Farewell to the Arqiva Awards; the Continued Fragmentation of the UK Radio Industry

Towards the end of last year we learned that after 21 years, the Arqiva Radio Awards (previously the CRCA Awards) have now come to an end. The awards, which were contested by commercial radio alone, have been a mainstay of the calendar for many years now. Many might recall that in years gone by when the awards were held during the late afternoon and early evening, following a members’ conference, and they’d often then be followed by the notorious Xtracts party – a bus being laid on to transport party goers from one event to the next.

But this isn’t just sadness for bygone years of drunken revelry amongst industry peers; it’s one fewer opportunity for staff at commercial radio stations to receive plaudits from their colleagues. Awards aren’t just there to proudly display in receptions and boardrooms; they’re there to make staff at stations feel special – important in an industry that nobody really enters to get rich.

RadioCentre will continue to support the newly launched Arias, and it looks like the Radio Academy will be consulting to make changes next year, so that the BBC won’t necessarily be quite as dominant. I wish these new awards well.

However it’s curious to read from James Cridland that Arqiva itself was happy to carry on sponsoring the awards. Sadly, that suggests that there continue to be significant differences of opinion in how these awards should be run within the radio industry itself. Recall that Wireless Group and UKRD already declined to enter the awards.

Earlier last year, I noted – only slightly facetiously – that Sound Women appeared to be the only UK radio organisation supported by the wider UK radio industry.

With Sound Women winding down operations, I’m not sure that there’s a single organisation or body that covers the entire UK radio spectrum. RAJAR is perhaps the closest, although many smaller stations either can’t afford RAJAR, or don’t find that it offers them value for money.

And it’s not as though usurpers to radio’s crown are going anywhere: Spotify, Apple, Amazon and Google are all continuing to invest millions into audio, and we are unquestionably seeing behavioural changes at the younger end of the market.

I’m not suggesting that the presence or absence of an awards ceremony will make much difference in stopping that growth. But it’s indicative of an industry that’s not prepared to unite when it’s useful. Awards do reward excellence in radio and audio; and excellent audio is surely critical to the future of the medium.

Who’s Missing from the ARIAS?

Virgin Radio's First Sony Award

Earlier this week, the nominations for the inaugural ARIAS were announced. These are effectively the replacement of the former Sony Radio Awards, following Sony departing as a sponsor, and the Radio Academy reorganising itself and slimming down.

Over the 16 award categories, the BBC has 54 nominations, including several catetgories that only feature BBC nominees, while Bauer has 8 nomations, the Wireless Group 3, and several other groups one each.

Notably absent are any Global Radio nominees.

It was hard to see past the thought that Global had simply not entered the awards. For example, you would quite comfortably expect LBC to be up for some of its news and current affairs coverage, while Classic FM has previously always done well.

This morning Radio Today has confirmed that Global simply didn’t enter:

“We aren’t members of the Radio Academy so we haven’t entered their awards. We wish everyone who’s been nominated loads of luck.”

It’s true. The slimmed down Radio Academy is no longer supported by Global. But that doesn’t actually mean that they’re not allowed to enter the ARIAS.

It seems as though Global has taken a “We’re not going to play” attitude to the awards, depsite being the biggest commercial radio group in the country. It would be analagous to ITV not entering the BAFTAs.

Look – I understand that for whatever reason, Global doesn’t want to support a cross-industry body that promotes radio such as the Radio Academy. Getting a group of people in a room to all agree on something is hard, and during the reformation of the Radio Academy, a consensus seemingly couldn’t be achieved.

It’s a real shame, but it’s just about understandable. Global’s attention is probably currently concentrated on their recently opened Global Academy in Hayes.

But not participating in the ARIAS is surely akin to a sulking child picking up his ball and saying he won’t play the game any more because the others have scored too many goals.

“Their awards”?

