November, 2012

Radio Festival 2012 – Some Thoughts

During the Radio Festival, I was busily writing some contemporaneous notes about what was happening at the sessions I attended. But these weren’t really a considered view – more, what struck me as interesting or worth repeating at the time I was writing them. Having had a couple of night’s sleep since then, these are a few reflections.
It’s also worth adding that it was only thanks to my employer, Absolute Radio, paying for me to attend that I was able to go. These, however, are my own thoughts.

And so ends another Radio Festival. It’s true, I missed Foot in the Door, but once the PPL Hall of Fame dinner has concluded, it’s time to wind down a bit.
If you’ve never been to a Radio Festival – and this is my fifth – then you perhaps don’t know the make-up. There are some keynotes, some panel sessions, and few other sessions thrown in. There’s a sub-conference in Techcon, and for the most part there are at least two simultaneous sessions ensuring that you always have a choice of things to see.
Techcon is there largely for the IT and engineering communities to discuss the breakthroughs in those arenas. But these days, technology is becoming an integral part of the main conference, so events now actually overlap. Once upon a time broadcasting was pretty straightforward, but today your web strategy can significantly affect how a show is actually put together. I suspect that these boundaries will continue to blur.
It was a good Festival overall, I felt, with more sessions hitting their mark than not. The nature of things is that you can’t see everything, but I saw some really interesting speakers, learnt some useful things, and came away with plenty of thoughts flying around in my head. And of course it’s about meeting up with people, having chats in the corridors and hallways of the Lowry in Salford Quays.
Of the sessions I saw, I especially enjoyed David Joseph from Universal Records. I think he had some fair points to make about commercial radio not supporting new artists to the extent that it might. Yes, they would say that, but I was genuinely surprised how little artists like Ben Howard and Lana Del Ray are actually being played on UK radio considering their relative sales success.
The “Mscore” that RCS is able to derive from data they collect via Arbitron PPMs in the US is fascinating. I still have some issues with that way of collecting ratings, but it’s great that RAJAR is working with Ipsos and their smartphone technology to provide finer granularity of listening data with their Mediacell project – also demonstrated at the festival.
I also thought that Billy Bragg’s John Peel Lecture was absolutely excellent. He had a real focus for what he wanted to say and made some very strong arguments. I didn’t necessarily agree with all them – the national curriculum hasn’t placed enough importance on maths and science. Although keeping the arts on it is important. But even if I wasn’t 100% in agreement, I thought he made a cogent case. And he was right in some areas. In particular he examined the case of Jake Bugg, and how he used his local radio stations to break through. It truly is awful that kids of his age think the only way into the music business these days is through shows like The X Factor.
Frank Skinner was an excellent guest, and being interviewed by his friend Adrian Chiles got the best out of him. And he did talk about radio and its importance in his life.
And of course, the work that Michael Hill and his team have done over a proof-of-concept hybrid radio is truly excellent. I really hope that some of this gets built into an actual retail unit.
The session on speech radio was interesting, although I still fail to understand why there isn’t more commercial speech radio in the UK. I do think that perhaps Global is missing a trick not rolling LBC out nationally. While the “L” does indeed stand for London, I know that the name “Capital” also means London, and that doesn’t seem to matter to people around the rest of the country. I don’t think it’d take a lot of tinkering to make it a national station.
While I respect Talksport’s Moz Dee’s concern that commercial speech shouldn’t just be about phone-ins, there’s still surprisingly little speech available. While London’s RAJAR figures are little unstable, the fact that LBC is currently bigger than Heart London should at least provide some food for thought. Speech isn’t easy to do, and isn’t cheap, but I’m convinced there’s still room for more than 5 Live and Talksport.
The award for fieriest panel of the Festival must surely go to #IsAnyBody listening. Roger Bolton was not a happy man. In particular a video featuring manufactured controversy to publicise the launch of Absolute Radio 60s really roused his ire; as much as anything because so many media organisations had given it publicity. I would point him in the direction of Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News and what he coins to be “churnalism.” I think the session got slightly sidetracked on a couple of occasions. That said, I thought what a woman in the audience noted of the Today Programme Facebook page – there’s no engagement with programme makers – was really enlightening. Not so much in relation to that programme in particular, but any station working in the social media sphere.
I know I missed some good sessions that others told me about including Bruce Daisley’s Twitter session. Fortunately he came into present to the Absolute Radio sales team recently, so while I’m sure he some new stuff for the festival, I do know what an excellent presenter he is. People also said that Ben Cooper from Radio 1 was well worth listening to. I’m impressed at what he’s up to, giving the station a refresh with the new breakfast show and pushing a couple of the old guard out. That said, I thought Miranda Sawyer on this week’s Media Guardian podcast had some good points to make about music becoming a bit more ageless. But even though breaking people up on age might be hard at times, Radio 1 does need to serve a youth audience. If it doesn’t, then the medium will die. It’s as simple as that.
I sometimes have problems with panel sessions, and one thing the Festival sometimes struggled to do was open up the conversation to everyone attending. Sometimes that was due to time constraints, but in other cases it can be down to people not keeping to time. I do have a bit of a bugbear with panels where each member gets to talk for a few minutes, usually with the help of PowerPoint or a video, and invariably they all overrun. That leaves the panel’s host less time to get into a proper discussion. And all too often that meant either no time for questions from the floor, or perhaps just time for a single question.
I think that panelists should not need to use any props to get their points across. If you’re running a presentation, then perhaps you need your own session. I don’t want things to be overly simplified, but we need to be realistic about how much can be covered in 50 minutes.
That all said, the best discussion I saw came off the back of The Sound Business Case For Women panel where there were some indubitably strong feelings in the room (only 14 men according to a Tweet), but it was a good debate. The conversations actually developed as the discussion continued. It was all really quite involving.
I should add that while I’m writing this immediately after attending the Radio Festival, I’m actually talking as much about any conference as this one in particular.
If I had a few criticisms (and perhaps I should be a little wary here since my boss was chair of the Festival committee this year!) it’s that there were probably one too many “senior person in the industry talks about why they’re so good sessions.”
To be fair, I tried to avoid these, so not having sat in the room, I might have missed some gems. And I’m not saying that there’s nothing to learn in these sessions, but I think I probably prefer looking forward to looking back. I want a speaker to say something bold.
Reading the reports of Fru Hazlett’s speech (which I missed), she had a bit of that about her. And as I mentioned above, in the John Peel Lecture on Monday night, Billy Bragg certainly took the ball and ran with it. I want someone to stand up and make a call to arms – a declaration. I want them to tell me where they think the industry is heading – tell us what we’re doing wrong, or what we should be doing. While anecdotes are great, personally I’m looking for something a bit more meaty at a conference.
And it’s always great to actually hear some radio. Yes your TV ad is great. But do we really need to see another video? Invariably videos are too long anyway. But there were relatively few actual radio clips.
I really enjoyed Vicki Blight’s interview with Steve Lamacq because it was punctuated on occasion with extended extracts of some favourite or relevant tracks. A really nice idea. It was almost as though he was being interviewed for Desert Island Discs, where as Frank Skinner later expressed to his delight, they truly play the whole record when you’re recording the show, even though it’s often tightly edited for broadcast. Similarly we heard a lovely three minute excerpt of an edition of RadioLab to illustrate that programme in a later session. Let’s have some belief in the audio that we make – it really can engage an audience in a big room as much as in a small one. And unlike many radio conferences, the audio facilities here were excellent.
Don’t be scared of radio. It is what we – as an industry – are good at after all.
Finally I should just praise Mark Radcliffe, Stuart Maconie and Margerita Taylor who acted as room hosts. They’re just so good. Margherita Taylor in particular is just incredibly professional and can speak without any kind of notes.
What would I like to see next year? I think we’re a little light on international faces and ideas. Perhaps even from somewhere that doesn’t predominantly broadcast in the English language? Yes – there’s RadioDays Europe, but relatively few of us get to attend international conferences compared with those who can make the Radio Festival.
Data is going to become key in a lot of industries and radio will be no different. I’d like to see some examples of what can be done with that. I also think that it’s inevitable that there’ll be more technical aspects to the Radio Festival as the way we listen changes.
And the single best thing about the Festival? The WiFi! It worked flawlessly. And as some people noted, there was better connectivity in the Lowry than most have at home. Congratulations to all concerned for getting that up and running. Now if the Lowry theatre could be persuaded to sprinkle a few more plug sockets around their building…
Congratulations to Margherita Taylor, Helen Mayhew, Danny Baker and Sandi Toksvig on all being inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame.
And because I recorded it, here’s Peter Kay “inducting” Danny Baker:

Finally, on an entirely different subject (although clearly it ran as an undercurrent throughout the entire Radio Festival), can I heartily recommend this week’s Media Show on Radio 4 for a much more measured take on the whole BBC issue at the moment. I’ve not attempted to write too much about it here, even though I have some fairly trenchant views on the matter, largely because I don’t know the full facts.
But that obviously doesn’t prevent some others from saying what they like regardless. When the news broke around 9pm on Saturday that the Director General was resigning, there was immediate live coverage on the news channels. And of course the people who made themselves immediately available tended to be people with knives to dig into the BBC in general. In the next few hours and days, there was a lot of ill-considered nonsense spoken about.
So it was rather refreshing to hear some genuinely measured and considered views on the whole mess and what it really means. In particular I found John Ware’s involvement compelling. He’s a journalist I’ve always respected, and he’s right to put things in perspective. When that edition of Panorama on the original Savile/Newsnight fiasco aired, I too thought that it was far too flip of John Simpson (someone else I admire) to rush to say that it was the worst crisis to ever hit the BBC. Ware was right to call him out on that. Indeed it was odd at the time that was practically Simpson’s only contribution to the whole programme.
Anyway, the guests were all considered in their views, and while I might not have agreed with them all, I couldn’t claim that they didn’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. I think it was right too that utter distractions like the DG’s payoff were avoided. That really isn’t the story; although at times you’d have been hard pressed to avoid that impression.

