Commercial Radio Should Shut Up

By its very nature Commercial Radio is a business and no business has a right to exist. It has to prove itself worthy of its customers. It has to show it provides something somebody wants.

In response to http://www.mattdeegan.com/2009/09/08/commercial-radio-bleating/

A great considered piece. The points you make could be debated endlessly, and probably will as long as we have BBC radio which we all pay something towards.

Even as a commercial radio fanboy (because I think that’s what I am) I have ‘tweated’ many times along the same lines as Nicky Campbell this week (and the clock’s only just moved to Wednesday). But my reason to get the ‘bleaters’ to shut up is that the commercial radio industry is coming across so poorly it would be better saying nothing. Seriously, tell your colleagues to shut up.

It’s a shame I’m saying that because this much radio chatter hasn’t been in the news for years. But Commercial Radio is a commercial business and it’s killing itself every time it’s quoted somewhere. It doesn’t need the BBC, Wogan, Moyles or Evans to do it; it’s doing it to itself.

The week started with Richard Park effectively suggesting that he’d love to take Jamie & Harriet national at breakfast but can’t and that blasted BBC etc. etc. If you’re a listener to Heart in, say, Norwich, what did that suggest to you that the boss of your local radio station thinks about the shows he’s putting on for you? If you’re a local advertiser in Norwich what impression does it give of the radio station you’re thinking about spending some of your limited marketing budget on? If you’re an agency-type in London you now think you should stick your cash on Heart London and forget the network (because it’s not as good as the London programme, is it?). And if you’re The City aren’t you glad Global Radio isn’t traded because your investment might have just tanked.

Then we have the Moyles longest-innings, Wogan going, they-won’t-like Evans stories. Commercial Radio continues to complain about BBC salaries, changing targets of Radios 1 & 2 and how Moyles v Evans is bad for ‘the listener’. Nick Farrari sat on Newsnight last night moaning about the BBC; going as far as to suggest the BBC would show a promo for one of their stations after the programme which wasn’t very fair, competition wise. If I was any of those listeners, advertisers or agency people I would have come away thinking commercial radio can’t be very good can it? Ferrari’s a talk radio broadcaster used to twisting the point to say what he has to say and he had a prime(ish)-time national slot. He should have been championing the fantastic programming on commercial radio and how it was brilliant that all this great programming cost the listener nothing.

Now you may argue that this is really a lobbying exercise. Listeners & advertisers won’t take these words to heart (excuse the pun) but the government may hear. But Commercial Radio is leaving the impression (intended or otherwise) to 5 million Evans listeners and 7 million Moyles listeners that they shouldn’t have those shows. That could be 12 million people who don’t listen to Commercial Radio hearing somebody suggesting the programmes they love shouldn’t be there. Commercial Radio won’t be helped by alienating 12 million people, many of whom may come out saying to their MP – possibly in an election year – that Radios 1 & 2 should be kept as they are.

By its very nature Commercial Radio is a business and no business has a right to exist. It has to prove itself worthy of its customers. It has to show it provides something somebody wants. And, moreover, Commercial Radio is a media business. Any forward-thinking business, when faced with a glut of news about its industry would be spinning the positives; proving why we should be sampling their product and selling themselves. But, as Nicky Campbell said, Commercial Radio is bleating about how unfair the world is.

Lobby in private. In public shout about great Commercial Radio is.

Timmy On My Tranny

There was something faintly exotic about the mad-cap antics and celebritry filled audio that came out of the radio. I imagine today it would seem tame but our only chart fix was Look-In magazine and, when I discovered it, Smash Hits.

I’ve been re-reading my piece about radio and how my love affair with the medium started; all prompted by a certain person making a big splash on a recent TV show.

It occurs to me that in my radio reflection I listed names that, even today, many would be familiar with, and I started to wonder who in that list jumped out when when people read it? I’m fairly certain one jumped out to many: Timmy Mallett. Whenever I tell people that radio story, Timmy Mallett (along, possibly with Chris Evans) is the name that makes people chuckle most. I guess, people think of Wide Awake Club or the spinoff, Wacaday. But those aren’t my memories.

