Chris Evans

Virgin Radio

At this point, everyone in the industry and beyond has written about the seismic UK radio events of yesterday, when Chris Evans, presenter of the biggest breakfast show in the country, on the biggest radio station in the country, decided to leave after 8 years on breakfast there. Instead, he will take up the mantle at Virgin Radio, a station so small that the smallest shows on the Radio 2 network outperform it.

I’d encourage you to go away and read Matt Deegan, Phil Riley and John Myers.

I’ll try not to duplicate what they’ve said here, although some of that will be unavoidable. 

Let’s take it in steps.

A Massive Gambit for News UK

This is unquestionably an enormous play from the UK’s (distant) 3rd biggest commercial radio group. News UK bought Wireless Group back in 2016. The group had just made bold expansion plans when it launched a number of services on the new second national digital multiplex earlier that year. They added TalkSport 2, TalkRadio and Virgin Radio.

[It bears repeating that although this whole story is being painted as a return to Virgin Radio, the Virgin Radio that launched in 2016 is a different beast to the one that I knew so well and launched in 1993. Virgin properties that aren’t wholly owned by Virgin Group (i.e. most of them) are really licencing deals. When new owners came in to buy what was then Virgin Radio in 2008, they decided not to continue the licencing arrangement and the station was renamed Absolute Radio. There are still members of staff in what is now Bauer’s London HQ that worked with Chris back in his previous Virgin Radio stint.]

Since those new stations launched, I think it’s fair to say that they’ve struggled to achieve a real impact. Launching speech stations isn’t easy or cheap – and you need listeners to complete the circle.  The new Virgin Radio struggled to cut through, given that it didn’t have the coverage or the marketing budgets of competitor stations. The growth of digital services has meant more competition in every market segment. Furthermore, these new services were exclusively digital, and a nice FM backbone to a station’s output is still very important if you want to achieve big numbers early on.

Virgin Radio did try to do a few things differently though. They put women in key timeslots which somehow still isn’t as common as it should be. And they hired some interesting and otherwise overlooked presenters, often dovetailing their output with stints on TalkRadio.

Plus News UK’s ownership allowed for promotional crossover. Virgin Radio and TalkSport were regularly advertised and promoted in papers like The Times and The Sun. That said, I’ve said before, I found the creative tired and repetitive, so I’m not sure it has worked as well as the media value might indicate.

The question then is whether that 2016 investment in new services was paying off. So, from press reports, this seems to be Rebekah Brooks’ big play. The News UK exec is definitely swinging big here.

Phil Riley has run the numbers and reckons that Evans may be being paid as much as £3m a year (he was on around £1.6m at the BBC). But you have to add to that other programming costs, and importantly, a significant marketing campaign. Plus you’re going to need other big talent to back Evans up.

The commercial part of this is actually the trickiest bit. Between them, Global and Bauer dominate UK radio. And that means that they manage to take more than their “fair share” of commercial revenues. Wireless Group has its own commercial team, and they can obviously play to their speech radio strengths, but they are at a natural disadvantage. (Smaller commercial groups are at an even worse disadvantage, which is partly why it made sense for Bauer to buy the independently owned Jazz FM recently.)

Now it’s fair to say that prior to being bought by Bauer, Virgin and then Absolute Radio both had the same issue. And when Chris Evans was on breakfast on Virgin, the station was absolutely able to charge, and achieve, a premium. Brands flocked to be part of his show, and breakfast promotions were incredibly expensive and therefore profitable with an audience across the station of around 3m.

But since then, there has been more consolidation in the industry, and getting from 400,000 to 3m seems a colossal ask.

Make no doubt, this is a major play. It’s going to be really interesting to see what happens.

Chris Evans

A big question is why is Evans making this move. It’s undoubtedly bold. He is currently enormously comfortable with the biggest show on UK radio. But perhaps he’s too comfortable?

The whole Top Gear presenting thing didn’t work out, and with the publication of BBC pay levels getting enormous scrutiny, perhaps he just didn’t want the hassle. (It’s perfectly arguable that Eddie Mair made the same decision when he recently decided to leave Radio 4 for LBC.) What you can be certain of is that it’s unimaginable that Terry Wogan would have done such a thing.

But a result of this is that Evans gets a massive pay bump, and less public scrutiny. He will certainly be the best paid person in UK radio.

And never underestimate his need for a challenge. I suspect that his time at Radio 2, at least after the initial period, has been like water off a duck’s back for him. However, this is going to be harder and there’s going to be pressure on him to bring results. But Evans has made a career of doing big and bold things.

He shook up Radio 1, then left when the BBC wouldn’t give him Friday’s off for his Channel 4 show TFI Friday.