Radio Festival Day Two

Apologies for any typos in these notes. I’ll tidy things up later…
The excellent Margherita Taylor – due to be inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame this evening – is once again hosting room 2 at the Lowry in Salford.
But the first session in the room was on speech radio. Colin Pattinson (the world’s best Shelagh Fogerty impersonator) was talking with Jane Ellison (Radio 4), Moz Dee (Talksport), Jonathan Wall (Five Live) and Ian Collins (LBC).
Jane Ellison gave us a montage of one day’s Radio 4 output and talked about what she found important about Radio 4. We heard some clips from Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America, a very comprehensive and wonderful archive of which has just recently been placed online free to all. She concluded with a clip of The Infinite Monkey Cage.
Then we moved to Moz Dee who introduced us to Talksport, with another montage of their output – somewhat in contrast to what we’d just heard. Interestingly Moz says that it’s really relevant that we didn’t hear any phone callers in his montage. He also says that buying rights has really enhanced their offering.
He says that there’s no point in getting lots of heat but very little light.
Jonathan Wall said that Five Live aspires to bring speech radio that you’ve either never heard before or as good as you’ve heard before. He highlights the success of the Olympics and references how important it is to make people proud of the BBC once again.
It’s about producing excellent audio he said. He also believes the independents have an important role to play in the future at Five Live. He played us clips of a programme that came from inside an abortion clinic and then a programme about drugs in cycling (this one I heard, and it really was truly excellent).
Jonathan Wall wonders if it would be possible for Radio 4, Five Live, Talksport and LBC could put on a speech radio festival in London?
Finally Ian Collins talked about his time on Talk Radio in the past and now LBC. He said that LBC was very much still about the importance of the phone, and he pointed out that LBC had a really good RAJAR last quarter during the period that the Olympics took place in London. He also has a podcast and referenced the fact that he has an international sponsor for it.
In the wider panel discussion the issue of interaction was explored. Jane Ellison talked about how they do it without phone ins. It could be message boards or emails, but in fact even more importantly, it’s going out into the country and talking directly.
Moz Dee says that he’s not arguing that the phone-in is dead. It’s just been misused in commercial radio in the past: “I’m going to ban lettuce!”
Done well it can be great, but there are some people who are good at it, and others who aren’t. He notes that his son doesn’t ring his father let alone a radio station. Twitter and Facebook have become more important.
Jonathan Wall says that some of the best radio they’ve had came from the Reggie Yates programme about growing up without a dad. He talked about the importance of a well produced post-match phone-in.
Ian Collins said that if you have the quality then it can be good.
Jane Ellison points out that some of the best stories you can come up with come from the audience interaction.
An aside on the lonely was interesting and most the panel agreed that it was an important part of speech radio where it becomes a friend. But Moz was concerned about people making fun of the lonely and vulnerable.
Five Live has to keep differentiated from Radio 4, so while Jane has lots of well produced pre-recorded documentaries, Five Live goes for programmes live from places like abortion clinics or animal testing facilities (coming December?) to bring the stories to life.
Colin Patterson asks why there aren’t more speech stations, and Moz says that it’s because they’re expensive to do well. Ian Collins points out that there has hardly been any new entrants to the market. But Moz and Jane point out that this audio is coming in different areas such as podcasts. And there has been the growth of Radio 4 Extra which hasn’t damaged to the brand.
Asked about the listen-again/podcast versus live listening, Jonathan Wall points out that live listening is still clearly a long way ahead.
Ian Collins finds it incredible that he’s not able to say more under the Ofcom regulation. He said that it’s incredibly archaic and a broadcasting injustice. Jonathan Wall completely disagrees and says that you can still make great radio and be controversial.
The future of speech is bright says Jane Ellison. Moz Dee says “speech is the future of radio.” Music radio stations can use speech to build their brands. Jonathan Wall says we have to keep our standards high, but the biggest challenge is around younger audiences and we can’t be complacent. Ian Collins believes that running a music station is “almost a nightmare looking to the future.”
In the main theatre, Meet the Local Bosses saw Steve Hewlett (as Mark Radcliffe noted, someone who’s barely been off the TV over the last couple of days) chatting to Steve King (Bauer), Phil Riley (Orion), Kate Squire (BBC Manchester) and Neil Webster (KM Group).
After a video highlighting things like Radio City’s coverage of the Hillsborough inquiry, a brief chat with KIng revealed that they treat their stations broadly in line with one another and yes, they do make “quite a lot” of money.
Kate Squire lets Alan Beswick explain the importance of what they do in a pre-recorded clip and then talks in a bit more detail about how they work. She fairly robustly combats Hewlett’s tough questions but admits that they do need to do more, sometimes looking more at Greater Manchester than central Manchester. A discussion around whether BBC Manchester could make money ends with most agreeing it couldn’t if it was a commercial station.
A good question about the so called “Radio England” evening strand saw Squire say that they can still opt out during sport and breaking news, but actually she thinks it could raise standards and bring in new audiences. Local radio does regional anyway in the evenings and goes to Five Live overnight.
Phil Riley gives his history and talks about his rebranding exercise in the midlands: BRMB to Free etc.He shows us a BRMB RAJAR decline chart and says that there are three things that have happened. There’s been a rise in radio brands, it’s becoming harder to get onto the radio, and in his case, four into one won’t go, and the overlap between one another.
He explained what they’re doing and how what they’ve done makes sense and the fact they’re still truly local. The process is halfway complete.
Riley says that awareness remained sky high, but people had just stopped listening, and retaining the name while trying to get listeners to re-engage looked impossible.They’re confident in the programming, but it’s the branding that they had to do, and the expensive marketing.
In the 90s, as Heart became more powerful, it lost sight of its own game and tried to do too much.
Yes – he’s making money. Not as much as Bauer. But “we’re doing OK.”
Neil Webster says that his group of radio stations and newspapers reaches most people in Kent in any given week. They know that Kent consumers spend lots of money locally and that’s reflected in their output.
They’ve recently changed their output to allow flexible networking across the county, but also hyper-localising. KM Radio is now making a profit!
He says that he’s learnt from his non-commercial competitor locally. His reporters all carry iPhones with Soundcloud to allow them to file reports. They have 90 or so sales people who they’re trying to train to sell integrated radio, press and digital ads.
They’re able to do some quite smart programming things such as playing out highly localised packages within their broader county-wide shows.
They are able to use their press resources to support radio and vice versa offering economies across the group. There is a single news editor across their entire news output. When pressed on making this work, he says in fact that without the economies of scale, they wouldn’t be able to survive independently.
News is important to all the groups although the commercial stations are much more about the music offering, with the news being an essential part of it. Several contributors explained that they did more than they needed to. Riley said that people come to his station for the music, but a sense of belonging is what keeps them there.
Riley talked about the challenge of national brands like Capital and the fact that Global can get a larger market share cutting off groups like Free. That’s part of the reason they created the brand, to give themselves a fighting chance. But you have to get better at local.
Hewlett wanted to know about the impact of Local TV. Steve King thinks they’re very seriously challenged and the American model doesn’t translate. Riley says that local advertisers look at the till at the end of the week and determine whether the advertising has made money.
If they can make it work, then Neil Webster believes that it could be something else encroaching on the local marketplace. But in fact Google is the bigger threat.
In conclusion, many of the panelists see more consolidation, although they’re not sure if that means less local output.
“Girls Aloud with Roger Bolton” as Claire Wardle of Storyful introduces the session.
Back upstairs in the second room was a session called IsAnybodyListening. The session opened with a brilliant Xtranormal video featuring two teddy bears – a conversation between a listener and a radio station discussing the latter’s use of social media to communicate with the audience.
Roger Bolton opened and explained just how rare it was for someone like Paddy O’Connell to come on Feedback on Radio 4 and actually apologise for something that was broadcast.
Aside from that you can come on and challenge the listener’s response, but he really doesn’t want you to just send in a statement for him to read out.
Louisa Compton with Radio Five Live said that they work by giving the audience to opportunity to come on and discuss the issues. She referenced listeners being annoyed about the whole George Entwhistle payoff issue. She thinks that the audience trust them a lot because of what they do. She also referenced their abortion clinic broadcast earlier this year. And regarding the Jimmy Savile story, she says that they’ve had people share their experiences in relation to this.
She also played the clip of the doctor who admitted to having a drink problem on Five Live, the day that she was about to go into rehab. That was a story that was followed up, and “Rachel” is now writing a book about that experience. Indeed in rehab, she met others who were there because of that broadcast.
Jess Rudkin says that locally BBC Northampton is seen as the local branch of the BBC – their local front door. Indeed in Somerset, the door opened right onto the newsroom. Listeners struggle with not understanding the BBC don’t own Classic FM she says!
She thinks that it can be easier at a local level, because they’re so accessible. And social media allows others to take part of the debate. She says that local is probably the most trusted part of the BBC because they know where we live.
Joanna Geary from The Guardian talked about the “Open Journalism” campaign that The Guardian had earlier in the year, and the fact that using the audience is key to their future, and they’d be dead without it.
Distribution is about being part of the discussion. Otherwise you become a passive part of the discussion. “Isn’t it embarrassing that we’re talking about Gangnam Style” three months after it was already the most watched video on YouTube? We need to listen as well as talk she says.
There are lots of people doing this very well already, but that’s not the same as making it core to your business. It’s really hard.
Laura Tannenbaum of Absolute Radio says social media is word of mouth marketing on steroids. Roles are becoming blurred. Once upon a time we fabricated some of these forums she said, but they’re happening naturally. She mentions InStream as being something that does helps with some of this.
She also played a video about Cliff Richard not being played on Absolute Radio 60s. Free publicity from negative PR?
Roger Bolton said that it’s disgrace how easy it is to manipulate media having seen the video. He says shame on the broadcasters who ran the story about Cliff being banned when it was clearly a PR scheme!
“Shame on them!”
He says that we need to be more honest about telling listeners that they’re helping us do our jobs.
Roger Bolton talked about the sloppy journalism that used to be based on not believing a story unless it came from a broadsheet. But he says it’s also sloppy if for a five minute piece on the Today programme, we just get two heads that shout loud.
The discussion gets into the instant response nature of things like Twitter that is all instant reaction. Bolton is concerned that the range of voices is a substitute for journalism. Rudkin says that journalists know that.
On all the input and feedback you might get from listeners, Compton says that they don’t jump to conclusions from who’s shouting loudest. She really disagrees with Bolton who thinks subjects are chosen on the basis of what will get a big reaction.
An actual radio listener – yes really! – wants to know about how you ensure that you serve the audience who don’t respond or aren’t on social media. Rudkin says that it is hard and you can try things like focus groups (she’s not a fan), but that’s where editorial judgment comes into play.
Compton mentions the BBC’s Audience Appreciation Index to measure what the audience were and weren’t happy with. Geary says you can invite them in. It’s hard work, but you get a bigger understanding. Opening up more channels is the only way we can do it.
Someone in the audience says that she thinks the Today Programme Facebook page is really good, but that no editors or BBC people ever go on it. Compton says that they’ve very alive on their Facebook page. Bolton thinks that local stations/Five Live need to use social media, but Radio Four doesn’t feel it needs to listen.
In response to a listener, Roger Bolton says he’d be happy to go on the road with Feedback!
