May, 2014

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist

Blur of Riders - Tour de France 1995 - 02

Photo: A blurred image taken at the 1995 Tour de France. Pantani was in the peleton somewhere, although almost certainly not in this image. See below for more.

A few days ago, I was watching a stage of the Giro D’Italia live on Eurosport. It was a mountain stage – one of three stages in this year’s Giro celebrating, or perhaps, commemorating the 10th anniversary of Marco Pantani’s death. You could almost hear the intake of breath from Eurosport’s commentator, Rob Hatch as he introduced a segment that Eurosport’s producers were going to play in on a split screen during an otherwise quiet moment in the race’s live coverage ahead of a big climb.

Hatch knew that even just playing the clip would cause some very strong feelings among viewers. Then we watched some highlights of Pantani on that same climb in a past Giro, sweeping up the hill. A little later, Hatch told us that his Twitter feed had indeed exploded.

“Il Pirata” was a cyclist who still divides those who follow the sport. He had an undoubted innate ability, and was unquestionably the leading climber of his time. Yet he was a product of the EPO generation, and his life ended far too soon with Pantani addicted to cocaine, hoovering up vast amounts of the stuff that would eventually kill him in an off season hotel room in Rimini.

As such, I find it hard to stomach some of the respect that is being paid to the rider. While he was incredibly talented, I’m certain that I’d never want a “commemorative” pink jersey bearing his name such as that one Rapha has released recently. That just feels a little unhealthy. Let’s face it, you don’t see too many people wearing Livestrong gear these days either.

Pantani’s is undoubtedly a tragic story. And cycling is full of legends. The sport creates them to an extent few other sports can ever truly manage. Yet I find some of this very uncomfortable, and because of that, I’m not sure I’d raise him to the very highest pantheons of the sport.

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist is a new documentary that was released in cinemas a week or so ago, timed to coincide with this year’s Giro D’Italia. A race that started so successfully in Belfast and Dublin, and concludes this weekend in Trieste.

I had planned on seeing the film in the cinema, but even during its first week of release, it was only available in very limited number of screenings. Somewhat ironically, Curzon, who were showing it in several of their sites, managed to only have screenings at weekends that actually clashed with live coverage of this year’s Giro! In other words, the very people who were likely to want to see the documentary would probably be found in front of a television watching this year’s coverage at the time it was being screened.

Fortunately the cinema release was really only there to get some media coverage, because the film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray earlier this week. So I watched it at home. I suspect that given Channel 4 seems to have partly funded it, it’ll end up on television sometime around this year’s Tour de France.

Anyhow, logistics aside, what’s it like as a film?

It’s based on Matt Rendell’s excellent 2006 book The Death of Marco Pantani, and the film features interviews and some narration from Rendell. It’s a fairly evenly told story, telling of Pantani’s discovery of how good he was at cycling as a child, through to his emergence onto the professional circuit and his arrival at the Grand Tours – the big races that every rider wants to perform at. It also details the appalling crash that Pantani suffered which nearly ended his career before it had properly got started.

Inevitably, the film simplifies the story to fit into a 90 minute runtime. While this is fine to a large extent, I don’t think that the film quite gets under Pantani’s skin and explains what makes him tick to the extent that the book does. And I’m not sure that Pantani’s superstar status in his home country quite comes across.

On the other hand, the film does of course benefit from numerous clips of Pantani racing, as well as contemporaneous interviews with him and others. We also hear from his mother as well as other friends and colleagues from his career. These all certainly mean that it makes a great companion piece to the book and well worth watching.

The nature of a documentary like this is that the film has to be made up largely of archival clips alongside some new interviews. Where it perhaps falls down a little is the use of an actor playing Pantani on some of the climbs as an illustration mechanism. I preferred not to see an actor but either just a bike wheel on a climb or even the point-of-view shots of what the various mountain stages actually look like on quiet days when there’s no crowds lining the sides of the road. Seeing an actor who looked a bit – but not really like Pantani just didn’t work for me.

I also felt that there were a few too many camera tricks to energise some of the segments of racing. Just showing the video would have been fine. Films like Senna have shown what can be achieved using archive footage alone, with new interviews just added as sound.

But I’m being picky. The producers and director did make one interesting choice, which was to dub on sound effects of bicycles being ridden. And it was quite refreshing. If you watch televised cycling you rarely actually hear the sound of the bicycles, because the camera is usually on a motorbike which drowns all the other sound out – or even a helicopter. I found it quite an interesting idea to hear the sound of a chain being turned during an attack even if it was added in an edit suite.

The construction of the documentary was fine. Sometimes I find it a little forced if we always have to start at the end and work backwards, although that’s actually how the book was written!

And I think the film handles the cases for the “prosecution” and “defence” quite evenly. Yes he was the best climber of his generation, and yes he was a knowing member of the EPO set – actually probably also a generation since so many were taking the drug. In fact, although in a piece towards the end Rendell lays out the case for why it must have been nearly impossible for Pantani not to have been pressured into taking drugs by team managers, rivals, sponsors and doctors, I think the book did a better job of painting Pantani as – well – not the brightest spark in the world. Maybe it’s not right, but the smarter you are, the less sympathy I have for you if you do wrong.

Remarkably, Lance Armstrong manages to come out of this film worse than anyone else, and certainly Pantani. He barely features, but a throw away comment and his behaviour to someone who was certainly up there with him, shows what a vindictive man he could be.

Overall, if you like to watch professional cycling, then I’d recommend seeing this film. It’s not quite as polished at The Armstrong Lie, but it’s still a worthy piece. At time of writing I believe that it’s still in cinemas in some parts of the country. But otherwise, pick up the DVD or Blu-Ray. Fortunately they were the same price at Amazon. However, given the amount of archival standard resolution footage, I wouldn’t pay over the odds to watch it in HD.

Personally, I loved the drama of watching Pantani going up a mountain. His ridiculous bursts of speed. The seeming impulsiveness of his attacks. Yet I was never a massive fan of his. I don’t know why, but

I thought that I’d never seen Pantani race in the flesh. But actually, as the documentary shows, Pantani raced in the 1995 Tour de France. I watched the riders process the on a neutralised stage of that year’s Tour, the day after the tragic death of Fabio Casartelli in the Pyranees. As I’ve mentioned before, that day saw Casartelli’s Motorola team, with Lance Armstrong among them, ride out ahead of the peleton as they respectfully rolled across the finish line. Somewhere in the midst of the blurred photo above may – or may not – be Pantani. But that was the only time I “saw” him.

So I respected him, but never loved him. I was still shocked by his death in 2004 though, and he was an incredible rider.

Why I’m Not Installing Facebook Messenger

For a blog

Facebook and I have an interesting relationship.

I’ve been on it quite some time, and have lots of “friends” (more accurately, friends and acquaintances). However, I do find it useful for keeping up with what this extended group are up to. And if you’re organising a social event, then it’s a useful resource to help you out. You can share pictures or video relatively painlessly, and you can send messages to your “friends”.

On the other hand, it has some of the most tortuous settings in any website or application I use. And it changes these regularly. So you’re never totally certain how many people you’re sharing something with.

If you’re the kind of person only wants some people and not everyone to be able to read or view something (happily I’m not, but then I’m not 15 with parents and grandparents also on the service), this is quite a palaver.

