Do the numbers add up?

This week another set of ratings get published for radio by Rajar. Every 3 months new numbers appear- distributed to stations on Wednesday, then made public at 00:01 Thursday morning.

This isn’t a post about the ratings analysis- who might go up, or down, or dramatically collapse or gain. There are a few of those blogs available and I would recommend Matt Deegan for his analysis. I calculated on my last Rajar result when I was at a station, that it was something like the 128th set of results I had seen- yes I’m THAT old! Most times someone, usually from the sales department but not exclusively, would say on one of the days leading up to the results day, “What do you think the results will be?” My reply was always similar, “I don’t know, if I did I would be lying on a beach right now!“.

The results are hard to predict, in fact I’d say impossible. I’ve gone into results days with a decent if not stellar 13 week number (explanation coming below)– and the published result been disappointing. The opposite has also been the case.

The highs are temporary. The lows are temporary. Neither are a true barometer of how you are doing (probably). I’ve never trusted large swings in numbers upwards or downward, preferring a modest steady trending- showing some consistency or rigidity in the numbers perhaps.

The majority of stations and some networks report on a rolling 6 months set of numbers. Reporting every 3 months, the earlier 3 months drops off and a fresh new 3 months gets added on. The 13 week numbers I referred to above, and I’ve heard them called “discrete” and “forced numbers”, refer to the 3 months (13 weeks roughly) that remains in the published book- so this week in Wave 4 the figures will be from July to Dec and the previous report would have been from April to Sept, meaning the July to September period features in both sets of results. Its not an exact science- the numbers are unweighted and as I’ve said, can give you false expectations or false hope!

6 MONTH ROLLING REPORTING PERIOD EXAMPLE

Analysis of Rajar became a bit of thing for me in my career- I’ve mentioned before that I devised a style of report- The DAMS report which still features in the excellent analysis tool from DPSAS, RALF. I was taught all about Rajar, and JICRAR before it by the person who first hired me into a radio station, Chris Hughes. He was the Programme Controller, then Managing Director of Radio Trent and was a figures supremo. He could analyse numbers like no-one I’ve met, could give insight and explanation and, thankfully for me, had the patience to teach and coach.

I don’t miss the stress of Rajar day if I’m honest, but the day still interests me and I catch up on the headlines and movers and shakers. The pressure is actually quite huge- instant analysis is required from a massive amount of information which is only available at 10.30am. Pulling out the threads, the reasons and the full story from a complex data dump is tough. I remember the demands- “send me the highlights and headlines within the first half hour!”. Impossible really as you are asking for insightful critical review of a complex bit of fresh information within a very short time frame. A considered critical review requires time to CONSIDER after all. Many is the time the actual themes of the results, the nuance and the actual story didn’t materialise until later in the day after time to chew on the results a bit and come to some conclusions. Exhibiting a bit of Slow Thinking in this is helpful but I recognise the expediency required for urgent press releases and presentations! I created a number of number crunching tools to automate the process a bit and try and make the picture clearer, sooner. Some of those tools exist to this day!

To all working in radio and crunching, pondering and fighting to find the right angle, positive or thought- I applaud you and understand the stress.

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Shooting Stars

Last week I posted an article about being HUMAN- more specifically about having “human connection” to an audience and how that is one of the things that separates a radio station from a stream (think Spotify, Apple Music etc). Personality, presenters and talent woven together, crafted into something more than an algorithm driven feed.

This week the big news has been the announcement of Ken Bruce departing Radio 2 for Greatest Hits Radio. Whilst I’m not posting views on the move specifically, following on from last week a few cogs clicked in my tiny radio brain.

Firstly, it was a surprise (to me at least- but then I’ve been out of radio for almost a year now). At the time I posted a tweet saying that this was huge news.

Now obviously this was a massively insightful and detailed analysis of the whole thing in six words! I saw a lot of opinions whilst scrolling through social media ranging from, “this is bad/ the end of Radio 2”, “this is great news for GHR”, “this is bad news for Ken”, “this is good news for Ken”, and “Ken isn’t anything special anyway”. Oh the joys of social media!

Reprising my insightful critique from my initial 6 word Tweet- let’s all agree that this is huge news. If for no other reason that sitting on mid-mornings on Radio 2 for as long as Ken Bruce has, moving on is a story in itself. Ken has done mid-morning since 1986- with a 2 year gap 1990-1992- so 35 years on mid-mornings! Radio 2 is still the biggest radio station in the UK– in the last Rajar Radio 2 has 14.5 million listeners a week (Rajar/Ipsos/RSMB Wave 3 2022, BBC Radio 2, Weekly Reach 14,462,000). Movement in the daytime line up therefore is a major (aka “huge“) event.

