Shout out to the throwbacks…

Language is a funny thing. We use it everyday, and change and tweak it every day. It evolves and changes over time, sometimes slower than others and in different places more than others. In radio the language and turn of phrase used is pretty crucial of course- its all we have!

A friend, former colleague (and all round radio legend), Dave Brown posted something on his social media the other week which inspired me to think about language and choice of words. Dave asked about the use of language and the ensuing conversation was about the use of “shout out” and then “throwback“, which kind of got me thinking.

Just as an aside. Dave and I go back a long way. I was with Dave in Norwich on September 11th 2001 where I was visiting doing some internal consultancy in the GWR Group at the time and so spent that week together when the world changed. We met up again many years later at the Smooth network when Dave was doing weekend overnights as Smooth moved into Global and when I came into the team in Leicester Square. A total gent, decent, solid and dependable- a thoroughly good bloke. Dave is now on Boom Radio playing the music he loves and doing it brilliantly.

Right back to the point of the blog post.

The language you use on air, should reflect the audience you are trying to appeal to, whilst staying in touch with the world around you too to a certain extent. It would be weird for a station like Radio 1, KISS or Capital to refer to “shout outs” or mentions of people as “request and dedications”, which was the general terminology when I started out in radio back in the days of dinosaurs. That said, a station aiming at an older audience should ensure that its using the right terminology for its target audience and not trying to appear too young (or too old).

I’d probably argue that saying “w-w-w-dot” when talking about any URL is largely redundant for the bulk of the population now and whilst there are some older users who might not be fully on the same page, equally they are probably not totally unaware of a web address to make its lack of inclusion unfathomable for the most part. Slightly more borderline might be to say “you can go online”, rather than “you can go to our website”. The latter is more older leaning, but the use of just ‘online’ as a reference to web isn’t totally alien for most I’d wager.

Back to Dave’s question, and shout outs and throwbacks. There is a trend and a current vogue which comes to bear in language just as with anything else (fashion, home decor, design, music etc). Stephen Fry is well known for his use of language and even he comes down on the side of celebrating and enjoying the evolution. Now there is a programatic debate about whether a song is a “throwback” if its only 2 years old for example. I’d also argue that if it were a current CHR focussed station, where the oldest songs you play might be 2 years old, then the context might actually be fair game. After all if 99% of your output is from just the last few months (or weeks), then a 2 years is pretty ancient! Context is everything. Conversely if you don’t play anything current, then should the term ever be used at all? Surly everything is a throwback, and so the differentiation is unimportant. I remember talking with Dave and other presenters when at Smooth, (which didn’t play anything current), but importantly was not a ‘nostalgia’ station. It lived in the NOW, but just played a set of songs from a particular era and with a particular mood. There was a distinct move away from “a great song from when..”, or “I remember when that was…” type of link. Terminology and turn of phrase is vital and I’d argue that if the words “Oldie” or “Memory”, or “Flashback” were used instead it would seem really old or old fashioned in today’s world. It’s not that long ago that I recall Flashback being more commonly used, but the terminology and trend has changed and things have evolved as they should.

Its important to try and not get entrenched in a position when it comes to evolution of language and its use. The reality is that for everyone who might bemoan the latest linguistic trend and point out how its not a proper use of language or like it might have been “in their day”, in truth their day there were probably other trends and quirks which have since become either everyday language now, or died off and been forgotten about. For a programmer the important thing is to be true to your target audience, and reflect their natural use of language that fits the brand, vision and lifestyle… and try not to get snippy about the bits you might not personally like.

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How’s your ego?

For the whole of my career I have worked in radio and media. If you stop someone on the street, or take a quick stroll through social media anytime soon, you will find that most (normal) people seem to think the world of media is full of egotistical people, clamouring for attention and constant congratulations.

Ego destroys talent

The truth is that you actually need to have some ego to make it work. To perform and give something of yourself in your performance you have to have a little bit of ego and pride, but keeping it in check is the important difference. Once ego gets in the driving seat, it tends to destroy talent. Its true that there are indeed some egotistical people who just want the glory and the limelight in the world of media and probably more than in many other industries and areas of work. I doubt there is many building sites with bricklayers just searching for praise, comment and a slap on the back for a new bit of wall like some people might do following their on air shift. Just because there are more egotistical people in media, doesn’t make everyone the same. Its also not limited to those higher profile on air roles.

Managers can be egotistical too and that isn’t just limited to the media world in any way. How many times have you heard of a manager taking credit for someone else’s work, or overblowing their own involvement in something, or perhaps just ensuring that structurally they build a team where everyone looks up to them- a structural egotist.

Hire people BETTER than you!

