Being Unwell

This year I felt a bit tired. Post-pandemic and coming into London more, maybe I was just a bit unfit? I’d also had a really busy year. As well as all the regular stuff, I led on the deal to sell our Podcast Awards business to Haymarket and I got married too! Maybe it was all just a bit too much and I am just getting older after all.

Post-Honeymoon, I still had this nagging feeling, and so called my GP. My GP is an app, the pretty good GP at Hand from Babylon and a video-call later, they suggested I pop in for some blood tests at their sparkly centre at King’s Cross. No problem.

I stopped in, made my deposits, and then headed to the office for a catch-up and some Zooms before heading home.

Just as I was walking through my door I suddenly had a slightly panicked call from the blood test centre saying that I should really go to hospital very quickly. Turns out my HB (Haemoglobin) was 50, when it should be around 150.

So a visit to the hospital, and after a few days, they’d pumped three packs of new blood into me (thank you donors!) and a pack of iron too (which kind of looks like you’re getting a bag of HP Sauce put into you). I’d also been scheduled a couple of weeks later for an endoscopy and colonoscopy – a camera having a look into me from both ends.

Obviously these aren’t the most fun things to have done, but I would say if faced with it, it’s not actually as bad as it seems. Especially if you say yes to all the drugs. I chose not to watch-along in glorious technicolour on the big screens.

The results from that, though, were pretty surprising. My general thought was it was likely to be something like a bleeding ulcer. It turned out to be a diagnosis of colon cancer.

The doctor and a nurse told me the news a little after the camera work, in that hushed tone you’ve seen on a hundred TV dramas or heart-string pulling ads. I’m more of a make a joke person than a burst into tears one, but obviously there’s lots of things whirring in your mind. How bad is this? Terminally so? I’ve still got loads of stuff to do. You also think, god, I’ve got to tell my wife and family about it as well. Also at this point no one knows any of the actual useful details other than that there’s a problem.

The device they do the colonoscopy with is pretty multi-functional, so they do some snips so they can run some tests on it. You’re also booked in for a load of scans and more blood tests. And then depending on when the results come in and the proximity to a Wednesday (hospital admin day) you’ll then find out what’s next.

For me, less than a week later, it was confirmed that it was colon cancer, but there were also some things they wanted to double check on my liver – which didn’t sound the greatest news. Irrespective of what was happening with the liver, I’d be in for surgery within 10 days to remove the tumour and a chunk of my colon.

The most calming aspect of all of this news was how unfazed the impressive surgeon was about the actual operation. It would be her directing a robot for three hours and then about a week in hospital recovering. One of three that day she was doing. Another week later we’d find out a bit more of what was going on in there and whether there would be any additional work to be done.

As I gradually came around later that October afternoon and evening, the pain drugs were definitely helping even if I was a little grumpy and groggy. Staying in hospital is never fun, particularly when you’re sore. My stay was massively enhanced by some expensive Sony noise-cancelling headphones – both to sleep, and to opt-out of hearing my neighbours’ medical discussions. I also got a new belly button (as they cut down from it to remove the tumour).

Less than a week later I was home, with encouragement to be up and about. Quite literally no rest for the wicked.

A few days later and we were back at the hospital getting the results of the operation. Tumour and area around it removed, with no indication from blood vessels or nearby lymph nodes that there had been any spread. Liver turned out fine after all. Phew. Looking at the tumour they removed however, two out of 24 lymph nodes has something in them.

Basically overall it was pretty good news, all low risk now, but the insurance policy, because of the lymph nodes issue, is to have three months of chemotherapy just to make sure. This started a couple of weeks ago. It has not been a breeze, but my body is starting to get used to it.

Something I feel very fortunate for is that diagnosis to removal was less than two months. There are lots of stories at the moment about NHS waiting lists, but for me it’s been incredibly swift and all the many elements have been really efficient. Also, it’s hard to feel sorry for yourself too much when you’re spending time in hospital next to others who have it all much much worse.

The two big things that have struck me are around people and disruption.

Telling people the news is quite tough. Not because it’s hard to say anything, but because you then take on some of their worry and, whilst it’s nice that people care so much, it sort of generates more of an overhead in your own thoughts, when you have quite a bit to be thinking about yourself. It’s partly why I haven’t really talked about this up until now.

The second is obviously how disruptive it can be to your life, especially when people rely on you for very normal things like jobs! Overall I haven’t really been that unwell, but there are moments when you have a bad day, are just really tired or have medical-related appointments at short notice – which makes it really difficult to be consistent for anyone else. I’ve been very fortunate that the Folder and Podcast Awards teams have picked up so much in my absence (Macmillan, by the way provide grants to cancer sufferers who aren’t so lucky and you can donate and support that here). And obviously Annabel at home has had lots of worry and has had do to some heavy lifting – quite literally in some cases as I’m not allowed to pick heavy things up.

So the tl;dr is – got colon cancer. Had it all removed. Fortunate it hasn’t spread. Just started three months of chemo. Hopefully more back to normal in March.

How do I get more people to listen to my podcast?