A lively and combative session.
David Joseph is CEO of Universal Music. He begins by talking about the importance for radio and record companies of A&R.
He talks about the importance of digital, and that now digital and physical are about level. Globally, the market that has been declining is flattening out. Google Play launches in the UK today.
The UK out punches its weight in music. But that does mean British bands
20% of Universal’s revenues are invested in A&R annually. This is a sacred cow and must be protected. Byt they do expect some return on that investment.
2010 saw the lowest number of acts broken in a single year with only 9 artists selling over 100k copies of their debut album. There were 19 in 2011, but only 9 so far this year. In 2012 they’re people like Lana Del Rey Emeli Sandé and Ben Howard.
He wanted to see how UK radio supported them. Three acts were well supported, but the other nine weren’t. E.g. Lana Del Rey is only 107th most played artist in the UK so far this year. Should radio be doing more?
In conversation Joseph admits he taped the chart show which was his most important show as a kid.
In radio today, he listens to Radio 4, some 6 Music shows including Lauren Lavergne (who’s interrogating him). But also Fun Kids and Capital for his kids in the car.
Urban music is doing well but not on albums right now. He thinks that guitar music is due a resurgence now though.
He thinks that there’s a difference between the BBC and commercial radio, and thinks the commercial radio needs to take more risks. He sometimes feels that as a record label, they have to create the hits first before commercial radio will play them.
He doesn’t think the radio industry wouldn’t worry too much about the streaming services. Curation is at the heart of why radio remains important.
“Passion is key… putting the right presenters with the right music.”
He says that when a station like Capital gets behind one of their events, the passion is immense. A hit can be turned into a news story.
But he’d like to see more risk, supporting new talent.
He thinks that music must be on sale when radio gets it. While there’s not consensus in the music industry or in radio, he thinks it’s a bad argument.
He says some stations say to him that if they make their song available today, they won’t play it, but if they make it available is six weeks we will. He says that’s not a conversation he will entertain.
On competition following the acquisition of EMI, he says that the multi-label competition means that he doesn’t think it’s an issue.
In terms of the future he’s confident that by 2015 the music marketplace will be growing. He says that being part of a healthy market gives you confidence. He tells artists it’s a competitive marketplace. If artists do the best they can then they’ll prosper.
Coming up he’s looking at bands like Bastille who he’s excited about. An LA three piece, some Gaga, Take That, and Eminem will be back. Four piece guitar bands seem to be back and we’re at the start of market that will be growing.
Finally before the lunch break, Vicki Blight interview Steve Lamacq. An entertaining session about his life at NME, Q102 – the Xfm forerunner – and then Radio 1. Interestingly we heard extended sections of some key tracks in his life.
His system for determining which demos he listens to includes CDs handed to him at gigs at the top, while people who spell his name wrong go to the bottom.
He says that you shouldn’t be scared to risk the wrath of your audience when you’re seeking out new music. He talks about The Streets taking weeks before listeners finally came around to it.
The one key thing is that you shouldn’t send him food!
“Why do you go through this..?” – pointing at an in-tray of demos. “Because you might find gold at the bottom.”
Adrian Chiles interviewing Frank Skinner would seem to be a West Brom fan love-in, but was something a bit different.
Skinner says that there are the “blah-blahs” who have just nothing interest to say. They can be replaced by an electrical voice. The opposite being the Danny Baker/Chris Evans style shows.
He does say that because you don’t have an immediate response from an audience, that you can’t be put off your game by the audience not responding. So he’s always on a roll!
But I’m not going to attempt to summarise it here. Summarising comedians really doesn’t work. Hopefully it’ll go up on the web at some point and you can hear it yourself.
Actually, Frank did have some very interesting thoughts on radio. He’s obviously seen one side of it, and I’m sure others would be jealous of the relative freedom that he gets at Absolute Radio.
Upstairs, I caught a couple of minutes of some Olympians and Paralympians. But I was really up here for a session called Beyond Britain looking at the
Mark Friend set the scene pointing out that creative industries counts as 3% of the economy but 11% of the export economy. Radio isn’t an enormous part of this. We’re the world’s largest book exporter, with London acting as a global hub for innovation and combatting piracy.
Advertising is another strong outlet with edginess and innovation. In TV it’s programme sales, formats, DVDs and areas like animation.
And by 2016, most growth will have come from the internet – up 16% by that time. And radio remains a live medium, so does that make it trickier to exploit globally?
Opportunities include programme licencing, with deeper use of the catalogue, format licencing and UK-centric channels. And there are also technical and commercial innovation opportunities.
Jimmy Buckland of Talksport began with their international exploitation of Premier League rights. He thinks it’s a shame that we’ve not been able to exploit radio so far. English language, culture and content are important things that we can use. We also have the technical know how and sophistication that gives us these opportunities.
ESPN was an obvious brand leader, but Jimmy says that Talksport didn’t think they’d really expanded globally very successfully. Perhaps this is because there’s more competition at home with lots of sports networks springing up. He ran through some numbers about the 3 languages for 380 matches. He says that syndication fees with 8 broadcasters currently, as well as monetisation with Twitter and TuneIn, and there’ll be ad sales next year.
There could be some interesting times ahead when the BBC World Service’s commentaries clash with the syndication fees that Talksport wants to earn in the same territories.
Caitlin Hughes ran us through RadioPlayer, noting that as well as the recently released iOS mobile app, today sees the launch of the Android mobile app.
She talked about the international licencing deals being carried. In this way radio is able to maintain its own standard globally, and by encouraging a joint conversation between commercial and public broadcasters, we’re able to lead the hardware conversations.
Currently heads of terms are signed with Russia, but other conversations are ongoing.
Trevor Marshall of Jack talked a bit about the Jack story – neatly punctuated by some of their trademark pre-recorded trails, voiced in the UK by Paul “Avon” Darrow (not sure about the Syria link…).
But the translation was not the same. There were differences, with localness and sport an important part of it.
Gina Fegan from UK Trade & Investments ran through some big numbers in the creative industries sector.The top two importers are the US (by a way). and then China. There were some useful charts that showed countries like India that import little, but the UK forms a large part of their imports.
They have about forty people who can help you do business internationally and a network beyond. They run a series of programmes to support UK exporters (e.g.
She says the BBC can be useful in this context, because they are Britain and internationally, people don’t distinguish between different UK companies to that extent.
The Business Case For Woman was a session hosted by Rachel Burden from 5 Live, along with Richard Madeley, Karen Stacey of Bauer, and Kathryn Davies of P&G.
The session opened with a video celebrating women in radio in the last year, with a section of the Sony Award winning Beryl and Betty. Sadly the show has come to the end due to ill health, but a special one-off final show will go out at Christmas.
Karen Stacey talked about the Bauer ownership background with the Bauer family now largely controlled by one of Herr Bauer’s daughters. Bauer has lots of senior execs who are women, and Angie Greaves on Magic’s drivetime show. Her show is now the biggest drivetime show in the capital. She’s the only female only presenter in that role currently.
She likens the lack of female voices to someone making an advert targeting women to only be allowed to use men.
Kathryn Davies talked about the top down P&G equality that the company operates, and played their “Thanks Mom” ad campaign.
Richard Madeley is not here to be the “suited booted bastard.” He says that in his experience, a mixed sex work environment was always so much better than a male dominated one.
Rachel Burden asks why we’re doing so badly “well intentioned nepotism aside?” Stacey says that we have to be focused on output rather than input. And we need to employ new technology to enable us to be more flexible in working practices.
Nick Clegg had that day been talking about flexible working practices, but Davies says it’s not just having the policies in place, but ensuring that the practices are adhered to. They measure success on diversity. They actually scientifically tested it. There was 5-7% improvement on either all male or all female teams. That’s the difference between being number one and number two.
Giving athletes union jack nails at the Olympics came from a diverse brainstorming. P&G had never done the Olympics before and didn’t know what they might do. Clearly they were really pleased with the outcome.
The two examples of women on their own in the UK right now are Real Radio NW (a female double header) and Radio 3. Karen Stacey says that talking to her programming controllers says that they don’t get nearly as many CVs and demos through as from men. Richard Madely thinks that women are less competitive and often aren’t pushy enough. He points out that the man gets the opening link in a male/female partnership, and the man will often get the unscripted final “goodnight.”
He mentions an Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner example of this. When he and Judy were presenting they made sure they scripted equality on a day by day basis. It can happen subconsciously.
Rachel Burden was keen to explode the myth that women scare off advertising. “Yes we can” says Karen Stacey and Kathryn Davies.
Karen Stacey wanted get rid of the urban myth that women don’t like women on the radio. She doesn’t know where it comes from but it’s taken on a life of its own.
Kathryn Davies says – just use data. The data is inalienable. You cannot argue with it.
Lisa Kerr says that we’re not sending the right messages to women from on-air. They’re too often in the subservient role, and they’re being paid less. Stacey says that managers within P&G simply cannot defend disparity of pay in that manner.
The session had by far the best discussion so far in this conference in terms of an engaged audience (albeit predominantly female), and the number of voices heard.
The final session of day two, and therefore the joint final session of the festival itself is The Magical Meeting Point with Michael Hill from RadioPlayer with Ellen Horne of Radiolab (via Skype), Emma Scott of Freesat and Sarah Sharma of Absolute Radio.
Emma Scott tried to explore some of the shared benefits between TV and radio as well as the difference.She notes that in a post-switchover world of television, there is still lots of development happening. However, she acknowledges that people do find all the choice confusing. In TV terms, the holy grail is the best user guide experience and the best way to explore EPGs. 75% of people use the TV guide to find the programmes they want.
She canters through some of the big EPGs, and quite fairly says that Sky’s one actually looks quite backward compared with TIVO and YouView. But she acknowledges that they’ve adopted IP quite late, but now very comprehensively. Obviously, they’re very proud of the new Freesat EPG too.
She admits that they’re perhaps not using all the data they have available yet. And targeted ads are something they’re looking at.
Ellen Horne was online from New York and talked about the genesis of Radiolab and how it started out hidden away on AM. From its initial genesis it’s grown and they now do 10 hours of programmes a year plus shorter pieces. This allows them to go to long lengths to put the show together and truly know its place.
In the last month they’ve had about 5m downloads. That justifies some of the “extravagant production.”
She says that if you always do the same things in the same way, then you’ll never get anything different. Do it differently and “extraordinary things are possible.”
Sarah Sharma is talking about the legal issues surrounding broadcast and IP worlds. Listen to Classic FM on DAB or FM then you’re covered by Ofcom. But listen via IP and you’re not.
However in the audio-visual world there is Atvod which to some extent does regulate video on demand in that world. It had to be put in place because the EU demanded it.
The point of this is that with converging technologies, we can seamlessly move from a broadcast regulated environment to an unregulated internet environment without potentially even realising it.
Similarly, it’s possible that radio stations might actually have their a/v material regulated by Atvod, but the audio stream isn’t.
Michael shows us some current menu systems employed by radios that present us with unnecessarily with choices of platforms. He likens it to a Prius that doesn’t bother the driver with decisions over using the petrol or electric engines.
Their hybrid would have a touch-screen, be platform aware and be content led.
Next we get a video, and then live demo with all the usual six music features, but built into a touchscreen device.
He even demoed voice control to start up The Archers! A very impressive end to the festival.

