Written by Radio

A New Radio Academy

Yesterday, the now outgoing chair of the Radio Academy, Ben Cooper, presented a new vision of what the Academy should be.

You will perhaps recall that it has been through some fairly tumultuous times recently. The packed AGM last December saw the airing of some serious differences of opinion at a time when both the Radio Academy Awards and the Radio Festival were cancelled.

You can watch Ben’s presentation on the Radio Academy’s website, where you’ll also see a summary of the changes that are being made.

I must say that it was a much more positive evening than last December. There does seem to be a sensible road to follow.

We have Chris Burns as the new Chair – and she will without doubt be fantastic. She’s Head of Group Operations in BBC Radio, and was made a Fellow of the Radio Academy just over a year ago, having put enormous amounts of work into the Academy and the Radio Festival in particular.

The entire line-up of Trustees is being replaced, with three to be appointed by the Chair for some of the big roles, and six more to be elected by members. They’ll all have very specific positions in the future. There’ll also be a Deputy Chair and a part-time Director to be appointed in due course. At that point they’ll decide on their staffing needs.

Then there is the membership. I think that this caused the most confusion in the room. If you work for a big group, then those will continue to be patron members (entitling all their staff to attend Radio Academy events). Many smaller and voluntary groups including Sound Women, Community Radio, Hospital Radio, Prison Radio and Student Radio will get free membership, hopefully broadening the base. But there will also be an individual “gold” membership. This would seem to include consultants, but also others not formally part of the industry. And other members can “upgrade” to Gold since there will be member benefits. These might include voting in the Radio Production Awards and even membership to a London club!

It’s perhaps that latter idea that concerned people. You’re not going to get club membership for £25 are you? Yet we were told that it would be less than £50 which perhaps isn’t too bad. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Festival will return within 12 months. It will be affordable and aimed at a wider range of people than before. There was an acknowledgement that as the industry has consolidated, it naturally meant fewer people “needed” to attend. So aiming it at a broader range of attendees would seem sensible.

I didn’t hear anything about moving beyond what we consider radio. Ben made a comment about one of his biggest professional assets – Zane Lowe – leaving to work for Apple, which showed what we’re up against. But I wonder if we don’t at least need to engage with “the enemy”? The lines are only going to get more blurred between what the current radio industry thinks of as “radio” and what the technology/music industry calls “radio.” Baby steps perhaps.

The one thing we didn’t hear much about was the return of the Radio Academy Awards (née Sonys). A new set of awards is, we’re told, going to be created outside of the Academy. The major players in the industry (BBC, RadioCentre including Bauer and Global, UTV and RIG) will sit down soon to create some new awards, “Revamped and rejuvenated for the modern world of radio.”

I wouldn’t underestimate how hard this is going to be. From what I understand, there are some diametrically opposed views on some of this within different groups. Still, those named organisations will take on the financial risk (and I assume reward) of the awards.

Let’s hope they can thrash it out though, since although it’s easy to be sniffy about awards, they’re an important recognition of excellence within the industry.

Overall, a positive start. Let’s see how it goes from here.