Elsewhere: BBC Tuning Guides for Shropshire

I don’t know how many people see things posted on Threads, but I did my not-quite-every-year Happy Birthday post to BBC Radio Shropshire there. This year, I discovered some Tuning Guides from BBC Engineering Information that were published sometime after the launch. I thought they should be preserved on the Interweb.

Post by @curns
View on Threads

Every few years, on St George’s Day, I remember to post a Happy Birthday BBC Radio Shropshire: the first broadcast org to actually pay me for work for them! Earlier this month, I found this tuning guide in a pile of paperwork. Put together by BBC Engineering Information, it’s a couple of years post-launch, but it’s still a blast from the past. Pink was for central and south Shropshire, and there was a green one for Ludlow and a white one for north Shrops

A few years ago, I added a copy of some of their test transmissions to Soundcloud; it’s still there: https://soundcloud.com/curns/4th-9th-april-1985-test-transmissions-edit


Elsewhere: World Radio Day

When I was growing up, I thought radio was the most exciting medium in the world. I wrote something to celebrate World Radio Day,

The Elsewhere category on this site seems to be home for things I have posted on Facebook; and this is no exception. In 2012 the United Nations General Assembly agreed that World Radio Day was a real International Day and, thus, February 13 became WRD. My little contribution to the spirit of the days was posted on Facebook (and a version on Instagram because, if you don’t do all the social media channels, what’s the point?)

Apparently, we are almost at the end of #worldradioday.

When I was younger all I ever cared about was the magic of radio. It was my private world: in my childhood bedroom there was a whole universe created by the Piccadilly presenters and it was all in my head. When I was ten years old, visiting the original Piccadilly studios in central in Manchester was so important in my life I called it ‘my happiest memory’.

Although many people thought it was, it was never about being on the radio but it was all about the world radio created for those who listened and how that world was put together.

For a small part of my life I was lucky enough to be part of the magic: in the late 80s if you called The BBC in Shropshire you may have spoken to me or in the early 90s, if you listened to the Network Chart Show, I often pressed some buttons to make sure it got to your local radio station (or at least I was there in case the satellite that sent it to you ever fell out of the sky: it never did). If you ever heard a Shoe Express ad, chances are I spent all night getting that 30s of audio to your local station (and if, like me, you heard a version, or two, for every town in Britain you’ll guess why shoes are not my thing).

But, most importantly for me, the people who made that magic pointed my career in the direction it’s taken and, although there are too many to mention, I will forever be grateful to them all.

So, thank you radio: we may be listening to audio in ways we never imagined but there’s still some magic in the voices that come out of the ether. Tomorrow morning, why not ‘turn up the feel good’ with ‘more of the songs you love’ that are probably ‘the biggest hits and the biggest throwbacks’ on the ‘UK’s No.1 Hit Music Station’ or, my current choice, ‘The UK’s Country Station’.

Tune in and rip the knob off!

Originally posted on Facebook

Red Rose Radio: In memory of St Paul’s Church

Back at the end of January, Bauer Radio – one of the UK’s biggest radio groups – announced the closure of its studios in St Paul’s Square, Preston (home of Rock FM) and the transfer of broadcast operations to their studio centre in Manchester.

In many ways the story is just another small step in the consolidation of UK radio. Increasing shared programming and networking allows radio station owners to create the kind of big, modern radio brand you need to stand out in 2020 without the costs of maintaining lots of studio locations. It was reported that, in recent years, the only programme to originate in Preston was Rock FM’s breakfast show, fronted Joel and Gemma. The rest came from other locations in the Bauer group.

SMS satellite dish outside Red Rose Radio

But this isn’t just another studio move. Red Rose Radio was unusual because the founders commissioned a broadcast complex in an old church, where thick walls could help with soundproofing. Apparently, Red Rose Radio Limited paid £35,000 for the St Paul’s church and brought the conversion project in for £778,000. From my time at SMS, I have a very grainy scan of a photo of the company’s satellite dish outside the church. There’s a documentary on YouTube going behind the scenes of the station in 1993 where you can very clearly see the church architecture in the offices.

The whole story may have passed me by had I not been searching for some recordings that I have on cassette, stored in an old box at the back of a cupboard, on which I discovered a snippet of Red Rose’s closedown audio from the early years and decided to have a look what was the station was like today.

Back in the early years of UK commercial radio, stations would often launch with a broadcast schedule that did not operate around the clock.