Last week I guested on a podcast for the Nottingham Business School- part of Nottingham Trent University. Visiting Honorary Professor Mike Sassi was very generous in asking me to take part in the Business Leaders Podcast and I had a very enjoyable chat which you can listen to “wherever you get your podcasts”. In that episode I talked about something which is not revolutionary in any way but flies in the face of egotistical management, “Hire people who are better than you!”. I’ve always worked on the principle that managers should hire great people and then spend their time removing the crap that gets in their way, allowing them to realise their true potential. It is not an earth shattering proposition, but I keep coming across people’s experiences which don’t seem to match up. Managers who hire people that know what they are doing, are experts in their field, and then spend time applying the brakes, ring-fencing their ideas and place them in a structure where they have to continually have to get approval for basic things from the hiring manager. Micro-managing is a really egotistical thing to do.

Maintaining some control, some brand direction and hands on is all fine- in fact its really good and helps maintain momentum and focus. Share the vision, explain the concept and get buy-in from your team, then give them room to create and do their job without the constant ‘parental supervision’. Remember that you don’t make the car go faster by adding speed limits to the track.

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Rajar Numberwang

My diary for the Rajar Wednesday always used to be blocked out from about 0930 until about 1730 with one entry entitled “Rajar Numberwang!” Lets rotate the board! (for the uninitiated see clip of Mitchel and Webb)

There are a few great posts about the ups and downs and analysis of the latest Rajar results. My friend Matt Deegan always posts a very insightful and accurate summary and I would urge you to subscribe to his substack and learn more about a lot of things, not just Rajar.

This post though isn’t a dissemination of the latest numbers. Rajar is a very complex beast- one of the most complex bits of research in Europe actually. There are many many things which can influence the results for any particular station, network or group. In turn there are many things which can wrong along the way too, like anything it’s not inflatable. That said I have also met people who seem to take the Rajar result as sacrosanct and beyond any question of possible error, even though history shows that can happen.

This latest result is the first time I think in my career that I’m not sat in a radio station on Rajar day and it feels a bit weird to be honest. I can’t say I miss “the longest hour ever” between 9:30 and the results release at 10:30am on the Wednesday morning. The breath holding, the hoping and the wishing as you click the pdf open and look to the far right hand side for the latest numbers!

I do miss delving into RALF – the amazingly flexible software from Deryck Pritchard’s company, DPSAS. I became a bit of an expert in RALF and for those who have access to it and see a report called DAMS in there- that’s my legacy!

When in GWR group and then GCap with some clever tech guys we created a bit of software to crunch Rajar and produce a one sheet with station top line, and dayparts in hours, reach and share- trended over the last five books all on one sheet, exported to Excel. The in house software was very buggy to be fair, but the end result was really useful and so when GCap happened and I was introduced to RALF (known at the time as ADA in Capital Group), and I chatted to Deryck about creating the report within RALF. Deryck later made it available for all subscribers. Why DAMS? The original GWR software needed a name which I had to create and it stands for Daypart Audience Measurement Software. The great thing is that it’s flexible, you can build you own dayparts, add or remove stations and even run it just for demos.

Whether you are up or down, you will always find nuggets which give some insight into your audience and above all TRENDS. I always used to urge away from any knee jerk reactions to one book- tempting though it can be. Look at the Rajar CLIMATE not the Rajar WEATHER! The best programmers already have an idea of what needs fixing, tweaking or reinventing, refreshing or replacing and they will use the latest result to confirm their thoughts and then act. Not in a knee jerk way, but in a considered way, armed with some logic and evidence to underline the thinking.

One final personal thought looking at the most recent published results. I wasn’t expecting a result for Union Jack, Union Jack Dance and Union Jack Rock at all, since they passed away before the end of the survey of course. Having been obviously very much involved with the immensely talented team, its pleasing to bow out with a very much UP book, particularly with Union Jack Dance, reach from 51k to 194k (a massive 280%!!!) and hours from 190k to 395k, and Union Jack Rock reach from 51k to 90k and hours from 279k to 420k (Source Rajar/ IPSOS Mori/ RSMB Wave 4 2021 and Wave 1 2022).

Article quote from Radio Today

Small in comparison to many others, but with a fledgling station, born in a lockdown, with no marketing and a small team it was nice to actually put some numbers on the board as a final bow out and testament to the teamwork and attention to detail of those involved.

Of course it’s bittersweet as it all came to a grinding and speedy halt, but also for myself and for the team I built there it’s good to know that actually we did know what we were doing and we were onto something that had a following and could grow. It really helps actually as you can’t help thinking, when something closes and comes to a close in that way, that maybe everything you did was actually just not good enough and you own a bit of the failure. The team knew that the signs were there but from the outside it didn’t look like that of course and I think we all felt a bit embarrassed. It’s a relief to know what we all believed at the time, the business failed but the radio didn’t.

I feel, and I’m sure the team feel, a bit of a weight lifted today.