As for the other sentiments- is this bad for Radio 2? Of course there are points of view either way and I’m not convinced either way to be honest. Evolving and refreshing a radio station’s output can be interesting to say the least, (see Blood On The Carpet documentary about the evolution of Radio 1 in the 90s by way of an example). Will it have an impact? Undoubtedly yes would be my quick judgement but as to what and how big… not easy to pin down. There is a train of thought that listeners will follow Ken and logic would seem to suggest that is partially true- but to what extent I would hedge bets a bit on that. The “big book of radio history” (not an actual book) has numerous examples of big name talent moving stations and whilst taking “some” audience with them, very seldom is it the size of following that they, or their new stations, would ideally like to believe. Habits form, people listen to their favourite station for a number of reasons and dislodging them long term and changing the built-in inertia is really very hard.

That said, this is likely to have some impact but again we won’t see the extent of that impact publicly for some time. Practically speaking Ken leaves Radio 2 in March and starts at GHR in April. Radio 2 reports 3 month Rajar figures and so the last quarter with Ken in situ will be Wave 1 2023, the quarter we are in now, which reports in May (Jan-Mar). The first “Post Ken Radio 2” figures will be Wave 2 2023, reporting in August 2023. “Greatest Hits Radio Network” and Greatest Hits Radio” report on a 6 month rolling survey and so some of Wave 2 2023 (reporting in August 2023 (Jan – Jun) will show some impact, but its not until Wave 3 (reporting in Oct 2023) that we will see the full first 6 months of Ken on GHR*. Bear in mind too that all of the above will only be any initial period- the trial and sampling period and initial splash of the change. Legacy plays a big part in this story and that doesn’t change overnight. Measuring something on the first 3 or 6 months isn’t the overall picture, early adopters wane, new fans and evangelists evolve and incumbent listeners might be dislodged- all of that takes while to settle down.

(* of course internal, unpublished research and unweighted 3 month data will inform those involved- its not public though!).

As for those “this is good news for GHR” opinions- I tend to agree. If nothing else (and there is plenty of good news facets to this), it gets awareness, and with an awareness and recall measured industry that is vital. It shows a power, impact and command and expresses an intent to the listener and the industry. It shows quality and brand intent too and equivalency saying in essence, “Hey there lovely Radio 2 listener, you should consider coming over here, the water is lovely and warm and we are compatible, love you.” With 14.5 million listeners on the table, even a small number of those making the journey would be advantageous for GHR!

The “Good for Ken”, “Bad for Ken” comments tend to cancel themselves out. Ultimately there is one person who can make that judgement and its none of our business to be frank!

The “well he’s not that special anyway” debate is an interesting one and whilst really misses the point a bit of what makes success, lets look at the premise for a second. I’m reminded of a principle of success which Tracy Johnson talked about- the 3 T’s. Talent, Timing and Tenure. Successful people demonstrate all three in varying degrees.

You have to have a good decent solid consistent level of TALENT. Can you fairly expertly perform the job, produce the content, navigate the highs and lows and perform on a daily, weekly, annual basis with a high degree of quality? Well done, you have some Talent.

Timing is about being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes not entirely within your own gift and dependant on others, but also placing yourself in the right moment is important. You make your own luck and the definition of luck is ‘a state of readiness meeting a moment of opportunity‘.

Tenure. Longevity, legacy and heritage are built over time- you can’t rush it! Even overnight success takes a while in reality. Sometimes just a modicum of talent, coupled with being in the right place at the right time, added with staying put for a length of time can equal big success. I’m not suggesting that this is the case with Ken at Radio 2 in the slightest, but play with me for just a minute and even if you subscribe to the dismissive, uninformed view of “he is nothing special”, then being in place for so long, at such a time of day central to the schedule, equals success and its a big deal and (as per my initial insightful tweet), huge.

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Are you human?

New year- new blog post. Happy New Year!

I pondered for a while between consuming mince pies about what to post about in this specific post. Numerous ideas came through my brain and foolishly I didn’t write any of them down at the time! I did some catching up on podcasts I’d missed recently and an interesting one about ChatGPT. After a few moments play and pause I wondered what would happen if I asked ChatGPT to write a blog post about radio in 2023- it wrote something fairly bland and generic and global in its scope. I asked to make it specific about radio in the UK in 2023 and this is what it gave me…

The Future of Radio in the UK in 2023 by Chat GPT

Radio in the United Kingdom has a rich history dating back to the 1920s and continues to be a vital part of the country’s media landscape. Even in the digital age, where streaming services and on-demand listening are becoming increasingly popular, radio remains a relevant and well-loved medium. In fact, recent studies show that over 90% of adults in the UK tune in to the radio each week.

In the UK, radio has a diverse landscape with a mix of public service and commercial broadcasters. The BBC, the public service broadcaster, operates multiple national and local radio stations that cater to a wide range of listeners. The most popular being BBC Radio 2, which is known for its mix of music, entertainment and news.

On the other hand, commercial radio has seen a steady growth in the last decade, with several players like Global Radio, Bauer Media and Heart radio dominating the market. The competition between the commercial and public service stations continues to drive innovation and new trends.

