November, 2011

Absolute Radio 60s is On Air!

Go away and have a listen. Or find it on RadioPlayer.
During the pre-launch period, the station made a little bit of press because it banned Cliff Richard from the station. I’ll stay out of the argument about the rights and wrongs of this, except to point out that Absolute Radio 60s is trying to differentiate itself from other “gold” services offering a view of the sixties more in keeping with an Absolute Radio audience.
On Friday, Chris Evans on Radio 2 retaliated by playing non-stop Cliff songs in aid of Children in Need.
That’s interesting because back in 2005, I wrote about something that took place years earlier at Virgin Radio. At the time Chris Evans was on the breakfast show:
Due to some slight or other, followed by a “ban” on playing his records, we had fans camping out on the pavement in front of the station protesting. Virgin put out a statement that spoke about the station banning his records. Of course it played out wonderfully for the PR, since Virgin banning Cliff is a bit like Virgin banning Wagner – completely meaningless. Still you did have to step around the tents on the pavement to get into work, and they did stay out for about a week.
Here’s what BBC News reported at the time. And I can’t help noticing that Radio 2 refused to playlist his single the following year.
Clearly Chris Evans has patched things up over the last ten years!
And some things will always generate PR…
Read more about the launch day here, and read Pete Mitchell’s thoughts on the station here.

James Burke

James Burke-1
If you’re old enough, you might know who James Burke is. He was the presenter of a TV series that had an enormous impact on me as a child – Connections.
First broadcast in 1978, I think my viewings came in later repeats – especially (if my memory serves me) during school holidays when the series got repeated in the mornings. The series was built around the history of so many advances made around us are brought about by what can sometimes be the most random of connections between unotherwise completely unrelated people and subjects.
It was one of those series that had a globe trotting presenter, and I suppose to me was as fundamental as Civilisation or The Ascent of Man (both extraordinary documentary series) had been to viewers a few years earlier.
Burke later followed Connections with The Day The Universe Changed which I remember being heavily promoted at the time. It took the same sort of idea, distilling the development of a whole scientific or industrial process down to a single idea thoroughly unrelated and developed years earlier and perhaps thousands of miles away.
Later Burke made two further series of Connections for US cable TV, although as far as I’m aware, these haven’t been widely seen in the UK. Previously Burke had been a presenter on Tomorrow’s World – although he pre-dated my viewing of that series. And he’d been part of the team that covered the Apollo landings. I know this not just from reading it online, but from the repeats of that coverage that have occassionally aired since.
But more recently, I’d completely lost track of him. Until tonight!
James Burke-2
Burke presented 1 + 1 = 3, very much in the spirit of the programmes that had made his name years ago.
The lecture formed the second of a three part Connections series being curated by Alex Krotoski at the Royal Institution. I missed part one, but am now tempted by next week’s part three.
Burke strongly believes in the importance of making multi-disciplinary connections between sometimes utterly dispirate things. He delights in presenting those findings, and relates many tales of them. But then he says – of course anyone can do this given enough time.
He also demonstrates a very early prototype of some software that he’s working on to faciliate this connectivity for children to learn about.
The final part of his lecture delves into what might happen in the future, and here we take a leap into the unknown. For Burke, nanotechnology is key. And the consequences of a nanotech world are all encompassing. He says that there’ve been two fundamental changes to our culture and society in history – thousands of years ago when the first crops were cultivated, and then the 18th and 19th centuries with the industrial revolution. Both were game changing breakthroughs. Nanotechnology will be the next step.
His predictions are bold and scary. Will we all essentially have free power and free nano-factories to build whatever we desire, allowing us all effectively to do as we please? It seems like something from a science fiction novel, but who knows. Nothing’s utterly implausable – although it does feel unlikely.
In the Q&A that followed his lecture, someone asked why he wasn’t back on BBC2. And that’s an excellent question. He was very polite about it, but it’s clear that he’s still an excellent presenter, and there’s no reason why he couldn’t still be doing the job. Yes – we have Brian Cox, Marcus du Sautoy and Jim Al-Khalili who are younger (And sexier? Well perhaps one of the three). But then we also have Sir David Attenborough who we can still send to the poles aged 85.
I’d love to see him back on television presenting something similar to Connections.
The Royal Institution was videoing the whole evening, so I do hope it ends up on their website. Because he went at such a pace as to make note taking impossible.
James Burke-3
Incidentally, I’ve linked to Wikipedia references quite a bit throughout this piece, but I don’t think that Burke would appreciate those links. He’s quite critical of Wikipedia – mainly because there can be things wrong on it, and you simply don’t know if what you’re reading is wrong.
And while you don’t seem to be able to get either the first series of Connections or The Day The Universe Changed on DVD (surely an opportunity for some enterprising DVD label), you can see the former series, and it’s follow up on YouTube.

Tour Du Danger

On Saturday, around 300 cyclists took part in the Tour Du Danger, a cycle tour of London’s most dangerous junctions. This came less than 24 hours after a second cyclist had been killed at a junction in Bow which forms part of the Cycling Superhighway to the Olympic site.
This was a protest at the inadequate way that the Mayor’s office and TFL are planning road junctions for all London’s users – motor vehicles, cycles and pedestrians.
Organised by a pair of London a pair of“>cycling bloggers, this was an excellent opportunity to show the various powers that be, that cyclists are a significant London community, and the old ways of dealing with traffic planning need to change.
To understand the full extent of the anger that has led to this kind of action, you only have to go back as far as Wednesday last week, when Boris Johnson responded to a question:
“Though I have to tell you …sometimes I just go round Elephant & Castle because it’s fine. If you keep your wits about you, Elephant & Castle is perfectly negotiable.” (via London SE1)
This is a road junction that’s seen 89 cyclist casualties within two years. Thanks Boris…
The event was excellently organised, and superbly marshalled by volunteers who made sure everyone was very safe as they toured the cycling blackspots of the capital.
The tour included a trip around King’s Cross, an area I know very well as I cycle through it most days. Just a month ago, a student from Central Saint Martins, who have just moved to their new site behind King’s Cross, was killed right around here.
Tour Du Danger - King's Cross
Here’s some video footage from the event.