Radio Festival/Techcon 2012

I’m writing this as we go, and will tidy up the text later. But these are my notes “live”…
As David Lloyd, MCing Techcon at the Radio Festival again this year mentions, it’s been a quiet weekend in the media.
The first session was about studio design, and Tim Lowther from Global talked us through the rebuild of Capital’s studios in London. They employed people who previously had designed and built TV studios to build them. BDA ended up building both Capital and Heart’s studio space in Leicester Square.
He mentioned that they learnt from the Capital build and put more sound absorbing elements into the Heart building. They also used a substance – corian – to build the studio desks rather than the generic plywood/MDF that you’ll find in most studios.
There are now 16 LCDs per studio at Global!
They’ve also got a very nice camera solution for vision mixing several remote Panasonic cameras and later mixing the studio audio in a streamlined manner.
We got a nice preview of a proposed Classic FM studio much along the same lines as the Capital and Heart studios. Sometime within the months seems to be the plan.
Then it was NIck Sheridan from “Global” News – at the BBC. Yes – it confused a few of us for a moment. They’ve been building glass studios, which is a fairly challenging idea with lots of environmental challenges.
In particular it had to be a flat pack design that would fit in a regular office space. It needed to be appropriate to speech radio.
The key thing about a glass studio is that they cannot be square. The back wall is absorbant and the side walls are on a 10 degree angle.
Having built some studios in Bush House back in 2005/6, they then had to spec out the news studios for New Broadcasting House and in particular 28 studios were needed. There, they went to four sided glass boxes with “baffles” hanging from the ceiling to mop up noise. It’s fascinating that you can get a glass box to make good sound.
Funnily enough, as Sheridan mentioned, having got the walls right, we then fill studios with monitors.
Next up was Geoff Woolf talking about project ViLoR. He showed us some truly ancient looking desks in some local BBC radio stations.
ViLoR stands for “virtualised local radio” – or “broadcasting technology as a service.”
This was a project about employing cloud computing to serve BBC Local services. The main issue surrounding use of the cloud is minimising latency. With radio that’s very important – think of having a mobile phone conversation with someone on the radio. You can end up talking over the other person.
The key finding was that the presenter needs to be able to hear their own voice in real time with no delay. If that can be achieved, then you can actually have up to 200ms delay without the service sounding poor to the listener.
Essentially you centralise the “apps rooms” or server centres in a couple of locations and put all the key hardware there. In reality, probably a couple of locations for resilience. That simplifies things locally.
The plan is that by the end of 2013 four stations will have been moved over to ViLoR, with a further three stations in 2014, and the remainder being completed by the end of 2017.
Amazingly just 4 servers can handle all the audio editing and archiving for all 38 stations.
They’re trying not to use the term “data centre” for their radio centres. All of this means that station costs are reduced substantially and the time on site is massively reduced.
The Technical Innovation Award is handed out each year at Techcon. First up was Anthony Abbott from Absolute Radio presenting what the station has done with InStream. Ben Matthew will talking in more detail about this shortly.
Listeners get fewer and more relevant ads, while advertiser get more targeted ads – something they’ve demanded since the internet is now offering it to such a great deal.
Research has shown the InStream users are more aware of brands, and are better engaged with the brands.
Coming next will be utilising the RadioPlayer interface to allow logged in listening, and then the Xbox app which is also due to launch soon.
Ken Phillips from the BBC talked to us about the BBC’s Proteus system that allows users to avoid the use of the term “metadata” amongst users, but allow programme makers to share the same data in lots of places.
In the past there were lots of paper based systems, and the same information might be reported and rekeyed in lots of different places. Music reporting is a good example of that. Phillips talked through how some of the data can actually be crowd sourced, and things like live versions are trivial amends to the pre-recorded versions.
This is all gathered by using unique identifiers for each programme. And if a change is required for a rebroadcast, then the administration required is minimal.
We’re told that this has all gone down enormously well within the BBC!
One of the key issues was presenting a nice user interface to make it easier for data to be entered into the system.
The next step is to open the system up to independent production companies, and let them and the BBC save time and money. At the moment, the system is at programme level, but they’re looking at moving down to item level. Then linking the audio assets with the metadata within Proteus is another development. Some of this data can then be made publicly available. In the end, there will be an API to let others access the data.
Ben Matthew from Absolute Radio and Bruno Nieuwenhuys from AdSwizz are next, to explain how Absolute Radio has been building its InStream product to personalise radio.
Ben explained that it’s not just about ad replacement but could also mean replacement news or traffic and travel bulletins to localise them. It could even replace songs.
Ben took us on a whistlestop tour through what actually happens in an internet audio stream through one of many different possible systems. He also talked about the considerations that are required in setting up such a solution and the work required to do this.
Then Bruno talked us through the reasons why you might want to do this kind of thing, and the various ways you could integrate this type of solution into your streaming process. He explained why AdSwizz chose the solution they did and some of the challenges they faced as they “spliced” the internet stream and to embed the advert that you’re replacing at the right time in the right place.
Then Ben went into more detail about how we needed to reformat Absolute Radio’s audio to facilitate all this. And he went into some of the challenges for keeping streamers in sync as much as possible and the various options and solutions available. A key consideration is your listeners no longer being live.
Tony Churnside from BBC R&D was next up to talk about some location aware drama that they produced.
He began by explaining that different people hear their sound in different ways, and it’s not necessarily in the way that producers intended. Different people are hearing their audio in different ways depending on their speaker set-up at home. A simple example is BBC coverage of the Proms. There’s a stereo set-up for radio, and 5.1 set-up for HD television.
The BBC is now thinking about sound in an object based approach. That has flexibility beyond a channel based approach that’s been used in the past. The system you’d use to listen to the audio would be able to determine what the optimal playback would be for your listening experience.
Tony demonstrated an audio drama called Breaking Out (I mentioned this the other day) that took information from the internet and turned into audio on the user’s own PC. Furthermore, you can actually generate radio subtitles as part of the process.
A future idea might be a documentary that goes into more detail if you’re interested in a particular type of information.
Another project that they’ve been working on is recording an orchestra with several microphones and then letting the user determine what they might hear in different parts of the hall. The individual sound elements are adjusted at the client level.
Finally we saw a video that tried to let users “conduct” an orchestra themselves. They used an Xbox Kinect to facilitate this.
The morning session was completed with a video about BBC ViLoR – this time as one of the shortlisted Technical Innovation Award nominees.
After the lunch break on day one, the main festival kicked off, with Clive Dickens introducing the session. Tim Davie was originally scheduled to speak, but obviously he has other things on his plate. Bob Shennan from Radio 2 and 6 Music filled the breach. That said, I was still up in the Techcon room and missed this session.
Speakers from Arqiva then took us through the issues surrounding IP delivery. Nathan Dixon talked about the various technologies that are out there including the fact that some older systems are being phased out.
He ran through the various issues and considerations in choosing an appropriate form of technology to deal with IP delivery.
Peter Willison then spoke about the advantages that IP has over other technologies for delivering audio to sites. Disaster Recovery is one obvious case with IP allowing you to quickly get an audio feed back up and running – assuming you have enough bandwidth.
Ian Prowse and Hugo Scott Whittle from Vortex were next up to talk about the various technical solutions that can be used for an outside broadcast. Ian began with a quick run through of the history of various technologies that we’ve had to use historically like the telephone system. He moved on to ISDN from the early nineties – technology which, as he mentioned, is still used in football statia today.
IP codecs available today using 3G to provide the connectivity can provide some significantly good quality. There is also now VoIP with things like Skype, which really isn’t at all bad.
Hugo then went into a bit more detail about IP, first pointing out that the packet nature of it doesn’t have quite the same guarantees that a guaranteed line had. He then detailed the pros and cons of some of the applicable technologies.
One interesting thing that Hugo mentioned was that business contract SIM cards are much more robust in usage than consumer ones!