And then there’s all that Facebook data that they’re tracking to monetise it. They want to know everything about you, and given the personal data you share in your status updates (even ones you type but don’t post), you’re giving them a very valuable insight into your world. Their newest plan is to do a Shazam-style analysis on any media you play with your portable device so they know more about your music and video watching habits.

But you’ve made the pact with the devil. Who cares if they know what artists I like, or which TV shows I’m discussing with friends? I mean – this stuff doesn’t matter. It’s not like I talk about serious stuff on the internet or anything…

None of which really explains the picture at the top of this page.

I have the Facebook app installed on my Android mobile phone (Nexus 5, since you ask). And what you need to know is that I have everything on it turned off. I don’t want it running in the background. I don’t want constant notifications from Facebook. I don’t want to share my contacts with it. I want as little as possible to do with it.

Partly that’s because it has been a battery-sapping mess of an application. Recently it might have improved somewhat, but I’m not going to take the risk.

Indeed, the only reason I have it installed at all is because it’s a mildly better and more convenient experience than the mobile web. But that’s about it. Incidentally, I’ve never bothered installing the Facebook app at all onto any of my tablets. That’s how little I think of it.

But then, I’m not a massive Facebook user. Most of my interactions on Facebook come because I’ve linked my Twitter account with it, and anything I post on Twitter gets carried over onto Facebook. Some people respond on Facebook, and I respond to them.

Because I don’t have a Facebook app alerting me, I tend to use that oldest of old-school techniques for determining whether someone is talking with me – email. I’m happy to receive as many notifications via email as Facebook wants to send me, because I use filters and rules to put them into a sub-folder keeping my inbox clutter-free.

Now it’s true that Facebook emails are pretty terrible. Perhaps deliberately so? It may send an alert within minutes, but quite often it’s hours, or even days after the event. Well their loss. I guess I spend less time on the platform because they can’t be bothered to put the infrastructure in place to keep me up to speed.

Still, as I say, I do occasionally use Facebook to message people. While email is my primary communication mechanism, I don’t always have an up to date email address of everyone I want to communicate with. So like Direct Messages in Twitter, I will occasionally send a message. Perhaps more often, I receive messages from others who like to use that facility.

But what I don’t want to do is chat.

I’m not 12.

OK. That’s a bit mean-spirited.

But I find chat can be quite disruptive. There’s an expectation that someone is available for an instant reply all the time.

“Drop everything and chat with me now!”

Chat says to me that it’s more important than anything else I’m doing and since nobody can multi-task (really – they can’t), I should abandon what I’m doing to type as quickly as possible into a small box on a slightly cluttered screen.

Look. Microsoft Office email alerts are disruptive enough – “You’ve got mail! It’s more important than that document you’re writing right now, so we’ve flashed it right over where your cursor is!” – but they can be turned off. More to the point email or text messages can be responded to in a timely fashion. I.e. At my convenience.

(Sidenote: I realise some people think that texts demand instant replies. Well I have bad news for you. I often don’t even read my text messages for hours after they arrived. I’m not a doctor on call – my phone is not always besides me or even in the same room.)

When Facebook introduced chat, I switched it off. Facebook, of course, turned it on for everyone by default. That’s another problem with Facebook. And it’s why as much as anything, it’s an issue of TRUST. And I don’t trust Facebook. They’ve yet to earn that from me.

Similarly, I don’t bother with WhatsApp or any of the other numerous messaging applications. I have Skype, but it requires scheduling with me if you want a chat. It’s not running by default. Background apps sap memory and battery. I leave them off. (And incidentally, I think it’s most recent Android version of Skype that “broke” my phone, so it’s not currently even installed there).

OK – I admit that I can be reached by Google Hangouts. But there are few enough people who do that, so I’m fine with it.

All of which brings me back to Facebook’s Messenger app. Facebook sees messaging as “chat”. But I only ever used it for “email”. They consider the two the same. And that’s where we fell out. By default, if I want to send a long message – even on desktop – I get the tiniest of tiny boxes to type into. No doubt Facebook would say that the average user message is no longer than a text. Well mine are. So you’re already annoying me in the desktop environment. Now on mobile you’re making it worse.

Now Facebook has removed basic messaging functionality from its phone app. It still has an icon. But you’re “forced” to install a new app. It has been prompting me for weeks with pop-ups and banners. But now it’s gone. I should install their new app because what kind of social media site doesn’t need more than one app?

Well bad news Facebook. I’m not going to. Here’s why:

I’m not 12.

I don’t do chat.

I don’t want to be made available for Facebook chat.

I don’t like your battery hogging apps in general.

I don’t like the hoops and complexities of your settings.

I don’t TRUST Facebook as a company.

All I want to be able to do is read and send occasional messages in a form not dissimilar to email.

Yes – I know you could argue the same of Google Drive. They’ve recently dissembled a generic “Drive” app into constituent “Sheets” and “Docs” parts. But then reading and editing documents are very different things. And I know that it’s part of a bigger play about separating key apps from the OS because Android handset manufacturers can be very tardy rolling out OS updates. That all said, I’m not 100% won over by Google either.

And yes, I realise that I’m using a completely free service, and nobody is forcing me to use Facebook. As I say, I do like some of their functionality. I just don’t buy into everything they do. Quite a lot of it actually. And their view of messaging/chat in particular.

I completely understand that other operators – notably Google – are just as good at hoovering up vast amounts of data including some of the most personal things I talk about because they’re my email provider. I suppose I just trust Facebook less.

I’ve been using the Moves app on my phone a lot recently. It’s a great app that uses your phone’s accelerometer and GPS to determine your location and how far you’ve walked, run or cycled. But when Facebook bought them, that didn’t exactly fill me with excitement, even though when they wrote to me, Moves explicitly stated that they weren’t rolling accounts together. (Well, not yet).

I like Moves. But installing would instantly extend my battery life by up to a third. And do I TRUST Facebook with my location data? I’m not sure that I do…

Horizon

Horizon Transcripts

This year BBC2 is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as part of those celebrations, its long running science programme, Horizon, is also celebrating being 50.

I must admit that until the last week or so, and I hadn’t known that Horizon started right at the birth of the channel. To celebrate its half-century, Horizon has got heavily involved with the Longitude Prize 2014 – an attempt to replicate the famous prize won (eventually) by John Harrison when he showed how building a watch would solve the major issue of the day, ships knowing their longitude at sea.

The key part of that prize was that anyone could enter, and there was a big cash reward to encourage new ideas and thoughts.

The new initiative seems to be a two step affair, with members of the public determining which current problem of science should be addressed before a multi-year competition is opened to entrants who can solve that problem. Again, the thought behind the prize is that entrants may not always come from the obvious places.

The shortlisted areas are Antibiotics, Water, Flight, Dementia, Food and Paralysis. All worthy subjects, but I’ll be voting for Antibiotics* in the main part because I fear that in the very short term, a lack of antibiotics is going to kill many more people than anything else.

Alongside the Longitude Prize, the BBC has put up a series of classic episodes from Horizon’s history. Highlights include:

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out with Richard Feynman. I’ve seen it before, and I’m going to watch it again. Utterly wonderful.
Fermat’s Last Theorem. Telling the story of solving of one of mathematics greatest puzzles.
The World of Buckminster Fuller. The very first ever episode, which I’ve never seen before.
Strangeness Minus Three on the discovery of a then new subatomic particle in 1964. Again, I’ve not seen it before.

