Written by Radio

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.
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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.”
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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.
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“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.
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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?
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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. opentoexport.com).
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.
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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.
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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.
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He even demoed voice control to start up The Archers! A very impressive end to the festival.