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Where to put my content

Where you place anything you create, or others create, can be very impactful on how it is received. I’ve posted before about hour structure, and maintaining messaging around the hour, but the actual structure- the building blocks and where things go (and don’t go)- is worth a fresh rethink. When I sat in the programmer’s chair I would often (probably once a month), just spend some time thinking about what needed to be shifted, changed or tweaked with the basic structure of the hour. Even if I didn’t change anything, it was good to run the brain through it to make sure it was still fit for purpose.

There isn’t one size that fits all when it comes to a basic structure- so much depends on your format, target demo, time of day and other commercial considerations. They all have an impact into the structure you might use, as does competitor activity and their structure if you are in a battle for listenership and looking for an advantage or leveraging your competitor’s weaknesses.

Your basis is out of date

Lets jump right in and start getting specific. Firstly, no-one listens from the start of a clock hour to the next start of clock hour. As programmers we have logically and traditionally built TOH (Top Of Hour) openers and planned and laid out the structure from the 00:00 to the 00:59. We build hour clocks that start at the top of the hour and GSelector does the same and so its a “built in” precondition. Here’s the thing… its 2022 and the world has changed so much since this logic first stood up (if it ever really did). You have to start somewhere I know, but lets all agree that we shouldn’t let it be the prevailing norm that shackles the thinking in a digital, streaming, time-shifted listening world.

The legacy of this thinking is that there is a majority of people who will listen for their “news fill” at the top of the hour, and so the programming job was to keep them listening around the hour from then on. Music sweeps, adbreak placement and quarter hour maintenance all stemmed from that initial thought. Good logic to that thinking and all made sense and as I said, you have to start somewhere! So a few things there which are no longer really true… Not all stations carry news at the top of the hour and the reliance on radio for news delivery has changed hugely (with the onset of apps, the internet and the 20th century, let alone the 21st!), so does the initial thought still hold water? When you bear in mind the thoughts about how listening has changed – point number 2 in my blog post about 3 things to grasp, its probably not at all relevant for listening today I would wager. Now, its true that listeners drop in and out at differing times around the hour and always have done, but if the fundamental building precondition is structured around distinct hours we are starting from a shaky foundation when it comes to relevance to a listeners lifestyle.

Adbreak placement in mainstream music formats has tended to fall as below.

It may vary slightly from format to format, and also time of day too with breakfast dayparts generally having more breaks. Breakfast listening, whilst traditionally higher for some formats (caveat my last post), and with the impacts of commutes, getting kids to school and other bits of life, listening spans tend to be shorter than perhaps some other dayparts as a result. Some formats might also have more breaks in daytime music hours. Perhaps for different reasons such as a commercial necessity (client clash, being able to get away campaigns in terms of inventory management, and utilising reach availability in each quarter hour etc).

Here is the issue. If I were a station which didn’t take news on the hour (and there are many), would I want to place my breaks when all the other stations who did take news, place their breaks? Lets say if it were a Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t running hourly news, and again many don’t and even those that do take news at other times don’t at this time, do I want to place a break at 00:57(ish), thereby creating a stopdown at the very time when others are doing the same because they are taking a news at the top of the hour?


An aside here. The thought process of running ads to news as in the above example is this… if you are going to stopdown, then you might as well stopdown for longer just once (for ads then news) rather than increasing the number of stopdowns in the hour (thereby interrupting the listening flow and creating more opportunities for listeners to leave). Fewer longer stopdowns is arguably better than more frequent shorter ones. You are sitting at your desk- would you prefer your colleague to come in and interrupt you 5 times in the hour to ask ONE question, or twice and ask you 3 questions?


The other side of the coin is that if I decided to run my breaks at, say, :10, :30 and :50- its true I will be running music content when everyone else is in a break, but then everyone else is running music content when I’m in a break too! Inertia therefore persists for logical, understandable reasons. The status quo prevails.

A few services have tweaked to model from time to time. Moving the last break earlier in the hour and whilst it creates another stopdown for news, if the news is engaging content, short and on brand is it really an egress? For example Capital, competing with Radio 1 for a bulk of audience runs a similar sequence and runs news slightly ahead of the top of the hour (around :59). Some stations have moved the entire stopdown, news and all and run it earlier. Slightly less successful as we have been preconditioned through all of our lives that the sun rises in the morning, sets in the evening and news happens at the top of the hour-ish (Except Radio 1 of course where it’s always been at :30). Wait- think about that! A youth oriented music station has always run its news at half past the hour? It generally runs longer news bulletins than its commercial counterparts, runs two 15 minute news programmes per day and the world hasn’t stopped turning? Take a look and the news length differences for example between Capital and Radio 1 below.