On that tape, the station’s first Programme Controller, Keith Macklin, is delivering the ‘goodnight’ announcement that was played each evening. The audio fades a little in the middle but remains audible. From memory, I would have recorded it when the station used to closedown after the news at midnight. Back then I was a big fan of late night phone-ins on Piccadilly Radio, listening under the covers when I should have been asleep. On the same tape was another piece of audio, the engineering announcement that played every few minutes through the night. This was obviously later in the year because the broadcasting hours had been extended to 2am. Who knows what I was doing to get that recording; I can only imagine there was no school the next day.

I thought the closedown audio and the closedown of the studios seemed correlated. So, I upload that audio in memory of St Paul’s church, Preston.

The audio is also on Soundcloud. See other audio I have uploaded on the Listen page.

King of West Midlands Mornings

Les Ross was the kind of West Midlands morning radio for 26 years. Hear his story.

BRMB radio logoI’ve written a few times about my childhood love of radio. In the early 1980s, Piccadilly Radio was my radio station and I was a devoted listener. By the middle of the decade my family had moved to the Midlands, but an overly large FM aerial on the side of our house kept me tuned to Piccadilly 103 FM.

Post-1987, after the launch of Beacon Radio in Shropshire, interference from their Wrekin transmitter prevented any serious listening to a station from Manchester, and my allegiances shifted to Birmingham and BRMB. Les Ross was still the reigning king of West Midlands morning radio – and would be for more than a decade to follow on BRMB and XTRA.

I was only a loyal listener for two or three years. After that, I was at University in Scotland trying to figure out which morning show to listen to until, one day, some friends and I decided we’d do our own on the University’s campus radio station. Our breakfast radio career didn’t last 26 days never mind Les’ 26 years.

Last week, Les was the subject of one of David Lloyd’s “conversations“. It’s a really great listen – download it now to your favourite podcast player.

The UK’s (first) Country Station

Why isn’t country music bigger in the UK? Chris Country is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through.

I just wrote a thing on Facebook (and copied here) about the launch of Atlantic 252 on 1 September 1989. People of a certain age remember it fondly because, at the time, there was nothing quite like it. Each year, somebody posts a memory somewhere online. I first did in it in 2004.

Nobody, however, seems to commemorate the launch of Country 1035 on 1 September 1994. I tweeted a link to my copy of the launch audio earlier. You’ll notice it doesn’t really launch with a big bang.

I may have a copy of the opening words but I don’t remember a great deal about the radio station. I do recall John Scragg was the breakfast show presenter at one time and Capital Gold’s Randall Lee Rose was on air in the early days.

I never quite understood why there wasn’t a big country music station in the UK. The format has a large following, most of the early local stations carried a country music programme at some point. I recall Steve Penk was the presenter of Country Cousins on Piccadilly in the early 1980s. Until recently, nobody has been able to make a big country music franchise work.

Chris Country Chris Country, “the UK’s country station”, might be the format that changes that. I find myself increasingly listening to it which, given my general dislike of automated stations, is quite interesting. I think mainstream country music today has a clear rock/pop crossover which might be part of the appeal but the stories of heartbreak and hard drinking don’t seem to be any different from the music of years ago. Perhaps I just love a good story told through song.

Chris Stevens, who runs Chris Country, produces audio imaging as a day job. Perhaps that’s why the branding and sound of Chris Country is so good. There are no live presenters, a couple of recorded shows at weekends and everything else is automated. But it is automated in a way that gives the station a personality that shines through. I can’t really explain it but I wish they teach it to other predominately automated radio stations: Hearst 80s are you listening? If you don’t think you like country music, give Christ Country an try (on DAB in some areas and across you mobile everywhere).

Oh, and while I am on the subject of country music find out “why country music makes you cry, and rock and roll doesn’t” in this brilliant episode of Revisionist History. Even if you don’t like country music, and if you don’t want to try listening to the tunes, you should give this podcast a listen

Elsewhere: Everybody Remembers Long Wave Radio Atlantic 252

In the spirit that this blog is home to content posted elsewhere, I wrote this earlier on Facebook.

UK Radio geeks always remember 1 September

Atlantic 252 logo
Atlantic 252

I don’t remember the pirate radio ships of the 60s; my introduction to the world of the wireless came from the back of an AA Member’s Handbook where all Britain’s local radio stations were listed. In 1979 that list was probably fewer than two pages. The majority of UK radio listening was to national networks and the BBC hand a monopoly on those. The English service of Radio Luxembourg suffered on AM at night. It was only ever “the great 208” when I was on holiday in France, being the only English language radio station I could find.