One trend that is set to continue in 2023 is the growth of podcasts. Podcasting has become an increasingly popular way to listen to a variety of content, and many UK radio stations have begun to create their own podcasts or incorporate podcast-like segments into their programming. This has allowed them to reach new audiences and offer more personalized, in-depth content.

Another trend that is on the rise in the UK is smart speaker integration. As more and more households own smart speakers, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, it has become easier for listeners to access radio through these devices. This opens up new opportunities for stations to connect with listeners and offer new ways to interact with their programming.

But even with these new technologies, radio in the UK still holds onto the things that have made it so popular for so long: the human connection. Whether it’s hearing the voices of local DJs and personalities or listening to live coverage of breaking news, radio is still a medium that brings people together in a way that other technologies can’t quite replicate.

In conclusion, radio in the UK is far from being outdated in 2023. With its diverse landscape, a mix of public service and commercial broadcasters, and its ability to adapt and evolve, radio continues to offer a unique and personal experience for listeners. As technology continues to advance, expect to see more radio stations in the UK leveraging new technologies and shifting to more personalized and interactive formats to stay relevant in the digital age.

Again, its pretty basic and generic with some basic errors (like Global and Heart being two entities rather than Heart being a brand within Global). It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a bot couldn’t write a blog post about the position of UK radio in 2023, but there is a bit of something I took away, which pinged my senses a bit.

…radio in the UK still holds onto the things that have made it so popular for so long: the human connection. Whether it’s hearing the voices of local DJs and personalities…

How many moments are taken to consider and think about “the human connection” I wonder? I recognise the irony of a bot pointing this out by the way! Sometimes radio output can be close to a stream- with little “human connection”. A programming tool used to battle streaming competition (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music etc) has been to maintain long music sweeps around the hours and there has been a lot of evidence of success maintaining radio’s position and relevance from doing that. Lets not throw all that out, but at some point does the “human connection” disappear behind a wall of music which emulates the provision of the streaming services you are trying to beat? The balance between enough human and too much human is where the sweet spot lies. Then there is a issue of just what the human connection is when you get there.

Just in case, I asked ChatGPT to expand on Human Connection- I got this:

The phrase “human connection” in the context of radio refers to the way that radio creates a sense of personal connection between the listeners and the presenters, DJs, and other on-air personalities.

This connection is formed through the voices and personalities of the presenters and DJs, who often have their own unique style and way of engaging with their audience. This can create a sense of familiarity and comfort for listeners, making them feel like they are talking with a friend rather than just listening to a voice on the radio.

Additionally, live shows and live coverage events on radio such as weather, traffic, live sport and news, creates a sense of immediacy, and can make listeners feel like they are part of the event or happening. It also creates a sense of community, listeners tune in at the same time and share the experience, this can make them feel like they are connected with others who are listening at the same time.

Moreover, radio can be a more personalized experience, with a human touch, hosts can interact with listeners through phone-ins and social media, making it more than just a one-way communication. This human connection gives radio a unique and personal touch which is harder to replicate with other media forms.

Again its very generic and fairly top line in terms of insight. That said, (and again the irony of this not coming from a human) the focus on the advantages of human connections, shared experiences and radio’s “unique and personal touch which is harder to replicate with other media forms” might be a good think not to lose!

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Its a performance, so perform.

The most charismatic personalities give something of themselves in their work. They make things real, believable and understandable by reflecting part of their personality though their work. They bring something which audience members, listeners and viewers can relate to and lift it from the page or script. In short, they PERFORM their work.

The very best do this effortlessly, striking a balance that maintains the sense of realism whilst delivering the required content and information. At times this can be a tough balance- too much performance and its becomes unreal, too little and it lacks engagement and is dull. Its both a skill and an art.

It isn’t something which can be just mastered overnight- it takes work, rehearsal ad evaluation. Its a constantly moving feast also- it requires attention and continued improvement and focus. Being able to perform your content can make it stand out, becoming more than the mundane and achieve its full potential.

This is a real life skill that can make all the difference in every day life, not just in your media life. Having confidence to “perform” and have confidence in your own ability to master the art and techniques, can have dividends elsewhere. In a work meeting or even in your personal life with hobbies or interests, it can lead to you being able to articulate yourself better, get traction and interest from others and make your point more succinctly and with more clarity.

Ask yourself, have you ever seen someone read out loud from a newspaper or article in a monotonous tone and wish they just emoted more or brought it to life? Adding inflection and emphasis is just the tip of the iceberg, but all too often lacking. It all comes from a confidence, and from a level of experience- overcoming the crushing embarrassment of feeling everyone is looking at you!