With the work I do on the Podcast Awards, here in the UK and Australia, I often get asked lots of questions about podcasting. They include topics like monetisation, hosting, content, what success looks like and then often how to get more people to tune in.

woman in black tank top sitting on chair in front of microphone
Photo by Soundtrap on Unsplash

After someone’s been doing a regular podcast for six months to a year there’s often a point where the team think “jeez, this is hard” and “we don’t seem to be growing very fast”. Whether it’s a big corporate one, or a solo project, everyone tends to hit this wall.

This can either spur them on, or make them quit.

I think there’s a couple of things that podcasts that have been going for a while get wrong, and that’s what inhibits continued growth.

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Interview Special: Stig Abell of Times Radio

Happy Sunday. A bit of an experiment today as I’ve been thinking about maybe publishing some longer form interviews with audio folk in the newsletter on the weekend. Is that something, dear reader, you would like me to do? Do reply to this and say so, along with any suggestion of who you would like to hear from.

This first one is with Stig Abell, who’s Executive Editor at Wireless, was the launch Director for Times Radio and now also presents its breakfast show. I caught up with him for the Media Podcast to talk about his first RAJAR figures, and Times Radio in general.

The interview’s a transcript of our chat, just tidied up to make it clearer to read. If you want it in audio form, the aforementioned the Media Podcast is where to go.

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RAJAR’s Return

The latest RAJAR data is out, and there’s a lot in there. An 18 month wait, massive consumer change because of the pandemic alongside gradual consumer changes happening anyway, new stations, network re-brands, new talent. Plus all the normal ups and downs. Phew. I can’t cover it all in here, so you get the best of what I’ve noticed in a few hours.

The other important thing to notice is that RAJAR has changed how it measures audience figures. As I talked about earlier in the week there’s a broader methodology. For this reason, like for like comparisons of data are not really fair. However it’s hard to talk about the data without mentioning changes. It’s therefore up to you, dear reader, to keep that in mind as I talk about old and new data below.

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Getting to know your listeners and the audio market

For something new to be successful, a number of things have to align. Of course there has to be a great idea, but you need to know where it fits in a market as well as have an understanding of your consumer.

The latter two aren’t as fun as coming up with the product or idea, but the research and knowledge helps you make better decisions.

For the radio sector, and for its audio competitors, there’s two releases of information that will definitely help shape current and future projects.

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Alternative funding for great audio

The business of audio in the UK has always had public and private elements. Radio of the 90s and 00s combined the licence-fee funded BBC (with guaranteed spend for independent production companies) alongside commercially-funded stations.

The public element existed because governments (and citizens), felt that there was value in creating media that wasn’t just the “commercially viable” stuff. A similar thing happens in other countries, in a variety of different ways. European countries tend to have publicly funded content through taxation or a licence fee. In America, PBS and NPR have some government funding, but much is from pledge drives with listeners and individuals/foundations who write big cheques.

Today, radio’s dominance of ear-time has receded as new audio opportunities, like streaming and podcasts have grown. So it’s interesting to think about whether public funding, providing public value, should still exist, and if so, how it should evolve.

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Creating Radio With Purpose

Greetings from Lisbon. I’ve had a lovely few days at Radiodays Europe. The pandemic had somewhat got in the way of the event’s usual planning, but they put on a great event with four simultaneous streams of sessions over two days. They also streamed the streams to people who wanted to attend, but not in person.

Unsurprisingly, Coronavirus was mentioned a few times. Yes, there were mentions of how it caused teams to work in different ways, but I think it had a more fundamental effect on how many practitioners thought about their audio medium.

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How Are Apple Podcast Subscriptions Going?

Apple released a new type of chart last week, showing the relative success of its new Apple Podcast Channels product. This is the thing where you can group together shows, or offer a single show, and then make it something that people can pay real money to subscribe to.

Here’s the pay-for list (with some context on each offer courtesy of Podnews)…

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The challenge of staying on-air

Radio and TV is a complicated business, and for a medium that used to ‘just’ have to worry about a transmitter network, today’s world means keeping on top of lots of endpoints – places where your content and channels end up.

Of course, the need for wide distribution is now an issue for everyone in the media sector. If you’re a musician are you on all the streaming platforms? If you’re a podcast are you listed on all of the apps and directories?

One of my day jobs is being part of a team that looks after a lot of DAB distribution through our MuxCo network. We look after hundreds of radio stations, broadcast over a hundred transmitters. It’s a network of many elements and many things that can go wrong. We’ve been doing it a long time, however, so when there’s a problem we have a pretty good idea of what (or who!) has caused it, and can get it fixed pretty quickly. Sometimes though, there’s just some outliers that are hard to plan for, as Arqiva found, when one of its key transmitters burned down last month, knocking out Freeview for a million people (and affecting our radio customers too).

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Does audio lack a product focus?

What fascinates me about audio at the moment is that the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for each of the different players in the sector, keep revolving and changing. No matter whether it’s Spotify or Apple, Global or the BBC, the audio strategies keep adjusting. There seems little desire to stick to what they’re known for.

I think part of the problem for many organisations, audio included, is that they misunderstand the business they’re in.

The oft-used example is that Kodak thought it was in the photographic film business when actually it was in the memories business. Through the memories lens, digital cameras would have been an opportunity, rather than a product they developed and quickly buried.

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