Local radio was made up of a handful of BBC stations in a fairly random collection of towns and the fledgling Independent Radio Network. Where I lived, BBC Radio Blackburn (from 1981, Radio Lancashire) was our nearest BBC local and Piccadilly from Manchester and Radio City from Liverpool vied for their place as the North West’s biggest station. When I was nine years old, Piccadilly won because the Pete Baker breakfast show had the best jingles.

Today, with wall-to-wall pop hits on TV and radio channels (as well as all the world’s music available in a single app or on-demand videos from YouTube), it’s unimaginable that until 1988 needle time rules prevented broadcasters playing more than a few hours of recorded music. All radio was filled with speech and specialist programmes, or royalty free soundalike covers.

In 1984 somebody took a ship with a transmitter on it out into international waters in the North Sea and launched a 1980s version of the pirates, Laser 558. By then I was living in Shrewsbury and the signal was just about strong enough. Outside of the music rules – and really, outside of most of the broadcast law – it played non-stop pop hits for most of the day. Sadly, it didn’t last long.

In 1989 the Irish state broadcaster, RTÉ, teamed up with the Radio Luxembourg owners, RTL, to create a pop music station with a powerful AM transmitter that reportedly could reach over 40 million people.

On 1st September 1989, from somewhere in Ireland, Atlantic 252 launched an all-day pop format which was unique: there was nothing quite like it on the air. You know the station had an impact because, on this day each year, somebody, somewhere, writes a note about it to commemorate the day. I first did it in 2004 but I see no reason not to do it again.

I guess the station’s peak was the early 1990s. By the mid-90s radio across the UK was able to play more and more music and FM was everywhere. It didn’t stop people launching AM stations. On this day (1st September) in 1994, Country 1035 launched on AM in London and lasted a few years (also, in later years, with input from RTL). It doesn’t seem to have had quite such an impact because you don’t find too many people commemorating that launch each year.

A New York Dish

A picture triggered a rather clear flash back to 1994 and one of the first times my name ever appeared on the internet.

I’m on a short work-related visit to New York. It’s hot here. But, for once, not as hot as London.

You know what they say about mad dogs and Englishmen? Well, today, sometime just after my lunch I went to the roof of our office building which has had a fancy new terrace installed. It was lovely. And very hot. I didn’t stay there long. You can’t, however, stand atop of a New York roof and not take a picture. So I did.

New York Skyline from the New York Office

Reviewing these pictures moment ago, this picture triggered a rather clear flash back to 1994 and one of the first times my name ever appeared on the internet. I don’t recall who wrote it, it’s gone forever from the internet archive, but it was a sarcastic comment about my online collection of pictures of satellite dishes at British radio stations. There was a reason they existed. I worked for the company who owned the dishes at radio stations and we had a collection of photographs so that you could describe to an engineer where the dish was if they needed to point it back at the satellite after a pigeon had flown in to it (which actually happened). On the night shift one day I decided to share the pictures with the world on the corporate www.

At some point it was deemed inappropriate to house the pictures on the website of the company that owned the dishes. So I bequeathed them all to James Cridland’s MediaUK directory where, for a few years, the image was linked to the radio station’s entry. I found the Red Rose picture in the internet archive. For this one, you really didn’t need a picture to describe to an engineer where the dish was. Although James credited me on the pictures, I actually took none of them. They were all taken while I was locked in the control centre overnight (which – and it amuses me daily – was located about 15 paces from the front door of the London office building I work in today).

Happy Birthday BBC Shropshire

After 32 years on the air, there’s still something special about BBC Local Radio in Shropshire.

BBC Radio Shropshire logo, 1985
Something Special in Shropshire

As I post, it’s still St. George’s Day: just.  According to Wikipedia, St George rose to the position of the primary patron saint of England during the English Reformation. I didn’t see many references to St. George today, but I think most people across the country were thinking about the dragon rather than the Pope’s control of the Church in England.

If, however, you live in Shropshire – or you are a radio historian of some kind – you’ll know of today as the 32nd anniversary of the launch of BBC Radio Shropshire.