Recently I’ve been talking to some students about this kind of thing, trying to encourage rehearsal and practise before “doing it for real”- so that the first time isn’t the time you have to “go live”. I’m reminded about some coaching I conducted a good while ago with someone and suggesting they read their script aloud a few times. They were normally working in a booth and on their own, but felt embarrassed doing it even in that environment and so didn’t read anything aloud until they were live! Reading it in your head isn’t the same of course, or even talking very quietly- for a start there are several muscle groups that don’t have to do anything when you read it to yourself! If you were going to run a race, you wouldn’t just think about running to get ready. I’ve worked with someone who used to physically stick out their tongue and scratch it to get blood flowing to it, before reading a news bulletin!

Its all too easy to say ‘get over it’ and in reality it doesn’t help at all, but finding a way- knowing that nobody can see or hear you in order to rehearse, is a starting point to improving your overall performance and therefore your confidence. Not everyone CAN deliver some content in a public forum, and that’s fine too but don’t sell yourself short too quickly. I’ve seen people who might be labelled as shy, deliver a presentation and content effectively in public by a careful use of encouragement, rehearsal and coaching. I’ve seen (and heard) people deliver an increasingly improved performance on air by doing the same.

Self evaluation helps. Chances are that you are your own worse critic. I’ve worked with radio presenters who don’t like hearing their own voice- but after practise and tenacity they get used to it because it leads to improvement of their performance. (I’ve also worked with people who loved the sound of their own voice… a little too much). Naturally they hear all the bad bits first and seldom hear the good bits or the overall good performance- that’s where some critical feedback and coaching can be very helpful to not just focus on the negatives.

This is likely to be the last blog post of this year (I might get a chance to do something next week, but can’t promise). If you have read, shared, subscribed or liked anything then heartfelt thanks and see you in 2023!)

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Lane control.

In order to maintain some sense of control, safety and to coordinate the potential chaos, major roads have lanes. Imagine if that wasn’t the case and a four lane motorway had no lane markings or organisation. Can you picture the carnage and free for all there might be? Its bad enough if you have ever been on a toll road or motorway with a 20 gate toll booth- going in and going out of the toll booth area is a moment to have your whits about you!

Regular readers to my blog might wonder why I’m writing about highway maintenance and lane markings. Having some rules in place- or at least some controls, aids a smooth journey for all users. Sticking in your lane helps others navigate the complex series of junctions, know where you can go and can’t go and sets up some parameters in which to play. Sound familiar?

Moving back into my normal area of comment- media- staying in your lane is important for many reasons. Now, sometimes this phrase can be used as a negative I concede…”You should stay in your lane!”, that is something different and perhaps for another post at another time!

We live in an over complicated and over communicated world. We are met, every day, by a barrage of messages, ads, comments, concepts and questions all fighting for our attention. It is impossible to manage, assimilate and sort all those messages to the same degree and so your mind triages them into categories of subject. For example, you know that The Great British Bake Off does cake and so your brain puts it into that mental folder, Grand Designs does house building projects, and Never Mind The Buzzcocks does music quizzes and comedy- and so might live in two mental folders. Its a simple system built on your experiences, that helps you access the information and know how to deal with it in the daily barrage. Things staying in their lane, helps them build an audience who know what they stand for and come to them for just THAT.

What prompted this blog post was a podcast. One of my regular listens is a pod which discusses “all things tech and business”, which I enjoy and find interesting- with the hosts’ views on tech and business being insightful, sometimes amusing and often giving me pause for thought. A recent episode instead was all about ‘parenting’. Now- this blog isn’t about a criticism and dissection of this one pod, or its subject matter (as it goes it did reference back to tech very loosely a few times), but it got me thinking about the wider “lane control” thing as I listened and argued with myself. Why would a tech and business themed stream decide to pivot to a parenting episode for one week- then go back to discussing Elon Musk, Disney and Zuckerberg? The hosts are both parents but then they both might also like wine, or cycling, collecting stamps or pottery!

One of the most dreaded phrases someone can utter for the healthy maintenance of your mental folder collection is, “we are going to do something different“. Your regular audience come to you for the normal. You are in the category in their head and they don’t have the time to reshuffle everything and recategorise you into different folders and reevaluate what you stand for. Imagine watching Great British Bake Off and they begin with, “this week we are going to be doing something different, we want you to make a workbench out of this pile of freshly cut timber“.

This week on Grand Designs we look at making a gingerbread house and making the best gravy for Christmas“.

Now to be fair to my regular podcast listen, the show was quite entertaining (even though it shifted in my priority listen as a result of this change, as it wasn’t what I had come to them for and so I listened to some other podcasts first and came back to this one when, and only if, I had time). There is nothing wrong with doing a parenting podcast at all- in fact there are many that are worthy of a subscribe, but they also don’t suddenly do a show about tech, or politics, or building a workbench because the hosts like woodwork.

Knowing the lane you are in, respecting that lane’s parameters and not scrubbing out the lane markings, thereby creating havoc for other users not knowing where they are is not the best for enjoyment or listener loyalty. I’ve posted before about consistency in programming. In my own mental categories, my favourite podcast under the “tech and business” folder now has an asterisk against it [*sometimes does parenting]- all of which weakens its ownership of the category in my over communicated head.