TIMECAPITALBBC RADIO 1
060060s
06.302m 50s
070060s
07302m 50s
080060s
08302m 50s
090060s
09302m 50s
100045s
10302m 00s
110045s
11302m 00s
120045s
124515m 00s
130045s
13302m 00s
140045s
14302m 00s
150045s
15302m 00s
160060s
16302m 00s
170060s
174515m 00s
180060s
A random sample news length comparison- sample taken May 5th 2022. Capital London v Radio 1. (*news length excludes weather).

It also remains competitive in audience terms, see below particularly in the key 15-24 demo, and whilst not having adbreaks to deal with, has a LOT of other chat and “stuff” around the hours and largely in song count per hour matches its commercial counterparts even with their ad load.

ADULTS 15-24 DEMO Rajar WAVE 4 2021REACH %TOTAL HOURS (000s)SHARE
BBC RADIO 123%1120715.8%
CAPITAL NETWORK (UK)19%71159.8%
Rajar IPSOS MORI/RSMB WAVE 4 2021. FIGURES FROM OWN STATION’S INDIVIDUAL TSA. ADULTS 15-24 TOTAL.

Its more than the hour structure of course, but doesn’t it prove that there are more ways to look at your hour construction than the preconditioned, ingrained traditional 00:00-00:59 model? Particularly when thinking about your target demo usage and listening patterns.

There is so much to consider when it comes to hour structure and where things should be placed within the clock hour- and there are no REAL barriers to invention. There are a few based on tradition, and some which are yet to be discovered in the world of new listening patterns post pandemic and with more hybrid working and remote working.

Its a time to be creative and break out of the traditions built on lifestyles which are perhaps no longer relevant.

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And the winner is…

This week has seen the radio and audio industry awards, The Arias from the Radio Academy, give out its latest set of gongs. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the losers and all who felt “robbed”.

I’ve had a long history with awards during my career- winning a few, judging very many, and attending a fair few too. Sadly I was unable to attend this week’s event, despite the invitation, as I was caught in a diary clash which just meant to was impossible to be in two places at once, no matter how I tried!

I’ve had many conversations with colleagues about the value, importance and effort involved in awards entries. For the uninitiated, The Arias are the Radio & Audio industry premier awards and rose from the ashes of the Sony Radio Awards which preceded them. I remember way back at one of the last Sony Awards evenings, which coincided with a release of Rajar I remember and I think it was Chris Evans who said from the stage whilst hosting, “Which would you rather have? A Sony gold win or a Rajar win?”. At the time I was lucky enough to be sat on a table with Ashley Tabor-King from Global who was directly opposite me on the table and we both caught each other’s eye at that exact moment and mouthed “Rajar” in sync. It was, and I think remains, a no brainer in terms of that choice, but that doesn’t mean an award win is meaningless.

Nobody should enter any awards lightly. The level of effort to mount any award entry is quite frankly, huge. Anyone who has done it will know that it isn’t something you relish. It involves a lot of gathering of audio (that you banked and forget where you put it months earlier), writing and rewriting paragraphs and then sub editing it down to get within the word count and trying to be as economical with words to hit the magic number without losing the impact of what you are trying to prove! Even after all of that effort, if your audio entry doesn’t stand up then you know it will be all for nothing- its a radio and audio awards not a writing awards! There are a few times when compiling entries that the team I’ve been leading and I have decided to cull a few options and drop a few entries after a few weeks work, having taken stock and decided that it just isn’t going to pass muster. Even the most organised and forward planned teams I’ve been involved with have found the day of hitting submit as stressful and challenging as ever- every time. Every year also sees the deadline being extended for submission right at the last minute!

This year I judged some awards- not just the Arias and I won’t say which categories of course, but found it huge fun. The breadth of content, talent, effort and creativity was just breathtaking. We should be hugely proud of the ability to produce some amazing content within our industry and the really high bar we have when it comes to standard. It really is the cream of the crop. I know there are probably many more possible entries which didn’t get entered because of not having the material too, and so its a rich stream of content we have in UK Radio and Audio.

Where is the value?

Being held in great esteem by your peers, highlighted and championed as producing good work is something to enjoy, savour and relish after all. From a very personal perspective it also have great meaning- probably far more to the individual than any Rajar win might be in actual reality. Winning an award of very personal, and it follows you for the rest of your career. You will always be “award winning”, and whilst ratings success is equally great, the number of people who can claim and award win is far smaller and therefore from a personal achievement perspective its more favourable. The fact that its been chosen and decided by your fellow practitioners is also a key factor… “people who know what it is like to do what I do, think I do it quite well actually”, and that is massive. So if you have an award in your downstairs toilet, or tucked under your stairs, or if you are holding a newly won award today- bloody well done!