Timmy Mallet was enormously famous in the North West for his evening show – Timmy on the Tranny – on Piccadilly Radio. At least, he was famous at my school which – to me – meant everybody in the world must have known who he was. And years, and a little rationale, later suggests that we were right. Timmy Mallett won Smash Hits awards which, given they were voted for by national audiences (many of whom wouldn’t have heard his shows), seems to suggest a good few others listened-in. Aunty Boney, Padlock the Poet and Chris Evans’ Nobby No-Level where characters that filled out our homework evenings. And then we’d talk about them in school the next day.

To me, Manchester seemed a million miles away from Wigan but had the advanatage that the biggest stars of the day played Mancheter gigs (I don’t recall anybody playing Wigan, not even Kajagoogoo whose front man, Limahl, hailed from somewhere up the road. I think Bucks Fizz played a sports centre once just outside Wigan, but I may have invented that). And long before I would be able to go and see bands, they all visited Timmy Mallett at Piccadilly. No interviews from studios many miles away, if a chart act played Manchester they visited Timmy (or, at least, all the chart acts I cared about as a teenager did). There was something faintly exotic about the mad-cap antics and celebritry filled audio that came out of the radio. I imagine today it would seem tame but our only chart fix was Look-In magazine and, when I discovered it, Smash Hits (of the awards fame).

So, I guess, well done to Timmy Mallett for getting close on I’m A Celebrity but, to me, he’ll always be the madcap voice coming out of my evening radio. And without a foam hammer anywhere to be seen.

A Ten Year Old’s Happiest Memory

The happiest memory I have is the time I visited the studios of Piccadilly Radio in Manchester in the Easter holidays in April 1981. We were shown around by Julian. We got there ar quarter to four.

As I’ve prevously written, when I was much younger  I was a huge fan of Mancheter’s Piccadilly Radio. So much so that when I was eleven I spent hours writing a letter asking to see their studios. That didn’t quite work out but I got there anyway. A couple of days ago I was sorting through some old papers and discovered that, apparently, when I was in class J3C at Standish High School I declared that visit to Piccadilly as my happiest memory. To read it amuses me now but it’s recreated here for nostalgic reasons:

My Happiest Memory

The happiest memory I have is the time I visited the studios of Piccadilly Radio in Manchester in the Easter holidays in April 1981. We were shown around by Julian. We got there at quarter to four.

First we went into the master control room in which programmes are recorded and it is where the producer sits to make sure the programme is runnning smoothly. At four o’clock we went into studio two w(h)ere DJ Phil Sayer was getting ready for the second hour of his show. As the news was on he told us how the cart machines work (cart is short for cartridge). The carts are jingles and advertisments played on the radio station.

As Piccadilly is an independent radio station it plays advertisments to cover the running costs. Businessees can buy an advertisment to be played at the time of day they pick. It can cost them well over a hundred pounds! There are a maximum of nine minutes of advertismentsin each hour.

After the news finished and Phil faded down the record he announced the first competition of the day, ‘Beat The Intro’ in which you have to guess the name of the record before the words start. It was a phone-in competition but nobody cuuld get through because Julian had pressed some buttons and jammed the lines. When somebody got though, Phil read out one name, there was a crackle, and somebody else got on the air. Phil Sayer was in a panic so he put another record on after the competition and looked in the control room window, saw what happened and told the phone girl to put things right. We left quickly …

Julian then showed us the editing and commercial production booths. When we left my dad bought me a t-shirt. I also got a lot of stickers.

It was a very interesting day. We were there about an hour.

June 2009: I scanned a photo of the original, my ten-year old handwriting isn’t that bad, really.

