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 tendencies 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 receiver). 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 simultaneously 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 Independent 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).

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.

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.

Worthy of Comment

The Radio Authority rules that Midland News Association ARE not be allowed to buy Telford FM

Media Guardian carried a story about Telford FM today:

The authority today ruled that the Midland News Association, the owner of the Shropshire Star and several other papers in the area, would not be allowed to buy Telford FM on public interest grounds [Source]

Sadly, no time to comment.

Summer Listening

I invested in a Pure Evoke 1 earlier this year and it has shaped my radio listening this summer.

This has certainly been a long hot summer. I have thoroughly enjoyed the ability to sit outside in my garden and enjoy pleasant summer evenings and baking weekend afternoons. Despite the fact I have been unable to keep the garden in check (and it’s looking desperately in need of a make-over) it’s been wonderful.

At the start of the summer I invested in a Pure Evoke 1 digital radio. The sheer range of stations is fantastic and I, for one, welcome the introduction of Digital Radio to the UK. The irony of the purchase is that I’ve spent most of the evenings listening to the relaxed sounds of Jazz FM (which is perfectly clear across London on a regular radio set). At least my second favourite (and superb on summer Sunday afternoons) is The Groove which is only available on DAB in London and on the web.

No wonder I haven’t wanted to do much to this site.

Our Radio Rocks

The GlobalTuner InTune200 is a small portable radio that connects to a computer wirelessly, providing access to any music on the PC or to thousands of internet radio stations.

I am quite excited by this new radio. It’s a wireless one (so, what, I hear you ask). But it’s a wireless radio that you link to your computer. Internet radio around the house on a proper tranny (the radios, not the tall people in stilettoes).

The GlobalTuner InTune200 is a small portable radio that connects to a computer wirelessly, providing access to any music on the PC or to thousands of internet radio stations. [BBC News]

End Of A Radio Era

For almost thirty years the JY Prog has been a ratings winner. Lunchtime ratings of five million should not be sniffed at. And today, as he bid the Radio 2 airwaves farewell, I had a listen.

Broadcast radio is a big passion of mine and there is an event that happened today that can not pass without comment. Sir Jimmy Young presented his last show on BBC Radio 2 this morning – bringing to an end twenty-nine (or so) years on the air. There is much discussion as to the reasons behind his departure (here and here) but I don’t want to go into them. Neither does it really matter that I have rarely listened to his show. I am usually in the office where we don’t listen to radios (except today as I am on my own) or, if I am elsewhere, there are other stations I prefer. I do, however, think there are a couple of things worth commenting on.

Firstly, for almost thirty years the JY Prog has been a ratings winner. Lunchtime ratings of five million should not be sniffed at. Jimmy Young has managed to stay at the top of his profession longer than many. In this celebrity-obsessed, five minute fame world, Jimmy Young’s achievement should not go without recognition (his Knighthood at the start of the year testament to his appeal). Where presenters rarely last three years, JY lasted almost three decades.

Secondly, and to me a great contribution to broadcasting, Jimmy Young’s show has always been an interactive experience. There has always been audience involvement and comment long before talk-shows, shock-jocks, email and message boards were around (or even thought of). It’s something that should not be forgotten and I believe it has been a great contribution to broadcasting.

Thirdly, his style may not be to everyone’s taste but Jimmy Young has been able to interview some of the top politicians of the day and get them to answer questions without the need to resort to aggressive interview tactics. He was able to ask the questions many people would like to ask Prime Ministers directly. In an era where politicians (and politics) have been reduced to the level of a sound bite, this is also an achievement worth noting.

Finally, the way in which he has left the network has been sad. It was leaked 18 months ago that Radio 2 were talking to others about taking over the show? In itself, that is not an unreasonable thing to do for the network controller. For it to become a public affair (with questions in the House of Commons) is quite the opposite.

As BBC News has said, it’s a sad end to a remarkable career. Just don’t mention his recording career!