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This radio life

My oldest friend sent me a couple of pictures that I never knew existed. Gary Burton and I both started working in professional radio on the same day. We were both at hospital radio in Derby at the same time too and our friendship began there.

It comes from a simpler time. I had hair!

It’s all too easy for radio people to become lost in nostalgia. Longing for a simpler time when things seemed to work better, create bigger results and things were altogether easier. It’s a mirage of the past, as in truth the past might have been simpler in some ways, but the pitfalls and dangers were still there and often bigger. Regulation was tougher and the prospect of falling foul of the rules was high. As with all history, we forget the bad bits if we can and focus on the enjoyment and highlights.

It’s all very normal behaviour and to be expected but it becomes an issue when it shapes current or future plans. Living in the past is not a good idea when plotting future success.

I’ve sat with media people who lament that their service or station “used to be number one” with an XXX number of listeners. When asked a bit about what changed the inference is that “new thinking” or “they” changed things and but for that, it would be still pulling in those numbers. It’s a folly of course and all too frequently when things were rosy and huge, the volume of competition was lower or the choices for consumers were fewer.

I’ve even known a few who have tried to regenerate the successes of yesterday without the market changes that allowed the success to flourish in the past. Of course it never lived up to the memory. It never does.

I’ve had the great fortune to live through many radio eras and experiences which many reflect back on as being a golden age or time. The thing is, during those times there were many who were saying the same thing about an earlier time!

Live for today. You might be living in a golden age right now and you might look back and think it was magical through your rose tinted specs.

A young Dick Stone. A fashion icon. Pic courtesy of Gary Burton

I’ve not been working in radio now for the longest time in my career- don’t misunderstand, I’m enjoying what I’m doing hugely at the minute. It’s almost nine months since I had a full time gig in radio and so my advice to anyone in the industry right now is to stop and savour it. It’s a fantastic, powerful, important, crucial medium but also the most fun. Savour the NOW. Savour the day today and not wait until tomorrow to realise how great it was. Savour having hair! Don’t wait until you have to slap factor fifty on your scalp on holiday to enjoy it!

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Local. Relevant.

I have mentioned many times that I don’t try and write a topical, current media affairs blog. There are a few reasons for that- stress (always finding something to comment about), it tends to be more last minute (and therefore adds more stress), and could generate more polarising opinions (and I could do without that stress too). Occasionally there is the odd thing that spikes attention and tempts me to start drafting a post. Few actually get to the publish phase, and my drafts folder is full of half finished posts and thoughts which will probably never see the light of day.

I posted a while ago about LOCAL. It was prompted by the BBC Sounds local activity a few weeks earlier which had one of those pings in my attention. Of course since then, the localness of the BBC has again been in the news with the BBC Local Radio proposals.

I have weighed up formulating my views on the perceived rights or wrongs of the plans and concluded that… who cares what I think! In fact I’m not totally certain of what I think and in the end there are people with lives and families involved in all of this news, and they matter. Their worries matter. Their concerns matter and my conclusions one way or another are irrelevant and just noise.

I shared on social channels a very eloquent post and point of view from David Lloyd the other week when the news broke. His experience and viewpoint are both insightful and well founded. I am not going to attempt to replicate and instead direct you to his post. It is balanced and interesting and very worthy of a read.

Why then am I still typing?

I remember many years ago delivering a presentation to some media students who were asking about the contraction of the commercial radio industry at the time as a result of deregulation and consolidation. At the time I mentioned that the model of the then commercial radio landscape was one built in the 1970’s and based on a set of realities of the 1970’s- the time of commercial radio’s birth. The foundation of those businesses and how they operated, and how commercial radio operated as a whole, was based on how society, industry and media looked at that time. It was also based on a regulatory framework under the auspices of the IBA (Independent Broadcasting Authority which regulated TV and Radio services). A regulatory position which was far more stringent and constrictive in comparison to today, and even from the later regulation from The Radio Authority. At the time when the idea of commercial local radio was born, there were no mobile phones, no internet, three tv channels and none of them 24 hours per day. Operating any other type of business, you wouldn’t try and limit your scope, operation and set up based on a set of criteria from decades ago which were no longer relevant! Things should evolve and change of course- including in media industries (or Netflix would be still focussed on mailing out DVDs and ignoring streaming!).

Where does all that leave the concept of LOCAL? Is local is still important and relevant in today’s media environment? Engagement seems to be healthy though. In Rajar “All Local Commercial” has 25.8 million listeners a week (All Adults 15+)*, with BBC Local having 7.8 million listeners per week*. Of course just because a station is classed “local” it may not carry much local programming and still be quoted as a local service (eg, Hits Radio, Greatest Hits, Capital, Heart etc, etc- which could be a local transmitter carrying a national or pseudo national output with local opts outs and news and commercials). On the whole the BBC Local stations’ output is more local with a lot less networking and sharing (at the moment) of course. In comparison the 7.8 million is small when looking at commercial radio’s 25.8 million- but a lot of that is down to audience targeting of the programming so its not a fair comparison. BBC Local Radio has around a circa 20% reach for over 55s in the latest Rajar results*. Its debatable if that is low or could be higher, and ultimately I’m drawn back to my “who cares what I think” conclusion from above.