Finally Andy Sutton from EE came on to talk about 4G and how it’s somewhat different to 3G in terms of working. The key taking from his session is that Quality of Service (QoS) is built into 4G/LTE, and that it’s fundamentally IP packet based. It has an entirely different architecture to previous mobile telephony products.
Richard Earle from the BBC talked about why they took an IP route to deliver streams back to base using IP rather than other broadcast architectures for covering Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend.
In total they had 7 live streams including Radio 1, 1Xtra, BBC London and BBC 3, red button and BBC HD on television.
ISDN was an initial solution but it needed too many lines, and was cost prohibitive. Similarly satellite cost a lot and introduced delays. So they looked at using the BBC’s architecture already in place for the Olympics on a neighbouring site.
They used an optical link to get the signal from Hackney to the BBC’s Olympic site.
Richard ran through the various issues they faced and they had overcome including issues surrounding weather, interference caused by people testing other kit locally in advance of the Olympics. A damaged fibre link was only fixed four hours before the first transmission.
The BBC is now beginning to use this methodology for more programmes including Any Questions on Radio 4 and the 1Xtra Live Tour.
Sam Bonham of DRUK, Nick Piggott of Global Radio and Mark Sutcliffe of Arqiva were next up to talk about the issues surrounding DAB in car. I only managed to catch the first half of this session.
Sam explained the Digital Radio Action Plan background, and in particular what needs to be in place to “earn” a digital switchover. He talked about the minimum specification behind a digital “tickmark” to point consumers to good quality products. As yet, the tickmark isn’t in place, but once it is, it’ll be placed on relevant devices in a similar way to the digital TV equivalent mark.
The criteria that need to be met include FM, DAB, DAB+. It must have service label display, and a number of other criteria.
Service following and traffic announcements are two key criteria that have recently been tested, and this session now went on to talk about.
There are two types of linking – hard linking and soft linking. But this isn’t something that consumers consider. They just want to be able to continue to listen to their favourite station.
One challenge was making service following work using just a single tuner. Dual tuners can make things work more easily. Then there are political considerations – for example linking Classic FM and Capital, or even Heart and Capital. These are things that car manufacturers, for example, are concerned about.
An ETSI document prohibits abuse and determines how service following should work correctly.
In the main festival room, Chris Maples from Spotify was next up in a session subtitled Friend or Foe? I notice that he entitled his presentation Disrupt or be Disrupted.
4000 years of music was apparently streamed last week. I’m not entirely clear how, but I guess you could divide up those cumulative hours into three minute tracks.
He began by noting how more important music is in our lives. In his world he says that they have brands, consumers (not “listeners”) and artists. Spotify, he said, comes from a place to help the record industry. Music piracy was at its height when Spotify was invented. Sweden, for example, is young, digitally adept and tech savvy with fast broadband. He says piracy has been reduced by over 35% since Spotify was created.
Young consumers want their services now, and they want it on every device they have available to them. As well as Spotify, he drew an analogy with Xbox and Windows Mobile.
“Consumers get technology far quicker than technology companies get technology.”
He said we’re moving away from a world of ownership into instant access. Lovefilm is another example of this. He believes that his children will never own physical media again. Ownership may not be redundant, but “challenged.”
Between 2004 and 2010, global music revenue fell 31%, largely driven by piracy. 2010 was the time when digital music revenue overtook physical music sales. That will never go back, said Maples. Physical will plateau at some point.
Maples took us through a Spotify timeline, including the importance of syncing Spotify together with your iTunes library. Facebook integration in September 2011, was another important landmark and caused Spotify to grow substantially again.
0.3 second is the time between you hitting play and the music starting on Spotify.
For some people, “having a blank canvas of over 18m songs can be a bit overwhelming,” so they needed something to hold your hand and take your through those songs.
They have to iterate and keep developing because someone else could come along at any minute says Maples. And he says that they have to work out how to put their service into connected TVs.
Interestingly, creating Spotify giftcards is as much marketing as getting people to actually pay for the premium service.
To launch a service in the US, get Justin Bieber to tweet about you! That delivered more impact than any other media they used to launch the service.
Spotify has now delivered 50 bn impressions on Facebook. They work as hard as possible to ensure a good experience and to ensure that they don’t “spam your feed.”
He said that they will continue to iterate, grow and re-energise their business. They’re “paranoid” about it. They have a slate of territories that they want to expand into. He says that they do work with some radio and TV stations. If they partner with the right services, he says that they can create better services.
Aleks Krotoski wants to know if Spotify is encroaching onto radio. Maples said that if Spotify didn’t exist, others would be in that territory. Spotify works with radio groups, and it enhances the combined offering.
“The world is not as linear as it used to be.”
When asked how a radio station can work with Spotify, Maples said that the best examples are perhaps putting curated playlists from DJs on Spotify as well as working with stations (Absolute Radio) with brands. But we’re still in the early days, and there’s a way to go.
A foreshortened Q&A sadly did not get into when Spotify might start employing some named presenters.
Back up in the Techcon room I caught the end of the final entry in Technical Innovation Award which detailed the work done for service following by Global Radio. Yes, I missed Bruce Daisley from Twitter, but he came into work recently and gave us a talk, so I thought it was safe to miss.
Joe Harland came on to talk through radio visualisation, in particular from a perspective of Radio 1 and 1 Xtra.
The real test, said Harland, of whether or not your visualised radio is any good, is whether someone has nicked it and put it on YouTube.
Other lessons:
– Do not put your cameras up high. You get security camera footage and don’t get a decent shot.
– If someone has done the multiple interviews with lots of stations, then you’re not distinctive. You’re going to struggle to cut through. “Even Ellie Goulding’s mum is not going to watch six Ellie Goulding interviews.”
– Nobody really knows what the best way of doing visualisation of radio is right now. But we can have a best guess, and that’s what Radio 1 is doing, embedding video as part of the production process.
– Your studio does not need to look like the X-Factor.
– You don’t need to be in vision the entire time, because it’s boring the entire time.
– It must be all part of the radio producer’s workflow, and not hard work.
Radio 1 has a neat switching system that lets the presenter either go into an automated system or the presenter to override everything and choose their shots.
The pan-tilt-zoom Sony cameras that they have in studio at Radio 1 don’t look completely dissimilar to the Panasonic ones that Capital showed us this morning. But they also have some tiny little desk cameras at consumer quality.
Harland said that the live feedback from visual radio elements can help you determine better than RAJAR what is working and what isn’t for your listeners.
“What we don’t want to be doing is creating a bunch of digital litter.”
Visual, thinks Harland, is the way we can reach new listeners. The new system in the new Radio 1 studios goes live in two weeks time.
Jim Ford from Mediacell then gave us a quick introduction to their electronic meter measurement solution. RAJAR has just announced that a trial is ongoing with the technology to provide additional insight into how people listen.
Mediacell’s approach is to use an app on smartphones that listen to hidden signals in the audio. Currently they use audio watermarking, but have the ability to use audio matching technology.
The technology allows you to begin to interrogate longer term trends in radio listening, and examine things like station loyalty. We’re only at the beginning of this process and ove rthe coming months there are plenty more things to learn.
Philippe Generali followed him from RCS. He talked about Mscore – “music score.”
The data is derived from the Arbitron PPM. By examining the data in addition to music log files, you can begin to examine whether a particular song causes people to switch in or out of your station.
His data shows that in the drives to and from work that most switching takes place. That’s because it’s easiest at those times to switch to a competitor’s station. But the peak percentage of switching is only 8% of listeners switching – it’s during evening drive.
By looking at the data for a specific song over a longer period of time, you can see the lifecycle of a song, first being unpopular when it’s unknown, becoming more popular and then towards the end of its cycle becoming unpopular. And because it’s behavioural rather than response based, RCS believe it’s more accurate.
In a sports context, he demonstrated an example of an American Football game where the peak comes after the game’s finished during the postgame. He also showed us the losing team’s hometown numbers where nobody wanted to hear the postgame show on radio after the team had lost.
Almost finally, the BBC was awarded the Technical Innovation Award for ViLoR. And then Matt Deegan summarised today…