The world of radio and audio is also quite small. I’ve often said that “Radio is a village” and so having a few of the great and the good in one room is a fabulous experience from all. Meeting old friends, introducing yourself to new ones and catching up with people is a fairly rare event. All the more reason why I was disappointed not to be there this week! I remember a Sony Awards once when the former lead singer of The Undertones, Feargal Sharkey was at the Radio Authority. Feargal and I had met only a few weeks earlier when he visited Nottingham and came to Trent. We had kind of hit it off in a way and seemed to have developed some rapport. After the awards I was standing at a table when Feargal approached and we were chatting, and then John Peel appeared and joined in. Here I was, chatting with the lead singer of The Undertones and the legendary John Peel (who arguably was responsible for his band’s success and has lyrics from Teenage Kicks on his tombstone). Pinch me! Equally I remember when Terry Wogan won Gold for breakfast, beating out Jo & Twiggy at Trent into Silver and sitting having a most bizarre, but delightful, conversation with Terry at the Radio 2 table who seemed to be apologising for his win. Rarified air in the radio village.

In a world of added value, only focussing on what makes a difference and adds to the bottom line, its all too easy to dismiss awards ceremonies and the winning of awards as self-congratulatory nonsense. Unnecessary fluff, expense and froth which you can do without. Maybe there is a bit of that from time to time, and I can certainly see that a gathering of media types saying how great they all are and patting themselves on the back can be painted as something less than important or even unsavoury. Equally getting the critical approval and endorsement from ones industry colleagues who understand what it takes to make something decent and well respected, is part and parcel of what makes it “well respected” in the first place.

Take a bow!

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Three Things To Grasp

I was pondering on just how massively my life has changed in the last 2 years. It’s almost unrecognisable for many reasons and it started me thinking of what to take from it and what needs to be understood in the brave new world we now have- changed by the pandemic and all that it brought.

Because we all like lists, I picked three things which should be grasped and understood by business, media and individuals. They are in no particular order of importance or impact. They all play a role and will continue to have influence whether you decide to grasp them or not, so you might as well get on with it.

3. The Office is smaller (and bigger)

There was a change underway before Covid came into our lives surrounding the desire and balance between work and home. It was beaten down though and didn’t cut through much because of the power of the normal everyday expectation in most workplaces… “if you want to work for us, then you have to travel and come into our building every day- full stop”. It was still there though and growing. I know of one organisation which offered a job to the leading candidate for a role and they turned it down because of the requirement to effectively upend their life and move to another bit of the country to sit in the company office rather than work remotely, (something which they could very effectively do in the advertised role in question I might add). Such was the norm just 2 years ago. In the end, not willing to compromise or find a solution of geography, the organisation hired a less experienced candidate who was willing to make the physical move.

Post pandemic one thing companies, media, and individuals need to consider is the shift in the desire, need and attractiveness of the daily commute. It was a consideration before Covid as I have said, but the pandemic proved the theory that it is possible for many roles to work very effectively remotely and so now the genie is out of the bottle. A hybrid model where in-person meetings and collaboration take place as and when required is a more attractive proposition for much of the talented workforce in media organisations. Grasping that, making the most of it from the media organisation’s perspective, developing a culture that isn’t geographically based or requiring a physical implementation in a building to make it a reality takes a different type of effort, but will attract a talent pool that you just might miss out on without that effort. After all, if your culture is dependent on staff seeing a sign painted on a wall, then your culture isn’t the one you think you had in the first place. Collaboration is of course good, but like all things, its better in moderation. A former boss of mine used to say, “it takes one hell of a meeting to beat having no meeting at all”. It is something I used to try and follow in my work life too. We have all had to sit in meetings which could have very easily just been an email rather than a physical meeting.

Someone I once worked with put it succinctly, “my former employer used to give me all of the tools to work remotely and then frown at me if I actually used them like that”.

Caveat. These observations are very much media industry related and don’t really translate to other industries perhaps, where remote is less of a viable option. It is also true that not all roles within media are easily remote enabled too.

2. Consumers are savvy and mobile.

Media consumption was becoming more promiscuous before the pandemic changed our world. The commute change, the media sampling change as a result of that commute change and the working pattern adjustment all played a role in revolutionising the established norms. Without the pre-pandemic size of breakfast commute (as there are many who remain working more remote than before the pandemic), the media consumption pattern changes. For the whole of my career in radio, The Breakfast Show was the top slot of radio presenters and seen as the pinnacle of a career. Is it now? Is the timing of that show right in today’s reality? Invariably the breakfast show is the most expensive in terms of talent and resource, but is the 6-7am hour having the pull it once had or has the time shifted into what is considered mid-morning? BBC Radio 1 have certainly grasped that issue to some extent with the Radio 1 Breakfast Show running until 10.30am which they started doing some time ago now.

The graph below shows the half hour reach numbers for ALL RADIO listening (All Adults 15+) in the UK from Wave 4 2018 and Wave 4 2021. Its worth bearing in mind that this is for ALL RADIO and so there will be very stark differences depending on demographic and perhaps geographic parameters too.