They’ve also released an interactive ebook in iPad, Android (tablet) and Kindle editions. It’s a nice little addition, although be warned that it does take a while to initially decompress itself – at least with the Android version on a 2013 Nexus 7. Just be patient.

The book includes a list of every Horizon ever made which is a nice touch.

Now I’ve got to admit that at times I’ve been quite down on Horizon. But it can still be quite brilliant. Its biggest recent successes (in terms of reaching the popular consciousness), have surely been in areas of nutrition. There was an edition that effectively kick-started the Five/Two diets – it’s included in the collection on the website. But in overall terms, I think the standard is better than it was back in 2007 when I wrote that piece.

The thing is – I cling to Horizon dearly because I love it. It’s the only really serious science programme the BBC airs on television. I’m delighted that Bang Goes The Theory exists and that it goes out on prime time BBC1, but the range of subjects they cover have to be limited. So we need programmes like Horizon to delve into other areas. Yes radio has excellent science programmes, but sometimes you need visuals to explain a subject.

Equinox on Channel 4 is sadly long gone. And multi-channel hasn’t really helped. While theoretically channels like Discovery could be a boon, they tackle mostly simplistic topics. Oh, and naked people surviving on desert islands. To be honest, the best science I’ve seen outside of BBC One and Two is some of the maths problems on Dave’s School of Hard Sums with Dara O’Briain and Marcus Du Sautoy.

It’s also important that we have some way of communicating current science with the wider public. When there are major scientific breakthroughs that really aren’t easy to get away in a three minute news bulletin, it needs a programme like Horizon to allow a curious public the opportunity to delve deeper into something that for them is quite probably very new. We live in a world where everything is phenomenally specialist compared with our forefathers, and most people probably couldn’t even to begin to explain how some of the things they live their life by – phones, cars, televisions – work. We need “explainers”. These are the programmes that will intrigue future generations into upholding Britain’s strength in science. And at the very least help politicians understand the importance of science, the value of it to the economy (and why we shouldn’t sell our national assets to companies that are only in it for corporate tax advantages at untold cost to the country).

One final thing. As part of Horizon’s birthday, I’d really love them to go back to it’s old theme music – or a modern updating of it. It has been through a few iterations, but I think it could return to a closer approximation of Wilfred Joseph’s composition. Today it doesn’t really have music – just a sound effect. Oh, and like some of the linked YouTube commenters, I really would be happy to pay for high quality versions!

The picture above is of some transcripts that the BBC used to produce for Horizon. You could send away for them after shows aired – I think for a small amount of money. And obviously, I was a regular subscriber. Later transcripts were published online, but these days they aren’t published at all. Externally anyway…

*I will be voting because at time of writing, I’d failed to get the BBC Horizon website to display the voting panel in spite of being logged in with a BBC ID as required. Here’s hoping they get it fixed!

[Update] I did manage to cast my vote the next day.

Uploading Large eBooks to Amazon’s Cloud

A bit of a ramble, but in short – does anyone know how to get large files (over 25MB) into the Amazon Kindle Library aside from via email?

Read on for the detail…

If there’s one thing that’s for certain, it’s that buying eBooks on Amazon is very easy. It could be easier – they’ve still not fixed the ability for you to give someone else a specific eBook as a gift – but in general it’s a painless experience.

Once you’ve checked out the title you want, it goes into your Kindle Library. The beauty of that is that any physical Kindle you ever buy and log in on can easily access your library and let you download the books you want. And if you use the Kindle App on a phone or a tablet, the same is true. You can sync titles of your choosing to your device easily.

I still love paper books, as my flat will attest to. However I’ll happily concede that when travelling or trying to read big documents, using a Kindle or Kindle App can actually be a superior experience. Travel and cookbooks immediately spring to mind.

But of course Amazon is tying you into their proprietary store, and there are other places I want to get documents. Two such places are tech book suppliers O’Reilly and Pearson. Both sell files that I can download and read on the device of my choosing.

This is where problems can begin. If you want to get a third party document – be it a PDF or Mobi format book – from somewhere else onto your Kindle there are two ways of doing it. You can plug the device in via USB, then drag and drop. Or you can use email. Amazon will give you a bespoke email account and any documents you send to it show up on your Kindle!

There are problems with both of these methods. The USB method will not safely back up your document. If you lose your device, or upgrade it, files can easily be lost. Furthermore, it won’t help if you’re reading a document on more than one device and want to keep your position in sync.

The email method is fine as far as it goes, but file sizes are limited to 50MB. That’s massive for a novel, but anything with lots of pictures and/or graphics can reach this size easily. More limiting still is that there are barely any email services that will let you send files larger than 25MB (Gmail’s upper limit for example). Going bigger than that, and email providers insist you link to a service like Google Drive. That’d be fine for anything else, but it doesn’t work with Send to Kindle.

I bought an ebook today that came in two formats: either a 27MB PDF or a 47MB mobi file. But I just haven’t found a way to get either file into Amazon’s system.

Latterly Amazon has the Amazon Cloud Drive – their version of Google Drive or Dropbox. There’s even a folder called “My Send-to-Kindle Docs.” And you can upload large documents there. But just adding them doesn’t help as they aren’t immediately made available in your Kindle’s cloud library.

I’m sure that this is all just and oversight, and Amazon will eventually sort it out. But in the meantime, if you want to put large documents or ebooks on your Kindle/Kindle App, and you want to keep them secure, then Amazon is really not making it easy for you.

[As I say, if anyone has any tips on ways to get around this, please do shout!]

UPDATE – Thanks to someone on Jelly, I was pointed to a wider range of Amazon tools to do just what I want. In fact, I had tried the Chrome plugin, without success. But it looks like the basic PC program does the trick working from a right-hand click in Windows Explorer.

Installing Plex Media Server

Note: Just to be clear – I’ve installed Plex on a DS210j and not a DS214se.

This is going to be a bit dry, but it may or may not help others.

I now have a couple of Synology NAS drives. I first bought a DS210j about two or three years ago when I started to get a bit more concerned about how well backed up my data is. In particular I was worried about music, video and mostly photos.

Since getting my first NAS, I was pretty happy. There are 2 x 2TB drives in a RAID array to give me redundancy. I also instigated a regular “offsite backup” another simple Seagate external drive which I kept at work in my desk draw, regularly bringing home to ensure that the NAS was backed up in another location (sadly a former colleague once had his hard drive stolen in a house break-in even though the value of the hard drive was probably quite low).

But even being fairly ruthless over what photos I keep, my NAS was getting dangerously close, so earlier this week I decided to invest in an additional Synology DS214se. It’s the cheapest drive they make, but I don’t need it to do a great deal. Mostly it’s going to be storing photos. I installed a couple of WD Red 3TB drives, again in a RAID array, and I was away.

The first thing I wanted to do was spread the load. That means moving photos to the new drive and leaving everything else on the old one (I say “everything” but clearly I have a whole pile of other hard drives in cases and loose. But the important stuff is on the NAS drives). But the photos alone that I wanted to move came to 1.1TB.

The first thing to realise is that it’s not wise to do a move of this size via a PC. Something will break. I’ve just rarely had a good experience of a large file move in Windows. So I used the Synology Filestation app and set up a copy direct.

All you need to know is that it took about 48 hours – so not fast. But it did the job first time with no errors. In Lightroom – my photo software of choice – I just re-pointed the top level directory to the new drive location and all was fine.