When he moved to Virgin Radio, he put together a bid to buy the station, grabbing it from under the noses of another bid from Capital. Then, having sold his equity in it for a massive profit, he was fired from Virgin and lost a massive court case (and a significant amount more money).

While this is not as wild and reckless as some of those other moves, it remains a big move.

Radio 2

How will all of this affect Radio 2? In some respects, nothing will happen. Radio 2 will get a new breakfast presenter and they’ll probably continue to do well. That’s kind of how Radio 2 works.

Who exactly that will be remains to be seen, but Sara Cox is clearly the safest bet, and is the bookies’ favourite. Another option might be to bring forward to breakfast the new Simon Mayo and Jo Wiley show, but I can’t see the field being any wider than that.

Whatever the result, this is a rare opportunity for the station to put more women into daytime – something it has been rightly criticised for lacking.

Digital

One thing that makes this move seem especially interesting is the fact that Virgin Radio is digital only.  The single biggest digital-only radio station is 6 Music with 2.4m listeners, and that’s still a growing station, having taken years to reach that level.

Even with a big name joining them, I think that’s a tall ask, and the growth of the station might take longer than News UK might hope. 

One of the biggest challenges with breakfast is listening during the commute. DAB’s biggest weakness remains the in-car market. While new cars tend to come with DAB, older ones mostly don’t have it, and so in the car your choice tends to be more limited. Listening to Evans isn’t always going to be easy.

The D2 multiplex which Virgin Radio sits on also has less coverage nationally that the first multiplex, and less too than the BBC. Arqiva recently announced that they were extending it, but Radio 2 is much easier to hear digitally in more remote locations than Virgin Radio is.

Ofcom recently closed a consultation about Localness on local radio. That has some really interesting potential ramifications. It could lead to stations like Capital and Heart being able to network most of their output nationally, including their breakfast shows. Currently, there are much tighter rules that limit the number of hours that can be networked and when those hours can be.

Would Wireless Group rebrand its local FM stations as “Virgin Radio” and put Evans across them? Even if they didn’t rebrand every service, they could still run a networked Chris Evans Breakfast Show across those services. That would give the show an FM presence and a bigger breakfast show to sell to advertisers. It’s a thought.

Conclusion

This is by no means a slam dunk from News UK’s perspective. They’re giving their whole radio business a massive shot in the arm. I suspect that being a distant third in the radio market is not somewhere that Rupert Murdoch likes to be. But while the station will achieve significant growth off the back of this, whether the numbers will work in the medium or long term remains very much to be seen.

Note: I’ve been spending a few days away this week with some friends. The place we’re in has a pool and so we were hunting around for inflatables. Wouldn’t you know that one of my friends has been hanging onto Virgin Radio branded beach balls for more than ten years!

Cycle to Work

This is a quick video I shot the other day of my ride to work. Shot with a cheap GoPro Hero 4 Session, I’ve run it through Microsoft’s Hyperlapse application.

I’m not sure that app gets an awful lot of love, despite being really useful for making this kind of video. The stabilisation is immense, even if it can require a reasonable amount of computing power to do a good job.

The ride is about an hour condensed down to two and a half minutes. You’ll note that the first third and the last third are actually pretty good cycling paths and back roads. Only the middle section, from Wood Green to Finsbury Park, is on a main road.

The music is some free music from YouTube.

The One Podcast to Rule Them All

Tom Webster of Edison Research wrote a very good piece on Medium recently to back up a presentation he recently gave at the Podcast Movement conference in the US. The main theme of his piece was about getting to 100 million weekly (i.e. regular) podcast listeners in the US. Currently they are at 48 million weekly listeners, so there are another 52 million to go.

Using Edison’s research, he shows that while 17% of Americans listen weekly, 64% have heard the term. And of that group, 37% of them have never tried to listen. His thesis is that to get to 100 million, we need to understand what is stopping people who have learnt about podcasting as a thing actually going further and listening to one. He has a great video of real people explaining why they’ve not bothered, and of course there are lots of good reasons for that.

Webster’s thesis is that if the right show comes along then people will work out how to get to a podcast. He uses the example of Netflix. They didn’t go around explaining how the Netflix app on people’s new smart TVs or Roku boxes work. Instead they made and marketed Orange is the New Black and House of Cards. People wanted to see those shows and they worked out for themselves how to get to them. Around 50% of US homes now have Netflix, so something is working there.


As an aside, it’s interesting to note that massively popular video game Fortnite has just been released for Android devices. Unlike most apps, the game’s creators Epic have sidestepped Google’s Play Store. They want you to download it direct from their site. In order to do this, users have to jump through some hoops  to allow “sideloading” of the app to their devices. Epic is doing this because they create a direct relationship with games players, and more significantly, they don’t have to pay a 30% commission to Google on every in-game transaction. Epic’s gamble is that players are so keen to get the game that they will educate themselves about how to get it for their device. This is almost certainly true, and backs up Webster’s thesis.