I am not sure that I would have mentioned it here accept for the fact that a few weeks ago I found an old cassette with copies of the pre-launch test transmissions from 4th and 9th of April 1985.  I am sure that there’s lots that you can learn from those test transmissions but, what I find most fascinating, is that Radio Shropshire’s first voice, Diane Kemp,1 repeats the postal address in almost every link.  The phone number is mentioned but, of course, there was no text, email, tweets or Facebooking.   A few years later, one of my first jobs was answering the telephones for the afternoon shows on the station: regularly speaking to the characters that made up the county. It was the primary way to be part of the station, we’d call it interaction today. It definitely shows that our interaction with radio stations has changed massively in 32 years.

Also this week, one of those aforementioned radio historians, David Lloyd, wrote about the change in regulation now that BBC Local Radio is overseen by Ofcom. Today, I’m not sure BBC Local Radio has quite the same character that those test transmissions imply, but it remains a distinctive service. The regulation should ensure that the unique voice continues and not become “a BBC local service which is largely networked.”2

A few years ago I wrote about changes to the Shropshire Radio landscape, when Signal 1o7 launched and Beacon was re-branded to Free Radio, and pondered if bigger names were a blueprint for the 21st century: giving smaller stations a recognisable brand.  Today, I remain convinced by the theory but, when I last listened to either of those stations in Shropshire, the key bit missing was anything about the county. Given Signal 107’s audience share is less than 2%,3 and Free Radio’s share in Shropshire is around 9%,4 have those brands lead to a reduction in local content which, in turn, means listeners tuning out?  Or, is it purely a matter of increased competition?  BBC Shropshire’s audience share is around 13%5 but I am not sure how to read that. Is local content important to audiences? Certainly, I would hope that Ofcom recognise that BBC Local Radio may be the last bastion of substantial amounts of local information on the radio. Isn’t the licence fee there to support content the commercially-funded stations can’t afford to?

I think BBC Local Radio is nicely summed-up in the words towards the end of my test transmission recordings,

There are stories in every village, every street, probably every home in Shropshire.  Wonderful characters with a tale to tell; local gossip; a row over some local controversy; people with wonderful hobbies: eccentrics and fanatics, comedians and Jeremiahs, good deeds and bad deeds. We’re interested in the lot and the more you tell us about them, the more we can use. It’s that type of station. 6

I think that’s what makes local radio interesting. I hope Ofcom manages to keep it that way. Happy Birthday BBC Shropshire.

1 Diane Kemp, now Professor Diane Kemp at Birmingham City University’s School of Media
2 Goodbye from BBC Local Radio?, David Lloyd, 19 April 2017
3 December 2016 data, media.info. Total survey area for Signal 107 is greater than Shropshire.
4 December 2016 data, media.info, former Beacon Shropshire area.
5 December 2016 data, media.info.
6 Test transmissions: https://soundcloud.com/curns/4th-9th-april-1985-test-transmissions-edit

Elsewhere: Will The Money Trail Drive Radio Innovation?

A couple of weeks ago, I received a tweet from an Australian chap called Anthony Gherghetta (@wheredidgogogo) who, based on my previous writings about a personalised radio service, suggetsed I consider adding some of them to a collection he was curating over on the writing platform, Medium, about The Future of Radio. I thought about this for a while but, while I was in Melbourne recently, local news about audience figures and money got me thinking about how such a personalised product would be funded. So I wrote Will The Money Trail Drive Radio Innovation? over on Medium (which, I have to say, is a lovely writing platform). As always, I also keep my own copy here but I do suggest you head to Medium to read it!

In the introduction to his 1979 book, The Piccadilly Story, Philip Radcliffe tells how Piccadilly Radio’s broadcast frequency – back then expressed as 261 metres, medium wave – was so ingrained in the Manchester community that shopkeepers would, at a bill of £2.61, simply ask their customers for ‘Piccadilly, luv’.1

For some reason, this – I have always assumed apocryphal – story popped into my mind when sat in a Melbourne coffee shop this week reading about Kyle & Jackie O’s latest audience figures.

By way of a quick summary, last Wednesday’s news was all about the top-rated Sydney breakfast duo who switched stations at the start of the year and, when the first audience figures were released, seemed to have carried most of their listeners to their new morning home. An astonishing switch that generated discussion on my Twitter feed of UK radio pundits. In itself, this has much to say about the power of broadcast radio and why the personalised radio future I envisage, maybe a way off yet.

While there was plenty of commentary about the audience numbers there was, in many ways, a more interesting number buried towards the end of The Australian’s piece on the news. The move had wiped $350 million off the share price of the duo’s former employers Southern Cross Austereo.