The other thing I wanted to do was install Plex. For various reasons, I’ve always shied away of using some kind of media centre software. I did once play with Microsoft Home Media Center on a cheap PC, but it was all a mess, and I went no further.

But I liked the idea of installing some software on a NAS drive – removing the need to leave a PC on. And I knew that there was a Synology app for Plex.

My first disappointment was to learn that it’s not supported on the “cheap” DS214se. Seemingly it’s because the specs of the processor on-board aren’t high enough. But it actually seems more powerful than my older DS210j. However, it actually suited me to use the older drive anyway.

The next problem was by far the biggest. I just couldn’t get Plex running. I repeatedly tried the official version via Synology. But in spite of installing, it just repeatedly gave the error message: “Failed to run the package service.”

I went through dozens of both Plex and Synology forums searching for a solution. I removed and reinstalled. I rebooted the NAS. I deleted other apps (that I wasn’t using) that might have been a problem. But nothing. I installed a direct Plex build. I used SSH to connect directly to the NAS and look to see if there was a problem there. Still no joy.

In the end I finally stumbled across the problem. For whatever reason, the Plex installer was not creating a “Plex” Shared Folder. Simply manually creating a new folder – “Plex” without quotes – did it. And it ran perfectly.

The reason I chose Plex is because there are plenty of apps for it on devices I own. The first one I actually got working properly was on my Sky Now box. This is a device that Sky were selling for £10. A complete bargain for iPlayer alone. It’s basically a rebadged Roku box. But Sky has limited the number of apps you can install – clearly they want you to use their Sky Now service. In truth Sky Now is unnecessary for me because I subscribe to Sky anyway, and have access to those sports and film services.

Anyway, if you switch on Developer Mode, you can install Plex via a PC.

Then I installed the Samsung Smart TV app, and that worked pretty seamlessly too. Just for fun, I also installed the Android app, and that happily works with my Chromecast. Lots of ways then to use the service.

The only thing I had to watch was that Plex took a bit of a while to sort itself out when I added programming to it. And sometimes the Samsung app can take a while to find graphics and metadata.

However playing back a variety of files hasn’t been a problem, and it’s certainly easier than my old method which involved lots of USB sticks. In particular, I’ve suffered no transcoding issues with any of my devices regardless of file resolution. I suspect that Plex does push my DS210j quite a bit, but it will certainly suffice.

(Incidentally, what got me thinking about this was a friend in the US who has bought an Amazon Fire TV which he’s got Plex on. The device – not yet on sale in the UK – is quite smart, although were it not for the fact that Amazon Prime Instant Video isn’t on UK Roku boxes, I’d say they’d serve you fine.)

RAJAR Q1 2014

RAJAR Q4 2013

This post is brought to you in association with RALF from DP Software and Services. I’ve used RALF for the past 6 years, and it’s my favourite RAJAR analysis tool. So I’m delighted to be able to bring you this analysis. For more details on RALF, contact Deryck Pritchard via this link or phone 07545 425677.

I know.

I said last time that I wouldn’t be doing another one of these RAJAR reports in quite the same way, since I was leaving Absolute Radio and no longer had access to the data. But as you can see, I’ve come up with a new way to present a RAJAR summary! Let’s crack on.

It’s a fairly decent quarter for radio this time around with overall listening up 0.5% even as reach falls a little (-0.5% on the previous quarter). But who are the big winners and losers?

National

Well wouldn’t you know it – the newly crowned Radio Academy Station of the Year, Radio 2, has yet another all-time high reach. It’s up to 15.6m listeners a week now. That’s 55,000 up on last time. And the time spent listening is also at a record high – 185m hours a week. Radio 2 listeners spend 11.9 hours a week listening to the station. And in case you weren’t sure, that’s a BIG number. Few radio stations usually manage those kinds of numbers.

Here’s another stat. Just about ONE THIRD of all radio listeners in the UK listen to Radio 2 (32.4%).

Radio 2 Listeners

Radio 1 has slipped a bit this quarter falling back 4% in reach to 10.5m, although it’s up on the previous year. I’d say it’s still finding its feet a little. What’s more scary for Radio 1 is that average hours per listener are falling over time. Not that long ago it’d have been getting 9 or even 10 hours on average a week, but these days it’s in the sixes. Obviously this quarter has bucked the trend. But I fear it is a trend.

Radio 1 Average Hours

The big news with Radio 3 is that it hasn’t yet been overtaken by 6 Music. Obviously they’re completely different stations, but the growth of 6 Music has meant that Radio 3 is likely to get overtaken at some point despite 6 Music “only” being available digitally. Radio 3 is once again over 2m with a decent 4.8% rise in reach this quarter, and a massive 25% increase in time spent listening – although Radio 3’s hours can bounce around a little.

6 Music, on the other hand, has taken a rare dip, down 1.8% to 1.9m. To put that in perspective though, it’s still its second highest reach ever.

Radio 4 saw a small 2.2% fall in reach, although it’s up on the previous year. Radio 4 Extra continues to do well though with a 1.1% increase in reach and a decent 7% increase in time spent listening.

In a tight Premier League year, it’s curious that 5 Live fell in this period, down 1.8% in reach and 1.0% in hours. Both of those will be within margins of error. But Talksport also fell fractionally, down 0.5% in reach, although gaining a few hours up 1.2%. You’d imagine both will get decent bumps in Q2’s results to reflect the end of the season and around ten days of the World Cup which begins on June 12.

Naturally, I’m pleased to see that Absolute Radio has had a good bump this quarter, up 4.9% in reach and 11.1% in hours. Year on year, the gains are even better, up 9.9% in reach and 14.7% in hours. That’ll be gratifying to all in One Golden Square, and new owners Bauer, after a very good night at the Radio Academy Awards on Monday where the brand took away four Golds.

The Absolute Radio Network figure is also important as is essentially flat in reach (down 0.1%) but up 8.0% in hours. Absolute 80s did take a 10% hit this quarter in reach, but it remains over 1m. Other “decades” stations saw their hours perform well.

1Xtra did OK this quarter, as did Kisstory, now closing in on 1m with 933,000 reach. Kiss Fresh saw a decent jump from last quarter’s debut, although it’ll take a while to get to where Smash Hits once was. Planet Rock fell back a little, down 5% to 1.085m. And there’s the station that nobody ever talks about – The Hits. It sails on with 950,000 listeners, as much as anything demonstrating (probably) the value of being on Freeview in TV sets in bedrooms.

Since last quarter, it’s been all change in the big groups. Global has finally finished going through with the acquisition and disposal of stations required from buying GMG. And Bauer, as mentioned, has bought Absolute Radio. So comparing the two groups overall changes in scale is a little misleading.

What you need to know is that Bauer has a 31% share of commercial listening hours, and Global has a 41% share. Note, this is based on the stations they own, and not those they sell. Global is selling the national airtime for the stations it sold to Communicorp, while Bauer is taking over the national sales of Orion media. And there are other contracts beyond that.

What’s interesting is that while Global is larger than Bauer, both groups are performing similarly in terms of performance in that Global’s reach and hours are consistently one third bigger than Bauer’s, and both groups have average hours of 8.4.

Overall, the BBC’s share of radio fell back a fraction from 55.2% last quarter to 54.9% this quarter. Good news for commercial radio then? Well, not exactly. Because commercial radio’s share dropped from 42.1% to 42.0%. Pretty marginal, but there you are.