One really good point Webster makes is that the top performing content in the podcast landscape being different to, say, the TV landscape. He shows a screengrab of the iTunes top podcasts which are full of public media and highbrow programmes: The Daily, This American Life, Serial, Pod Save America.

Compare and contrast with the Nielsen top TV ratings which are full of mainstream, or even low-brow shows like The Big Bang Theory, America’s Got Talent, Celebrity Family Feud, Little Big Shots and The Bachelorette.

It’s not that TV doesn’t do lots of highbrow material, but that this isn’t the most viewed. OK, there are comedians in the iTunes charts, and 60 Minutes is in the Nielsen chart, but in general it’s a good point.

Now what I would say is that in recent weeks in the UK, the Love Island: The Morning After podcast did very well, and was fighting tooth and nail with World Cup podcasts when both events were happening. So low-brow can get an outing.

But it does feel, especially in the US, that there’s a certain type of audience that is being super-served, and a mainstream that isn’t.

The question in my mind is whether there could ever be any one “show” that would achieve what is being suggested?

In a recent HotPod, Nicholas Quah wrote a bit of a follow-up to Webster’s piece. He notes that there are at least three potential counter-arguments against the “show” notion: that it’s antithetical to the open publishing medium; that Netflix is a bad example because it controls it own platform centrally, while podcasting can’t; and that there already are shows like Serial, Pod Save America and so on that fill that gap.

Quah isn’t totally sold on any of these counter-arguments, and neither am I. However, I would note that it’s incredibly hard to make a single programme that will cut-through on such a scale that everyone flocks to it. US TV networks spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying, and mostly failing every year. Reality shows like America’s Got Talent, or sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory are the exception rather than the rule.

And since we don’t have figures from Netflix, we don’t actually know how successful House of Cards or Orange is the New Black actually are. We know that at one time or another they’ve been the single biggest shows on the platform, but as Netflix has grown it has developed a very wide roster of programming. Yes there are the big budget awards contenders like The Crown and House of Cards, but there are also reality shows like Queer Eye, and very mainstream comedies.

Recent research from UK regulator Ofcom found that the single most popular show in the UK on any of the streaming services is Friends which is available on Netflix in the UK (and is on the Comedy Central UK TV channel). It had twice the number of streams of the next biggest programme The Grand Tour from Amazon.

Top 20 SVoD programmes in the UK, Q1 2018

I realise that Friends has many more episodes than many of these other programmes, and the chart is sorted by the total number of streams. But it’s notable that a lot of sitcoms and more popular genre programming take up a number of places in the chart. Oh, and kids programmes sneak in at the bottom of the top 20 too.

I would love to know how many listeners to the Love Island podcast  discovered podcasts for the first time with this show. I suspect that a number of them did, since the TV show was such a big summer hit for ITV2. But there are plenty more fans of the show who did not download the podcast, and still haven’t discovered the medium.

Webster also highlights music as a problem. Podcasts really can’t do music. Yes, you get a few podcasts that include bits of music here and there. But they’re probably not licenced to include that music, even if the artist has actually given them permission. Certainly a podcast that promotes new music is unlikely to feel the long arm of the music industry law because everyone realises it’s better for all concerned to let it slide. But that doesn’t mean that it’s strictly legal.

Webster talks about  use of the word “Subscribe” which I know a lot of people find off-putting. Subscribe does normally entail payment of money. But he mentions YouTube who I think have possibly put that idea to bed a little. Many people happily “Subscribe” to YouTube channels and have come to realise that it doesn’t come with any commitment, financial or otherwise. So I think that’s probably the direction things need to go. I believe that for that reason alone, podcasts can continue to use the “subscribe” terminology.

I absolutely do agree that “Subscribe to us on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts” is awful, and there need to better ways to do it. 

For a lot of podcasts it’s actually more like “Subscribe to us on iTunes, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.” That’s even worse because you’re basically disenfranchising anyone without an iPhone, and spoiler alert, that’s most of the world.

So yes, yes, yes, build a website! There are enough website building platforms out there – often advertising on podcasts – that can help you out and get something simple up and running. If you can navigate making a piece of audio, finding a host, learning about RSS feeds, and making your podcast available in places like the iTunes store, then a basic website is well within your grasp!

I do agree that if you make the right show, people will come looking for it. However you can definitely make that journey easier – producing basic guides to how to get a podcast on your phone, or walking your audience through the steps. Having a web home for your podcast helps – those browser streams do count, and they provide you with search engine juice. Discovery is made a bit easier too. I admit that it’s a particular bugbear of mine when someone’s new podcast is promoted solely with an iTunes link.