Both of these stories – some 35 years apart in their origins – tell of audience scale and it’s relationship to money. Historically, for entertainment media, the two are undeniably intertwined. And this relationship got me thinking, how would the finances of a personalised radio service stand up? In some ways scale and personalisation are not natural bedfellows but does that mean a personalised radio product would struggle to find revenue? In a previous musing on this topic I suggested that sponsored content blocks, mixed with a listener’s own music selection, might be a way forward. But when the audience is combining a unique mix of content selections, can this work? After all, what would the advertiser be buying and can it be sold at a profit?

To help answer that question, and in parallel to any thinking about a future radio product, we have to consider the funding. Is audio content suited to a subscription model so that a radio equivalent of the paywall could be erected? SiriusXM might suggest that it is. But are there many other countries where substantial audiences pay for radio content? None spring to mind. Perhaps there’s a smartphone subscription app-model that may work. But I don’t think that there’s precedent for profitable apps in-car (quite yet) or on kitchen radios. Which leaves us with advertising as the primary revenue model.

There’s a shift in media buying that’s being driven by the connected world whereby advertising space is increasingly traded in real time. On the web, a publisher may offer up an advertising spot to the market in the milliseconds before the advertisement is shown in the browser. One of the leading players in this space, The Rubicon Project, suggested in September 2013 that an average of 40% of online display advertising was traded in this way. In April last year Forrester suggested that almost 25% of online video advertising will be traded programatically by this year.2 The latter figure is important, because this automated trading will become an increasingly important way to generate revenue from television content when consumed online. And if TV goes there, why should we assume radio won’t?

There are many attractions of buying advertising space this way but the ability to easily group audiences that are increasingly consuming fragmented media is one. It’s becoming just as efficient to reach these disparate audiences as it used to be to reach mass audiences by buying, say, Piccadilly Radio.

Interestingly, when researching this piece I couldn’t find numbers for the amount of audio media traded this way. There are companies who specialise in the automated trading of radio advertisements but, when compared to those in the digital display or video space, they appear forgotten. Then again, perhaps it’s not surprising. There are a few stations doing new and innovate things with radio commercials – in the UK, Absolute Radio’s In-Stream is a good example – but they are the exception and not the rule. Therefore where’s the market for the automated trading of radio ads?

It seems to me, radio is missing out. If the advertising world is shifting to more automated way of buying then that means, by necessity, they are buying a connected product. Yet much of radio’s connected offering is simply delivering the same old product in a slightly newer way. For revenue growth, and maybe even for revenue parity, the radio industry has to adapt to the connected world in more ways than just offering up a stream of the broadcast signal.

Undoubtedly, there are many hurdles before there are mass market personalised radio products. Kyle & Jackie O have shown the enormous power of today’s mass-reach broadcast breakfast radio product. Yet, also this week, the BBC announced plans to close the youth-oriented BBC Three television channel. While reduced finances are the reason behind the proposed closure, the channel was selected in part – according to the press release – because it’s young audience “are the most mobile and ready to move to an online world”. A trend that suggests future audiences have different expectations of their media consumption.

There’s a convergence here that the radio industry needs to see: an undeniable shift to consumption on connected devices. This represents opportunities for both sets of radio’s customers. With the right product, audiences will increasingly personalise their radio experience but, I believe it may not be listeners who are the drivers of such innovations. The advertising industry, increasingly looking for ways to better justify their media spend, is pouring an ever growing share of their budgets into automated buying. Radio needs a product to capitalise on this move.

So it maybe that the money trail is the driver of innovation in the radio space and it the advertising industry that pushes radio to reinvent itself for the connected world.

1 Radcliffe, P. The Piccadilly Story, Blond & Briggs, 1979. p9
2 Strictly 24.7% of video spending by 2014.

It’s My Station: 18 Months Later

Can it really be almost 18 months since a discussion, on Media UK, about an Apple patent spawned a piece of writing here? Feel free to customise this post by inserting your own reference to one of TARDIS, flying time, or a reference to clocks. I did mention the Olympics – by which I meant London 2012 – which now just makes it seem old.

I genuinely believe the substance of that post & discussion: that if somebody gets the user interface right (and that will be the hardest task) then It’s My Station (that was the post) is the future of a lot of radio listening.

