaign to save the channel, lead by comedians in particular. Nothing’s going to happen very fast.

The Worst Place in the World for a Big Live Global TV Audience

In a nice piece from Marina Hyde in today’s Guardian, she links to a New Yorker piece from a few years ago that disavows the idea that a billion people might watch the Oscars.

Starting from the fact that only 15% of Americans watch their own movie awards, it seems incredibly unlikely that the numbers could get near to one billion.

But I think it’s simpler than that, and it’s the reason that the Super Bowl is never going to have true global appeal. America is just in the wrong place in relation to the international dateline for major events.

That’s particularly the case for those that happen on a Sunday and are aimed at a US TV audience: the Oscars and Super Bowl being the most obvious.

America times events for the east coast where the population is largest, although with some consideration of those on the west coast. So the Super Bowl this year, taking place in New York, was timed to start at 1830 ET/1530 PT. That allows the network to air the game and the post-game show, and still give a boost to that network’s own shows in the valuable post-Super Bowl slot around 2200 ET.

But 18:30 ET is 2330 GMT/UTC. So for British viewers you’re looking at a 0300 finish on a Monday morning. For most of Western Europe that’s 0400.

By the time you’ve reached the Middle East or West Africa, the game has finished 0600 on Monday morning. I guess NFL fans could get up early?

In India the game doesn’t finish until something like 0830 in the morning, while in China and Indonesia, the game is ending sometime around 1100 in the middle of a working day, while many in Australia can perhaps catch the post-game presentations during their lunch break at 1300.

Given the Americas make up somewhere around 14% of the world’s population, that means that 86% of the world is having to make an enormous effort to watch any event timed principally for US television.

Compare and contrast with the upcoming World Cup final in Brazil. That game will kick-off at 1700 local time (1500 ET) to facilitate 2000/2100 start times in Europe. Sure – Asia still loses out, but Europe is where FIFA generates its cash. And with the final most likely to be contested by countries from the Americas, Europe or possibly Africa, fans of competing times are likely to be awake when the game takes place.

So all in all, another reason that a billion people won’t be watching the Oscars.

And of course, I won’t be watching.

[NB. Yes, I realise that many global news and entertainment outlets will report on the awards, and perhaps include clips. However, to what extent the populations of India or China are interested in how American Hustle and Gravity perform still remains unclear to me.]

Battle of the Streaming Services

This morning, Amazon UK announced a shake-up of its streaming offering, hitherto called LoveFilm. From next week, the service gets rebranded as Amazon “Prime Instant Video”, but perhaps more importantly, it gets rolled into the regular Amazon Prime offering.

So far, so good, unless you were attached to the LoveFilm name.

However there are price increases around the corner. Although it doesn’t say it anywhere I can see particuarly obviously on the Amazon website (indeed, I can’t see any press releases on the Amazon UK website post 2012!), the cost of Amazon Prime will jump from £49 to £79 for users. Anyone already on the £49 deal, or who joins before the end of the month, continues at the current price until the end of their 12 months. But the price is jumping up to that higher level with renewals or new starters after that point.

I’ve been using Amazon Prime since 2007, and it has undoubtedly made me use Amazon for many more purchases than I would have otherwise. The overall reliability of their next day offering, and the fact that I can use it easily for gifts, means that it’s been of immense value. I have to weigh that, of course, against Amazon’s avoidance of tax, the effect it has had on record, DVD and bookshops on the high street, and their reported working conditions. I try to use bricks and mortar bookshops as much as Amazon for this very reason.

When Amazon US started bundling streaming video in the US and offering it to Prime customers there, I wondered when we in the UK would get it.

Of course it was different market situation there to here. In the US, Amazon was the upstart fighting against the dominant Netflix. In the UK, Amazon had bought the market leader, LoveFilm (which had mirrored itself on the US Netflix model), and therefore didn’t need to offer a great deal to their customers.

In recent times, Netflix has made an inroad into that LoveFilm dominance, although I believe LoveFilm has remained bigger. And Amazon has been more heavily branding LoveFilm as Amazon LoveFilm in recent months until today when we lose the LoveFilm moniker altogether.

What they’ve not tried to do is work hard to upgrade UK Prime members to a package that included LoveFilm. They did have an offering – also at £79 – that gave consumers both. But it was handled strangely. You had to cancel your current Prime account, get a refund, and then take out the new deal. Amazon never seemed to try to upsell to the new package, I suspect because they always knew that today was on the horizon.

In many respects, it’s not a great deal. If you just want next day delivery on all your purchases, your cost has just gone up 61%! I would think that’ll be a deal-breaker for many people. Yes – there’s the Kindle lending library, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never used it – on the basis that most of the books I want to read are unlikely to be included (and I rarely see the icon on a book’s page suggesting that they are). So if streaming video is of no interest, you’re seeing an enormous price hike. And the new combined price of £79 seems particularly high compared with the $79 price for the same package in the US, even if in the US it’s more about two day delivery than next day delivery.

And it seems that those still on the DVD monthly rental scheme are seeing the basic price from £7.99 to £9.99. I’m sure that in time, Amazon would like to kill off that administratively complex model. But at the moment, it’s only via discs that Amazon is able to offer the widest selection of fare.

I did have a 6 month cheap trial of LoveFilm about 18 months ago, but I ended up not staying with the service. It just didn’t offer the choice of films I wanted. And there was a particularly frustrating issue with it allowing you to search for a film, only to discover that it was only available as a disc and not for streaming. Let’s face it, LoveFilm was able to offer every film as a disc, so that was particularly frustrating.

Amazon has obviously made inroads into original commissioning, and I’m interested to see their new pilots. However, it was Netflix that got me to sign up first, when they unveiled the first season of House of Cards this time last year.

Amazon will need to up its game in terms of making its device offering better. Netflix is currently superior. Incredibly, there is still no Android app! There obviously is a Kindle app (which of course is built on Android), but Amazon is so determined to flog Kindles, that it has deliberately not made an Android app – a marketing decision that is a strike against them, and is detrimental to the large core of its customers who own Android devices. Amazon does have an app for iPad though!

And the streaming technology used by Amazon is based on the abysmal Silverlight and is thus full of curious error messages and a lack of support on some operating systems like Chromebooks.

For what I imagine are rights reasons, neither Netflix nor Amazon yet offer cached offline viewing as, say, Spotify is able to. This is obviously a shame for those travelling with portable devices. From keeping kids quiet in the back seat to giving yourself a better selection of films than your airline has chosen, there is a significant demand for it. London commuter carriages are packed with people watching iPlayer cached video, and to a lesser extent Sky Go video.

It’ll be interesting to see what the next moves are.

At the moment, it feels that although Amazon is the bigger player in the market, it’s Netflix that has the can’t-miss programming that’s getting critical acclaim. Amazon hasn’t managed this yet. Which goes back to my note the other day about Netflix being a game-changer. Their batting average is high so far, but probability suggests that won’t last.

That said, I note that Amazon has stealthily added pay-per-view to its offering. So it’ll be able to offer Game of Thrones at £1.99 an episode or whatever.

The game’s afoot.

[UPDATE] And according to Re/code, Amazon is going to be launching its own set-top box next month. Whether or not it arrives in the UK, and offers more than their streaming service remains to be seen. One set-top box – one service feels very wasteful.