Radio Reflections

Ask anybody who’s known me for some time and they’ll eventually mention I can talk about broadcast radio a little too much. I think my true anorak tendancies died a few years ago but radio is, to me, the best of all media rolled into one universally accessible package

Piccadilly Radio Logo
Piccadilly Radio

Ask anybody who’s known me for some time and they’ll eventually mention I can talk about broadcast radio a little too much. I think my true anorak tendancies died a few years ago but radio is, to me, the best of all media rolled into one universally accessible package. The best radio sounds like it’s being created for you and, even if the presenters are talking about people who’ve written, emailed, texted (is that even a word?) or called-in, it’s still yours. People on the radio play records for you, they read the news for you and they interview famous people just for you. It’s there when you get-up (and you don’t even have to open your eyes to be part of it) and can be there throughout the day. At various times in the day you pay a little more – or a little less – attention but it can always be with you. You can listen alone or in company, on the move or at home, you can focus and enjoy or it can be your ever-present background.

I grew up listening to the mighty Piccadilly Radio which, with many, many, fewer stations on the dial back then could be heard across the whole of the North West of England. Sure,there was Radio City from Liverpool and, er, Manx Radio, but there wasn’t anything else until you hit some far-off Yorkshire town or even Newcastle, or maybe Wolverhampton if you were heading south. And certainly nothing on my dial that played pop music in crystal clear FM-stereo (I thought this was impressive despite only owning a mono reciever). If the stories are true, ‘Piccadilly, luv’ became shorthand for £2.61 in some northern shops (261 being that crackly medium wave frequency that disppeared when you drove under motorway bridges and was, therefore, not quite modern enough for a ten year old).

You can, no doubt, read in many other places that there was a lot less media back then but the lack of other media isn’t – by itself – that important. To me, the important aspect of that time is that there wan’t anything that a teenager like I was becoming could consider to be theirs. There were no teenage bedroom televisions and only three channels if we could have had them; no connected computers of any sort, gaming or otherwise; no texts or social sites. Books were for libraries and mobile phones belonged on Star Trek or, maybe, Tomorrow’s World. In fact, nothing that was yours aside from a radio or, perhaps, a record player and record players relied on a handful of vinyl you might be lucky enough to own and were not exactly portable. Pop music radio from the BBC was on that crackly old medium wave and we were supposed to like Ed Steward’s Junior Choice. No, for me, interferance-free pop music on 97 MHz.

So for my early teenage years radio became mine, as I imagine it did for millions of others. Pete Baker, Phil Wood, Mike Sweeny, Phil Sayer, Timmy Mallett, Chris Evans, Andy Crane, Susie Mathis, Jim Reeve, Mike Shaft, John Evington, Steve Penk, Tim Grundy, Gary Davies and Dave Ward (along with countless others) became part of our lives; voices that were simultanesously funny, informative and friendly. Piccadilly’s strapline when I first started listening was ‘Your Music & Your Friend’ and it certainly felt that way to my teenage ears.

As with all memories from your formative years, things that once seemed magical are still vivid and I can quite easily remember the excitement: the excitement of the first time I listened to late-night phone-ins using headphones illicitly under the bed covers; the excitement of seeing the DJ’s photographs plastered all over the front of the studio building; the excitement when it was announced Piccadilly was having a ‘Wigan Week’ and we’d see their branded radio car in town and even the excitement of seeing Gary Davies on the Piccadilly road show bus at Haigh Hall. If people are to be believed, rock’n’roll had an effect on a generation in the 50s & 60s, and later, it was Pirate Radio. Today, is it an MTV or something online that people will be looking back at? But for me, Piccadilly is etched in my memory in a way that I find myself recalling snippets like they were yesterday (Susie Mathis’ ‘I’m gonna run, run, run a marathon’ anyone?).