Radio Books

In the back flap of Danny Baker’s new autobiography, Going to Sea in a Sieve, the simple text beneath Baker’s photo says:
Danny Baker is a comedy writer, journalist and radio DJ. He currently presents six shows a week for the BBC and is a regular face on TV. He still lives in south-east London.
Sadly – at time of writing – he’s down to one show a week. As I’m sure everyone who’s reading this blog knows, Baker was told a week or so ago that his BBC London show was essentially being cancelled at Christmas, and he was not at all happy. His final show was in effect a two hour rant against the managers – weasels – who’d cancelled it. As much as anything, his real beef was that nobody told him to his face, and the BBC London gig was one he loved.
For years we’ve been told that he wasn’t on a full time contract, and was paid relatively little. Indeed during that final show he revealed that Amy Lamé and Baylen Leonard were paid £50 a show each while he took home £300 a show after deductions. That does probably mean that the show wasn’t cancelled for monetary savings, but for other less specific reasons.
And of course, the timing was just awful. Baker is one of those due to be inducted into the Radio Academy Hall of Fame on Tuesday this week. As inductees get to give a speech, it’s fair to say that Baker will be venting his spleen with some very carefully chosen prose.
I have no idea where he’ll end up next, but while Talksport and Radio 2 are both thought to be interested, I can’t really see anywhere that could take on that format apart from 6 Music. In an interview with Jonathan Ross on Saturday night it was suggested that he still has a future at the BBC – unlike certain other people. We’ll wait and see.
I’m an enormous Danny Baker fan, and I really hope that he pops up somewhere soon. I do, however, realise that I’ve worked for a station that has somehow managed to dispense of his services on at least two occasions. I should add that I’ve never actually met the man as I was only at the station for his second second term and subsequent departure, and his show ran pretty much exclusively at weekends. Thus Baker was not to be seen in the building during the week. (Oddly enough, deep within a filing cabinet I was clearing out the other day, I actually found a letter detailing a payoff that had to made to another station to enable Baker to join ours. Remember Baker was very good friends with Chris Evans, then owner of Virgin Radio where I was working, and so it perhaps wasn’t a surprise that Evans wanted Baker to join us).
Anyway, back to Baker’s book.
Baker has a gift with language. That’s not surprising because he started out being a writer, and effectively hasn’t stopped since. The earlier sections of his book paint a terrific picture of his part of South London. You’re also left in no doubt that he had a wonderful childhood.
The backbone of the book is his family, and in particular his father. A dominant figure not just within his family, but the surrounding area too. A dock worker for many years, and a union activist, he appeared to take no prisoners. But he had a turn of phrase to do so. It’s a testament to Baker’s memory that he can be captured so clearly, and life in the Baker family so clearly captured.
This book only takes us up to him landing a permanent gig on LWT’s South Bank Show – the programme that first brought him to my attention as a young teenager. In that respect, it doesn’t really cover Baker’s radio career. Yet because he’s framed to perhaps most of us through his radio performance, I think it’s fair to say that this does count as a “radio book.” It frames the radio personality he was later to become. And he does mention a single appearance on LBC, albeit one that would suggest that radio wasn’t for him.
When Baker regales us with a story, he manages to convey something of the PG Wodehouse about the way he spins the yarn. Anyone, like me, who’s heard Baker on the radio over the years, will instantly recognise the tone of voice in the words he’s written. I’ve not heard the audiobook of this title, but in my minds eye, his voice is unquestionably there with every word on the page.
Beyond his time at school, and the friends that he hung around with, we learn about his years working in record shops in and around the West End, where he was able to rub shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the day. Then we move forward to a brief period writing for a punk fanzine through to landing a dream job working for NME.
Yes – he drops a few names along the way. But he manages to do so with verve and without you hearing a clang. Aside from anything else, there’s a purpose to the stories. Something very funny happens, or goes very badly wrong (tape recorders failing to work; falling in love with the pop star rather than making notes of what she’s saying).
If, like me, you’ve listened to long periods of Baker’s life over the years, then many of these stories will be familiar. Some certainly aren’t, and he only delicately exposes us to his personal life. Towards the end of the book he explains that he thinks that people who “bare their souls” or “reveal any kind of intimate details” want “locking up.” In any case, that’s not what I want from a Danny Baker book.
So we don’t get it. We just get a great series of stories, and have a rollicking good time along the way. If you’re a bit a fan like me, then you’ve probably already bought this book. The good news is, it’s well worth reading.