Radio has, of course, changed in so many ways thanks to the Internet. Just last week there was a piece by James Cridland over on Jacobs Media Blog discussing the very use of the word radio: No, Pandora Is Not ‘Radio’ (which is totally worth reading for the way James can crowbar a beer reference into a conversation). There’s a lot to be said for the idea of making the ‘radio’ brand stand for something but, I fear, much like music, the press and television, it’s too late to make broadcast radio stand for something different – or just reclaim the brand – now. Time to face what’s next.

I think when radio in the traditional, broadcast, sense has lost people like me – who were once big fans of the medium – that last statement is important. My own listening is now mainly driven from iTunes and a dip into things around the world via TuneIn: this week it was Blake Hayes’ first week on Mornings at Coast 93.1 in Portland. Sorry to the good people of Portland but I had to look it up on a map. How did I end up listening to to that? Twiter. But that’s probably another post.

Which is why I was delighted to read that the Australian radio group, Southern Cross Austereo, have invested in a service which sounds similar to that I was arguing for in It’s My Station. I’m glad somebody has done it and only a little disappointed that it’s exclusively available to Australian users right now. After all, I’ll happily listen to Hamish & Andy mixed in with my music collection – they make great radio while you can argue about my musical taste.

It’s fantastic news that a radio group is in a position to be able to invest like this. Now, if only I’d actually done something myself with that idea.

Note To Self: Configuring TuneIn for JemmOne

>> OK, Jon, skip the ramble and give me the instructions

Neil and Debbie at Breakfast on Gaydar Radio
Neil and Debbie at Breakfast

Breakfast radio is an odd thing. Presenters, competitions, cheesy gags and music become part of your daily routine and when something changes your day doesn’t seem to start quite right. I would wager psychologists have plenty to say about humans and their routines but I don’t know one to ask.

There was sadness back in January when Neil and Debbie, aka N-Debz, left the airwaves with just a day’s notice as QSoft, the folks behind the Gaydar dating site, closed their digital radio station – Gaydar Radio – to go, well, dating. There’s been an online following – mainly on Twitter and Facebook – waiting to see where this duo, as well as the other presenters, would return so that mornings would be restored. Today, after a couple of weeks notice they reappeared on an internet-only station, Jemmone.

Putting together a radio station in such a short period of time can’t be easy and, sure, there were a few teething troubles this morning – the stream was a little unreliable and possibly overloaded – but I’m certain they will be gone in a few days. Of course the most important thing was that morning’s just got better.

I imagine internet-only radio is just as complex a beast as broadcast radio to build and run but listening to it, especially in the mornings when you’re used to your alram-radio waking you, is actually pretty complex too (and much more complex than a broadcast equivalent). That’ll be the subject of another post, I’m sure.

Part of the shaky start for JemmOne this morning was due to the fact the audience appeared to only have one way to listen: via player in a browser. But that player – although reputedly HTML5-based – wouldn’t play on iOS devices, amongst others. A web-based player is difficult to set-up as an alarm clock so people figured out the stream details that could be used in iOS apps like TuneIn Radio (which features an alarm) or on internet radios. I’m using it successfully on my Pure Evoke Flow so my radio’s still coming out of that little box by my bed.

For some reason Jemmone didn’t actively publish the details of that feed – I could speculate why but let’s not. During the day the Android app was released and we’re told the iOS app is on the way. I don’t really understand why they haven’t provided instructions on how to listen via other apps until theirs is produced. So, for all those on Twitter asking here’s how to set it up on two common devices.

TuneIn Radio

In Favourites, select "Custom Stream"
In Favourites, select “Custom Stream”
  1. Install the TuneIn Radio app if you do not have it
  2. Don’t bother browsing for Jemmone: at the time of writing it’s not there
  3. Navigate to the ‘Favourites’ section (hint, it’s the heart at the bottom of the screen)
  4. Click ‘Add new custom URL’
  5. Add the stream address http://radio.jemmone.com/ (the http bit seems to be important here)
  6. You may find, after typing the address, it appears to find the stream and can be selected
  7. Select ‘Custom Stream’ and, after a few seconds, you’ll be connected
  8. Once it’s playing, you’ll probably want to save it as a favourite so you can get back to it


  1. Open iTunes
  2. Go to ‘File’ in the menu bar and select ‘Open Stream’
  3. Add the stream address http://radio.jemmone.com/
  4. To find it again, you’ll need to look under ‘music’; I’ve never been quite sure why streams don’t appear to be saved under ‘radio’

A More Personalised Radio Experience Is Getting Closer

One of the most infuriating things about modern smartphones (and, more specifically, the apps that you download to them) is their constant need for love and attention by way of an endless stream of updates. It’s not really a problem the G20 leaders are keeping themselves awake at night thinking about but those little icons drive me insane (and I am fully aware some phones allow apps to automatically update but I refuse to engage in that whole ‘best smartphone platform’ nonsense).