(Now in HD, so do make it full screen! Apologies for poor editing, but it’s my first attempt to use Sony Vegas)
And a few photos from Le Tour…
Tour Du Danger - Hyde Park Panorama
(Click through to the big version)
Tour Du Danger - Hyde Park Corner
Tour Du Danger - South of the River
A couple more here.

Alison Krauss & Union Station

Alison Krauss & Union Station 2
I do love hearing Alison Krauss. Last time I saw her, she was touring with Robert Plant and was playing in Wembley Arena. The Royal Festival Hall is a much nicer venue, and she was accompanied by Union Station, her band of some twenty years featuring Dan Tyminski who shares vocal duties.
This concert was billed as being part of the London Jazz Festival – something I found curious, as it’s clearly bluegrass/country. Still, if it gets them here, then I’m not bothered.
The musicianship on display is fantastic, never more so than during a solo performance from Jerry Douglas who played a truly wonderful medley on his dobro.
I especially enjoyed her cover, from early in Krauss’s career, of Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, as well as a reminder that When You Say Nothing At All is a country classic, even if British audiences now think of it as a Ronan Keating song.
For an encore, the band played largely around a single microphone, attenuating the volume by moving nearer or further away. An exceptional evening.
Alison Krauss & Union Station

Photos in London

The Photographer’s Gallery might still be closed, but there are loads of excellent exhibitions of photos in London at the moment, and I’m struggling to keep up!
At the National Portrait Gallery they’ve just opened the annual Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize exhibition. It’s only a couple of quid to get in, and it’s well worth it. There are some amazing photos on display. There are the usual range of commercially commissioned photographs of celebrities – Keira Knightley is prominent in the exhibition’s advertising, but Dolly Parton and Peter Crouch are also featured – as well as photography from around the world. A few photos are there to shock, at least a little, but mostly they’re just beautiful. A surprising number of the shortlisted photos are of friends of the photographer. If there’s one thing that slightly disappoints me, it’s that everyone featured seems to already have some background. Perhaps they just put themselves forward more than others, or simply they’re “better”. Anyway, a quick flick through the rules suggests that it’s a simple process to enter as long as you have a model release! Well worth a visit.
Also at the National Portrait Gallery is a small exhibition of behind the scenes photos of Private Eye which is celebrating it’s glorious 50th anniversary. Lewis Morley was the man who took that shot of Christine Keeler, but his photos of the various staff of the Eye larking around are well worth a trip at the same time. Especially if you’re an Eye fan like me.
At the Queen’s Gallery behind Buckingham Palace is a wonderful collection of photos from the Antarctic – The Heart of the Great Unknown. This wonderful exhibition displays the work of two incredible photographers who accompanied Scott and Shackelton to the Antarctic at the start of the last century.
George Herbert Ponting accompanied Captain Scott’s ill-fated exhibition to the South Pole. He didn’t actually make the final party of five – all of whom were to die – but was there at their base camp documenting the wonders of that region of the world. He was a true artist and his work is stunning. He gave a camera to the five who were to make the final push to the pole, and the photos they took of themselves, which were recovered along with their bodies, are featured here.
Frank Hurley, the Australian photographer, accompanied Earnest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition on the Endeavour. Famously, the ship became trapped in the ice, which was unusually severe that year, and for many months the expedition simply had to drift with the ice, and they remained on-board their ship. Finally, the ship began to be crushed by the ice, and the crew decamped – retaining as many provisions as they were able to. Hurley had to choose which of his photos (and film) he took with him! There then followed a truly epic struggle for survival as Shackleton led his men in their lifeboats to Elephant Island, before he took a smaller team on the mammoth journey in a tiny lifeboat to South Georgia to try to raise help from the whaling station. Hurley remained on the island, and three months later, Shackleton finally returned on a vessel that was able to recover his men. They all survived. Hurley’s photographs record that epic struggle and bring to life one of the most truly remarkable ordeals in history.
I can’t recommend this exhibition highly enough!
Then there’s the annual World Press Photos as the Southbank. These are news-based stories – with a smattering of sport, and there are some incredible shots. Some are appalling, and some are magnificent. The photograph by Thomas P Peschak that won the nature prize is stunning. Seen blown up, it’s a simply superb shot. One photo, of a disfigured girl in Afghanistan, appears in both the Taylor Wessing and World Press Photo exhibitions. It’s free entry, so worth catching if you’re near the Southbank.
And that’s all before going to the slightly larger Private Eye exhibition at the V&A, their new photographic gallery, an interesting sounding Soviet Art and Architecture exhibition at the Royal Academy, the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Gallery, and the forthcoming Lanscape Photographer of the Year exhibition at the National Theatre.