(Source: Rajar IPSOS Mori/RSMB. All Radio listening Adult 15+, UK TSA. Wave 4 2018, Wave 4 2021).

In a fierce battle for the mind and for attention, radio has to remain relevant. The Edison Infinite Dial 2021 research last year showed the UK catching up with the US in terms of diversity of media consumption and in some cases overtaking it.

“The UK is on par with the U.S. regarding monthly podcast listening, as both countries have 41% of the 16+ population who have listened in the last month. The UK is slightly behind the U.S. regarding weekly podcast listening as 25% of the UK population age 16+ has listened to a podcast in the last week versus 29% of the U.S. population having listened in the last week.”

https://www.edisonresearch.com/the-infinite-dial-2021-uk/

Podcast listening is growing. Listeners are programming their own radio stations in effect with on demand ‘breakfast show type’ content from podcasts at a time that suits them with their changed lifestyle habits. If radio still decides to programme the same way it did in the 1970’s or 1980’s for the 2022 crowd it might be that that crowd is ultimately no longer there.

1. Loyalty has to be earned.

Listeners know more than you appreciate. At best, enough of them do to make a difference when you just assume their loyalty. They know when they are being sold to, and they understand the transactional nature of that more and more.

As a commercial media operation there is a commercial imperative to make things pay for themselves and create profit and return for shareholders and investors – just like any other business. There are many ways to do that however and if all that you ever give a listener is based on a commercial transaction, pretty quickly it becomes obvious as a listener. There is a need of course, the margins are tight, the need is urgent and sponsoring everything you can is awfully attractive when looking at the diminishing bottom line. I’ve lived there, where everything that didn’t move was open for sponsorship and absolutely nothing was ever done on air in terms of specials, contests or content unless it had a client attached. The needs of the business dictated it and I absolutely get it. The issue is that it sounded like the audio equivalent of scrolling down a heavily ad-laden website looking for the next paragraph of actual content. It sounded awful and fatigued listeners and its really hard to ween off that drug and make more content for content’s sake. It is a brave choice and a really hard one to make, but investing on your own listening experience rather than just selling it is important. The truth is that listeners hear the difference and it impacts their loyalty over a period of time too when the perception they are given from their listening experience is that they are the currency being traded.

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Consistency counts

Forgive me on pulling on a similar thread to the last two posts to some degree (Boring is important and Sing for the Unsung)- but perhaps with a slightly different aspect. Building a product, (even before you start the whole ‘we are a brand’ discussion- more on that in another blog post perhaps!), takes a purity of thought, a nucleus of the concept and a refinement of the focus. The tighter that focus, the more chance of success because the more any user (listener/ viewer etc) can understand what you stand for, and ultimately “get” what you are about.

Radio stations are like new born babies…

Discipline is required. Consistency is key. Not just in an overall product sense, although that is vital, but in a more pragmatic, granular way- when it comes to the on air, on-stream, sampling of your product around the hour, any hour. You have to be consistent. This should be played out with imaging, music scheduling and content choices. Many is the time in my former jobs I have been monitoring station output and paid particular attention to the formatics and consistency around the clock hour. The music consistency in itself is an art form and whilst there are tools to enable this, you can’t just leave it to GSelector and walk away! An old boss and good friend of mine used to say that radio stations are like new born babies, they need looking after and if they were left on their own to exist they would suffer.

Spending time to monitor messaging, music and your positioning consistency around the hour is time well spent. How else can anyone know what you stand for? I spent a good amount of time when at the wheel of radio stations ensuring that in any given sweep of 15 mins or so, the output included the positioning statement of the station on air for a start, then musically and content-wise it backed up that position- subtly re-enforcing the position. I get that this sounds like a fairly mundane and process driven way to programme- and it is, but its also required sometimes to ensure you hit the right notes. Practically its about monitoring and attention to detail. For example, if you are a young focussed station or output, then having on air chat and content about gardening might not be the best, or a lengthy or unbalanced sweep of older focussed music- assuming not feature based or for thematic reasons.

I spend too much time planning background music…

When I have had this kind of discussion about music consistency it often strays into a discussion about the difference between consistency and light and shade. The argument being that if you are TOO consistent that you somehow become boring or monotone in your voice. Having light and shade within a format, flexing its nuance and demonstrating its breadth is the art of scheduling and programming. At the weekend I was creating a playlist for a family meal we were having (yep thats how I roll). I knew the mood I wanted to create and the vibe of the evening and so built a playlist with that in mind with highs and lows in terms of tempo, energy and genre to match the evening. It wasn’t all just the same style and type of song, but it all fit within the mood and theme of the evening. Light and shade. Whilst building it there were many songs which I absolutely loved and wanted to include, but they broke the mood and stepped outside of the boundary when placed within the playlist and in relation to other songs. There were also a few which during the evening (ever being the programmer), when I heard them play out “live” as it were, I thought actually didn’t really fit as well as I had imagined. The same old boss and friend from above also used to say that a programmer always reserves the right to change their mind. Monitoring matters!