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to compare Going to Sea in a Sieve with another book entirely, John Myers’ “Team, It’s Only Radio.”
Actually it’s very unfair. But both books feature radio personalities to one extent or another, and it so happens that I’ve just read the pair in close proximity to one another.
Baker, of course, has been a writer for many years, and his turn of phrase on the radio has a literary quality. On the other hand, I’ve never actually heard Myers on the radio – in one of his several guises. But I suspect that I’d be listening to something of a different kind of show.
I should also mention that I’ve never worked for or with John Myers, and indeed until relatively recently, had only really come across him in the excellent BBC documentary from 1999 – Trouble at the Top: Degsy Rides Again. The programme seems to be in available in a few parts on YouTube, and if you’ve never seen it, I’d thoroughly recommend it.
Myers takes us through his career from breaking into radio at BBC Cumbria, through his various gigs at a variety of stations in the North West and North East until he ended up forming the radio group that was to become GMG Radio (itself currently being sold to Global Radio).
There are some entertaining and interesting stories to be told. It’s perhaps a little unfortunate that in Jeremy Vine’s introduction at the beginning, he rather steals the thunder from several of them. If you’re not overly familiar with some of his past stunts, I’d suggest leaving the introduction until the end.
I’ll certainly not compound the issue by repeating them here. But some of them are genuinely quite funny, and you can believe that the imagination and enthusiasm with which they were carried out left rivals a little unhappy.
The book is indubitably a “radio book” because really we learn very little of Myers’ character beyond what he does in his radio existance. There’s a certain amount of moving around the north of England has he climbs the ladder between jobs, and yet of his personal circumstances we get little. He gathers a wife along the way, and has some kids. But mostly this book is dealing with the business of radio, first as on-air talent, and then later the management of radio, and the building of a radio group.
It does seem that Myers has never met a radio colleague that he doesn’t like. Maybe a few presenters get short shrift, and I was always told that if you have nothing nice to say about someone, then don’t say anything at all. Perhaps he’s being polite here. But there were a few too many times when he disagreed with someone professionally, only to later relate how they’ve remained good friends to this day.
On the other hand, from the little I know Myers, he does seem very personable, and seems like someone who while disagreeing with you at a professional level, may not hold a grudge against you at a personal level. In other words, this is entirely possible.
At one point Myers talks about “logo lolly.” In retrospect, this makes sense now, but I’d not come across the phrase previously. “Logo lolly” was (is?) a cash bonus paid to reporters who were able to get their stations’ logos on camera – especially on the local news. Myers’ book talks about offering £25 each time a logo was screened. Indeed, having talked to colleagues subsequently, I understand that this developed into a sliding scale, with bonuses increasing as if your logo made local, national or even international coverage.
I must admit that I’ve often thought that the shameless plugging of radio stations through garish microphone “muffs” can be somewhat tasteless. While I think it’s perfectly acceptable in entertainment or sports coverage (e.g. the red carpet at a film premiere), when you see the vivid primary colours at a news conference being held at a police station where sombre news about a missing child or similar is being shared, I find it frankly distasteful.
And the nonsense with microphones can get worse and worse. In some countries large attachments are placed onto the microphones to mean viewers can’t fail to see the stations’ logos when the microphone is thrust inches from the speaker’s mouth.
But for the ultimate in ludicrousness, check out this US local news TV segment from this week’s election coverage. Ignore the fact that the reporter got the identity of wrong a couple of times, but look instead at his LCD-festooned microphone. Shameless.
Anyway, I’m drifting off topic. Returning to the book, I must admit that I do have a few reservations about it. There’s no easy way to say this, but it’s pretty poorly written. This is no ghost-written tome, and although an editor is credited, I think it probably needed someone with some more literary skills to go through the book and tidy it up. It’s certainly Myers’ voice that drives through the whole time, but in places the book feels a bit mangled and randomly sorted. I just think a helping hand could have structured it a bit better in places, tidied up a few overused idioms and generally made it read better.
In the end an autobiography is often not a great deal more than a series of anecdotes used to illustrate a life. Yet, there needs to be structure, and those anecdotes have to be placed in context, and this is where the book lets the reader down a little. While it’s fair to say that nobody from outside the radio industry is likely to read this book, there is a certain amount of assumed knowledge required of the reader to truly appreciate what was happening in UK radio. And time scales aren’t clearly conveyed as we jump forward years at a time with little said about the intervening period.
I think Myers would probably admit that he presents a pretty positive side to things that have happened during his career. He’s not afraid to big himself up. Towards the end of the book he does admit that not everything went right and he made mistakes along the way, but you don’t get too many of those mistakes highlighted for readers. We can fairly track exactly how much he was paid at each point too. When a big payday comes along, he’s not shy to tell us how fortunate he was. To be fair, Baker also has a passage detailing his views on money, and actually italisises the word millions so you’re clear how much he’s spent over time.
It must be said that when regional FM licences were being awarded in the late nineties and early noughties, Myers had a pretty exceptional track record for winning them. So it really was surprising to hear some of the vitriol he gives the regulators at various points when he doesn’t win one. In particular, the section dealing with the award to Kerrang! of the West Midlands licence seems a bit unfair. Myers had failed to win it with an application that would have enabled him to tie a number of his services up into a neat package. Yet here was an award that was doing something different. Yes, it’d have been great for the Guardian to get another licence to add to its set, cut down on some costs and build a business. But nobody has a pre-ordained right to spectrum, and that’s something a lot of groups broadcasting on analogue radio today should remember. It’s a scarce resource, and there are others who’d love to get on the radio too. A new entrant was allowed into the marketplace in this particular instance, and that’s as it should be.
But I suppose that what really strikes me from reading this book, about an industry that I thought I knew fairly well, is how rampantly sexist radio was in the past. (Others may argue that it still is, and until we even up the numbers of male to female voices a bit more, they probably have a point).
A few stories are told with a bit of a nudge and wink, followed by some contrition from the perspective of documenting them in 2012. But then we’ll get a qualifying phrase like, “Remember, this was 1994…”
Honestly, 1994 was pretty recent!
And it certainly wasn’t like 1974 in terms of what kind of sexism was somehow deemed acceptable in society. I think it just goes to show that in parts of the radio industry, it took them an awful long time to grow up.
My first start in radio was just two years later, and I can assure you that the largely female department I worked in, under a female senior executive would not have found some of the tales told here appropriate in a business at that time.
Overall “Team, It’s Only Radio” is a fun read, and certainly presents a picture of a medium that perhaps isn’t always as good as is cracked up. But I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone aside from the most diehard of radio enthusiast.
Two very different books then.

A Radio Future

On Air
On Monday, the great and the good of the UK radio industry, and visitors from beyond, will gather in Salford for the annual Radio Festival.
If you’re going, say hi to me!
But there are potentially some dark clouds on the horizon. It might be a somewhat distant horizon, but the radio industry – as we currently know it – could well face a significant threat from digital usurpers.
Anyone who’s heard The Sound Agency’s Julian Treasure speak recently will know that he believes it’s a threat that competitive digital arrivistes are even adopting the word “radio” to represent their streaming products. These are not offering what we have previously understood the word radio to mean, and could we be losing ownership of the word?
For example, a recent report from an American group – NPD – says that “radio” services from companies like Pandora which use algorithms to determine which tracks are served up, are overtaking those of companies like Spotify which are based more on the curation of tracks.
“Although AM/FM radio remains America’s favorite music-listening choice, the basket of Internet radio and streaming services that are available today have, on the whole, replaced CDs for second place,” said Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis at NPD. “We expect this pattern to continue, as consumers become more comfortable with ownership defined as a playlist, rather than as a physical CD or digital file.”
OK, that quote bundles everything together, and the report specifically points out that traditional “radio” is still the most popular listening choice, but clearly there are more of these services coming. And they’re only going to get smarter and more elaborate.
Now it should be said that since I’ve only been able to read a press release and not the full report in this instance, there are some things I’d like to know about the report’s methodology. For example, is it just talking about the number of users that each service has, or does it reflect the amount time users actually listen to each of these services. That’s important because listening hours – or share – is the critical measure for anyone working in commercial radio. And how is that listening measured? Are respondents just asked to estimate how much listening they do to each service, or do they need to actually keep a diary to measure it? (I don’t believe PPM or other technology was employed by NPD). And concatenating “internet radio” and “streaming services” is perhaps a little unhelpful.
However, in spite of these questions, I think the “traditional” radio industry needs to be very wary of these “new” radio services eating into their business models. Yes – everybody is thinking about them, but I suspect some believe things are bit a like global warming: they know it’ll happen one day, just not anytime too soon.*
Microsoft has a free ad-supported Xbox Music service that launched alongside Windows 8, and perhaps more worryingly Apple has it’s own streaming product widely expected to be launched sometime early next year. That too is believed to have an ad-supported model embedded into it.
In the UK, we can’t just sit around saying, “Yes, but American radio is terrible and it’ll be different in the UK.”
It won’t.
There are still plenty of challenges in an IP-only world of course. While your home or work broadband might be up to the task, that’s almost certainly not the case when you leave your home. And it’s almost certainly not if you rely on 3G. 4G/LTE may be around the corner, but data caps probably limit the amount of streaming media anyone’s likely to be doing anytime soon. That won’t be the case forever of course. Anyway, significant proportions of audio streaming on devices like mobile phones come when they’re connected to WiFi. So if a service is available on a mobile and it’s any good, it’ll get used regardless. Certainly the percentage of the population who own smartphones is only going in one direction.
“Traditional” radio of course has plenty going for it. You probably already have multiple radios, and it reaches places other media don’t. The car, for example.
Then there’s the small matter of the bits in between the music, which I think just about everyone is now realising are becoming more important than ever. I can hear that new Adele song in 101 other places, but a presenter saying something witty or putting it into some kind of context is something that only radio is able to deliver.
The other day I was talking to someone about my thoughts on the future of radio and I was explaining this strength that we have with personalities on music radio. But he then asked me, “What is stopping Spotify hiring presenters?”
Indeed Spotify has dabbled a little in the radio world and put together some “shows” with presenters. But suppose Spotify hired Chris Moyles. Then what?
Leaving aside the fact the Moyles’ act is built largely on speech, it’s not unimaginable that Spotify could lever a series of pre-recorded show links into your preferred playlist. Your phone might be loaded up and raring to go when you take it off charge in the morning, with the links freshly recorded early that morning to keep them topical and relevant. Spotify’s mobile app is already pretty clever at making songs available offline.
You’d lose the interactivity of a truly live radio of course, and in my example that’d probably be critical since a presenter like Moyles almost requires an audience listening live and interacting with him for his show to work. But others could adapt to make it work. Music radio did manage to exist texts and emails after all. As I say, Spotify has travelled a little down this route already, and dropping news bulletins into your playlist wouldn’t be hard for them to do.
I strongly believe that radio’s way of fighting back is to quickly adopt a hybrid model. Of course there’s fairly broad consensus that this is something we need to do. I’m not exactly out there on my own here.
A hybrid model of broadcast and internet would effectively entail a broadcast in either FM or perhaps more likely broadcast digital radio (e.g. DAB in the UK) alongside a WiFi, 3G or 4G/LTE connection. Anyone familiar with Radio DNS will have perhaps seen demonstrations of things like Radio Viz which allows side-loaded imagery to be served up alongside broadcast radio on devices with colour screens.
Then there’s Radio Tag which would enable sets to have a single button which could capture interaction in a neat and clever mechanism. For example, just pressing a button when some music or an interesting advert comes on the radio would let the user “tag” it. Later they’d be able to go back and examine in more detail what it was they were interested in.
At next week’s Radio Festival, Radioplayer will demonstrating a prototype hybrid radio that offers stations regardless of whether they’re FM or internet delivered. It features a colour touchscreen – as surely most of our devices will and in the future – and is built on the technology I’ve just been talking about. It’s a “concept car” if you like. It begins to show you what’s possible.
But let’s go a step further forward. Absolute Radio (Disclaimer: my employer), has been pioneering InStream in UK, serving targeted advertising to logged-in listeners based on things like demographics and location.
Add some of that thinking into a hybrid model that was able to deliver the best of broadcast’s strengths, with the personalisation that IP connectivity also allows. Then think about where you may end up.
Imagine a journey in a car where you tune to your favourite radio station. You hear a presenter you know and trust – radio’s trump card. Utilising the broadcast platform, the station plays music that it has curated for you – saving you the effort.
It’s a commercial station, so you hear advertising. But because you’re logged in, and while you were enjoying the broadcast music, relevant advertising has been side-loaded via IP into a buffer on the radio and it’s now served to you in place of broadcast advertising as it’s more relevant and interesting to you. Needless to say, this all happens seamlessly. The radio station is able to tell your car exactly how long the ad break is and therefore how many ads to serve. (Sky is due to launch something very similar to this called AdSmart in the summer of 2013 for television subscribers with Sky+ boxes).
The traffic and travel news comes on, and because the radio can feed back your location, it’s highly personalised, dealing with the motorway you’re travelling along. Google Now is very adeptly doing this sort of thing on Nexus products today. In reality the radio in your vehicle is receiving data in the form of text which a superior text-to-voice HTML5 web audio engine within the radio is able to deliver in a superior Siri-style voice. The weather is similarly personalised to your location.
And when the news bulletin comes on, you get a version of that based on national news of importance to all, and localised news based on where you are. Pre-recorded segements from reporters could be dropped in as the pre-recorded ads are.
And while I’ve considered a commercial case, much of this would also be of relevance in the public sector. Indeed the BBC R&D department has already done something like this using geolocation technology and the web audio API in an experimental drama called Breaking Out. I recently saw Tony Churnside demo it at a Radiophonics Day in London, and it’s quite impressive what you can already do it a browser like Chrome. Give it a go!
Now imagine that the voice native in that API was significantly improved. This seems highly likely in the future. And since there are limited number of sounds the human voice can make (in English anyway), you could potentially deliver those automated bulletins using your station voices!
While you would need to tread a fine line between clever targeting and Minority Report style over-personalisation (How about an advert that actually used your name in it? Too much?), this could continue to leave radio in a very powerful position in the media landscape. “Targeting” and “big data” are the buzzwords du jour and radio has to keep up. In commercial radio, we need to continue to provide advertisers with what they want.
Agreeing some standards is probably what we’re looking for now to enable this future. And as I say to dissenters, if radio doesn’t do it, then the likes of Spotify, Apple, Pandora, Google, Microsoft and any number of other groups are likely to do it anyway.
It would seem a shame to miss that particular train. I for one don’t want to.

