Friday, 11 March 2011

A day of Bread and Butter

My office noticeboard is filled with pictures and bits to remind me why radio is so important.  There are photos of my time working with local journalists in Somalia, Burma, Russia and Ghana.  More about this work here.

There’s also this poem written by Roger McGough to mark the 40th anniversary of BBC Radio Merseyside.  
I am the voice that announces you are not alone
I speak your language, I am home grown
I am the gift of the gab, I am the quiet word
I am the night watch and the early bird
I am the cat's whisker, I am your favourite song
I invite you to dance and to sing along
I am on your wavelength, on your side of the street
I am with you in triumph and in defeat
I am Hillsborough, Heysel, the European Cup
The phantom caller who won't hang up
I am Bulger, I am Bigley, I am floods of tears
I am the Beatles, the Pope, the smiles and the cheers
I am the Phil, the Everyman, the Walker, the Tate
I am nineteen sixty-seven and two thousand and eight
I am the bijou apartment, the sheltered accommodation
The helping hand and the information
I am your voice, I am your ear to the ground
I am the Pool of Life and the Mersey Sound
I am the cut ribbon, the champagne popped
I am the close-down, the poem stopped.

There’s also this poster which I downloaded from Chris Moyles webpages. 
Chris’ breakfast show is the fifth most listened to in Humberside.  BBC Radio Humberside is the most listened to BBC station in the area.

An eclectic mix of material, I appreciate, but it keeps me going.  There are also pictures of my dad on The Weakest Link, but that’s another story.  

Looking at my ‘mood board’ this morning made me think about the Bread and Butter of BBC Local Radio.  There’s much chatter today about the idea (I won’t say ‘plan’ until I know it is a proposal on the table) of merging BBC local radio in England and 5Live output.  The shadow Culture Secretary, Ivan Lewis, is asking for a meeting with the BBC to find out what’s going on; the NUJ is predicting hundreds of job losses, and there are articles like this which spell out the thoughts of many.  

No one is denying the need to think radically about how the BBC landscape will look in years to come.  There is little room for sentimentality and nostalgia today.  Certainly that’s what David Holdsworth (Controller of BBC English Regions) is saying in The Guardian today.

But I would urge anyone who has the confidence to say they think this is a sensible suggestion to spend a week in a local radio station.  Then come back and tell me what you think.
Hopefully, you’ll realise more about the Bread and Butter of local radio in England.  
Tell me how this new radio-land could:

Provide coverage of:

    We have Frank Gillard to thank for the birth of BBC Local Radio in 1967 (co-incidentally the year I was born.  Maybe that’s why I’m so loyal to the concept).  The Independent published an obituary of Frank in 1998.  
    Of course, mention is made of local radio stations, ‘It was his dream to see them in every city, not as "amplified juke boxes" but offering modern radio-journalism geared to the interests of the local community.’

    Thursday, 10 March 2011

    A day of headscratching, 'serious consideration', and adding up

    It was a busy day in my world... just getting on with things at my desk... the usual - trying to get the inbox to zero. But then I came across this blogpost from Bill Rogers.  This is the essence of it:
    'Now someone is "floating" some sort of merger between the rump of BBC Local Radio in England, and 5Live.  5Live would abandon its medium wave frequencies of 909 and 693, but still be heard uninterrupted on DAB, cable and satellite.  Local radio stations would mount only breakfast and drive time shows on their FM transmitters, and carry 5Live at all other times - perhaps with some weekend sport opt-outs.'

    Now, I've been around the BBC Local Radio block a fair bit... for the best part of twenty years, actually.  And this has left me scratching my head at how anyone could seriously suggest this.  I'm no lover of nostalgia, nor someone craving for years gone by.  But I believe in the power of local radio.  It connects with its audiences, it knows its listeners, listeners know the station, the station's there in good times and bad.  I haven't worked in a local radio station where that hasn't been the case.  

    I know awards aren't everything (until you win one, of course).  But I decided to look back at the past 10 years of Sony Radio Award winners.  I got as far as last  year - 2010.  I'll go back further when I have time. TEN awards for BBC Local Radio, and another EIGHT shortlisted nominations.  

    That includes Gold and Silver in Station of the Year (300,000 - 1million listeners), Gold for Speech Personality of the Year, Gold for Community Programming, Silver and Bronze for Breaking News Coverage and Bronze for Breakfast Show. 

    I think of the sheer numbers of people committed to local radio and all it stands for, the people who produce stunning journalism every day (not just for awards), and those people who have local radio to thank for their springboard to network jobs.  I also think of the listeners.

    There are around 7 million listeners to local radio in England each week.  Around 2.5million of those consume no other BBC service, according to the BBC's Annual Report.  Oh, and local radio in England produces around a quarter of a million hours of output each year.  The BBC points out in its annual report, 'The vast majority of our radio hours are live – which enables us to keep our listeners updated on key developments and issues of the day.

    Saturday, 19 February 2011

    A time of working out, a pony and more discussion

    I say I’m a lover of radio.  But I do venture out of my comfort zone as well.  Obviously, or else I wouldn’t be here with a blog.  It’s taken me some time to dip my toe in the web log world – as a ‘writer’.  Of course, I follow many blogs; a friend says my iGoogle tabs look as though there’s steam coming out of all my readers, feeds and links.

    Whether or not anyone thinks this blog is worthy of reading isn’t as important as the realisation that I’d like to be in the blogsphere, and I’m comfortable here. So far. I work with people who are far more ‘into’ all this technology than me.  I’ve been thinking about where I would place myself in this digital life.