After writing the bulk of this post I then read a great post from Matt Deegan which refers to consistency and how well crafted radio or music streams can become regular in peoples lives, “because they constantly, and consistently, deliver on a promise to listeners”. They do that only because they demonstrate their point, their focus, their purpose through a consistently executed product delivery. [Matt also very kindly refers to my earlier post, Boring is Important, for which I’m very grateful].

Of course this isn’t the only way you might programme an on air output and there are many more things you should be doing but in my experience this is an area which is often overlooked and neglected.

Just listen and you can literally hear it!

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Sing for the unsung

After writing last week about how “Boring is important“, a few more thoughts started permeating my brain during the week. I was also contacted by a former colleague and this prompted some further thoughts about those who are ‘unsung’ in media organisations. The day to day and the mundane are the basis of building anything. Yes, the creative and the vision, the fluff and the sparkle, the magic and the inspiring are the difference between success and failure, but the nuts and bolts, the building blocks, the daily chore are the same… and vital.

Here’s to the dreamers…

Let me just lay out again clearly that the vision is important- in fact absolutely critical to success. Without the creative spark, the original thought or concept and the USP of what you are offering then you are more of a utility than a necessity. The dreamers, the mavericks and the creative geniuses are central. There is a presentation I used to present from time to time showing the print ads in Empire magazine for BSB – British Satellite Broadcasting, (The squarial, you might remember), and Sky Movies. BSB had a lot of arguably better tech and had some creative and ground breaking concepts, but Sky had the glamour and the right marketing approach (and of course the deeper pocket). The BSB and Sky print ads really demonstrated, within the same edition of Empire magazine and just a few pages away from each other, some of the reasons for Sky’s dominance and ultimate success. Sky focussed on Hollywood and movie stars and BSB’s ad on the cinema ticket that you threw away.

The nuts and bolts and functional won’t make a success on their own. Just because the vision has to be right, and the sparkle needs to be right doesn’t mean the boring and day to day should be overlooked- in fact its also critical to success. All too often, the visionaries of organisations underplay the importance of the mundane, the product creation, and the effort that goes into the nuts and bolts of keeping the needles wagging. I remember someone high up in an organisation once saying, “oh we’ll just play out some music”. It seemed like just an innocuous phrase at the time, and ordinarily would have gone unchallenged but I felt it demonstrated a lack of understanding, appreciation or value in the creation of a product, and the crafting of the basics by the often times unsung heroes. Most things that include “we’ll just” tend to be that way it seems to me! I think pointed out at the time that having the right person to schedule, craft and create the music that would “just play out” was critical and without that person or the effort involved, there would be no “playing out” of anything actually! Creating a decent music log is not like hitting shuffle on a Spotify playlist. Just because you can create a playlist on a music app does not mean you can expertly schedule music output.

To be fair not all of those in higher layers of organisations are like my above example, and I know of a few who get involved in, and appreciate that the detail is important. They roll their sleeves up and get involved in the nitty gritty detail and their respective organisations and outputs are all the better for it. They understand that the “front of house” and the “backroom”, that both sides of the mic or the camera are equally vital to getting the show up and running and maintaining any kind of success.

Making the swan look graceful, everyday

The herculean efforts of show producers, audio imaging producers, video editing producers, directors, writers and technicians are the workhorse nuts and bolts of making the “shiny” look good and are often times though, easily overlooked. Behind any brilliant episode of anything you might consume, TV show, podcast, radio programme etc, there are the writers, tech, editors, engineers and producers below the surface of the water busily making the swan look amazingly graceful, effortless and elegant. Their expert effort though, their fine-tuned expertise and craft is just as vital as the “star” or the public facing vision.

If you are one of the front facing, on air, on screen, front of house performers- then the job is hard enough, and you will know the effort and energy you put into what you do and how to make it the best you can each day and each minute you are in full flight. You will also know how much harder it would be without the unsung, backroom, often unthanked team who make you look good. You understand it and you appreciate all that goes into making you look half decent!

If you are hovering in the upper stratosphere of an organisation, make sure you fully appreciate the legwork it takes from the unsung heroes to keep you sounding or looking good, and make sure that your casual language, your turn of phrase or glib off hand comment doesn’t also demean the level of effort of those heroes. If you are “the swan”, make sure you fully appreciate the work going on below water level to maintain your elegance, and never take it for granted or you will sink pretty quick. If you are an unsung hero, I doth my cap to you for starters, and make sure that carefully and respectfully you stand up for your art, craft and skill and demonstrate whenever you can, just how vital you really are.