Was it the entry fees? Awards are expensive and entry fees and selling tickets go towards funding a glizty evening. Traditionally this has been somewhere fancy in London, but the ARIAS are moving away from the capital and will take place at the First Direct Arena in Leeds.

Is it the awards categories? Does Global not think they match the kind of output its stations produce. Actually, I think Global could probably enter in the majority of categories.

By not entering the ARIAS, Global is really denying its staff the chance to compete against the rest of the UK radio industry. Certainly there are the Arqiva Awards, but they’re only for commercial radio (and unfortunately, they suffer their own boycotts).

Whereas if you win one of the ARIAS, you can triumphantly proclaim that you are the best in the country regardless. It’s something you’ll put on your CV and will be with you for the rest of your career in the industry and beyond.

Winning an award engenders an enormous amount of pride in your staff. Winning something like Station of the Year can mean an awful lot, and filters through to everyone including those who don’t directly work on-air. And if you work on an award-winning show, you might find a better job, or get a promotion in your current place of work off the back of it. For commercial groups, advertisers love awards ceremonies. If something they had a part in wins an award, it’s reflective of them too. Agencies and clients love the glitz and glamour of the evening too.

This is the first year of the ARIAS, and undoubtedly there’ll be some teething problems. The entry period was a bit short. Making your entry sound great is key to winning an award, and this takes time. Some of the categories will no doubt need tweaking too. For example, I think that a category that can encompass radio promotions or competitions is important. Yes, that tends to be a commercial category, but perhaps the best and most creative pieces of radio that some stations produce actually come when they run on-air competitions. I’d also like to see a factual award that allows popular documentaries to compete.

And if you don’t think your station makes radio that can win awards in a fair fight against the rest of the commercial sector and a licence-fee funded BBC, I have news for you.

You can.

Be a bit more ambitious, and go out and make something!

Certainly, your schedule might mostly be music, but that doesn’t stop you producing, say, a one-off programme or documentary on something relevant or important to your listeners. And if you haven’t got the skills internally, then bring in an indie to help. It needn’t be expensive, and once broadcast, you’ve got something awards-friendly right there and ready to go! Obviously it’ll need to be good, but your station is probably brimming with creativity just waiting to be let off the leash and do something extraordinary. If you’re really smart, you can get it sponsored and it might actually make you some money too!

So I really hope Global has a change of heart and next year lets its employees, including some of the most incredibly talented folk in the industry, enter what are undoubtedly the UK’s premier radio awards.

American Hustle

The new David O Russell film, American Hustle is immensely enjoyable. We’re dropped in at the deep end, with some kind of con or undercover operation going on. And not going well. But we get quickly get into flashback as our narrator and main character Irving Rosenfield (Christian Bale), sets out in a life – a life that began by helping his dad’s glazing business by helpfully increasing demand with the use of stones and bricks. We also meet Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), briefly a stripper and writer on Cosmopolitan, before she meets Irving at a party. The pair of them lead a disreputable life conning people who can’t get loans into giving them fees to get loans themselves. She adopts an English accent and pretends she has contacts back in Britain.

But they get caught by Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent, and he decides that their brand of confidence trickery is exactly what he needs to bring down all the white collar criminals he perceives are ruining America. He’ll give them leniency if they agree to help him.

He sets his sights on Atlantic City where the mayor (Jeremy Renner) is looking for money to build casinos since he managed to relax rules on gambling in the city.

In the meantime, Irving’s own personal life is complicated by him having a wife and stepson with Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence).

And so we get an immensely stylish view of the lives of these characters as they all intersect and they try to out-hustle the corrupt politicians and mafia.

The film is gorgeous to look at and the production design is top notch. Lots of effort has been taken over the detail. And for the most part the performances are excellent. But I’m really not sure about Christian Bale. He’s just unnecessarily intense. In effect, this is a comedy thriller, yet Bale just doesn’t really have a light-side. Yes, he’s completely immersed in his character – although I find too many of Bale’s characters as being dark and brooding – but I’m not sure he has the right tone here.