Radio Festival 2011 Report: Part Three – Festival Day Two

Arthur Smith and Jarvis Cocker
This is a continuation of my report of this year’s Radio Festival. Part one summarising TechCon can be found here, and part two summarising day one of the main festival can be found here.
The final day of the Radio Festival began with Jarvis Cocker who was in conversation with Arthur Smith. Cocker was there to talk about digital radio and in particular his efforts to help save BBC 6 Music.
Cocker referred to the comments made – in jest – by Mark Thompson the previous day, commenting, “Well he has to cover his tracks…” (He did further add, “That wasn’t his strategy…”).
He claimed that the BBC is the closest he has to a religious faith and that Radio 4 awaits all of us in the end. Although he was now finding himself discovering Radio 3.
He finished his interview with the words, “Viva 6 Music!”
As he left the stage, Absolute Radio’s Clive Dickens, RadioPlayer’s Michael Hill and Digital Radio UK’s Ford Ennals took his place.
In turn Smith interviewed each panel member. Clive Dickens spoke about Absolute Radio’s commitment to digital strategy. On a broader level, he said, the success of digital is down to people and purpose.
That could be personalities that you can find on digital like Alice Cooper on Planet Rock, Jarvis Cocker on 6 Music, or Trevor Nelson on 1 Xtra. “Purpose” is in the form of distinct programming offerings like Radio 4 Extra, Absolute 80s or Jazz FM.
Michael Hill re-iterated the success so far with RadioPlayer. But in particular, he had a fascinating visualisation of RadioPlayer usage across the day. Peak usage times come at the start of the work day and after lunch. But individual programming usage could be identified such as a Tweet sent out by Fearne Cotton on Radio 1, late night talk radio, and Champions’ League coverage.
Finally Ford Ennals took us through some of the challenges that we still face with digital radio, and spoke of the BBC’s recent national DAB roll-out commitment. He also talked about the successful recent Drive to Digital conference.
(See Clive Dicken’s slides here, at my write up of this session on the Onegoldensquare blog)
It’s worth noting that these notes represent my Radio Festival. I couldn’t get to all the sessions, and I know I missed some good ones.
Notably, there was a comedy one hosted by Jon Holmes featuring Adam Buxton, Olly Mann and Patrick Kielty that sounded like it was fantastic. And I’d have liked to have gone to the sessions discussing both local and social media. But you can’t be everywhere at once.
But as the producer of a session, I also missed a big session in Andrew Harrison’s Right to Reply. I can give you the link to his speech though. But I missed the panel discussion which featured Steve Hewlett speaking to Harrison, Orion Media’s Phil Riley, GMG’s Stuart Taylor and UTV’s Scott Taunton. I’m sure that this panel would have been well worth seeing.
Matt Brittin
The next session that I saw was the one that I co-produced with Clive Dickens. Matt Brittin, Vice President Google – Northern & Central Europe, came on with a very free-form session as he showed off some of the excellent Google products that they’ve developed of late.
Worryingly – for me at least – this was all done live on internet, and as anyone who’s been to a conference like this, that invites all sorts of gremlins. But it went remarkably smoothly.
I liked the ability to translate voice conversations on the fly with your phone. And the Chrome to Phone extension is going onto my devices forthwith!
Google Insights is a part of Google that I did know about, but had forgotten existed, and offers some very powerful research tools – completely free of charge.
For the second part of the session, Brittin sat down to take some questions. It was this part of the piece that revolved around radio a little more as Brittin suggested that radio needs to experiment more and launch new products and ideas. Not everything will work, but some will. He talked about how mobile can be used to sell offerings, as people seem to find it more acceptable to purchase through things like Google Wallet or Apple’s offerings.
Radio also has local working for it. Brittin hypothesised about a product that looked for relevant audio for you when you arrived in a new place, and let you learn about the area or its culture (in some limited ways, not a hundred miles away from the Hackney Hear app).
From there, it was back upstairs to a really interesting panel chaired by Tim Davie entitled What Next? After some opening words from Davie that set up the session, Mediatique’s Mathew Horsman presented what I thought was an absolutely excellent presentation that looked at where radio stands now – especially from a commercial perspective – and what it might do to address some of the issues it faces.
Then some further panellists – Alex Connock of Pretend TV, the FT’s Ben Fenton and Goldman Sach’s Chris Bishoff – joined Davie and Horsman for a larger debate on what radio could do.
It’s safe to say that the takeout quote came from Connock: “If we can sell the world arms, then we can sell them The Archers.”
Now while I don’t think that’s at all true – although someone I spoke to did think that The Archers’ format had once been tried elsewhere – it’s an interesting thought. Developing it, what we were really talking about was formats. In television the UK is the creator of something like half the world’s television formats, and yet that market doesn’t exist.
The closest I can think is Capital FM’s copyrighting the “bong game”. Although whether that’s stopped other stations ripping off the idea is debateable.
Overall the session was really good, although hard ideas to takeaway were tougher to come by. At one point Davie opened it up to the floor for killer ideas. Only Lisa Kerr from RadioCentre offered anything, talking about using RadioPlayer to personalise advertising and other audio dependent on location and other things we know about them.
Before the final session of the day, we got the chance to see the full list of the Radio Academy 30 Under 30, many of whom were up at the Festival.
Paul Gambaccini and Bob Harris
Finally, in conversation with Paul Gambaccini was “whispering” Bob Harris. Gambaccini is excellent at this sort of thing, and deftly led Harris through his career, and talked at length about his love of Americana. A good final session of the Festival.
If I have one small criticism of the entire event, it’s that there wasn’t enough WiFi available to attendees (there was a password, but it was all a bit secret…). And perhaps a few speakers need to rethink whether we really need a three minute video as part of their session. Less is more, as they say.
Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe
Anyway, that’s it. Another Radio Festival over, and it was quite probably the best to date with so many good sessions.
I note that the Radio Academy website says that pictures and audio are coming soon. Hopefully some of the audio that I’ve mentioned will be included!
It’s also worth pointing out the Radio Academy podcast stream which features lots of interviews put together during the Festival.
The Guardian’s John Plunkett recorded a Media Talk at the Festival featuring most of the main speakers (listen for Matt Brittin’s shoutout!).
And Steve Hewlett recorded an episode of Radio 4’s Media Show coming from the Festival (including a good interview with Dee Ford that’s well worth listening to).
Radio Today provided stacks of live blogging from the Festival as well as plenty of reports.
And the Techcon audio can all be found on their Audioboo channel
.
Congratulations to the whole team at the Radio Academy for organising it all, the production teams at the venue, and the producers of each session who did such an amazing job (and I don’t say that just to pat myself on the back either!).
Roll on 2012…
Disclaimer: I attended Radio Festival because I’m employed by Absolute Radio. However, these are my views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Not that I’ve said anything too contentious… well apart from this bit at the end