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Boring is important

Rather like a dog when seeing a squirrel, its easy to be come distracted by something bright, fast-moving and new. Getting bored all too quickly with the usual day to day stuff, or fetching the ball, or simply walking to heel home.

I understand the desire, the urge and the need to go play with the new toy, the new thing or the new process. The adults in the room know that you will have to come back and get on with the boring routine, because the boring routine gets the baby bathed, or gets you home, or makes sure the lights stay on.

I don’t mind the excitement of the new thing- in fact it SHOULD delight you and engage you and get your excited. I try and spend time on making the boring a bit more engaging too, and a way to do that is to zoom out a bit and refresh your reasons why its important.

The everyday stuff can be a bit of a hamster wheel, a conveyor of the same old same old, the sausage factory. Its hard to keep them fresh and interesting but the reality is that the very best radio stations, podcast producers, audio producers and practitioners of the art of communication, without fail get the boring stuff DONE. Not just done, but done brilliantly. It doesn’t mean they don’t do the bright and new, but the basics are covered off well with out fail every time.

Make it count and make it great.

In my most recent job in radio, I immersed myself back into GSelector, Zetta and music scheduling, since with a small team and the number of logs required, it was all hands to the pumps. Its true there were days when the repetitive process could be laborious – important but laborious. The challenge I set myself was to make it count and make it great, adding something new as often as I could. I would ensure to schedule some time to look through the rotations, the analysis and find a problem in need of a fix. Nothing major, but something that would make a difference in the quality of the everyday production. For the bits which had a sketchy memory (it had been sometime since I had been in GS), I spent the time reading up, scrolling through the RCSWorks videos and learning something or refreshing the basics.

Was it new? Was it exciting or creative? Not particularly, but you can’t build anything decent without a strong foundation which is where the boring every day tasks become important.

Boring MATTERS

People won’t remember you for the perfect logs, the great segues, the solid rotations its true, but that is the reason they will STAY. The big ideas, the contests and the glitter will excite, but without the cake, no-one wants to just eat the icing.


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Do something that scares you!

I can’t remember where I was or when it was that someone said this phrase to me the first time. I have a feeling it was in a meeting, or a training session (there were a lot of them in the GWR/GCap days).

It’s something which has stuck with me from that very first time of hearing it…

DO SOMETHING THAT SCARES YOU

It’s sort of become a bit of a mantra over the years and I’ve leaned into more and more, and especially when presented with an opportunity or decision- do the thing that scares you the most! It doesn’t mean be reckless or dangerous, or even overtly risky. It’s about choosing the thing that you think you might have to challenge yourself to grasp.

I remember when I was programming a radio station in my home city of Derby, where I had presented breakfast for many years also. I was offered the job of programming a bigger station, Trent in Nottingham. It scared me… a lot. I knew I would be able to do it, but the scale and the stakes were higher. I would become, I think only the seventh programmer that Trent had ever had since it launched in 1975. I was comfy in Derby and I knew it well and was having a good time with some great people. Some might say it was a no brainer decision and would probably be right, but it still scared me and made me pause.

I’ve never been one to hopscotch around the country from place to place and job to job, even though I’ve driven the length and breadth in regional and group roles! I turned down working in London a few times, and in fact it was only at the fourth time of asking did I say yes to the Group Programme Director role at Smooth- another really scary decision.

What is the point of this wander down the Dick Stone memory lane?

I guess it’s to offer some advice. If you have a choice, if you are presented with something which seems bigger than you can manage, or you think might be a reach- err towards grasping it. If you don’t then you will miss out on some incredible learning, new skills and knowledge and a vast amount of experience which will better enable you to make decisions in the future. You probably don’t know what you are capable of and if you are presented with an opportunity where someone thinks you can do string but you don’t… try it! It’s entirely possible, and perhaps probable, that they see something in you that you can’t see because of that self protection, cautious preservation angel sitting on your shoulder.

This doesn’t mean that you have to say YES to everything by the way. The normal rules of what you find acceptable in terms of geography, package and lifestyle fit of course are paramount, but assuming all that works for you and you are still wobbling… because it all seems a bit scary, then that’s the point to jump in.

Then there is the progression argument. What might this next opportunity lead to next? Where might you be in five or ten years time as a result of making this move? Just like the movie “Sliding Doors”, everything that happens could rest on having the courage or just making that next step.

What if you fail?

I once did a presentation with a group of people around giving their staff “Failure Vouchers”. In fact, you gave them half a failure voucher and the other half when they tried something new and it didn’t work. Without trying they wouldn’t know and they wouldn’t have tried something new, which in reality might well work! The point was removing the fear of failure, so you try something.

Some of the world’s biggest and most successful creative companies have a “let’s see” budget. To try things which may or may not work in the hopes of finding a hit. TV series have pilots for that reason.

You might well fail- but without at trying you won’t succeed either, in fact it’s a nailed on certainty.


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