Hang on. If both the BBC and commercial radio fell, what’s happening? Well “Other radio”, non-RAJAR stations and any other listening recorded in RAJAR diaries, has actually jumped this quarter to its biggest ever share of 3.1%.

Shares

It must be said that not every station is on RAJAR. There are small local services for whom it’s either too expensive or simply not relevant. There are specialist radio services like Fun Kids, the audiences of which, RAJAR cannot easily measure. And there are a plethora of community stations with more switching on all the time. Added to this there are internet services – either in the UK or beyond. Exactly which of these might be driving that “Other” figure isn’t clear.

RAJAR doesn’t measure on demand listening via iPlayer Radio or other apps. It also excludes “radio” services like Spotify and Rdio. If they can spot it, they’ll exclude it. So those services shouldn’t be contaminating the sample.

The growth in “Other” listening is interesting though, and it will be a number worth watching.

London

The big news in London is that Heart has finally reversed the flow of its listeners. Last quarter it had the lowest reach and hours it’d had in its history. What’s changed in a quarter – I couldn’t say. There was a big Heart TV campaign, but some of that was in Q4 2013 as well I believe. Either way, reach has bounced back up 16% to 1.8m. Hours have jumped incredibly – up 50% to 11.4m, its best since Q3 2011. I’d suggest that last quarter – painful as it must have been – was a statistical “blip”.

Capital, however, has taken a bit of a hit, with an 11.5% fall in reach and 6.8% drop in hours. They’ll be looking for a good quarter two as everything is built around its Summertime Ball with acts now announced and tickets sold out. In its second quarter as Capital XTRA, the station previously known as Choice, has also dropped in London, down 12.6% in reach and 32.2% in hours. In London there was something of a backlash amongst the black community with papers like The Voice angry at the rebranding. Nationally Capital XTRA has done better though, up 5% in reach and hours. So London notwithstanding, Global will probably be happy.

Kiss 100 was broadly flat in London reach, but up 10% in hours (although it fell a bit nationally). But Magic had an excellent result in the capital, up 10.6% in reach and 15.9% in hours.

LBC has been coming off a strong recent period, now broadcast nationally on DAB (not in this period though) and winning The Special Award at Monday’s Radio Academy Awards. It also had a decent result in London this quarter up 5.6% in reach and 11.0% in hours.

All of which means that Magic is now number one in London commercially in terms of reach, while Heart in number on in hours. But it’s a tight race at the top, and I’d expect those positions to keep changing.

Breakfast

At breakfast Radio 1 will be disappointed to see Nick Grimshaw fall 7.0% to 5.9m, especially after last quarter which looked like he was turning the corner a year in. And pretty much everyone in radio will be disappointed that Chris Evans is up a fraction – 0.2% – because even a fraction for Radio 2 is an entire breakfast show for another station.

Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio (and across its network of stations) has had a good quarter – up to just under 1.5m, his second highest ever figure.

In London, many stations have had disappointing results with Capital, Kiss, Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 4, 5 Live and Talksport all losing listeners at breakfast. In particular, Capital has had a very poor result, down 22.4% on the previous quarter for Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon. But such has been the performance of the rest of its commercial competitors, that in spite of that fall, it retains its position as number one commercial station in London.

The biggest gain in London comes from Heart – reflecting its overall performance, with Jamie Theakston and Emma Bunton up 27.7% on the quarter. Christian O’Connell has done very well in London up 17.4% on the quarter, while Neil Fox at Magic has also had a good set of results, with a 9.3% increase. Nick Ferrari has also put on 8.0%.

And just so we’re all clear, even with an 8.2% fall this quarter, the biggest breakfast programme in London is, of course, Today with 1.8m listeners, followed by Chris Evans with 1.4m – and that’s despite each of them losing around 160,000 listeners this quarter.

Digital

Digital listening continues to be on the move, with 36.6% of all radio listening being via a digital device, up from 36.1% last quarter. While DAB leads the way accounting for 23.7% of listening (up 0.3% on the previous quarter), the platform which continues to grow strongly is the internet.

We’re now at 6.4% of all radio listening being via an internet stream – the biggest it’s ever been, and up from 5.8% last quarter. RAJAR can’t tell us what devices were being used, but I’m certain this is being driven by mobile phones and tablets.

Internet Listening

And that’s especially important amongst younger listeners, because this quarter, for the first time, the internet is the biggest digital platform amongst this group, having overtaken DAB. 14.4% of all radio listened to by 15-24s is now via the internet, compared with 14.3% via DAB, 8.7% via digital television and 55.7% via AM/FM.

15-24 Platforms

Bubbles

Finally, it’s an update for my usual bubble charts! Although they’re a bit more viewable on my blog than they used to be, I’d still recommend that you view them fullsize.

National

Note that gone this quarter are the Real Radio brands, Smooth 70s and the national version of Sunrise.

I’d recommend using the larger version of the chart for full details and notes surrounding how these are put together and what you can do with them.

London

There is significantly more data behind the London chart, and hence it may take longer to load. I seem to be doing my level best to break Google Charts here.

The large version of the London bubble chart can be viewed here.

Finally

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

The official RAJAR site
including another nice infographic
Radio Today for a digest of all the main news
Matt Deegan for more analysis
Media UK for lots of numbers and charts
One Golden Square for more Absolute Radio details
Paul Easton for analysis
Media Guardian for more news and analysis
And there are always RAJAR Smilies

Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending 30 March 2014, Adults 15+.

Disclaimer: These are my views alone and do not represent those of anyone else. Any errors (I hope there aren’t any!) are mine alone. Access to the RAJAR data is via RALF from DP Software as mentioned at the top of this post.

Note on Google Charts: I’m not sure what Google has been up to, but while they tinker and update their spreadsheets, they constantly break embedded charts that previously worked fine. I’ve found that lots of charts I had embedded previously and used to work properly are now broken either delivering nothing at all, or a strange chart that doesn’t display the data properly. I’ve even had problems embedding static images of charts hosted by Google. Fortunately, the bubble charts seem to be an exception to this. Consequently many of the other charts here are static images hosted by me. Unfortunately that means that you can’t easily see the data behind them. In due course I feel I’m going to need to find a new way to host charts unless Google really pulls its socks up.

Radio Academy Awards 2014 and a Complete History

Last night at the Grosvenor House in Mayfair, the great, good and a lot of other folk, gathered for the radio industry’s big bash. The awards have changed sponsor – or are in the process of doing so. Like the Perrier Awards and Orange Book Awards, they’re going to take a while to shake off 32 years’ sponsorship by Sony. In the biz, the awards are just called “Sonys” after all.

Anyway, looking down the list of winners, it seems like the judges did pretty well this year.

Radio 2 got Station of the Year, and with seemingly the majority of the population now listening to the station, who can argue with that? Tony Blackburn got the Gold award for more than 50 years on the air. Even today, he broadcasts on multiple stations every week! BBC Tees won Station of the Year (under 1m), and BBC Ulster won the same award for 1m+. So a clean BBC sweep across the three awards.

The Special Award went to the LBC team who put together Call Clegg and Ask Boris. They’ve done great work in utilising those slots to the fullest. I’m sure other stations are insanely jealous (indeed I did hear Vanessa Feltz on BBC London last year, berate Boris for not giving that station enough interviews!).