Radio Festival 2011 Report: Part Two – Festival Day One

Ronnie Wood and Claire Neal
This is a continuation of my report of this year’s Radio Festival. Part one summarising TechCon can be found here while the third part summarising the second day of the main Festival can be read here.
Before I head into the main proceedings, it’s worth also mentioning Monday evening’s “opening” event – the inaugural John Peel Lecture. Presented by 6 Music and broadcast live both on 6 Music and under the red button, this was an excellent innovation that saw a full theatre watching Pete Townsend deliver his thoughts.
You can listen to the speech here (at least until the 7 Nov 2011 anyway), and read it here.
I must admit that it’s an excellent innovation, even if I was left a little disappointed by the content of Townsend’s speech. I think his heart is in the right place, and I do think I understand his underlying point even if he doesn’t make it as coherently as perhaps I’d like.
At one point he berates bloggers:
“The wolves of Blogland where it seems to me a lot of the vilest bile comes from people who could be drunk, or just nuts.”
Yet later it turns out that he discovers his own new music via blogs!
“…dozens of amazing music blogs…”
His suggestions for Apple are sensible – at least in part. And perhaps Apple should carry out his suggestion of providing support for 500 musicians. It’d generate positive PR if nothing else!
Overall, a worthy idea, and we can but hope that we get more lectures in the future.
Returning to Tuesday, John Myers, Chief Executive of the Radio Academy, and chair of this year’s committee, opened things up, before handing over to the very excellent Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie who were to be our hosts in the main Quays theatre for the Festival’s duration. I can’t tell you what a truly fantastic job they did.
There’s nothing like starting with a bang, and first up was Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC. His full speech is availble to read here. That said, I’m not sure that Thompson was able to say a great deal that we didn’t already know.
He obviously addressed the major issues affecting the industry, and in particular BBC local radio under Delivering Quality First (DQF).
Following Tim Davie’s recent announcement that the BBC will rollout its national DAB multiplex to 97% of the population, the focus has returned to the expansion of local digital radio. Across the Festival it was referred to by all the main players, with the consensus being that a Memorandum of Understanding would be achieved by the end of the year detailing how the funding of that expansion might be achieved and paid for.
Thompson talked about creating an “audiopedia” of archive material building on the fine work that the BBC has already done with programmes like Desert Island Discs. We were told that innovation will remain “front and centre” at the BBC.
During the main part of the Festival, I was using Twitter quite a bit, and when I related that Thompson had said that the announcement of 6Music’s closure had been the cheapest and most effective marketing ever, the humour with which he said it seemed to be lost, and stirred up a little fuss amongst some. Just to be clear, he was joking (and isn’t alone in making that joke).
Then, the fine (and Nick Clarke award-winning) Steve Hewlett game Thompson a very reasonable grilling, in particular getting into the severe reductions that BBC local radio is seeing as a result of DQF.
It was noticeable that folk from BBC Merseyside are being particularly vocal in their objection to what DQF means for them. On more than one occassion we were told that Radio 4’s You and Yours employs more people than their whole station.
(As an side, during the Festival, we learnt that John Myers will be writing a report – due for delivery by Christmas – to see just how BBC local services “can maximise productivity and deliver efficiency savings across local radio” under DQF.)
And for the record, Thompson would neither confirm nor deny that Alan Hanson gets £40,000 per edition of Match of the Day!
I moved upstairs for the next session (there was a dual programme running throughout most of the Festival), to hear Gwyneth Williams, the new(ish) Controller of Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra. I should mention that for the second year running, Margherita Taylor of Capital FM and Classic FM was the host of this room and she was fantastic. Earlier she had appeared on the main stage, and in reverse order, and with no notes at all, gave a precis of all the events that would be taking place in her room. I’m not saying that she’s not already a famous broadcaster, but bigger things await her…
Anyway, back to Radio 4. Paddy O’Connell was her mischievous interviewer (himself, of course, presenter of Radio 4’s Broadcasting House). Williams ran through the various schedule changes she’d made, and would be making. She gave mention to The Life Scientific with Prof. Jim Al-Khalili, and I can only concur that it’s a superb addition to Radio 4, and went straight on my iPod podcast list. Think of it as a science version of Desert Island Discs – without the music, but with the inclusion of friends and colleagues.
She spoke of the massive response to the cut in short stories that she experienced when talking about the feedback she’d received. And she noted that one correspondent had hoped that outgoing controller had gone to the “circle of hell” he deserved. Now – could she return the UK Theme to Radio 4 please?
Williams spoke of making Radio 4 more international. The audience was particularly excited to learn that an edition of Just A Minute was going to be recorded in India with Nicholas Parsons and Paul Merson both going. India even has Just A Minute clubs that play the game – and there’s going to be a documentary that explores them. Williams also talked about a season from Bristol and that she’d like Radio 4 to take more creative risks.
Learn more about Williams’ announcements here.
In the Q&A that followed Steve Ackerman raised the always relevant question of independent commissioning levels at Radio 4. They’re still pretty low compared with television. However Williams responded that she doesn’t simply want Radio 4 to be a publisher like Channel 4. While I think that’s a legitimate point of view, there’s surely more of a halfway house between the two positions, and we’re not close to “halfway.”
Back in the main theatre, the first of two Meet The Boss sessions saw Torin Douglas interview Global Radio’s Ashley Tabor. Trying to relate it here will make it fall flat, but Radcliffe and Maconie’s introduction to this session was side-splitting.
In his first public one-to-one interview, Tabor was very relaxed and gave an excellent account of himself. He talked about the commercial consolidation that has taken place across the sector, and said that he doesn’t think that it has completely played out yet.
He explained how he perceives Global’s way of presenting local radio which revolves around breakfast and drive. But when questioned by Douglas about his pay, he wouldn’t touch it!
He spoke about how well Global had done in spite of the withdrawal of the COI – radio’s biggest advertiser. Global had managed to replace nearly all that money – working hard to do so.
He said that he was very proud to be chair of the Radio Academy, and talked at some length about the work they’d done to pull the Radio Academy Sony Awards back in house. They’re a profitable enterprise, yet have hitherto returned very little to Radio Academy. Financially, this has been a crucial step for the Radio Academy to take.
BBC local radio cuts were obviously a conference theme, and Tabor said that he was sad to see the BBC lose any of its quality, saying that it does what it does very well. That said, he believes that it has room for manoeuvre in reducing staffing levels.
Back upstairs, I left the likes of Lisa Snowdon and Robbie Savage behind to instead to see former Bauer executive, and now CEO of EMI (at least for the time being!) Andrea Vidler talk about whether radio has the X-Factor.
While she’s clearly a fan of radio, the overall theme of her presentation was that we need to watch out because the internet is becoming more and more important to record companies. Radio and television are no longer the primary gatekeepers for developing new music. There are many alternative routes for record companies to pursue – and they’re actively doing this.
She presented a piece of research from Edison from 2010 that showed a massive fall in the importance of radio for discovery of new music. What she didn’t note was that the research was from the US, which is an entirely different kind of market. I’m certain that just about anybody in the UK launching a new artist recognises to importance of, say, Radio 1 and Radio 2.
However Vidler pointed out that when radio gets behind acts, the results can be astonishing. She highlighted Absolute Radio’s partnership with Coldplay which began with a listener competition and ended with a Sony winning behind the scenes documentary. She also referenced Global’s relationship with The Wanted, and Magic’s with Michael Bublé.
She said that record companies no longer think about releases but about careers.
Yet radio still acts as a trusted filter for listeners. Radio should think beyond the playlist. She wants joint approaches from programming and commercial teams to come up with innovative ideas. She said that plugging is less about traditional pluggers’ work and more about becoming radio promotions specialists these days.