* Of course it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the effects of global warming are already being felt. I’m certainly not a denier – the ice caps continue to melt, and we get freak weather systems. This was more a turn of phrase.

Bellowhead at the Roundhouse

Bellowhead - Roundhouse Nov 2012-9
I think Bellowhead is probably my favourite live band. They’ve just started a new tour, and last night it reached the wonderful Roundhouse in Camden.
Cue lots of dancing, jigging, and a bit of polka on the floor of the Roundhouse.
Watching Bellowhead makes you think that them going on tour is probably like throwing a large party each night. I’m certain I’d find it exhausting. And there are so many instruments on stage from fiddles to a full range of brass, but they all add to a wonderful sound that is superb of CD, but utterly brilliant live. I know they’ve played a few festivals recently, but seeing them at indoor venues where the music doesn’t drift away is definitely the way forward. Go and see them.
I should add that I really enjoyed the support band – Mama Rosin from Switzerland. I shall be checking out their music.
(I’d heartily concur with this Guardian review of last night’s show).
Bellowhead - Roundhouse Nov 2012-7
Bellowhead - Roundhouse Nov 2012-10
A few more pictures here.

Beasts of the Southern Wild and The Master

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a truly remarkable piece of cinema. We get a mix of magical realism alongside an almost conceivable life in the southern tip of Louisiana – “the Bathtub.” The young Hushpuppy (a truly amazing performance from a five or six year old Quvenzhané Wallis) lives with her dad (Dwight Henry) somewhere out on their remote island. Well I say that she lives “with” him, but at the start of the film they each have their own cabin – all supported by stilts since theirs is a part of the world that floods.
Hushpuppy has learnt from a school teacher who has an interesting line tattoos, of the aurochs, an ancient species of cattle. And we see the creatures encased in ice in the Antarctic, ending up being freed as the cap melts. At least in Hushpuppy’s mind’s eye.
With the melting ice cap comes the flood that brings desolation to their community, and the real adventure begins.
I was absolutely enraptured by this delightful tale. You have to set aside preconceived notions of how the world should exist, but it really doesn’t matter. This is a fairy tale – a wondrous one.
The fact the film was shot on relatively low-fi 16mm film just lends it a texture and realism that also means that this is one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen in a while as well as one of the best.
The Master was a film I was really looking forward to seeing. Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about a cult leader (not completely unlike L Ron Hubbard), whose group follow The Cause (not completely unlike Scientology) has been sounding intriguing for months. And with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams in the leading roles, there was an awful lot to look forward to.
We’re in the run-up to Christmas, and because Hollywood believes all the members of the various academies the dole out awards have memories like sieves, they save all their best stuff until now.
I was looking forward to it.
And it’s good. But perhaps not quite as good as some would have it. The performances are spectacular, although Phoenix’s performance is definitely an acquired taste. And even though the premise is at times balmy, it’s somehow believable. The fact that other cults have similar backgrounds to this fictional one does lend it that believability.
But the film also drifts occasionally and you’re just not sure where it’s heading in the end. Indeed, having seen it, I’m not sure where it ended up.
I really don’t want to say an enormous amount more, because I just don’t want to spoil things, but it does drift along at times.
That all said, it’s still well worth seeing. And it is remarkable to imagine that someone could talk such bilge, and yet do so with enough conviction that so many are carried along is his wake. Indeed a recurring image of the film is the wake created by a boat in the ocean.
I went to see The Master in its exclusive 70mm presentation at the Odeon West End in central London. Unusually for a film in this day and age, they’re giving it an exclusive two week run in a single cinema before it gets opened properly. And since there are very few screens that are still able to project 70mm prints, I wanted to see it in this environment.
Later, when the film gets a broader distribution, other prints will either be regular 35mm, or more likely these days, digitally.
Without seeing the film side by side with a digital version, it’s hard to tell the difference, although the colours are rich and there are well defined black levels – all things that digital projectors can struggle with. One thing I very much did notice was the reappearance of cue marks – those circular marks that were placed on reels to alert the projectionist when the next reel should be played in. As I understand it though, even with 70mm films, these aren’t necessary any longer. But I guess that the print I saw may someday be played on a system that can’t handle a single platter – or indeed Odeon’s set-up requires different reels to be used.
Unfortunately, despite these optimal screen conditions, the same can’t be said for the sound. Now that’s not to complain about the sound system in the cinema I saw it in. I’ve no doubt that it’s fairly state of the art. But the problem was leaking sound from the other cinema. You see the Odeon West End is a pair of twin screens. A conversion in 1988 saw the old cinema’s circle converted into Screen 1, while the stalls was converted into a slightly larger Screen 2. This is where The Master is being shown.
However the film that’s currently playing on Screen 1 above it, is Taken 2. And while I can’t vouch for the film as I haven’t seen it (although I heart that it’s awful), what I can attest to is the sound it makes. It’s loud. Very loud. And it seemingly keeps the upstairs screen’s sub-woofers very busy.
The Master doesn’t have any car chases, explosions or indeed action sequences. So it has no loud sounds to dull out those leaking from upstairs. And instead, we’re left with low rumbling noises throughout the film. It was really distracting and off-putting. Really disappointing.
The other thing to say about The Master is that it’s poster is genuinely awful. It’s distributed by Entertainment Film Distribution (EFD), and unfortunately, they seem to produce terrible film posters. You tend to know if a film is distributed by them by the fact that large proportions of the poster are taken up by review excerpts. This has been the case for years, and often affects their DVD covers too.
Of course The Master has had some excellent reviews, and there is no shortage of 5 star reviews to clutter up the poster with, all from reputable outlets. So The Guardian and the Telegraph rather than Grazia and Shortlist.
Now to some extent, I can understand a film advert in the newspapers making use of these. But unfortunately they tend to overwhelm the rest of the poster. And if you happen to wander into Leicester Square, you might not actually be able to tell what the film is that they’re talking about. The title is completely obscured surrounded by curious imagery – a Rorschach test inkblot with a pair of eyes.
The words “The Master” are almost completely obscured on the posters I’ve observed on tubes and trains.
Putting all these quotes outside the cinema in the West End seems completely stupid. As I say, it’s the single screen in the country projecting the film in 70mm. People seeing the film there are unlikely to be passing trade. They will have made the trip to see the film especially. These people have already been sold into seeing the film. Those 5 star reviews are unnecessary.
Looking around Leicester Square, the Odeon across the way that’s showing Skyfall was unadorned with glowing reviews – even though they’d be easy to see. And Taken 2 in the adjacent screen is just showing a massive picture of Liam Neeson. OK – they might have struggled with quotes for that one, but it still looked much more striking.
Well worth seeing despite it all.