So, yesterday I went through another round of updates. Rarely do I pay attention to the ‘release notes’ given that the usual excuse for consuming the bandwidth is ‘bug fixes’ but, for some reason, I did when it came to Apple’s Podcast app.

Apple more-or-less created mass market demand for podcasts in 2005 by including them in iTunes but, in recent years, the format has appeared to have lacked much attention from them; on i-devices they were spun out of iTunes into their own app a little while ago.

I suspect it’s that lack of love that spurred me into reading the release notes. And, in those notes, the first item read,

“Create custom stations of your favourite podcasts that update automatically with new episodes” [source]

Podcast App on the iPhone
Screenshot from my phone

which is accompanied by a lovely image of the ‘My Stations’ screen in the app showing ‘stations’ named ‘Morning Commute’, ‘Kids Shows’ and ‘News’ amongst others (the image here is of my phone, with three customised stations).

Six-or-so months ago I wrote a piece called “It’s My Radio Station” which suggested that, at some future point, I would become my own programme controller by setting some basic rules in an app that mixed music and speech to create a customised radio station (which is wholly different from a customised music stream). I genuinely didn’t think it fanciful then and I think it’s even less so now. Imagine the next iteration of Apple’s app where I can mix an iTunes playlist (from my machine or their rumoured streaming service) with this functionality.

In my earlier piece I suggested the people best placed to develop this are today’s radio stations because they have experience generating the bits between the music (rather than the Spotify-type music-focussed services of this world). So, it’s sort-of encouraging to read that American broadcast giant Clear Channel is trying something along those very lines (of course, I can only report this second-hand not being able to use the iHeartRadio app in the UK). Fool.com reports,

The beauty of Add-Ins is that it’s not just about the local perspective. Add-Ins can be customized. Someone that isn’t hitting the open road may not care about traffic. Someone staying in may not care about the weather. Not everyone cares about local news headlines. [source]

I believe that any radio station with ‘talent’ that is not getting that content out in alternative ways, including some form of regularly updated podcasts (long and short versions), is missing out on a market. More importantly, they’re missing out on an opportunity to learn about how radio will be consumed in the future.

Personalised radio is coming (just as personalised news is already here). I don’t think Apple’s use of the word ‘stations’ can be dismissed but it remains to be seen if it indicates a direction they’re prepared to take. Nonetheless, it could be either new players in the radio space – or an existing broadcaster – who will get there first.

Three things fascinate me about how this plays out. Firstly, will a broadcaster be prepared to take a risk on this kind of development or will it need to come from outside broadcast groups to truly allow people to mix-and-match the content they want? Secondly, given it’s proven people like to time-shift television, is radio content sufficiently compelling and/or useful to put the time-shift effort in? And, thirdly, can audio producers generate a revenue from such personalisation?

Time will tell. But we’re going to rapidly see innovation on this space. I wonder who’ll get left behind?

It’s My Radio Station

I’ve been meaning to write something for quite a while about radio services in an age of connected devices and multiple music services. But news of Apple being awarded a patent to enable “seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library” and the subsequent Media UK discussion finally got me to start writing.

I’ve been a radio fan for most of my life but lately my love affair with the medium has turned into a marriage where we don’t speak much anymore. So much radio seems to be back-to-back music (which my phone does better, thank you) or back-to-back Big Brother chat (or back-to-back songs with Big Brother chat breaking them up) that I normally work with iTunes running. I listen at breakfast for an hour or so and that’s about it. Perhaps that’s fine with the industry, I would hope not.

I read, occasionally, an argument from radio people that the only way to compete with music services – such as Spotify or Pandora, or personal libraries like iTunes – is with the bits between the songs (the entertainment that I don’t store on my iPod). That seems a reasonable position. So, I’ve been wondering what would happen if there was a ‘mashup’ between radio (for the entertainment bits) and my music player (for the songs I really like)? The technology can support it, Apple’s patent just reminded me about it.