Amy Adams fares better, with her decolletage permanently on display in some remarkable dresses that she wears throughout the film. She has a lighter touch which feels right for the tone of the film. Oddly I didn’t really notice that for the most part she was putting on an English accent. I was aware she was doing it, but not to the extent of a character who notices the second she drops the accent.

And Bradley Cooper certainly has the comic nous to play his larger than life FBI agent to the full extent. He’s climbing the ranks of the FBI, over his boss, beautifully played by Louis CK, if necessary.

But probably best of all is Jennifer Lawrence, who steals every scene she’s in. She’s playing “white trash” and is fantastic, with a fine scene involving a microwave “science oven”, and a beautiful scene in which she sings along with Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die. She also has a very powerful scene with Amy Adams when things are coming to a head.

This is also a film about hair. The first shot is actually the full hair routine of Irving in his room in the morning as he carefully applies a toupé and then fashions a bizarre comb-over with plenty of hair products to put everything in place. Later there’s a lovely scene in Cooper’s FBI home where he has his hair in tight curlers, at home with his mum and fiancée.

The music too, is noteworthy, with a fine selection of classic seventies songs. You actually barely notice that Danny Elfman has also provided music for the score.

So a very fine film indeed. But it is over long. It needed some serious tightening up. And the problem with the main character’s casting means that it’s not quite as good as it might be (and some are saying that it is).

Finally, a couple of unrelated moans:

1. I was in my seat for the start of the ad reel, and the first ad was for a Sony sponsored playalong app that cinema goers were asked to install on their phones. There are lots of problems with this. First of all, I think it’s wrong to encourage any use of phones in cinemas. It just sends the wrong message. Secondly, the ad stupidly didn’t give anyone enough time to actually download and install the app. So the idea of answering the trivially easy quiz questions on the app in time to the ad was nigh on impossible. Thirdly, it really wasn’t clear what the point of playing it was. There was a vague promise of prizes, but nothing explained. As far as I could tell, it was simply a ploy to collect sales leads.

2. Is Matthew McConnaughey in every film on release at the moment?

3. But mostly I wanted to have another moan about this.

It’s that time of year when film distributors get so wound up about winning awards that they don’t give a damn about the audience, and simply release all the good films in one go. Essentially, Academy Awards are handed out to films released in the US in the previous calendar year. Because most members are elderly, and nobody in Hollywood believes anyone can remember beyond last weekend, all the good films are stacked into the end of that period. In the UK, BAFTA stretches that period a little so that it can hand out awards to essentially the same group of films. Either way, the result is a glut of films at the same time, many of which have been held onto for months to appear in “Oscar season.”

What’s the point?

Barely anyone goes to the cinema that often that they can watch them all. So lots of good films get left unseen because those who like quality films are being bombarded with all the good ones in one go.

But we live in a world where campaigning to win awards is the norm. I understand that winning awards can do wonders for your box office, or your DVD sales. But at the expense of garnering decent box office revenues at the time of release? Spread your decent films across the year, then I might go and see more of them!

And that brings me to another (final – I promise – for this blog) bête noire – film trailers that simply go on and on about the how all their actors have won or have been nominated for an Academy Award. The reason I hate these trailers is that 1) they seem very unfair on any actor in them who hasn’t had an award nomination/win but mostly 2) that they’re just really gauche. I know that’s an American thing, but I just can’t stand it. And it really doesn’t make me want to see your film. At the very least re-edit your trailer for the UK marketplace a bit (the trailer I saw was a UK trailer incidentally).

A great case in point is the trailer for Out of the Furnace – a film that I assume has lots of awards pretensions. I say that because all I really took from the trailer is that everyone is acting an enormous amount. And that Zoe Saldano hasn’t yet been nominated for an Academy Award.

And it stars an intense looking Christian Bale. So it must be up for Oscars right?