I must confess not to have ever heard Gem 106’s Sam & Amy, but they beat Radcliffe and Maconie, and Graham Norton to Music Radio Personality of the Year. And they got some other nominations too. Ones to watch? Zane Lowe picked up Music Radio Broadcaster of the Year, while Danny Baker collected Speech Radio Personality of the Year. He may be only on the radio once a week now, but he’s still miles ahead of the rest.

Victoria Derbyshire toughed it out with Jane Garvey and Melvyn Bragg to win Speech Radio Broadcaster of the Year, while Best Interview of the Year went to Winifred Robinson’s interview with Ralph Bulger.

The Capital Breakfast with Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon won Breakfast Show of the Year (10m+) beating 5 Live and BBC London, while Iain Lee won the same award (under 10m) for his BBC Three Counties show.

Interestingly, the excellent Frank Skinner Show (from Absolute Radio, my previous employer) won Best Speech Programme of the Year, beating the also very fine Digital Human and Call Clegg. I imagine some will be a little “put out” that Frank is considered a speech programme, but there’s not a great deal of music actually in the show.

Eddie Mair’s reign-supreme continues with PM winning the Best News and Current Affairs Award. The question now is whether he replaces Paxman as part of the Newsnight roster. With one or two shows a week, he might just be able to double up with Radio 4.

I’m delighted that the team at Absolute Radio won the best use of Branded Content (hate that phrase) for the Wickes sponsorship. Really clever integration into the show – aided and abetted by an excellent and understanding client. KISS won the Best Station Imaging Award beating TeamRock and Radio 2.

The guys at One Golden Square will be delighted to win Radio Brand of the Year, ahead of sister brand KISS UK and Global’s Capital. A fine testament to all the work they’ve done. Absolute Radio also won the Best Technical Innovation award for InStream. Congratulations to the great team who built that (And yes, I’m aware InStream also won a Bronze in last year’s Multiplatform Award. No, I don’t know the criteria for either award).

I was delighted that BBC Radio Lincolnshire won the Best Creative Innovation for #Lipdublincoln. The resulting video makes me smile every time I see it. Seriously – go away and watch it now if you’ve not seen it before.

Finally here, I’m going to mention that The Secret World won the Best Comedy award for Radio 4 – one to check out for me. And The Morpeth Carol won the Best Drama award beating Sir Tom Stoppard into second place with Darkside for Radio 2, based on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

I believe that you’ll be able to hear either excerpts or complete programmes for a limited time on the Radio Academy’s website. That’s important because many programmes are regional and even in a world where we have the Radioplayer, once they’re gone, they’re often gone for good.

I do think these awards don’t properly celebrate podcasts. While an individual podcast can be entered into relevant award categories, these are categories that have been defined by radio formats and broadcasting. So in many cases it means shoehorning your podcast in. While a general “podcast” category can mean comparing very diverse types of programmes, when there was a previous podcast award it did put the spotlight on some very different programmes that would have struggled otherwise.

The full list of awards is here on the Radio Academy’s awards website.

On that website, you can see the winners back to 2010. And about a year ago, I published a piece that looked back on the full history of the awards. That’s because I laboriously scanned in a paper printout of every award winner since the awards began in 1983. From the piece last year:

This was not an insignificant undertaking, taking many hours. I used that paper list, some bulk scanning, OCR-ing, and a lot of manual correction. And I had to wrangle all that data into some kind of sensible and useful format. You can understand why I’ve been “sitting” on that list for quite some time. However, I’ve come to the point where I’m happy with my database.

But I can’t be certain, and there may be errors in it.

I may have transcribed something wrongly, or I may be missing data. I’ve tried to put stations into groups, but that’s not necessarily completely accurate since ownership structures change (and I’m therefore avoiding summarising wins by groups accordingly).

Stations change names too – sometimes quite a great deal. I’ve used the names as they were originally stated aside from some cleaning up to overcome “branding” exercises. So once it had been given the “Live” soubriquet, I’ve called it “BBC Radio 5 Live” rather than “BBC Radio Five Live” as it was known for a while. On the otherhand BBC Radio 5 continues to exist on its own. I’ve tried to be consistent with uppercase “FM”s even when there were phases when marketing departments loved the lowercase “fm”.

But do let me know if you spot any howling errors once I put the whole thing up.

I can’t claim to be an expert on the Sony Awards. I’ve only watched from afar, and have little detail about how they’re run and judged. But for most of their history, Gold, Silver and Bronze awards have been made in most categories. The exceptions tend to be the “big” awards such as the various “Station of the Year” awards where only a Gold is handed out. Runners up are simply “Nominees” in those instances.

However in the data that I was able to collate, I only have a note of the Gold awards for the first couple of years. It may be that on a single winner was handed out per category at that time. I’m not sure. But it’s only in 1985 that I have a note of Silver and Bronze awards as well.

And aside from some commendations, I only have details of the full lists of nominees and not just winners, from 2000. So there are probably quite a few nominees missing.

Today if you visit the official website, there are enormously full lists of every producer and assistant responsible for any nominated show. But that certainly hasn’t been the case for all that long, at least in the records that I’ve obtained. I’ve collated a “Production” category, but with the exception of a few IRNs and BBC Externals, it’s only from 1992 onwards that a few independent production companies’ names start creeping in. Around the same time, some BBC department names, and notably, commercial radio news teams, get credited for productions.

Of course these aren’t in any way consistent over time. In particular, BBC internal departments seem to be named according to the whim of whichever individual put the entry in. And that’s before you take account of those departments regularly changing names semi-regularly.

It’s also not always clear whether a person has received a Gold Award for their work in either BBC Radio or commercial radio, or just radio in general. Sometimes the person has only worked in one place, but these days many have stepped across the line, and may well have started out on commercial radio. Either way, some awards aren’t categorised as either BBC or Commercial wins.

Because Google Charts has broken all the embedded information I put up last year, I’m updating all the charts to include the 2014 awards.

And I’m also publishing the full list, as it seems a shame to sit on it. Hopefully a few people will find it useful. I imagine, if somebody has the time, it’d be nice to populate Wikipedia with the winners that’d be very useful.

The only thing I’d ask is that you reference me as an intermediary source, since I did the data collation. And in any case, if there are any mistakes, then it’s my fault!

A Google Doc with the full list of winners and many nominees is here.

What now follows is a revised update to last year’s piece:

Richard Park won Local Radio Personality of the Year on Radio Clyde in the very first Sony Awards back in 1983. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Other things to note from that very first set of awards: Terry Wogan won Best Popular Music Programme, while Woman’s Hour won Best Magazine Programme and The World This Weekend won Best Current Affairs Programme. So some things in radio never change.

Radio Active won Best Light Entertainment Programme, and Sue MacGregor and Brian Johnston won, respectively, Female and Male Personalities of the Year.

It must be said that 1983 was fairly dominated by the BBC. Only Piccadilly Radio, Radio Clyde, both with two awards and Essex Radio and Radio City, each with one, broke the stranglehold.

The other Radio Clyde award, though, was for Best Actress reminding us that once upon a time, commercial radio did actually do drama!

The number of drama awards has decreased over time, but I can’t help noticing that having Best Actor and Actress categories did allow some very big names to win awards and, one would imagine, add some glamour to some evenings. Glenda Jackson, Joss Ackland, Tim Piggot Smith, Jane Asher, Anna Massey, Patricia Routledge, Ronald Pickup, Alan Rickman, Juliet Stevenson and Billie Whitelaw all won awards during the first few years of the Sonys.