*(Source Rajar Ipsos/RSMB Wave 3 2022, measured in own TSAs)

How important is it to the whole of BBC Radio though? The “Any BBC” Rajar number is the total combined number of listeners to any BBC service, local or national- so all listeners to a BBC service irrespective of what it is, as long as its a BBC service. The total reach for Any BBC is just over 33 million in a week*. That’s the total number of people who listen to any BBC station in any given week. If you use that total as your base, then what is the make up of the individual BBC services? Radio 1 has just over 8.1 million listeners a week*- or 25% of the whole “Any BBC” number.

Below is a breakdown of the “Any BBC” reach number and what each part of the BBC accounts for, expressed as % reach.

Quarterly Summary Of Radio Listening
RAJAR/Ipsos/RSMB. Wave 3 2022 All Adults 15+

BBC Local Radio in its entirety, accounts for 24% of the BBC total reach each week.

Now I’m going to get granular here and in the weeds of Rajar, so bear with me… its worth noting that 1 Xtra from the BBC reports on 6 monthly figures, as does BBC Asian Network (meaning its from April – Sept for Wave 3, and therefore not included in the above graph or calculation. If you redo the numbers based entirely on 6 month across the board then BBC Local is 22% of the new “Any BBC” figure- that’s also partially why when you add all the percentages up they don’t come to 100. Reach can be shared, i.e. you can listen to more than one station). Who said it was easy! Rajar nerd restored- move on!

My conclusion is that change is not simple- and you knew that already! The world in which BBC Radio Leicester first appeared as the first BBC Local station is almost unrecognisable from the one which exists today. Media consumption is equally unrecognisable, that said, radio in general still has an 89% reach* of the UK population! BBC Local Radio accounts for a pretty big chunk, somewhere around a quarter, of the total BBC audience and so change could have very sizeable impact.

On a macro level, as I said already, the changes have a disproportionate impact on the people involved. To them it is personal, monumental and long lasting. I have great sympathy with the upheaval they feel and are going through at this moment, which irrespective on how it finally works out for them, will have an equally long lasting impact on their relationship with their employer as a result.

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In praise of John McCauley

Many reading this will not know who John McCauley is- although if you have read a few of my posts before now you may have read my odd comment or reference to his great work. I’ve referenced John a number of times for his music passion, prep and delivery. In the last few weeks John has stood down from presenting Smooth Breakfast in Scotland, after a glorious 40+ years in broadcasting.

Some background

It was about this time of year- mid November that I started the job of Group Programme Director for Smooth Network under Global. At the time Smooth had a national breakfast show with Simon Bates which had moved into Leicester Square just a month earlier having been established by GMG under previous ownership. Scotland- it being a different nation- had its own show with John and Sharon. My job at the time was to put back in place local breakfast and drive shows across the regional sites (Scotland, North East, North West, East Midlands, West Midlands and London) and build a new network. The London show was complex because of it also being the network hub of course and in essence already had some people in positions but the rest of the sites had no programming on air people (except for Scotland). I remember sitting at my desk on the fourth floor of Global's Leicester Square building thinking about the daunting task of finding 8 presenters across the country that would resonate with their local audiences. 

As I started the job I listened to John in Scotland. I had not heard him before I don’t think and didn’t know of his heritage or legacy, but Richard Park knew him and told me all about John’s rich history in the landscape of broadcasting in Scotland. Whilst the music, format and styling of the show would be different from what Smooth would evolve into, it was clear John had an immense natural talent. His turn of phrase, humour, deftness of touch and style, cut through. I saw in that moment, sat in the corner one afternoon, what John would sound like on the new Smooth we were creating.

Communication was hard. “Hold separate” meant I couldn’t visit Glasgow as Smooth Scotland was part of those businesses formerly under GMG. It wasn’t until all of that concluded and Smooth (and Heart) became Global’s (with Capital going to Communicorp UK) that I finally managed to visit the building in Baillieston and meet John for the first time face to face with the programmer David Treasurer. By this time I had knowledge of John’s talent and had heard a ton of examples on the air of his huge skills in action. Nothing pleased me more than the fact that we got on well too. Over the following few years, with the move to the central Glasgow building and then trips out for a breakfast on my visits with John and Gary Muircroft (the PC at that time)- John’s wry sense of humour, his playfulness and cutting whit were just fantastic to behold. Those are very happy memories.