Podcasting needs a more diverse range of populist, mainstream shows to become a bigger medium – sport and comedy go some way towards this, but  there is more to be done. I don’t believe it’s a single show, because that’s a nirvana that is closer to a moonshot than a commissioning strategy for a nascent medium.  And of course the journey to getting people to a podcast needs to be made easier.

Eddie Mair on LBC

So now we know. Eddie Mair will be taking over drivetime from Iain Dale on LBC, broadcasting 4-6pm Monday to Friday. He settles into his new desk next Monday, while previous incumbent, Iain Dale, shuffles into the evening 7-10pm slot.

Interestingly, this also means that Mair has the “pleasure” of handing over to Nigel Farage at 6pm which is where Farage’s show lands in the new schedule. I feel certain that there won’t be any droll back-handedness to any of those links. (LBC’s late night presenter Nick Abbot was perhaps the master of these. Years ago, at Virgin Radio, when he had the afternoon slot, his handovers were something to behold.)

I think like many others, I had been perhaps anticipating that Mair might move into breakfast, since Nick Ferrari has been doing breakfast shows for an awfully long time now. But Ferrari’s obviously not ready to stop yet, although this safely lines up Mair for such a time as Ferrari is ready to stop. Drive presenters are regularly first in line for the breakfast throne.

A lot will be made of the fact that Mair is up against his old programme, however it doesn’t necessarily follow that thousands of Radio 4 listeners will follow him over the parapets. 

The chart above shows the overall station overlap between Radio 4 and LBC. It shows that around half a million people listen to both stations in any given week. But, perhaps more relevantly, it means that while 24% of LBC’s audience listen to Radio 4, only 5% of Radio 4’s audience listen to LBC, at least in the course of a week.

There will be a myriad of reasons for that disparity, not least that the stations offer very different things. But in part this can also be explained by the loyalty of listeners to both stations.

That loyalty can be measured in a couple of ways. First of all, there are average hours per listener. According to the latest RAJAR and based on 6 month weighting:

  • Radio 4 listeners spend an average of 11.2 hours per week with the station
  • LBC listeners spend an average of 9.6 hours per week with the station

Both of these are high figures. In other words, listeners to those stations love them and spend many hours with them. Every hour they spend with their preferred station, is an hour they’re not spending with another station.

And then there are station repertoires – the number of different stations a listener hears over the course of a week. The lower the number, the more loyal the listener.

  • Radio 4 – 3.4
  • LBC – 4.1

Radio 4 listeners are slightly more loyal than LBC listeners.

If your station has a high listeners per hour figure and a low repertoire figure, you’re in heaven. Your listeners are going nowhere else, and they’re listening to hours of your station a week!

Finally, to examine the overlap between the stations, you can also do something called a Switching Analysis. RAJAR measures when listeners switch from one station to another, or indeed where they turn on and turn off their radios. 

Looking at the data, there’s nothing very conclusive about Radio 4 and LBC listeners. The biggest gain by Radio 4 from LBC comes at 1pm Monday-Friday, when 4,000 LBC listeners switch over to The World at One, and 3,000 come over from LBC for The Archers instead of staying for, er, Nigel Farage.

On the other hand LBC gains 8,000 listeners from Radio 4 at 9.00am when Start the Week, In Our Time etc begin, tuning for the final hour of Nick Ferrari. A further 4,000 head off to James O’Brien instead of staying on for Woman’s Hour.

But these are all trifling numbers in the scheme of things, when you consider the overall respective stations’ sizes.

And Eddie Mair’s new programme on LBC, and PM on Radio 4 are likely to be very different beasts. The LBC show is twice the duration, although it will have to accommodate 10-12 minutes an hour of advertising. LBC doesn’t anything like the resource the BBC’s news operation has, so it’s unlikely that we’ll be hearing very carefully constructed packages from teams of producers and reporters. On the other hand, Mair will have more time for his interviews, and to engage with listeners.

None of this is to say that there aren’t some enormous fans of Mair, so his personality alone is likely to see some giving him at least a trial. LBC would love to gain a few more Radio 4 listeners, even if only for a couple of hours a day. It will be interesting to see how much marketing Global gives LBC to promote their new signing.

And while that awkward 6pm junction when he’ll have to hand over to Nigel Farage is not perhaps a natural one for Mair, the rest of LBC’s daytime output of James O’Brien in the mornings and Shelagh Fogarty in the afternoons, probably makes Mair a natural fit for the early evenings.

In any event, Mair’s show comes at the start of RAJAR Q4, so don’t expect any reports on the relative audience changes until the end of January next year.


Note #1: I do hope Global does something interesting with Mair and a podcast. Although they publish a number, I’m not sure that they’ve fully adapted to podcasting, still earning a few quid selling complete shows behind a paywall. It’s notable that Mair is going to continue to present the BBC’s Grenfell Inquiry podcast until the end of November.