I’m not one of these people that think radio should be like Indpenedent Local Radio (ILR) was back in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The world has moved on. Full service commercial radio of the old style doesn’t have a place anymore but that doesn’t mean that the unique qualities of the medium don’t apply. Despite all the digital, multiple-platform desires of an industry, radio’s ubiquity is its most import asset. Good quality programming still counts. The personal music player (Walkman, Discman or iPod/mp3 player) have been around since the early 1980s. It hasn’t killed the industry yet and, I don’t think it will. Even though I have a computer showing 30+ days of music, I am set here listening to the radio.

I don’t think it’s right to be sentimental about radio. I know that teenagers today aren’t going to have my relationship with radio because their world is vastly different and much more connected but I genuinely believe a cheap device that plays music you like, and can go anywhere, has the power build reationships better than almost any other – except, perhaps, for actually meeting people. And even there, radio can be part of the real-life conversation.

Yes, I can still take along a tranny and listen to my friends (and I really do mean that in the radio sense).

Tribute To Atlantic 252

Atlantic 252 tribute site is now online.

I seem to have spent the week reporting news from the UK radio industry. Well, I wanted to highlight a comment on an old radio entry – Long Wave Is The Home Of Hit Music. Simon Hardwick posted to say the Atlantic 252 tribute site is now up and running. Take a look, it’s great and features some great audio which will take you right back.

Reduced Commercial Clutter

Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work. But then again, what do I know?

On Monday I mentioned Capital Radio’s decline in the London market but completely missed the comment piece by Paul Robinson on The Guardian’s site. He notes that slashing commercial hours could ‘knock about £7m off Capital’s top-line revenue in 2006’. This I find interesting. Reducing commercial clutter (as it’s called) will hopefully drive bigger audiences. Reduced commercial airtime also makes those ads that are aired stand out more. Won’t advertisers end up paying a premium for this? Maybe not in the short term but I would have thought that in the long run it could work. But then again, what do I know?

Fined. Big Time.

When I was a child, my favourite radio station was Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio. To me, it was the most exciting station in the world. Pete and Geoff, who I mentioned yesterday, started their award-winning partnership on that station.

I noted some newsworthy stories about the radio industry yesterday but forgot to mention another from last week. When I was a child, my favourite radio station was Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio. To me, it was the most exciting station in the world. Pete and Geoff, who I mentioned yesterday, started their award-winning partnership on that station. It’s now Key 103 and last week was fined the biggest ever financial penalty imposed by a regulator on a UK radio station [source]. Nothing really to add to that but I wanted to note it.

All Change At Capital

When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens

When I first came to London, everybody listened to Capital Radio. Everybody talked about whatever Chris Tarrant did in the morning. That was a very different radio world with much less competition in the London market. Right now, I don’t know anybody who listens. Last week, GCap Media – which own Capital FM (as it’s now known)- announced a slump in profits and has promised a radical overhaul of the station. The new management are blaming the old management for the slump. Well, I guess they would, wouldn’t they?

In other news, Pete and Geoff announced they are going to split their award winning partnership and only one of them is to stay on at Virgin. I only listen to part of their show each day but have always found them quite good listening.

Talk Radio

Saturday morning talk radio.

Saturday morning and, for some reason, I was up early so I decided to do a little bit of work. In the background I’ve had the radio on. Listening to Vanessa Feltz on BBC London and then Wendy Lloyd on LBC. I guess the topics must have been interesting (why do we seek to impress our parents and why don’t kids do enough around the home – to name but two) but, regardless, I thought both programmes were presented in an intelligent and thoughtful way. And that’s not what you always expect from talk radio. I read earlier in the week that David Prever had left LBC to be the new breakfast host on Smooth FM. That might make the London breakfast market interesting.

Audience Up

After a shaky start to the summer, which saw big names Danny Baker and Jon Gaunt depart, the station turned its fortunes around, with a new line up including JoAnne Good taking the Breakfast show chair and Jono ColemanÂ’s return to the BBC London 94.9FM airwaves.