Simply put, my radio station would allow me to set preferences allowing me to opt-in to news (say, every hour); to add local travel news every 20 minutes (between 0700 & 0900 if there was something to report); to add sport (every 2 hours except during the Olympics when I’d change it to more often) and to add celebrity news (once per month). The rest of the time music is coming from my local music library of tunes I want (sometimes I select individual tracks or albums; sometimes I pop it onto random). The content is downloaded in the background and inserted between the songs I’m hearing. Of course I could opt-in to a bunch of other things if I wanted to (one new music track every 90 minutes; breaking F1-news as it happens; interviews with artists in my library or a ten-minute blast of a phone-in). All of these things could be surrounded by an ad break or sponsors (as they are today) but the station pays no music royalties, bandwidth costs are limited to only updating content and if the connection is down the music keeps coming.

Take it a stage further and my news comes from LBC; travel news direct from Transport for London, sport from Sky and, perhaps, a film review from 5Live. If the content is what I want, I’d choose it and hear supporting commercials (or promos, if it’s the BBC). I don’t need a presenter telling me what I just heard, my phone shows that to me quite happily so the entertainment is more than being successfully able to ‘hit the vocals’ with station name-check.

I don’t see that it would be hard for Spotify or Pandora to add these services in now (perhaps they already are and I’ve missed them) but experience with this kind of content is certainly at radio stations today (and, if we’re honest, RDS has been allowing it for years if you’re in a car and listening to your own music).

Of course, radio’s real advantage is that there’s no effort involved to turn it on and start listening; this would be an effort to set-up and configure. If I wanted live presentation then I’d still switch to radio services but, this way, I get news & entertainment on a schedule I want and it really would be a station playing today’s best music mix (just for me).




Elsewhere: New Apple Patent Could Kill Commercial Radio

Over at Media UK’s radio discussions section there’s a thread about a new patent issued to Apple that allows for “seamlessly switching media playback between a media broadcast, such as a radio broadcast, and media from a local media library”. It reminds me that I have some thoughts brewing on this (update: my thoughts are now written-up here) but this is what I added to the thread (with the typo seen at Media UK cleaned up).

An obvious use of this tech would not just be for targeted ad insertion but also for some kind of content switching when a user’s streaming connectivity drops. Using Apple’s Genius functionality & a station’s playlist, an app could store a list of station-appropriate tracks that are already on my device and seamlessly switch to them. Let the station cache a few idents in the app and I may never notice I’d lost connectivity driving through the tunnel again.

Take it a stage further; could a station save on music royalties (and the listener on bandwidth costs) if it only provided the links and all music tracks were sourced from the user’s local music library (of tracks they own)?

The future of radio is at an interesting point. Even as a self-confessed radio geek I am finding that I spend more time listening to music and entertainment services that could not traditionally be called radio. More to come on this.


Elsewhere: Will 2011 be the year that internet radio will pass traditional radio?

Then there are habits to break. Others here have touched on the car radio but broadcast receivers are also clock radios, shower radios, kitchen radios etc. I imagine substantial number of these form part of a routine and there’re not easy, nor cheap, to replace quickly. And why would you if it’s still working well for you?

In the spirit of keeping things in one place. I just answered my first question on Quora, a question and answer website that’s hooked into your social network – via Facebook and Twitter. I imagine it’ll become overwhelming pretty quickly as it needs much more engagement than Twitter so, should all the people I follow on Twitter start posting questions, I’m going to end up swamped with questions. Still, so far, so interesting.

The question: Will 2011 be the year that internet radio will pass traditional radio? [link]. And my response:

I can’t see internet radio will pass traditional radio for quite some time.

There are too many broadcast radio (AM, FM, HD, DAB) receivers out there for this to happen quickly, and – even today – the number of FM receivers continues to grow as they are added to mobile phones, MP3 players etc.

Right now, broadcast radio remains more portable (mobile data is inconsistent) and FM receivers can generally handle a poor signal quality in ways that data connections don’t seem to be able to do (at least, without resorting to continual re-buffering).

Then there are habits to break. Others here have touched on the car radio but broadcast receivers are also clock radios, shower radios, kitchen radios etc. I imagine substantial number of these form part of a routine and there’re not easy, nor cheap, to replace quickly. And why would you if it’s still working well for you?

(There are some interesting figures for streaming & mobile listening produced in the UK by the Absolute Network and analysed at James Cridland’s blog.)

You can add something to the answer by joining quora and going here.