Note #2: Global’s press site is incredibly hard to navigate. It looks like some junior web designer was allowed to run away with themselves building without any thought as to visitors. It’s user unfriendly. I’m pretty sure it’s not accessible. And criminally, it’s not responsive. Seriously – try looking at it on your phone!

Read more on the challenges faced by LBC on this move over at Earshot, where Steve Martin has written more about the issues.

Sporting Value

The new Premier League season is well under way, and it’s at this time of year that the big sports TV players tend to gather up their marketing spends and splash the cash around, trying to persuade those of us who don’t subscribe that we really should be.

BT Sport has an entertaining video of a small girl taking on heroes, promoting BT Sport’s coverage of the Premier League, Champions’ League, Europa, Moto GP and Rugby Union amongst others. Everyone wants to see Gareth Bale “act” after all.

Meanwhile Sky’s ad features an army of literal “armchair fans” as they settle down for the new season of football. It includes their presenting talent in the ad, including Jeff Stelling who was seemingly contractually obliged to appear in every advert on television during the World Cup.

But there’s a new player on the block. No, I’m not talking about Premier Sports who scooped up the rights to the pre-season ‘tournament’ that literally nobody cares about, the International Champions Cup (Seriously, do you even know who won?).

No, I’m talking about Eleven Sports which has just launched in the UK.

Incidentally, I did look to see if they’d made a TV ad. But if they have, I couldn’t find it, and their YouTube page has a grand total of 13 videos, the newest of which is over a month old, and all of which seem to be about the World Cup.

Eleven Sports is a London based company that was started by the Italian businessman Andrea Radrizzani. Hitherto they’ve mostly been active in other territories like Belgium and Poland. But under the management of former BT exec Marc Watson, they’ve been running around snapping up sports rights from under the noses of Sky and BT.

Sky has lost La Liga rights after many years, while BT has lost Serie A games which it has had pretty much since it launched its sports channel. They also grabbed the rights, at least this year, to the PGA Championship which had been floating around for the last year or so after Sky lost them.

These losses come at a time when Sky is about to lose its ATP tennis to Amazon, who have just begun showing this year’s US Open. And the FT reports that BT is going to be losing its NBA and UFC contracts shortly.

The only really good news for the incumbents, BT and Sky, is that as they enter the final year of their current Premier League agreement, their next three year contract starting with the 2019/20 season will be flat in terms of costs. 

But consumers probably need to ask whether they’re getting good value. BT has just put up its fees for BT Sport, while Sky’s went up in April.

Over at Eleven Sports, they’ve done a deal with Facebook to stream some of their output there (Incidentally, when I searched on Facebook for ‘Eleven Sports’ it was the second link I had to click. The first was a Burmese newspaper).

Eleven Sports’ pricing model is either £5.99 a month or £49.99 for the year, and you can get a 7-day trial. But it does all feel a bit rushed. While there is an app, the Android one doesn’t yet have Chromecast (although it’s said to be coming). That’s led to some scathing early reviews. So good luck watching golf balls on a 5″ screen. Watching on mobile is an essential bonus, but that 46″ block of glass in the corner of the living room is much better in overall terms for watching sport on.

In other territories, Eleven Sports has sub-licenced games to other sports providers. Maybe that will happen here, but I can’t see that it’s in either Sky or BT’s interests to give a leg up to a new competitor. So we’ll have to wait and see. Another FT piece says  that neither has bitten yet.

I confess that I’m slightly dubious about how many people will subscribe for La Liga or Serie A. Yes, those leagues have Messi and, now, Ronaldo, but for me they were a nice-to-have bonus. Ex-pat Spaniards and Italians will perhaps seek them out (or use vicarious VPN systems to log into local language feeds). And of course both leagues do have their hardcore fanbases. But is it all sustainable in the longer term?

There must be questions about whether they have overpaid for rights. They claim not to have, and it’s true that Premier League rights increases have left both Sky and BT with less money for other sports. BT is said to be likely to lose both NBA and UFC coverage fairly soon.

On Radio 4’s Media Show last week, Marc Watson talked about how much football Eleven Sports had put out – more than any of the other sports channels. But what is the quality like, and is there an audience for all of it? 

More worryingly a streaming-only option can be a challenging option is significant parts of the UK. I might be able to happily stream 4K* but I know I’m in the relative minority. Streaming is much easier to do when it’s not live. Netflix and the iPlayer team are able to encode very carefully to ensure that the right amount of bandwidth is used on an almost scene-by-scene basis. Fast action requires more data; a slow conversation requires much less. When you move to a live environment, particularly when there is lots of action (so sport by definition), you have the twin problems of needing high bandwidth to capture the action, and the need to encode on the fly in a sub-optimal manner because you’re broadcasting live. Netflix has a whole programme to work with local ISPs around the globe to minimise network traffic, and ensure the best experience for the end user with as little lag as possible. The BBC Research and Development also published a really detailed summary of their 4K trials with Wimbledon and the World Cup over the summer that gets into some of the challenges with live versus pre-recorded. While HD might be easier to do live, the same issues exist.