Earlier in the year, there was a lot of talk about “day and date” – the release to iTunes and other online music stores of music at the same time as it reached radio. Vidler says that this doesn’t always work, and should be addressed on a case by case basis. There’s no generic formula.
The final session of the morning was to be a Radio Gadget Show Live! On stage, Ortis Deley and Jon Bentley would present a number of devices and pieces of software. And the audience would be able to vote for their favourites using an app called Screach.
(I did install the software on both my Android tablet and phone. Unfortunately, it crashed on my tablet – a Sony Tablet S – and cut out on my phone. I only managed to contribute one successful vote. However, others in the room did better, and managed to cast plenty of votes).
Of particular note were a software application called Luci Live that allows users to effectively broadcast, what they claim is studio quality audio just using an iPhone. It’s not the cheapest of apps at nearly £300, but with a decent 3G signal, the quality is staggering, and it surely opens up lots of potential uses.
Djay was much cheaper, and allows you to use your phone to do turntable mixing of tracks. Deley claimed that he knew somebody at a national radio station who already uses this app for 70% of his show! That caused some of the audience to start trying to work out what station that would be and who it was…
I did laugh when, at one point, Jon Bentley sang the praises of Long Wave – and in particular its reach in deepest France.
Overall, a fun session, although most of the applications and devices were represented by videos. And I’m not sure that the hosts had had the time they needed to play with them – if at all.
Torin Douglas interviewed another boss in Dee Ford, in the first session of the afternoon. As Managing Director of Bauer Radio, she talked about how Bauer approaches local compared with some of their competitors (i.e. Global). Local is expensive, she said, so you need scale to be able to achieve it.
She talked about the importance of their own internal awards – with the entire company getting to their feet when Grae Allan won a big award this year.
In terms of sales propositions, she agreed that Global had a very simple proposition, and that Bauer’s Places and Passion offerings take more to explain to the market.
She said that like the rest of commercial radio, they’re experiencing a resurgence at the moment and that commercial radio as a whole is in a really good position. Bauer had just about sold out a major event at the MEN Arena – before one of the headline acts had even been announced (it turned out to be JLS) – and that their dating service had resulted in 10 weddings so far!
Ford spoke positively about digital radio, and said that the MOU on local funding was close to being agreed. However, when addressing the BBC’s DQF proposals, she said that it was better to cut services than to salami slice.
In particular, when it looked like the BBC was going to close 6 Music, she said that they should have talked to commercial operators to see if there was a way forward. (Hang on – didn’t Absolute Radio say something similar at the time?). She said that if the BBC no longer felt able to do something properly then “I’d be interested.”
Back upstairs, we had the most rambunctious session of the Festival. And it was always going to be dangerous. Nick Ferrari’s Late Night Phone-In saw Ferrari hosting a session with Allan Beswick of BBC Radio Manchester, Jon Gaunt, Pete Price of Radio City, and James Whale of LBC.
The session took the form of a phone-in, with ex-Ofcom official Martin Campbell kicking things off on-the-line from Spain. I won’t even attempt to summarise what went on, as on many occasions there were at least three people speaking at once.
While it was good fun, I did begin to wonder whether we’d get anything out the session beyond the format of a new TV show. However, once the egos had been brought under control, we did get a few morsels.
It’s clear that there’s much less late-night phone-in programming in commercial radio than there once was, brought about in large part by consolidation. It’s less hassle, and perhaps cheaper for stations to just play music.
And commercial teams don’t really understand the programmes either according to several of the panel, which just makes them harder to exist. Whale explained that in the phone-in world, the “callers” represent the “tracks” in other parts of the industry.
There was also debate over the value of social media, with some of the older hands preferring that it didn’t exist, since it’s easier to Tweet, email or text than it is to pick up the phone.
It’d be lovely if the audio from this session was made available – although it wouldn’t be for the faint-hearted.
Ronnie Wood and Melvyn Bragg
Downstairs again, and to one of the highlights of the Festival – Melvyn Bragg interviewing Ronnie Wood.
Bragg has met and interviewed Wood before, and his interviewing style is excellent. He really sits back and listens to his interviewees, and you get something of a conversation. We went through Wood’s history from his early years through his entry into the musical world.
Bragg: “Why did you and Rod Stewart click?”
Wood: “We had the same haircut…”
Here’s a man who always has an instrument to hand. He talked at length about his art and how important that has been to him. Indeed he says that he has studios on each of the five floors of his home – all of which have works on the go! (He has multiple exhibitions coming up).
He’s even using his iPhone for art which is then blown up and painted on again.
So relaxed was the session that you felt that if they’d left a guitar out for him, he’d have been strumming along throughout the session.
Of course he talked about the origins of his radio show, and how he’d taken to it. At first he’d thought that it’d be time consuming, but now he’s made upwards of 80 shows. And next year, Sky Arts will start to televise some of them – the preview video we saw made clear that they’re using some sumptuous production techniques.
Interestingly, he said that he and Bob Dylan are mutual fans of their shows, with Dylan getting hold of CDs of Wood’s show.
A terrific session who’s audio will hopefully surface somewhere!
Finally we had Elvis Duran being interviewed by Steve Wright, who’s a big fan. Duran had run a masterclass the previous day, and brought his entire team over to broadcast from the UK for the week. His show is syndicated across 41 stations including his home station of Z100 in New York.
If I’m honest, it wasn’t the best session of the day, with the interview being a little stilted, and not really getting the best from him. It was interactive, with members of his team contributing
Talking about zoo radio is always harder than hearing it, and something was lost in the process so that even, what I’m sure were funny prank calls, didn’t come across as funny when described.
That evening saw the PPL Hall of Fame dinner in which broadcasting greats were inducted into the Hall of Fame. As well as those pre-announced awards, a further set of awards were presented on the night.
Ronnie Wood
Notably, Ronnie Wood won the Lifetime Achievement Award, Pete Waterman won the John Peel Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music Radio, and Katy Perry was named the most-played artist on UK radio.
But the big awards went to Andy Peebles, Sir Jimmy Young (who sadly wasn’t able to make it to Manchester to receive his award), Jane Garvey and Peter Allen. Garvey is now at home on Woman’s Hour, while Peter Allen is on Five Live’s Drive programme. But the pair is perhaps fondly remembered for their years together on Five Live’s Breakfast programme when they were absolutely superb together.
Peter Allen and Jane Garvey
The best speech of the night was a close run thing. Mark Radcliffe’s introduction of Ronnie Wood was splendid despite being – how shall I put this – two sheets to the wind? But Jane Garvey’s speech was absolutely fantastic.
She also highlighted an initiative that had been launched at the Radio Festival that day – Sound Women. This is an initiative to get more women into radio – an area that they’re under-represented in. That’s a broad brushstroke – and I’d argue that at Absolute Radio we’re pretty good. But the fact is that the industry is severely lacking in female representation. Seemingly, there’s only one BBC local service fronted by a woman. That’s pretty bad (and goodness knows what it is in the commercial sector).
In fact I think that there are broader problems with the industry, and they’re class based. To get into radio these days, you effectively have to do lots of unpaid work before you can get a foot on a paid-ladder. That means that you need to be supported. Perhaps you can manage a few shifts while working a 40 hour week somewhere else, but for the most part, that means parental support or otherwise.
Broadly speaking – unless you have prosperous parents, you’re going to struggle to get a job in the sector. And of course, that also affects the racial make-up of the industry. I wouldn’t pretend that the attendees at the Radio Festival were the most racially diverse group either.
All told – there’s plenty of work to do.
Disclaimer: I attended Radio Festival because I’m employed by Absolute Radio. However, these are my views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Not that I’ve said anything too contentious… well apart from this bit at the end