According to the press, ‘BBC London 94.9FM has recorded its second highest audience figures ever, with 561,000 tuning in every week, according to the latest RAJAR figures covering July to September’. As I have mentioned several times, I love BBC London right now. It was sad when Danny Baker left – his was one of the most innovative mornings shows – but JoAnne Good and the team have been excellent. I am very worried about Jono Coleman as I am not very keen on him as a broadcaster but I guess we’ll just have to see what the rest of the year brings [source].

Danny Baker Shuts Up His Tree House

Danny Baker is taking what the station described as “an extended summer holiday” after three years on his BBC London breakfast show, during which he will work on a film script for channel Five.

So, I get back from my vacation and try to settle into my regular routine. Firstly, it’s disrupted by a strike by BBC jornalists although I was amused that somebody quipped you could hardly tell and thus proving they’re over-staffed anyway.

I digress. What I came back to was the news that Danny Baker won a Sony Radio Award and prompty went on to quit his breakfast show:

The ebullient presenter is taking what the station described as “an extended summer holiday” after three years on the show, during which he will work on a film script for channel Five.

He told listeners: “We will reform and come back in another shape one day. People thought we were crying wolf … we were just crying. We’ve been saying it for a while now. We’ve been doing it for three years. We’re packing up the tree house at the end of the month.” [The Independent]

Now that’s going to mess up my morning routine something rotten – there’s nobody else on air anything like Danny Baker. It’s not just the fact that he is the only speach-driven presenter that’s not news-based it’s because he is bloody entertaining. Ahhh. I think a paragraph from another article in The Indpendent says it all,

Such confidence that radio requires unique skills will always make Sony award-winning breakfast presenters highly sought after. But they have to be carefully looked after when they arrive. Getting up in the middle of the night to sound fresh at the microphone can become gruelling for even the most dynamic broadcasters. BBC London’s breakfast ace, Danny Baker, proved it with his response to Sony Awards triumph. Named DJ of the year, beating O’Connell, Baker announced his departure from the airwaves within the day. He is going to write a film script for Five. Radio executives searching the market for proven breakfast talent are hoping it flops [The Independent]

Less Clutter On The Air

At last somebody in the commercial radio business has noted that one of biggest reasons to turn off isn’t poor music policy, crap jokes or bad station identity – it’s annoying and repetive radio commercials.

At last somebody in the commercial radio business has noted that one of biggest reasons to turn off isn’t poor music policy, crap jokes or bad station identity – it’s annoying and repetive radio commercials. Somebody in the UK should take on board the Clear Channel approach of trying to make better radio ads and brodcast fewer of them: “Radio is the most difficult medium because there are fewer senses to work with. For the most part, radio ads are a yawn” [source]. With online catching radio in terms of advertising spend (Britain’s Online advertising market will surpass the £500-million mark this year – Independent Online) radio’s revenues may be in for a rocky time. Inn the UK the Online industry may well surpass radio during the next 12 months so it’s important that the industry wakes up and does something to ensure that the recent history of growth and development can be sustained.

Long Wave Is The Home Of Hit Music

Atlantic 252 Long wave was born on 1st September 1989. Today is the 15th anniversary (I think) of the launch of the now defunct Atlantic 252. I only mention this because it strikes me that the radio landscape in the UK has changed dramatically since it launched.

Atlantic 252 Large
Atlantic 252

Happy September to you.

Today is the 15th anniversary (I think) of the launch of the now defunct Atlantic 252. I only mention this because it strikes me that the radio landscape in the UK has changed dramatically since it launched. I am no expert but, if I recall, there was something about DJ’s having to stand-up when presenting (which made it sound very American). Gary King was the first voice (Mine is the first voice you will ever hear…on Atlantic 252) but I remember it for Charlie Wolfe and Dusty Rhodes (whose web site I can no longer find) and was Rusty Nails a presenter or did I make that up? It was pop music on very heavy rotation, small amounts of talk and this hiss and crackle of long wave. In 1989 it was exciting and different and, the fact it was really are Irish radio station, gave the feel of a pirate broadcaster. Long wave really was the home of hit music (even if only for a little while).

