Live Demos

Doing a ‘live demo’ always seems good when you’re planning something. I remember once thinking it would be a great idea to demo the shift to digital quality at a radio presentation at Norwich football club when we were bidding for the Norfolk DAB licence. I’d asked the engineers to beam a copy of the network Gold feed up from Broadland using RF and then also have an AM feed too. Then, during my presentation i’d be talking about Classic Gold and they would, live, transition between the two sources showing the improved sound quality. Unfortunately, being audio engineers, they got a really fantastic AM reception and when both it and the ‘digital’ feed was pushed through the crappy PA we were using the ‘amazing’ difference wasn’t exactly that noticable. I just pressed on…

It’s good to see that it’s not just me. Here’s a great vid showing the problems that uber-presenter Steve Jobs has had over the years…

Same Old, Same Old?

The UK radio industry is dominated by four groups – the BBC, GCap, EMAP and Global Radio. They’ve got the highest distribution of scarce spectrum and (for the commercial ones) a hold on most of the ad revenue. They also have, I suppose quite naturally, a disproportionate influence on government, regulators etc as they make up a big part of the ‘industry’.

This means that when the ‘industry’ catches a bit of a cold, everyone’s tarred with the same brush. Just because the BBC is downsizing, GCap is restructuring, EMAP is being sold and Global have new management that needs time to think about what they’re going to do, we end up with ‘radio in trouble’ headlines. When, in fact, lots of other people are having a good time. GMG‘s rolling out a new brand and has great support from their parent company, TLRC are increasing audience and revenue and Town and Country have amazingly strong audiences and is expanding into new areas.

And that’s just the traditional ‘radio’ companies. Lots of other people from other sectors are excited about getting into radio whether that’s Channel 4 launching three big national stations or a Polish group who’ve just gone on-air in London on DAB. My firm, Folder Media, is working with lots of different existing operators about digital expansion and they’re all quite excited – no doom and gloom there.

Now i’m not saying that the big groups are rubbish, far from it. I think they’re producing some excellent content both on-air and on-line and that listeners have never had it so good from them. Their businesses though are still struggling to evolve fast enough in the face of rapid consumer change and that’s what’s causing some pain (as the largest heritage operators they’re of course affected the most). However, I don’t think the rest of us should be that worried. Well, we certainly shouldn’t be worried about them. Their job is to change or die. And if they were to die, well that’s a shame, but there’s more than enough interest to cover what they’re already doing and drive it forward.

I think one of the issues with the larger operators is that they haven’t been through much recent creative renewal. The people at the top are, generally, the same people who were there over ten years ago, many even longer. That was in an age that was pre-digital, pre-internet, pre-multi-channel and really, pre-competition.

Indeed, today, part of me sighed a little when it was announced that David Mansfield is to become Chair of RAJAR (the radio listening figures body). Now, David’s hugely knowledgeable about the radio industry and TV too. He knows what it’s like to be a radio operator and has a strong understanding of the advertising world as well. But part of me thinks that that’s just not good enough any more. The route RAJAR’s going down, with more electronic measurement and multi-platform analysis is going to cause a lot of trouble. You can’t after all change the methodology and just expect the results to stay the same. It’s going to drive advertisers and stations absolutely bonkers. And good. The media world’s changing much faster than any one in it would like. The result is that the old-schoolers hold up change, slow it down, make it not so revolutionary. Great for the short-term and absolutely rubbish for the long-term. Whilst radio is arguing about how to combine pagers and diaries, online is steaming ahead with excellent metrics across all demographics. Maybe David can straddle this challenge, but maybe the Chair could have been someone more revolutionary who doesn’t really care about the old ways and is more interested in the best ways, for the future.

I feel a bit mean picking on RAJAR and David Mansfield. I think you could substitute them both for many companies (and individuals) that make up the old radio industry. If the people running the big radio companies can’t keep up with their consumers is it time for them all to move on?

Student Radio Awards Judging

Student Radio Awards

For the last few years i’ve had a hand in judging the Student Radio Awards and i’ve just judged the first round of one of this year’s categories. Student Radio’s very important to me, it’s the reason I managed to get my foot in the door and I always try and help it if I can.

The Awards are very good too. The picture above is the award I won with my Insanity colleagues back in 1999. The gong has pride of place in my Mum’s hall. In fact, when I grabbed it to snap the picture this weekend (with her attractive cushion in the back), Mum sounded a little worried that i’d be taking it back to London. Bless.

Anyway, normally i’ve judged categories like Marketing and New Media, but this year they’ve let me loose on a presenter-led category (I don’t think we’re supposed to say which ones, in case we are influenced…). Each category has two rounds of judging, the first round to do the shortlist and the final round to do the winner. I’m a mere first round judge this year, but completed the task with my good mate R.

It’s quite fun to go through the entries (each with some audio and some written work) and it’s amazing the varying quality you get to hear. It is a bit of a slog though, we had 25 entries to go through, listening, reading and making notes. Last night we then compared our views to come up with the final five/six. The majority we’d both picked and then with the remaining ones we both had in our ‘maybe’ list we argued until we got the final couple sorted.

Having done all this, my top tips for entrants next year (and actually for anyone doing demo tapes etc) is:
1. If you’re a double act, make sure pretty quickly it’s obvious who’s entering – saying your name is a good start
2. Don’t include stuff where you and your co-host are talking over each other
3. Don’t read directly something out of the paper.
4. If you slag off the music your audience will always think “well why is he playing it then?”
5. Don’t include links where you make mistakes/fluff your words/speak over vocals etc
6. Include different types of links – not just ‘we’re all having a laugh’ stuff.
7. Presentation matters. Make sure the CD/docs are neat and professional – it makes the judge think your professional too.
8. Make sure your CD plays when you put it in a CD player.
9. Sound confident – you’re the presenter after all!
10. Remember you’re doing a show for the listeners not for each other.

Good luck to everyone who entered, I believe the shortlist is out on the 10th October and the Awards itself is on the 15th November.

Radio Meta Data

News is breaking that many HD radio stations in the US are installing special technology that links the song being played with the iTunes store so you can buy what you hear. There are some who think that its giving a little too much away to Apple who are already, if you haven’t noticed, a little dominant in this area.

Here in the UK, there’s a service about to launch called Cliq. Cliq sucks playlist data from radio stations and then allows JAVA or DAB enabled phones to download the songs for a small fee. I guess the difference is that Cliq themselves have built some value-added technology on top of the radio stations and selected hardware. Whereas the HD example above seems to have hard-wired the system into the newest iteration of HD itself.

I’m not sure how beneficial it is to ‘lock’ something as potentially valuable as content downloads at the device level down to one platform. What happens if people stop liking iTunes, or it gets discontinued (cf Virgin’s Download service)? I’m not saying this will happen, but surely it would have been more sensible for stations to provide ‘now playing’ data through an API and then allow a variety of hardware/software manufacturers to be able to hook into that?

This would have still allowed HD Radio to say “download music at the touch of a button” but allowed consumers to choose the music store that they like to use, whether that’s iTunes or not.