Radio Festival 2011 Report: Part One – TechCon

MediaCity
This is the first part of three part summary of this year’s Radio Festival. Part two can be found here, and part three can be found here.
Each year the radio industry gets to meet in Salford at the Lowry in Salford Quays – just metres away from Media City where Five Live is currently moving to – to talk about radio. Yes – it’s Radio Festival 2011.
The following is what I saw, and thought about this year’s festival. In summary, I thought that it was excellent!
The first day is called TechCon, a day I’ve not previously attended. The sessions are – as the name perhaps suggests – of a more technical nature. Orion Media’s David Lloyd ably hosted proceedings.
The first session saw Dan McQuillan from Broadcast Bionics talk about stations’ lack of the true embedding of social media into the studio. He was very impassioned about it practically berating us at some points. One his major issues is not putting proper social media tools in studios. So that means a decently specced PC in the studio with more than just Tweetdeck. He noted that Chris Evans ends up using his own iPhone to engage listeners.
Next up was Rupert Brun who talked about the BBC’s experiments with HD sound – 320kbit AAC LC – and the experiment they carried out at the Proms in 2010 which was later launched fulltime on Radio 3 in 2011.
Brun referred to age-related hearing loss, and noted the controversy that surrounded the audio edit of Prof. Brian Cox’s recent Wonders of the Universe. Brun noted that Cox doesn’t have age-related hearing loss, and has also read the script… What’s clear is that one mix isn’t necessarily suitable for all. The BBC could provide different mixes to different people, but that’s inefficient and confusing. They instead turned to spatial audio encoding to attempt to let the listener “unmix” the audio themselves. In partnership with Fraunhofer IIS they performed an experiment at Wimbledon this year.
Essentially they take a mono commentary feed and stereo court feed and mix them together is a particular manner. The audience can then adjust the mix using a special player. Cleverly the stream is backwards compatible, and those using older versions of the codec could play the default mix as supplied.
This solution means that the BBC didn’t need to transmit twice as much data with about a 10% overhead in total to allow the control data to be sent.
What was really interesting was that there was no overall conclusion as to what people preferred. The results showed a double peak – with some preferring slightly less court sound and more commentary, while others preferred slightly less commentary sounds and more court audio. In other words, there isn’t a single preferred commentary/audio sound mix.
The only question I have over this is whether people who went to the effort of playing with the BBC’s mixer (and I include myself) are much more likely to find an “alternative” to the default mix. It would seem to be going to a lot of trouble to seek an alternative stream, download a special player, tweak the settings, but in the end decide the standard mix was fine…
Next up was the BBC’s Lindsay Cornell who detailed a recent DRM+ experiment that the BBC had carried out in Edinburgh. DRM+ is an alternative digital radio broadcasting system to the more common DAB and DAB+. This session was more about the technical findings of the format rather than pushing for any possible future adoption of the technology.
He took us through the findings in quite some detail, and while not everything was perfect they were reasonably positive.
That all said, with so many DAB radios in the market, I’m not sure that anyone is currently looking for a new digital radio format. At some point in the future? Well perhaps, but that’s some time in advance.
Across the day, we saw presentations from the three shortlisted candidates who were shortlisted for the Technical Innovation Award. The shortlisted candidates were RadioTAG, Hackney Hear and Absolute Radio’s Live Scores data.
RadioTAG – which went on to win the prize – was a joint submission from the BBC, Global Radio and Frontier Silicon. The idea is that a physical button placed on radios with IP-connected feedback could allow listeners to “note” things they hear on the radio for later consumption or follow-up. An online experiment was carried out as proof of concept. It’ll be fascinating to see if any of this is actually taken up.
Hackney Hear is a very smart use of audio and mobile phones. Developed by Francesca Panetta – of the award winning Hackney Podcast fame – and Amblr, it allows listeners to walk around Hackney and hear audio relevant to their location. That could be stories, music, poetry or anything else. It’s a fascinating idea, and something that could lend itself to many more related ideas.
Absolute Radio licences Premier League data which it then repurposes and reuses in lots of different ways, from a matchday centre that you can use during games, through to minute by minute text commentary in mobile applications. As an Absolute Radio employee, I of course use the app myself – but would anyway. The goal flash updates which are pushed out with a “goaaaallll” sound are reason enough. And it was great to see a visualisation of all the app’s users during the previous weekend’s Manchester derby – with users across Manchester closely following the historic result.
Matthias Coinchon and Stanislas Roehrich from the EBU’s Technology & Development department came on to demonstrate their “radio in a box” DAB solution.
Before our very eyes, employing a “blackbox” that costs around $700 – the Universal Software Radio Peripheral – a decently specced laptop, and a few other relatively inexpensive pieces of hardware, they were able to set up a DAB multiplex right there in the room!
Today’s powerful PCs are able to do the work, in software, of what previously had to be incorporated into expensive hardware. The advantages of this are manifold. Hardware prices are high due to low volumes manufactured, and there’s an in-built lack of future proofing.
What’s really exciting is that for a fairly low cost, the kit allows stations or groups to test different ideas and developments in the digital world. The kit on display cost just 3500 Euros.
And we were told it allows – subject to having the correct broadcast licences – users to play with radio and FM, DAB, WiFi, radar and even GSM!
Adrian Cross from Unique Interactive was next to present, talking about data and particularly metadata. In five years’ time, it’s actually going to be very hard to buy – say a TV – that isn’t connected. Everyone from Google to Amazon and Apple are using that data.
He spoke of the importance of meta data and how it’s going to be imperative in the future and we need to get it right now. Given that so many “storefronts” are based on metadata are machine driven and not human derived shows the importance of it. They all work around the importance of good quality metadata. And this enables important social integration and platform integration as well.
Next up is Quentin Howard, previously of Digital One, and now of SSVC looking at the cost of radio transmission platforms. In a blur of numbers he walked through what he thought the electricity costs were of a variety of competing radio platforms – and thus what their carbon footprints are.
I don’t have the presentation, and because the numbers flew past so fast, I couldn’t write them all down, but there are some takings to be had.
Old transmission technologies like AM (and LW – as it has been in the news recently) are very expensive. They use large amounts of electricity in their transmission, and are inefficient in that regard.
He concluded that of the main broadcast transmission technologies, that DAB was the most efficient, with digital television in particular being inefficient.
However I did have one or two issues with his calculations. In large part, DAB wins because it’s still not the majority way of listening to the radio. While the transmission costs are fixed, and are efficient compared with other broadcast methods, once there are more DAB sets