On the air, John displayed an effortless charm. He has often been quoted as being “Scotland’s Wogan”, and I see the echo of Terry and understand the comparison. John had a similar shortcut with the listener, the understanding with a turn of phrase and comment that what he was saying was tongue in cheek, or a audible wink. He also had that brilliant skill of making a big audience sound like a small club of like-minded people, giving everyone the impression of being an underdog, and inside the joke, without giving newcomers a feeling of not belonging. It never became “in” and exclusive and always welcomed first-timers and passing casual listeners. John understood and still understands radio and communication in a way that makes it look easy. It isn’t. He worked hard at making it look that easy. The most simple and straight forward bits of content, like delivering travel news- John made his own. I remember talking about how he would spend time looking on street view at locations around any incidents so he could drop in references to places- even if he knew them already he would do the legwork so he didn’t always repeat the same comment and become a cliche. It takes effort to spend time on the small things which make the whole picture appear more vivid and realistic.

I used John as an example numerous times, playing his audio from a show I had caught from time to time. He demonstrated the art of presentation in that format so very well, it just made sense. In doing so I enlisted a few more fans to the John McCauley fan club across the network. I have audio of John from breakfast demonstrating examples of all manner of skills. I have a few favourites for which I won’t post the audio, since I have not got the required permissions, but suffice it to say they are all fantastic.

I used to talk about how the audience we were chasing were not nostalgic for an earlier era, wanting things to be how they used to be and live life in a bubble of yesterday. They lived in today’s world and knew who was who and came to the station for the lack of frenetic activity, adult to adult communication and oasis of calm. John absolutely got that. One of my favourite clips I have is John referencing that Eminem was playing at Glasgow Hydro that evening, declaring that he has a few albums from Eminem and has his favourite songs, then – and the description doesn’t do it justice- quoting the opening lines of Slim Shady, on beat, over the opening bars of George Benson, Turn Your Love Around. A two dimensional programmer or broadcaster might take a view that Eminem shouldn’t be mentioned on a station like Smooth, but John is in 3D. It was a huge music event happening in Glasgow and the audience would have known it was happening, even if they didn’t know the music. Some might also be aware of the music too since they lived in the real world and would have heard some of his music on other TV shows and in the TSA over the years. John understood in that one link and content choice that listeners don’t live in isolated demographic groups which programmers sometimes place them in, for ease of programming. The real world doesn’t conform to that construct.

John stepping back from day to day programming was something which was always on the cards of course and I’m so pleased for the time I spent listening to John and working with him during my time with Smooth. He deserves the attention, accolades and the round of applause- and also his greatness needs to be understood wider than the nucleus of Scotland centric broadcasting.

His replacement by the way on day to day, John Mellis studied at the school of John McCauley. We would often spend our time in coaching sessions dissecting links from breakfast and enjoying the skills on display. John Mellis is cut from similar cloth, with his own huge skills and understanding and he is a fantastic heir to the McCauley audience.

Best of luck to all.

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Haters gonna hate…

Everyone wants to be liked. Mostly. Occasionally you might have to do things which some people might not like and they might express their displeasure in a variety of ways.

I’ve written this blog post several times – first time was a few months ago and then decided not to publish as the story hadn’t played out fully I thought. I’ve rewritten it several times over in my head. The first prompt came from the reaction by some, from Steve Wright announcing leaving his Radio 2 show and Scott Mills being announced as replacement in July. That was the first draft, and the second and the third.

In my career I have had death threats on email for changing presenters on a show, I’ve had hate letters (way more effort required before social media existed!), and a personalised wish for a speedy end to my employment from a departing presenter’s other half- to name but a few glorious experiences. As someone once said to me when embarking on my first management role in media, you are not in the post to just make friends, you are there to make the tough calls, make the changes which are needed before they become critical and ultimately, that’s why the company pays you to do the job.

People generally tend to react badly to change, they like things to be stable and somewhat predictable. They won’t tell you that- they will say they hate predictability, but also like things, “just the way they are”. People get used to the status quo and so when you shift things, it causes upset. Every change I’ve instigated or managed has been met with the line, “If its not broken then don’t fix it”. Those saying it generally don’t know the facts of course- it is broken! It could be that the figures are down, the audience is declining steadily, the revenue is not there to support it, the presenter wants to get out, the demands of doing the show are excessive and unsupportable, or just something else. None of that is ever public and nor should it be, so don’t make the assumption that the car is not broken when you only see the polished and gleaming exterior.

I posted a while ago when Steve Wright announced his leaving from Radio 2. Scroll through the comments on social at the time and you will see lots of, “it will not be the same!” and outpouring of distain for the change. There is also a fair bit of negative about Scott Mills replacing Steve. That’s the same Scott who had a lot of very similar “its not going to be the same” type messages when he left Radio 1 just a few weeks earlier. Different audiences, but the reactions to the change are the same, irrespective of the brands and respective audiences.

