The UK Radio Aid Question

The earthquake that the people of Haiti experienced nearly a week ago now was horrific, and it’s wonderful that at time of writing the appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee has reached over £23 million.
Following the Asian tsunami on Boxing Day 2004, UK Radio Aid was a telethon of sorts that took place a few weeks later to raise money from the listeners of UK commercial radio. Most stations in the country took the programming from London, and according to the event’s Wikipedia page, more than £3 million was raised.
This morning, following suggestions from various people on Twitter, Radio Today published an opinion piece asking whether it was perhaps time for UK commercial radio to run UK Radio Aid 2.
The piece was written by Justin Kings, a radio consultant. He followed the piece up with an update to say that UK Radio Aid 2 would not be happening.
A polite email from Global’s Group News Director and PD of LBC, Jonathan Richards detailed why he felt that it wasn’t right at this time. Richards pointed out that Global was running DEC advertisements across its network of stations and that this was helping the DEC’s overall success in raising money. Given that Global is such a large part of commercial radio, its participation in a second telethon would have been essential.
Of course Global isn’t the only group running the advertisements. Since the advertisements were recorded at the end of last week, most of commercial radio seems to be playing them – voiced by John Hurt. Many stations are also running web advertising. The same is true for most other commercial media outlets who are giving up space and airtime.
I must admit that I agree with Richards and believe that while UK Radio Aid may have had an impact at the time, we wouldn’t be repeating it for entirely the right reasons.
It’s no secret that I have very mixed feelings about telethons in general. I suppose that I’m happy to put my misgivings to one side if I felt that they make a difference. I think that some of the major television telethons do make that difference. But they’re events that tread a very fine line; and sometimes they overstep that line coming across as crass and self-congratulatory.
There was undoubtedly an element of that in 2005 UK Radio Aid, with certain individuals perhaps being a litle bit too happy about being seen to be doing something.
Radio stations should certainly encourage their listeners to part with their cash and support the appeal. But is it really appropriate for a local station to take a service from London featuring “star names” that has little or nothing to do with that station’s locality? Even in a radio world of networked centralised programming, I’m not sure that it is.
Then there are the big name guests who might not be directly promoting their latest films or CDs overtly, but are benefiting in some way in kind.
Perhaps it’s the British sensibility at play here. In the US on Friday, most major broadcasters, including all the networks, will be airing a two-hour telethon backed by George Clooney. That might well get US citizens to donate when they might otherwise have not, but I’m not sure it’ll make a great deal of difference to British citizens.
Again, as regular readers will know, I find plenty of other charity work unsettling and unseemly. Why do we need a charity single? Can we not just give a couple of quid to charity without stroking popstars’ egos? Do I really need a badge or a ribbon to show my support? Can’t we save manufacturing costs of that t-shirt and just use all my cash?
Returning to radio – many stations do excellent work for their own charities and they fit that in well with their regular output. Listeners appreciate it. UK Radio Aid last time around didn’t really do that in my opinion, and stations would be better adopting their own ways to encourage listeners to give.
An aside: this disaster has taken place in January – a month in which many people find themselves short of spare cash following Christmas. Perhaps a campaign to get people to promise to donate once they’ve received their pay packet would be a good idea? Yes – the money is needed now. But it’s also going to be needed for many months and years to come.