One of the things people often note about the Sonys is the number of awards. This chart suggests that they’re probably right (although any joint awards are double-counted in this instance). In 2013 the number of awards fell a little, but has now jumped back.

chart1 (1)

But how do those awards breakdown between the BBC and Commercial Radio?

chart2 (1)

Well clearly, the awards are more level pegging these days, and the gap is being closed. As I mentioned, the “unstated” are simply awards made to people above and beyond BBC or Commercial considerations. There have also been the odd joint award between BBC and Commercial that has been ignored here.

If we look at the most successful stations over time, there’s one thing that stands out – Radio 4 has a lot of Sonys.

chart3

(Note that I have consolidated same named stations, but if they significantly rebranded over the years such as Virgin Radio to Absolute Radio, Piccadilly to Key, or even BBC Radio 5 to BBC Radio 5 Live, there are two sets of numbers).

Radio 4 of course has natural advantage. It’s the biggest budget station in the country, and in some award categories, it’s the majority player (sometimes only player). I strongly believe that the award categories are right and a station shouldn’t be penalised for either its success, its excellence or the fact that others struggle to compete is some areas – or simply choose not to.

Anyway, Radio 4 does seem to be winning slightly fewer awards each year over time.

chart4

What else does a deep dig reveal?

Radio City does well in the early years with Clive Tyldesley winning on a couple of occasions for sport. These days, he’s ITV’s lead football commentator.

The Local Radio Personality of the Year in 1985 was Allan Beswick on Red Rose Radio. 28 years later, he’s still in the north west, now presenting breakfast on BBC Radio Manchester. In 1985, Beswick pipped James Whale to the post – Whale won a silver for his Radio Aire show.

And yes, we do still remember the short stint when it was simulcast on ITV!

From the start there had been an award for Local DJ of the Year. But clearly that discriminated against Radio 1 presenters. So in 1986 the National DJ of the Year category was invented. The problem was that it became an exclusive competition between Radio 1 jocks. I guess that theoretically Radio 2 presenters might have entered, but they probably didn’t even consider themselves “DJs” at that time.

In 1987 Mike Smith won Gold, doing the double in 1988 (by which time it was sponsored by Smash Hits). In 1989 and 1990 Bruno Brookes won, before Simon Mayo won in 1991 and 1992. So while it wasn’t quite simply a reflection of who was presenting the Radio 1 breakfast show at the time, it was a good indicator.

It wasn’t until 1989 that an award for the Best Breakfast Show was first introduced. The initial award saw Les Ross beat Chris Tarrant and Dave Bussey to the Gold.

In 1991 Network Africa on the BBC World Service for Africa beat Chris Tarrant to the Gold in what must have been an extraordinary decision to have to make. Perhaps it wasn’t then surprising that by 1992 the award had been broken up into music and speech based categories.

But by 1993, the INRs had begun to launch with Classic FM first out of the blocks. In a curious amendment to the breakfast show awards, music was further split into “contemporary music” and “non-contemporary” music. Somehow Classic FM managed to win Gold and Silver in that category. “Non-contemporary” only lasted another year before the award reverted to a simple speech and music delineation.

In the early years, split awards were relatively frequent. But sometime in the last ten years or so, stricter rules seem to have been applied, and there’s only one winner per category nowadays. In any case, the rules were clearly a little arbitrary before. Sometimes if two Golds were handed out, then there’d be no Silver and just a Bronze. But other times, essentially four stations would be handed awards.

By the start of the 1990s following the split of AM and FM into separate services on local commercial radio, we begin to see the “Gold” services win awards. Piccadilly Radio 1152 and Capital Gold were early winners.

Lots of names of stations that are no longer with us. London Talkback Radio anyone? (It was one of LBC’s myriad of ill-fated name changes in the late 80s and early 90s before they sensibly returned to calling themselves LBC).

The first Station of the Year award was made in 1989 when BRMB won, beating BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio Foyle. What’s odd is that there was no national station of the year until later. I assume that’s because it’d have been a competition between BBC stations – a clearly impossible comparison that perhaps the BBC wasn’t keen to make. Again we had to wait until just before the INRs started in 1992/3 for Wear FM to win an overall “Station of the Year” award beating out Clyde 2 and BBC Radio Newcastle. LAter, of course, delineations between station sizes were made.

From the beginning of the Sony’s there was clearly a need to make some “Lifetime Achievement” types of awards to longstanding people within the radio industry. I’d have thought that “Lifetime Achievement” might have been a good title. But no, the title chosen that just tripped off the tongue was “Sony Gold for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Over the Years.”

Yes – “Over the Years!”

The winners, however, were rather fine. Between 1983 and 1990 awards were handed to Frank Muir and Denis Norden, David Jacobs, BFBS, John Timpson, The Archers, Gerard Mansell (who created Radio 4), Tony Blackburn and Roy Hudd.

They later came up with better names for the award, and today we know it as The Gold Award.

Categories have been and gone in the Sonys. Quite a lot in fact. I don’t think a single category has been unchanged in the history of the awards.
1991 saw the last Children’s Programming Award at a time when BBC Radio 5 was one of the few places children could get radio. These days it’s either Fun Kids or the internet of course.

And the Internet Award ran from 2007 until 2012, but has been scrapped this year, not a popular move amongst podcasters who now have to compete in the main categories should they choose to enter.

We did have the first “Brand of the Year” Award last year of course – something which I’m sure listeners will be very excited about.

If you talk to anyone about talent in UK radio, then a couple names show up all the time: Kenny Everett and John Peel.

So how kind have the Sony’s been to them over all that time?

During the time that he could have won Sony Awards, Everett was broadcasting with Radio 2, Capital Radio and Capital Gold (after they split frequencies) through until 1994. But the first award he got was a Bronze in 1991 for his Capital Gold show for Best Sequence Programme (Jeff Owen on BBC Radio Nottingham won Gold, with John Dunn’s Radio 2 show getting the Silver). Then in 1994, as his broadcast career ended he was given the “Gold Award for Outstanding Contribution to Radio Over the Years.”

And that’s it. He’s actually won more posthumously – with a further three based on archive material.

John Peel has had a longer radio career starting with the birth of Radio 1 and continuing with the BBC until his untimely death in 2004.

Peel won his first award in 1986 picking up the first National DJ of the Year. But it was another seven years before he won National Broadcaster of the Year in 1993. He then had to wait until 1999 when he won Silver for Talk/News Broadcaster of the Year and Gold for Home Truths. Home Truths also won Gold for Short Form Audio that year as well as the Weekend Talk/News Award.

He was nominated for Home Truths as Speech Broadcaster of the Year in 2001, and won The Gold Award in 2002.

In 2007 he posthumously also collected an award – The Broadcaster’s Broadcaster Award.

So Peel was probably more honoured than Everett, although it seems more for Home Truths than his long running Radio 1 music programmes.
I’m probably being a little unfair here as it’s always easier to have twenty-twenty hindsight. But perhaps even our industry doesn’t really appreciate who we have while we have them.

Here’s a nice tough trivia question. Which TV programme won a Sony Radio Award?