I remember once changing a breakfast show and getting a very specific grumble from a commercial client of the station. This came to me via the station MD at the time- as the client had the direct line- nice! The reaction was similar to the above, “its not going to be the same”, “I like the show that is on now and why change it” and coupled with an extra special sauce of ” I also spend a lot of money with you guys”! All credit to the MD, we made the change and carried on as planned and explained the strategy to the client who accepted it but didn’t fully agree and decided to “give it time” (time to fail probably in their view!). It didn’t fail and when the time came to make another change to the show after a good few years of it being on air, the same client made the same comments about the existing show, the one which years earlier they were unhappy about appearing. Habits form, people get used to what they are used to- nothing more. To decide that you are not going to like it before you have tried it, is pointless and akin to deciding not to eat your greens a child! I know I won’t like it and so I’m not going to try it! It is sticking your fingers in your ears and blowing raspberries.

Below is a very small selection of lines from social messages following Scott’s first show on Radio 2.

I think my favourite is the person who listened for five mins to give it a chance (!), little more than the length of a song. Haters gonna hate! There are also some comments saying they have “signed up” to another radio station (just to let them know, you don’t have to sign up, you can just listen… its free). On that point of it being free- yes this particular example is funded by the BBC licence fee, and whilst not getting into that debate, the daily cost per listener of this one show on this one network would be infinitesimal. I’m sure all of those people with subscriptions are also contacting Netflix and Amazon to complain about ANY show they deliver on their platforms that they personally don’t like more than 5 minutes of, just as fervently!

I think one of the inspirations for draft one of this post, way back in the summer, was that all too often a complaint of some radio observers is that some radio stations are obsessed with celebrity. The replacement of a seasoned radio practitioner with a celeb from TV- that’s often the charge laid down. The Scott Mills Radio 2 change is a radio professional (Steve Wright), being replaced by another radio professional in Scott Mills. Someone who has a legacy of learning their trade across radio stations and for a good number of years before landing on Radio 1 twenty four years ago. That should make them happy.

What is the end conclusion? What do I draw from all that? I think my summary is that changes will always draw a critique and the veracity of the response- particularly with the ease of social media has only amplified the noise and drowned out some of the legitimacy. I’ve posted before about the complaints and the feedback that you can get. You shouldn’t not do something because you are afraid of the backlash, if the reasoning is sound and logical. Filtering out what is a genuine issue and what is just a reaction to change, any change, is important. Just like my own examples and experience above, the thing they hated as the new thing, just might become the new favourite and the cycle starts all over again. If you have done your research, your thinking and planning right, then that should happen most often. Everything and everyone was new once!

Ultimately I suppose some people are not going to like it, no matter what you do. As my first boss once said to me, “everyone thinks they are a better England football manager than the person doing the job”. Ever was thus.

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Make them care, make them wait

My former boss and friend, Duncan Campbell– now riding supreme in ARN down under- used to say this. Make them care, then make them wait. It was a mantra when we talked about forward promotion and teasing ahead, something I have already posted about. I’m not going to rehash the same topic, but lets just looks at the first half of that phrase. Make them CARE. How do you do that?

Radio in particular has a great ability to create a bond with listeners. It’s a one to one medium where listeners feel like they know the hosts or presenters over time. It’s a personal medium which is like no other really. TV creates a bond but in a different way- it’s more of a many to many medium.

It takes more than that to make someone CARE. Scroll through social media and look at the comments in praise of Steve Wright on his leaving the afternoon show on Radio 2- they seem to care, but he has been a feature of their lives for 24 years so is it all down to tenure? It’s unlikely that it can just be put down to “years in the shift” when it comes to actually caring in all honesty. It could be just a change of habit rather than caring. That said, merely changing some habits can be very disturbing. Having changed a few stations and line-ups over the years and felt the level of feedback from time to time, habits can be very potent!

I used to talk about having the Three Ts- Timing, Talent and Tenure.

  • Timing was all about being in the right place and the right content at the right time.
  • Talent– pretty basic, but centred around the ability and skills of the person involved.
  • Tenure– already mentioned this of course but the more you are there, the greater the “fixture” and the habit becomes which counts for a lot.

Does all that add up to caring? It maybe part of it, but I suspect it’s a bit more than that in reality. It certainly goes a long way. When you add in something personal from the presenter- no inward looking “all about me” content but instead relevant outward content which gives something of yourself- that makes a bit of a difference. Add that to the “Three Ts” and you might have a bit of something.

The truth is that its very easy to over-estimate how much people care. Ultimately it’s better to assume people don’t, or you might start believing your own hype and only talking to the congregation. People who do actually care won’t be put off by that approach, but the opposite isn’t true. Its easy to assume people care more than they do- I’ll wager most people do.

Radio has a supreme advantage of being a medium that you can easily consume whilst doing something else. You can’t read or watch TV whilst driving. The flip side of that advantage is that a listener’s focus can be directed elsewhere. They might be at work and concentrating on their job, they might be reading a book or article with the radio in the background. It is THERE but it isn’t in the foreground and being given the attention. Moving the attention from background to foreground takes effort and skill- but ultimately still can’t be continually maintained with ease.

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