Tuesday, 29 August 2017

What Have We Learnt from BBC Radio 1?

The intrepid organisers of this year's Student Radio Conference invited me to speak about 50 yrs of Radio One. That was kind.

Much as I would have thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing fondly in front of the bored faces of bright young things, I thought it might be more useful to use the Radio One story - then and now - to illustrate a few radio 'truths'.

There’s a time and a place to launch a radio station.  Seizing the zeitgeist gives welcome momentum. The 1960s was ripe for a spirited spunky rebellious upstart.

Identify a poorly-served and sufficiently large market. In the '60s, life was simple. No-one was targeting younger listeners, save for nightime Radio Luxembourg. Now, Radio One still attracts over a third of 15-24s, listening, on average, for over six hours each - and around a quarter of 10-14s. It's not a shoddy achievement - in such a different world.

Understand your audience. There is no doubt that Radio One at launch - and now - has its particular audience front of mind and goes to pains to understand how they live their lives. Derek Chinnery, Radio One Controller 79-85, described One's audience as "a man working in a small garage...two or three mechanics clonking around with motor cars but have the music on...And then there is the dreaded housewife figure who I think of as someone who, perhaps last year or two years ago, was a secretary working for a firm, who is now married and has a child. She wants music that will keep her happy and on the move.” 

Draw upon the best influences. Steal. Don’t be shy.  Radio One targeted the old pirate audiences and it chose as its model not the original pirate station Caroline, but the polished US-backed Radio London. Where can you learn from - at home, around the world and in different media?

Sound as if you’ve always been there. As Arnold barked and Blackburn said hello on Saturday September 30th 1967, he sounded as if you’d joined him when the party was in full swing, but a party at which you felt immediately at home. Great stations never sound like an exclusive club.

Get on the right platforms. Whilst FM spectrum was available in '67 - and shortly to be used for the first BBC local stations - FM ('VHF') sets were rare. Radio One broadcast only on AM at launch - universally available on the cheapest radio sets - and where the audience had found its pirates.  The BBC, however, fell behind the curve on eventually finding FM spectrum for Radio One, much to the chagrin of its Controller. It is now usually ahead of the game.

Brand confidence. Radio 1 has usually led rather than followed. It's what makes you distinctive.What do you stand for?  Is it an aspiration with real listener appeal? Do your listeners know that distinction the second they tune in - by what you say and DO?  What listeners infer about you is what your brand really is.

Look for the best talent in the right places and try them out. Radio 1 at launch took on a swathe of ex-pirate presenters, already well-known.  At a time when few were likely to be offered gigs elsewhere, it had the luxury of being able to offer a bundle of short term contracts whilst it polished its plans.  Since then, the Radio 1 talent machine has always excelled and sought to identify the right places for the candidates it needs to position the station where it desires. It's now plugged well into university radio, the music world and social media content creators.

Good looking talent. Even in its early days, Radio 1 identified that it needed to look good as well as sound good. 24-year old Tony Blackburn was a pin-up. Via TOTP, appearances, its presenters were in vision long before the digital days.

Get the visuals right.  Wonderful Radio 1 in '67 looked fabulous in a swinging London. Through its ages, it has always updated its visual identity just enough.  Through the red white and blue seventies through to the more serious positioning of the '90s and today.

Great stations now care about how they look - and Radio 1 almost always has. Its roadshow quickly looked the part, at a time when many of its  commercial competitors cared little about how they expressed themselves off-air.

Great on-air imaging.  Some stations just identify – others truly image. Radio 1 has always done the latter – from the fine work from the World’s then greatest jingle company, PAMS in '67, to the array of impressive production houses it calls upon today from Wise Buddah to Contraband or Daniel Mumford.

A remarkable breakfast show is critical – the best at what it does.  Breakfast shows make a real difference – and some great stations even concede that their flagship show may not  be entirely on-brand – but close enough. The breakfast battle is a different one from the rest of the day. Blackburn, Read, Smith, Mayo, Edmonds, Evans, Moyles

Some presenters don't suit breakfast. As the great Mark and Lard and Steve Wright illustrated - you can be an inventive, gifted jock, but find breakfast a peculiar gig. Some presenters are not at their best at the crack of dawn - and listeners sometimes just can't tolerate at breakfast what they can handle in other dayparts. It's not your fault.