It was Blue by Derek Jarman in 1994 which was a Channel 4/BBC Radio 3 simulcast and won a Gold Drama Award. Jarman died in early 1994, probably before he received this award.

Back then few of us would have had stereo TVs, so you could tune in for a fuller soundscape on your FM radio. The picture was simply a blue screen the whole way through (Can you even begin to comprehend Channel 4 doing something like that today?). Blue is available on DVD.

One of my favourite comedy programmes of all time is On The Hour – the radio spoof from Chris Morris, Armando Iannucci et al, that would turn into The Day Today on television. In 1992 it won Silver, and was beaten by a BBC Radio Ulster programme (Perforated Ulster) in the Best Comedy/Light Entertainment Programme category. But On The Hour also introduced the world to Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, and his spin-off series, Knowing Me, Knowing You won Gold the following year. It also headed to TV like so many radio comedies. Alan, of course, gets his own film based around his current station, North Norfolk Digital, later this year.

Virgin Radio got their first award in 1995 – a Silver for Russ & Jono in the “Breakfast Show: Music Based.” They were beaten by Sarah Kennedy on Radio 2. Talk Radio won its first award – a Bronze – in 1996 with “There’s Only One Gary Newbon” in the Response to a News Event category. Quite what that event was, I don’t know.

The 1996 “Breakfast Show: Music Based” award is interesting because it features – in order – three Virgin Radio breakfast shows in a row. Gold that year went to Russ & Jono, the incumbents on Virgin. Silver went to the Chris Evans Breakfast Show who at the time was still on Radio 1 (Evans would join Virgin and take over breakfast of course). And Bronze went to the Steve Penk Breakfast Show on Key 103. When Evans was fired by Virgin, Penk stepped in to take over breakfast.

And while I’m talking about Virgin Radio, I can’t help but note that in 2000 it managed to beat Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to the punch, being the first broadcast outlet to give away that much cash. But it still only managed to get a nomination in the competition category. The million pounds was also delivered outside a RAJAR period just to indicate how poorly conceived the plan was!

At the turn of the millennium, another new and interesting development started. In 2001 we got The 2000 Award – going to Terry Wogan. This was followed by the 2001 Award in 2002 and 2002 Award in 2003. Sometime around then, the madness stopped.

While it’s clear that the categories awarded in the Sony’s have been changed over time to make sure that there’s a fairer split across different types of stations, you can’t help feeling that news and speech based breakfast shows always feel that they’re on a hiding to nothing when it comes to The Today Programme on BBC Radio 4.

But is that actually the case? Could it be possible that the excellence and journalistic resource that the programme has works against it? This is a list of all the Gold Awards that Today specifically has won over the last thirty years.

Best Current Affairs 1984, 1989
Best Response to a News Event 1989, 1990, 1994
Best Daily News Programme 1990
Best Breakfast Show: Speech Based 1992, 1995
News Award 1998 (shared)
News Coverage Award 2003
The Breakfast Show Award 2007
News Journalist of the Year 2007 (John Humphrys)
Breakfast Show of the Year 10m+ 2010

That’s only 13 Gold awards which is probably surprisingly few all things considered.

(Note that others may have won awards for work partly carried out on Today, but I’m considering programme specific awards here).

To put this in perspective, I think PM has only won about five specific Gold awards over the same time. And I’ve not even looked at The World at One.

Here’s another piece of trivia. Did you know which ex-editor of The Sun has a Sony Gold? Dominic Mohan has one for a 2003 Virgin Radio special on The Who.

A couple of notes:

I’m not aware that a record of the award winners is in any way copyright, but obviously I do not wish to tread on anybody else’s toes. The awards did for many years belong to Zafer Associates, and they’ve recently been passed over to the Radio Academy. I’m not aware of any value in the data, and most of it is in the public domain (albeit, really hard to get hold of as I’ve said). Finding past BAFTA TV winners isn’t as hard, although even Wikipedia entries trail off in the mid-nineties.

Any errors in the data are mine alone. Please do drop me a note if you find any.

As I said before, at least now some diligent individuals can populate Wikipedia (I can’t be bothered as getting the data this clean has taken me far too long). This data might also be useful for those studying radio and the history of radio. And we can continue to shout from the rooftops about great radio.

[UPDATE: 19 April 2016 – Thanks to Sam Bailey who has converted the sheet linked to above into a Wikipedia page, instantly making all these old winners much more visible and searchable!]

Women’s Tour of Britain – Stage 4 – Cheshunt to Welwyn (via Hertford)

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-3

In spite of the decidedly uncertain weather prospects, I headed out to Hertford this morning for the fourth stage of the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour of Britain. Hertford constitutes “on my doorstep” in terms of these things, and the obvious place to go was on the climb out of Hertford. I got there unnecessarily early along with one or two other people. But by the time the peleton arrived it was a really good crowd on the steeper part of the climb. And it wasn’t even all that wet!

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-5

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-7

Then it was a cycle cross-country to Welwyn Garden City – thanks to the two Southgate CC members who gave me a tow with my camera and monopod on my back – and a search for a good vantage point for the final stretch into Welwyn. I settled on the stage’s only other climb, although “climb” seems a little loose. It was a just a 1km drag really, although granted it’d hurt more at the end of a day’s racing.

I shot these low down, choosing the side of the road I thought the riders would come up. Everyone else was on the other side. I made the right choice!

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-10

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-12

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-19

Women's Tour of Britain - Stage 4 - Cheshunt to Welwyn via Hertford-20

A few more photos over on Flickr.

Here’s a slow motion video of the riders passing as they raced into Welwyn:

Super Slowmo of Cyclists – Women’s Tour of Britain from Adam Bowie on Vimeo.

The rain mostly held off for the racers. It wasn’t so kind for my ride home…

Women’s Tour of Britain – Stage 2 – Bedford

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-1

On a fairly wet Thursday, I travelled up to Bedford to see the end of the second stage of the inaugural Friends Life Women’s Tour of Britain. Such has been the paucity of strong events (and lack of equality with the men), that this is already a contender for the biggest stage race in the women’s calendar! One way or another, with strength in depth among British women, and a lot of very strong international teams including the phenomenon that is Marianne Vos, this was a very strong field.

Stage 2 started in Hinckley and at 119km was the longest of the five stages in this year’s tour. Despite – or perhaps because – of the very wet weather, the peleton was moving fast and came in slightly ahead of the mid-schedule. What was very surprising was that a pair of Italian riders, Rossella Ratto and Susanna Zorzi, were able to hold off a chasing peleton for 65km in the case of Ratto. A superb piece of racing given that timing updates I was seeing via Twitter suggested that the two riders must be caught. In the end there was a 6 second gap until third place Vos came in.

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-3

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-4

The riders looked muddy and wet as they came past where I was standing at about 400m to go in the final corner. But there was a great crowd out with lots of locals coming out to cheer on the cyclists as well as countless school kids. A particularly good effort in spite of the weather’s worst attempts.

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-12

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-14

Women's Tour of Britain 2014 - Stage 2-15

The only negative thing I heard all day was the manager of a Costa Coffee I popped into afterwards (Costa is a sponsor). He’d had to send home extra staff that he’d got in because he thought it would have been busier. However he believed that the weather had put paid to that.

I fear that the wet-weather gear is going to be needed for the rest of the event, but I’ll be out on Saturday, hopefully seeing the race go by in both Hertford and Welwyn.

A few more pictures over on Flickr.