From an overall consumer’s perspective then, to watch the same sport this season as last season, both BT and Sky have increased their prices well ahead of inflation. Meanwhile they have less sport each, and to get back to the status quo of last season, the consumer needs to spend another £5.99 a month on top of those increases for some sport that they can no longer [easily] watch on their television.

In any event, I’m surprised by how little I’ve heard from Eleven Sports on a consumer basis. While soft-launches are sensible when you’re launching a new streaming platform, the football season is underway now, and they’ve not really started a major consumer marketing proposition that I’ve noticed. Compare and contrast with Amazon’s current marketing blitz for their US Open coverage.

Time will tell.


* I don’t actually, for the good reason that I don’t have a 4K TV.

Hertfordshire 100

Relive ‘A Very Wet Hertfordshire 100 (KM)’

You know how when you check the weather forecast for something, how you totally rely on it? Well that didn’t work out too well for me today.

On Friday, on a whim, I signed up for the Hertfordshire 100, a cycling sportive that begins and ends not too far away from me. I’d not been planning to do anything but although the weather was a little iffy, it seemed that any rain wouldn’t start until mid afternoon. Since I’d be leaving around 8.00am, and would be in the saddle for no more than five hours, I should be OK.

The evening before I double checked. Rain wouldn’t come until around 2.00pm. 

So at 7.15am I headed off to the school 11km from me where the ride started. There were maybe 300 riders in total, going off in groups every few minutes. Some of our entry fee was being donated to Helping Rhinos, a charity that takes care of these wonderful animals. Cycling commentator Phil Liggett is a supporter of it, so he was sending us off on our way.

There were three ride options. A 100m ride, a 64m ride and a shorter ride. I was doing the middle. In fact it’s a little over 100km, which is plenty for me, especially as I was riding to and from the course adding another 24km or so (plus a few extra metres when I couldn’t find the school entrance at the start).

It was nippy when I headed out, and I had a race cape jacket bundled up in my cycling jersey. I decided I needed it for the ride to the start as it’s not warm at 7.15am. 

I carried on wearing it for the first part of the ride, since it was still cold. I cursed myself for not wearing a vest and bringing arm warmers. Most sensible riders were in long sleeves. What ever happened to that endless summer?

I finally removed it after the first stop, to discover I was soaking underneath because of sweat. Oh joy. And then the rain came.

From that point on, it really didn’t stop. I put the jacket back on, but it’s only a cheap Decathlon one – by which I mean, one of their base models that they don’t suggest you ride for hours in. 

Why didn’t I bring my fancy Gore breathable jacket? Well, it’s bulkier, and I didn’t think I’d be wearing one. 

Hour after hour went by, and I just powered on regardless. (Incidentally, my Stages Power Meter claims I peaked at 900W which seems remarkable. Closer examination shows that this happened at a short sharp steep hill, and I think I did jump out of the saddle and hammer on the pedals to get over it, because I knew the little hill, and it’s short. But it’s pretty meaningless seeing those measures over short periods.)

I’m glad I didn’t bail on the ride, even if by the end I knew that my rear wheel needs truing – a hidden pothole under some surface water. I managed to avoid any major calamities, which can’t be said for the poor bloke who managed to snap his chain within 500m of the start. 

But next time, I will make sure I’m more prepared for a day in the wet. I spent a long time when I got home, standing under a hot shower getting some heat back into my body.

Screen Printing on Fabric

His Girl Friday T-Shirt

Here are a few recent screen printing pieces that I’ve been making. 

His Girl Friday is one of my favourite films of all time, and I’ve been meaning to make a t-shirt or two out of this for some time.

I’m not sure… I’m certain that these photos don’t do the print justice. For starters, the paint I’ve used is slightly reflective, making it hard to photograph. Also, I need to get a lot better at my product photography! There are plenty of YouTube videos for that.

The Instagram version of the above might look a bit better.

His Girl Friday T-Shirt

This version is even harder to see here, but it looks OK in real life. You can get a better idea perhaps from the original design.

His Girl Friday - Screenprint Design

 

Tour de France 2018 Winner Geraint Thomas

I also made a print to celebrate Geraint Thomas winning the Tour de France recently. Sadly the image doesn’t really work, and I’m not sure that even an cycling enthusiast can tell who it is. The artwork on the computer looks better in my opinion.

Geraint Thomas Tour de France 2018

Finally, something I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I have an awful lot of books, and I seem to buy them faster than I read them. 