It is absolutely true that DAB sets are much more power efficient that they used to be, but I wonder if he was over-generous in using more recent models to base his calculations on? Lots of original Pure Evokes that are relatively power hungry – are still being used.
I think a cost per listener hour by platform would be fairer.
However, it is scary that digital television is so inefficient. And it’s clear that broadcast radio is a very “green” way of reaching people compared with the alternatives. In particular, adding a WiFi chip to a radio drives its power efficiency right down, and wondrous thought the RadioPlayer is, the power used by our computers doesn’t help make it an efficient technology (if we’re only using it for the radio of course).
Certainly a session to make you think.
Having seen how “easy” was to set up a DAB mulitplex in the room, Ofcom’s Jim McNally came on to talk about pirate radio and illegal broadcasting. In London there are more FM frequencies used by illegal broadcasters than there are legitimate stations. He spoke about career criminals using radio stations to improve their street cred.
Some pirate stations are very well run and make significant money, but there are links to crime. He spoke about Ofcom’s proactive response – seizing transmitters and raiding studios. That also means investigating promoters, stopping events linked to by the stations taking place, and chasing advertisers and installers too.
“Old style” pirates used line of sight radio links via microwave from studio to rooftop. These days they use the internet to send audio. So Ofcom has to go after the transmitters more than the studios, with all the attendant health and safety issues – he showed us pictures of perilous rooftops in London where the transmitters are placed.
And the methods of fastening the transmitters to the roofs are getting “better”. No longer just D-locks, but placing kit in shafts and employing car-jacks to make them hard to remove. They’ve even had kit encased in concrete!
One claim – that London City Airport came within 20 minutes of closure due to pirate radio broadcasters – was discussed on Twitter a bit. An Ofcom report does indeed make the claim, but there was a certain amount of scepticism from some.
Another relatively technical talk came from Tim Donaldson who spoke about how they were using PI codes to do clever sensible switching between related services on the Heart network. That means that listeners with RDS radios have better listening experiences.
Dr. Graham Thomas of the BBC’s Research & Development division, explained how the BBC was getting involved with academia to examine acoustic issues. There was talk about experiments with binaural sound – which I personally am looking forward to hearing more about. There should be an experiment in sound this Christmas I hear…
Ron Stanley from Ofcom talked about what they were going to be doing with the Olympics next year. There’s a massive demand for wireless spectrum when the tens of thousands of international broadcasters all descend on London and want their wireless kit to work. Ofcom has to manage the use of spectrum, and ensure that they resolve any issues of interference.
He gave us a live demo of tracking an “illicit” FM signal in London. Except that it was one coming from Croydon and was very much legitimate. Nonetheless, Ofcom now has an excellent system to triangulate rogue signals. One can only hope that it’s also used for illegal broadcasters.
Mark Vermaat from Soundmouse came on to demonstrate his product. It works along the same lines as Shazaam, except that it’s a lot better. While Shazaam can struggle if there’s additional audio in the background (for example, someone talking over the top), Soundmouse seems to be able to accurately pull out underlying audio, even if it’s been mixed with other pieces of music. One demo video included some practically inaudible music.
Mind you, since the key aim of the software is to help in the collation of data to pass back to organisations like PRS, I’d hope that inaudible music wouldn’t actually be chargeable! The company has 15-20 million pieces of music, and that equates to billions of audio fingerprints. They currently monitor 120 stations – some via IP. That actually means that your station might well get a call from them if your stream goes down!
JonHolmes
Jon Holmes came on to talk to us about audience measurement. In particular he took apart the ways that even with the most dismal possible RAJAR, stations still manage to put together upbeat press releases. All very funny, and frighteningly close to the bone.
Michael Hill from RadioPlayer talked about the success of RadioPlayer so far, pointing out when it peaks and troughs during the week, and noting things like football commentaries working particularly well. Stations like LBC, Five Live, BRMB and BBC Local stations experienced significant spikes during the recent riots. And a recent One Direction tour saw notable jumps as they visited local stations as they went.
A new – version 2 – of RadioPlayer for Facebook, is coming soon, as well as an Adobe Air installable version (which I’ve just had a bit of a play with and looks lovely).
He said that scrubbing the audio was going to be improved (to be fair, it’s currently not as good as the previous BBC player of listen again audio for example), and search will be improved.
A mobile prototype is in production for delivery around Christmas. He claimed that it will be measurably the best mobile radio player in the market with social integration and geo-location data used to deliver local programming. Music mapping will be used to recommend radio to the user.
He also spoke a little about getting the application on connected TVs like YouView and Samsung, and an HTML5 version for iPads and tablets.
Finally he talked about RadioPlayer… on a radio! They’re talking to equipment manufacturers to make better use of the feeds they have.
There should be a spring marketing campaign to better explain the benefits of the radio player and perhaps encourage more listeners start investigating “sideways hops” to other services.
Richard Vadon, the editor of one of my favourite radio series, More or Less, was next up to talk us through the use and misuse of numbers. He pointed out some of the seriously misleading reports that catch many media outlets including the BBC, that he and his programme work so hard to right.
“Zombie statistics” for example, are those “numbers” that are so out in the wild, that no matter how much you attempt to correct them, they continue to live on forever.
More worryingly he highlighted the fact that certain special interest groups – including charities – are too willing to use wildly misleading statistics to further their own goals.
(I actually wanted – but failed – to catch Vadon afterwards to talk about the recent “4.7bn” watching Premier League football story. But this site gets into that pretty well, and as usual, it’s a cumulative number of viewers and not in fact 4.7bn of the 7bn population).
The final session of the day saw BFBS explain how they go about their business of “extreme engineering”. Getting a feed of BFBS radio into a locality is one of the first things that the army wants when they’ve set up a new camp. So BFBS have to put up with all sorts of difficulties to provide the troops with some kind of link back home.
My favourite story from this session related the time some kit had to be helicopted into somewhere to help set up a relay of BFBS. The kit was loaded into a land rover which was slung under the helicopter. Unfortunately, during the flight, the door of the land rover opened and all their FM kit as well as some other MOD material was dropped to the ground. The location was remote with no civilians. But the problem was that there was concern about what the other MOD material actually was. To make certain it didn’t fall into enemy hands, they called in an airstrike to destroy everything!
That just left James Cridland to sum up the day. He’s written up his summary here!
Disclaimer: I attended Radio Festival because I’m employed by Absolute Radio. However, these are my views, and don’t necessarily reflect those of my employer. Not that I’ve said anything too contentious…