And for Atlantic 252 fans, a couple of quick links:

Long wave radio Atlantic 252: Born 1st September 1989. Ceased transmission 20th December 2001.

Updates

2014: The fan links on this page were updated as many of the old sites had disappeared and the launch audio embedded.

Digital Radio Lust

You will be aware of my love of radio and my delight at Pure’s other products: the Evoke-1 and the Tempus-1. I want a Pure Digital Bug radio. I can’y jsutify it. Is it the look or the features?

Adot’s Notblog discussed the concept of tivo for radio a few Fridays ago. This reminded me that only last weekend I had picked up a leaflet for Pure Digital’s Bug in a store. You will be aware of my love of radio and my delight at Pure’s other products: the Evoke-1 and the Tempus-1 (actually, I never mentioned that I also have a Tempus-1). The Bug looks cool (it’s designed by Wayne Hemingway) and has a host of features (including some recording capabilities and radio rewind). I am not sure if I’ll actually invest in it (given I am running out of rooms to put digital radios in) but I will be keeping an eye out on the products that Pure come up with. I think Pure (or Imagination Technologies as they are also known) have some really imaginative products of high quality. They only lack one thing in their range: I wish they’d come up with a small, nicely priced portable radio that included FM for times when you can’t get DAB reception.

It’s A Takeover

As each day passes I have more and more respect for the talents of Chris Moyles.

As each day goes by I have a new found respect for the talents of Chris Moyles on the Radio One breakfast show. I’ve noted before that he’s the first presenter in a long time to get me to switch back to Radio One but almost everyday I find myself hooked into something about the show in a way I haven’t been hooked on the radio for a long time.

I’ve worked in radio. I understand the ‘magic’ of the medium. I know not to believe everything but sometimes, with Moyles, I wonder. His spontaneity seems so genuine and so well-done it is – almost – believable. I have a new-found respect for his talents as a broadcaster and, as very show passes, I see why he’s where he is.

Last Friday I was listening as he trailed the Radio One 10-hour Takeover that happened on Monday. I was almost sucked into the belief that, on the spur of the moment he decided to try the system but my understanding of the medium knew that it was unlikely. The beauty of the web is that now you can find out how it was pre-planned and read all about the technology behind it. Hopefully, and I say this meaning no disrespect to Matt, not to many people will read it and the magic will be maintained. In a similar way I hope not too many read the next part of this post so the mystery can be maintained.

I have to say that the concept of the 10-hour takeover is nothing new and, in many places, it’s as well staged as Moyles pretending to try to break the system without any planning. Most radio stations have some “you say it, we play it” mentality at some point of the day. In fact, my parents received some calls for Beacon By Request years ago when their home ‘phone number was similar to that of Beacon’s Shrewsbury call-in line. Digital station, Core, claims to be driven by listener’s requests (and will even text you back to say that song is being played).

Depending on the size of the station and the number of listeners at any one time the whole listener jukebox is, most likely, something of a con. There are so many requests that stations can, pretty much, stick to their playlists while actually playing the requests. They can filter out the material they don’t want. On smaller stations I imagine they’re making up the requests so, again, it can conform to their playlists (which – like them or nor – are a vital part of their identity). So, all in all, I wasn’t excited by the 10-hour takeover whatsoever but when I read items like this from David at Fuddland (via plasticbag) it strikes me that The Frog Chorus can’t have been anywhere near Radio One’s playlist for many years. So, hats of to Radio One and the technology team behind it.

I wonder what impact – if any – it will have on Radio One’s programmers? From what I have seen the selections were older-hits and often, like The Frog Chorus, a little off the wall. Did the broadcast teams actually select the most ridiculous tracks suggested? And what does this do for Radio One?

Next time, however, let Chris Moyles appear to break it. That would be even better radio.

UPDATE: The full 10-hour takeover playlist is available on the Radio One site.