In Japan they have a word for this – Tsundoku. I’m always a little dubious about other languages and culture’s words being misappropriated by the English language, but in this instance it appears to be true.

Indeed the BBC recently published a piece on the phenomenon. The piece notes that the word has been used in Japanese since at least 1879, so this isn’t some kind of millennial issue.

I wouldn’t say that I’m a hoarder, but I do seem to be awaiting a vast fortune to come in and allow me to buy a property in which I can properly include my “library.”

It’s also true that podcasts don’t help. Much of my reading is done on my commute, or at least it was until podcasts took over a bit too much. You can only do one or the other. So I’ve been trying to read more on my commute. But I also like to protect my books. I found that I was either re-using bookshops bags quite a lot – particularly if they were more robust. Or I was actually using a small canvas bag that I bought specifically to hold books. I’m one of those annoying people who take the dust jackets off books I’m reading to “protect them.” (I realise that dust jackets are actually supposed to protect books themselves, but I find I just end up with a messed up dust jacket). 

Anyway, that’s all a long way around of why I made these.

Tsundoku Canvas Bags

I like the design although despite printing a few of them, none is perfect. The bags I’m using have a very thin canvas layer that soaks up the paint a little too well. You absolutely have to have a piece of paper or card inside when you’re printing these, and you can see that none of these three examples is perfect. There are another three imperfect ones I’m not showing you. I’m not quite ready to open an Etsy shop selling these!

Fortunately canvas bags are cheap, so these mistakes aren’t expensive. 

And yes, that pile of books is based on an actual photo of a very small proportion of my unread books. I really ought to stop writing here, and get back to reading…

My portfolio of screenprints and related ephemera is on Flickr.

Bauer Buys Jazz FM

Bauer today announced it was buying Jazz FM, which is good news for the continued existence of a musically important station. I imagine that they’ll be squeezing into Golden Square away from their current Margaret Street studios which will save some money. But I suspect that the key thing in this deal is that Bauer’s national sales team will be able to monetise the brand pretty well.

I’m not completely certain who they’re represented by currently, but in the past First Radio Sales has done the job for them. The problem is that as both Global and Bauer have grown, they’ve squeezed out other operators. While Global might have around 45% of the UK commercial market place, they probably demand more. Assume that Bauer does the same, and those not represented by the Global and Bauer sales teams get squeezed.

Jazz is now inside the Bauer tent, and it gets to profit.

As far as the station itself goes, I trust they won’t mess around too much with the current formula. They have 672,000 reach and around 3m listening hours at the moment which are decent. But there might be some envy about how well Smooth is doing. Although it benefits from some good FM transmitters, it brings in 5.6m reach. 

Bauer’s press release sounds like it’s going to be respectful of the format, and that’s a good thing. 

The other interesting thing about Jazz FM is that just over 40% of its listening is via the internet. Bauer notes in its press release that they’ll be using their InStream technology to monetise this, and that should work will with a service with such a strong internet presence.

Overall an interesting move by Bauer, going to show that it’s not just Global out acquiring stations right now.

Overly Mannered Podcast Presentation

I wrote this as a podcast thread last week, but thought it was worth re-visiting a little more here.

If there is one thing I hate in many podcasts (or radio programmes), it’s a presentation style that I would describe as overly mannered.

What I’m talking about is a podcast that’s likely to be scripted, but where the delivery is over-emphasised, often in an attempt to sound empathetic.

There is one podcast – no names, no pack drill – that I’m getting close to stopping listening to at all, because although the subject matter is fascinating, and it explores subjects I’m really interested in, the presenter speaks in such a s-l-o-w deliberate and affected manner that it becomes painful to listen to.

Other examples are those voices that feel like they should instead be reading a story to a kindergarten class. While podcasts are said to always be about telling stories (except that sometimes that’s not true, but we’ll park that thought for another day), they don’t need to adopt the same vocal stylisations of a presenter of Jackanory or Story Time on CBeebies.

This certainly isn’t an attach on scripted podcasts. And nor is it an attack on high production values. I don’t think every podcast should adopt the soundscape that a series like Radiolab creates, but I would certainly not complain about beautiful layered audio.

I think the problem with stilted or unnatural delivery tones stems in part from a kind of ‘learned behaviour’ that almost certainly derives from US public radio. I’m not a historian of US public radio, but I suspect that this kind of delivery has become the standard for many years.

And of course, much of the talent in, especially, the US podcasting sector today, was honed and trained in a US public radio sphere. That’s no doubt changing, but I still feel that a certain tone of voice is what is expected, and so is what is delivered.