    I spend my working life thinking about ‘audiences’ in all their forms – a bit of a shorthand here, and I’m sure I’ll return to more on the ‘audiences’ discussion in future posts. 

    You hear about ‘early adopters’, and I’m certainly not one of those.  My mother was a war-time child.  I’m fairly sure she could still make a steamed pudding in a tea cup according to a rations recipe.  And make it feed 6.  We’re not a family to make rash purchases, although we were one of the first to get a video recorder, and sensibly (as it turned out) plumped for VHS.

    I think I’m a ‘tipper’.  I may have made up a new term here, and it may well be a fairly decent one.   When all those early adopters have done the research and tried stuff out and worked out something probably does add value to my life, then I’m in there.  I can’t tell you how to jail-break an iphone, I still buy CDs and then transfer them to my iTunes, I’ve only just started using Google Chrome.  But I know Twitter is good and I like Facebook.  I couldn’t tell you much about Drupal, and I’ve only got a vague understanding of what a dropbox is.  I still have a notebook and a diary. I have a ‘no-pay’ policy for iPhone apps. I believe there's no life problem which can't be googled. 

    A friend of mine was working in Budapest this week – more about Tower Media’s work here and here.   because we both have an iPhone4, were able to FaceTime.  If you’d told me 5 years ago I’d be sitting at home with a gadget the size of a cassette box talking to, and seeing a friend in another country, I’d have balked.  Though I do think it’s a bit of a headscratcher that my car (bought new in 2005) has a cassette player.

    I don’t think I’m unusual in all this.  Not for one minute.  But that’s the joy of all this media, isn’t it?  There’s a healthy debate on how social media is playing a substantial part in many global news events – I follow much of that on Twitter, as well as the radio and television.  But I also look at how so much of our leisure time is played out through digital technology – look at how a programme like I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here used their website as a gateway to audience interaction, for example – and how your Twitter feed can be taken over when Masterchef’s on. 

    But I won’t be friends with my mother on Facebook.  I’d rather talk to her on the phone.

    I got home yesterday to see a familiar white envelope on the doormat.  One of my premium bonds had come up this month.  £25.  Thank you very much, ERNIE.  What a marvellous thing, the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment.    Maybe my family was an early adopter… apparently my great-grandmother carefully bought 3 premium bonds when they were first released.  Each month she’d check the paper and run through all the winning numbers to see if she’d won.  She did.  A month after she died.  I wonder if today she’d have an iPhone app to check the winners.

    A good discussion with a friend yesterday about the role of the radio phone-in.  His opinion is that he’s just not interested.  It’s like eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation, he says. And one that he's not that bothered about.  I think it’s about audience engagement, and making radio far more accessible.  He’d rather hear good, crafted radio features.  I enjoy those too, and admire so many reporters who know how to tell a story with sounds and voices.  But I also think there’s a definite place for the phone-in, the conversations, the revelations and the arguments.  To make them work, they need focus, direction and a real understanding of who’s listening to the programme.  I’m writing this while listening to Fi Glover on Radio 4’s Saturday Live   A whole programme of conversations with people with real stories.  So many more examples of this which work stunningly well.  BBC Radio Sheffield’s Football Heaven  is a fantastic listen if you’re a sports fan; Real Radio’s features embedded with the troops; Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 with millions of listeners each week – and at lunchtime.

    Right, off to clean the house, which sadly Twitter can’t do for me.  But the radio will be an accompaniment.

    Thursday, 17 February 2011

    A day of relief, thanks, debate and flowers

    I thought I'd start by writing about a conversation I had with a friend last night, and I will come to that, but something more pressing overtook the ponderings I had after that chat.

    This morning I was listening to Victoria Derbyshire on BBC 5Live. I often have the radio on in the background while I'm at my desk. Normally something will catch my ear, but very quickly I've forgotten what that was.

    Not this morning.

    Victoria was interviewing the former partner of Stereophonics drummer Stuart Cable - who died after a 3 day drinking session. She wants to see spirits labelled with the message 'alcohol kills', just like the warnings on cigarette packets.

    But it was the last 20 minutes of the programme which stopped me in my tracks. I realised I had stopped what I was doing and was urging Victoria to ask the questions in my head - which she did.

    The interview is raw. It's real. It's tough. It's powerful.
    I urge you to listen here
    It's also available on Victoria's podcast page.


    So, that conversation from last night. A friend asked me how you can persuade a radio presenter to use social media outside their working hours. I have to admit the conundrum stumped me. Surely a presenter would appreciate the value of engaging with their audience via Twitter or Facebook or whatever. But how to persuade someone to see that value?

    Is it enough to highlight the benefits of camaraderie, increased profile, more stories and possible contributors, a bit of fun, that ego-boost when you pass 100 followers, networking, being in touch, being social, being useful?

    I asked a group of young people (20 - 22 years old) recently how many of them had blogs. Around three-quarters said they do. Around half said they tweet. One person (out of 80) said they didn't do Facebook. I'd hazard an easy guess that in five years if I asked the same question the numbers would be higher.

    So, that radio presenter who's happy to tweet in an 8 hour window each weekday may well find himself out of touch quite quickly. Maybe that will be enough for him to get going?


    I like this website - guaranteed to brighten up a day. Thanks. That is all.


    I love my Kindle. A treasured Christmas present. It won't replace books entirely in my life as I'm sure there'll still be some 'real' books I'll want to see on my shelves, but it'll save so much space in my holiday luggage. So I was glad to come across this little accessory