Google Reader

I’ve been shut away at the Radio Festival for the last few days (more about that soon), and since I was largely using a tablet computer there, I hadn’t yet properly used the new “improved” Google Reader until today.
I’m late to the party, although it seems that basically nobody who actually uses Google Reader, likes the changes Google has made to it.
I’m going to leave alone the style issues. On the one hand, it desperately needed a makeover to keep it contemporary. But on the other hand, it did just work.
I could posts that I wanted to keep track of, and importantly, I could share posts that I thought others might be interested in. Was it a perfect social system? No. But it worked.
Google is heavily investing in Google+ and you wonder if the subscription levels are where they might be, because it seems that they’re moving heaven and earth to get more people to sign up.
Google seemed to be falling out of love with Reader when it relegated it into the dropdown from its position in their new(ish) navigation bar that’s consistant(ish) across all their products. It first disappeared briefly before we were told it was moved in error, but latterly it’s dropped away in place of “Sites” – a button I’ve only rarely used. You might imagine that Google could either build a bespoke navigation bar based on individual usage of its products, or allow users to choose which applications appear on the list themselves.
As it happens, that was the least of our problems. They’ve now made the social aspects of Google Reader essentially useless. If I want to share something on Google Reader now, I have to “+1” it. And while I can limit the number of people of who see it, but sharing just to the people I want to share it with, the experience is awful.
First of all, the “+1” pop-up is still a bit buggy, and at least one item I shared had the pop-up disappear below the bottom of the browser window. I couldn’t see the options for who I could share with at all as they disappeared off the foot of the screen.
Secondly, I can essentially share with everyone, or a selection of people that I choose. Now while the functionality of Google+ that allows me to share with sets of circles that I’ve defined is useful in many contexts, this is one case that it isn’t. If someone follows me on Google+ who I don’t know (and there seem to be an awful lot of people in precisely that boat), then I can’t easily put them into any circle at all. So I don’t. They go nowhere. But that means that I’ve no way of discovering whether these people are following me because of the unique range of media/technology/literary/cycling links that I share.
Of course I could share everything with everybody, but that means that others might find themselves drowning under a torrent of my shared links. I need a place in Google+ – if that’s where it must be – that I can go to find the shared links.
And that takes me to the third major problem. At the moment, I only actively follow a relatively limited number of people on Google+. And frankly relatively few of them are active posters. But as more people use the service, and post more to it, then the stream becomes really unmanageable. Previously, if I was away from a PC for a few days and came back and wanted to see what my friends had shared in my absence, that was easy to manage. I’d click through their links and move on. Now I have to scroll through everything that’s happening in my stream(s) to see if there’s something “essential” that I’ve missed.
It’s a mess.
And that’s after just a couple of hours’ usage. That’s before we get into the dull look, the lack of “Note in Google Reader” Javascript buttons that allows me to share anything I find on the web, and the general rubbishness of Recommended for you.
I hate to be the person who doesn’t like change. Gmail’s changed this week, and – so far – I’ve no real problems with the new interface. But in this instance, Google has really damaged – fatally? – a truly fantastic product.
As someone who works in the Android eco-system, the cross platform usage of Google Reader on a PC, tablet or mobile was a boon. But now, I’m wondering if I was rash to give up Bloglines all those years ago.
Is there something else out there that will meet my needs?