To give a related example, consider the Smashie and Nicey characters created by Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse. That trans-atlantic ‘pop-tastic’ style was a vicious take on a generation of pop DJs on British radio who honestly did speak like that. It became the norm until it became a parody of itself. Yes, radio presenters have always ‘turned it on’ to an extent when the mic goes live, but that was an era when presenters were practically making up new personas.

Note that these kinds of ‘learned behaviours aren’t unique to US public radio. In the past the same could be said to be true for many Radio 4 presentation and delivery styles. I think they’re less of a problem now, but I know that some, for example, struggle with the generic delivery of British radio drama.

I’m also absolutely not talking about so-called ‘Vocal Fry’ which some listeners seem to take exception to. You have the voice that you have. I’m talking about speech patterns as much as anything else.

I know that reading from a script can be a challenge. There are elements of annunciation, the forcefulness of delivery and tone of voice to get right. But just because others have a certain tone of voice, it doesn’t mean that those should be adopted by all.

With podcasts in particular, listeners have made a conscious choice to hear the output, and they’re often listening directly via headphones.

I just want podcast and radio presenters to be a little more original, and mostly natural.

Succession

I’ve been keenly awaiting Succession for a while. It comes from Jesse Armstrong who created Peep Show and more recently has done a lot of work with Armando Ianucci on things like The Thick of It and Veep, the latter being from HBO as this is.

What’s interesting is that, simplistically, this is a fictionalised version of the Murdoch family, with a powerful patriarch and his squabbling offspring. And of course, Sky Atlantic, who have an output deal with HBO giving them rights to much of the company’s programming, are in a large part owned by the Murdochs. Indeed right now there’s a complicated chain of acquisitions going on with Disney buying Fox, including its Sky assets, while Comcast tries to buy Sky and sneak it out of Disney’s hands.

I was initially surprised when this big budget drama didn’t instantly appear on Sky Atlantic. Surely they weren’t having cold feet about it? 

It turned out that Sky Atlantic wanted to put the whole series out in one go, so they waited until the end of its US transmission and all the episodes were available. And more to the point, although the series has the venere of being about the Murdochs, it’s somewhat more than that.

As an aside, it was entertaining hearing Matthew Macfayden on The One Show earlier this week, explaining that in the US there were a number of media families.

This is all true, but the Roy family is remarkably similar in structure to the Murdochs. At the head of the family is Brian Cox as Logan Roy – a cracking role. As with Murdoch, he originates from the ‘colonies.’ Scotland in this instance. He’s showing signs of age, and some of his children question some of his decision making. His heir apparent, is Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), the most business focused of the children. The eldest son, Connor (Alan Ruck) is a free-spririted libertarian, spending his time on a farm, not doing a great deal apart from overseeing the company’s annual fundraising gala dinner, and living with sort-of-girlfriend, who he’s sort-of-paying to be his sort-of-girlfriend.

Roman Roy (Keiran Culkin) is a waster who spends his time not taking anything too seriously, but it does mean he gets all the zingers. He’s only really in the business because he’s a son and therefore part of the family. Shiv (Sarah Snook) is the one family member trying to fashion her own career as a political consultant. But she’s still close. Her husband to be is the charmless social climber Tom (fantastically played by Matthew Macfayden), who knows he’s marrying into wealth… and power.

And then there’s Marcia (Hiam Abbas), Logan’s third wife, who’s mysterious background tends to make you wonder if she’s all she seems. 

Waystar Royco, the business that everything revolves around seems to have a publishing arm, a TV arm (including a news channel), a movie studio and a theme park business – the latter being the only bit that Murdoch doesn’t really have.

Given all this, how can anyone possibly equate Logan with Rupert, Kendall and Roman with James and Lachlan, Shiv with Elisabeth, and Marcia with Wendi Deng/Jerry Hall?

In fact, despite the similarities in the familial structures, the series goes off in some slightly different directions. The tone is, for the most part, surprisingly light. This is a soapy cousin of Veep, with many of the cast being caricatures to an extent. Culkin and Macfayden both get to have a lot of fun with their characters, as does Nicholas Braun who plays the dim-witted great nephew of Logan, and being pushed into the family business by his mother. There’s a fantastic scene when Tom takes him on a night out and they end up in a nightclub where Tom steers them up into an exclusive, and entirely empty, VIP section. Learning as he goes, he wonders allowed if it’s sort of like the rest of the nightclub, but without all the fun stuff on the dance floor down below. They sit there drinking from their $2000 bottle of vodka in silence.

But this isn’t solely a comedy, and there are serious questions being asked at times. I won’t spoil the season ending, but it’s played out remarkably well. 

In the end, this is a family drama with set amongst a particularly dysfunctional family. Yes, the setting is all sleek corporate offices and palatial apartments; private helicopters and glossy functions. But they’re the same kinds of rows, just played at a higher order.

I was hooked and can’t wait for season 2 next year.