Manage the talent well. Radio 1 has not shied away from making use of talent who might be a tad challenging on occasions. That's no reason not to hire them. It just needs talented management who fight the corner for the likes of Everett, as Johnny Beerling did, or Moyles. Show them love and support them - but know when to move on decisively.

PR and 'Statement Moves'.  Radio One has usually managed its image with care. Throughout history, whether it's 'banning Quo', 'ditching jingles' or the trumpeting of talent on the schedule who send off the right message at the right time, it's all helped.

'Brand me'. Most up-and-coming jocks now already have an image and impressive social media presence before their first major radio berth. Similarly, the early Radio One presenters also brought their own followings and were careful to portray their image with care. Relatable enough - but aspirational enough too.  The mate you'd love to have.

One thought - one link, said a notice on the wall of Radio One as it fought against a growing commercial sector.  In breakfast radio on busy commercial stations, that’s a tough call, but the objective is sound.  Do one thing well – and your link will be remembered.

Get the music right. Early Radio One producer Tim Blackmore confessed to me that he, Johnny and Tony dreamt up the original Radio One breakfast music policy (see pic), based on the American-inspired music policy of pirate Radio London. Music scheduling is more sophisticated these days - and the insight available into music trends and consumption ever more detailed. A coherent approach, fuelled by the best intelligence, interpreted by the best brains.

Ratings by day - reputation by night.  Radio One was king of this at its height - when the biggest ratings were the key objective. The great specialist shows maximising off peak audiences - and adding credibility to the brand - but not lessening daytime share.

Evolve the brand. Radio One learned the hard way, in the mid nineties at a time when politics had no patience, that audiences don't like revolution. Elsewhere, relative stability has been a hallmark of Radio One - and listeners value that. But do worry about what your audience think of you - and worry about what the target might think of you in five years' time.  Adjust with care and take the listeners with you.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Farewell BBC Local Radio AM

Scarborough - pic by Mark G7RJV
The BBC has announced it is to shut down the AM frequencies of its local radio services. It will close 13 medium wave transmitters in January 2018, with BBC Sussex, Surrey, Humberside, Wiltshire, Nottingham, Kent and Lincolnshire no longer available, and reduced coverage for Devon, Lancashire and Essex.  

Cue nostalgic formal announcements before a jaunty Radiophonic Workshop news jingle - "This is BBC Radio Nottingham on 197 metres medium wave, 94.8 VHF and Rediffusion Channel C".

From my experience, the AM frequencies have rarely been mentioned in recent years on many BBC local stations, and one imagines the audiences are low.  Experiments in some areas of switching them off as an experiment to see if anyone moans has been useful – producing little response in some areas and more significant in others, such as Merseyside.

It’s a no brainer, in my view, and I suggested switch-off to the BBC in 2009 as part of a raft of easy cost-savings.  Now, the BBC has its FM, often equipped with enough power to reach Poland  - and DAB – and online streaming. There is really no need to continue to transmit on AM.  

Let's recall that AM was only intended to be a shoulder to lean on for BBC local radio. The first stations were launched solely on the new VHF (FM) in the late '60s, a little like launching on DAB in the 90s when sets were sparse. In Autumn 1972, the valiant pioneer stations - and the newcomers -  were offered AM back up, just to make sure they could be heard more widely.  FM can now stand on its own two feet, surely, not least now with help from its digital brothers.

Yes, a small number of people will have to re-tune, or invest in a bright new DAB radio, and a small number of others may lose the signal entirely – but this is radio, and we accept by its very nature that there will always be poor spots in all transmission footprints. However, the beauty of DAB is that extra transmitters on the same frequency can boost signals where they are really needed – and there’s online streaming too as a fall-back.  If the FM/DAB MCA is insufficient in any specific area owing to geographic factors, then they should be topped up, rather than relying on vintage AM tech.

I have to say it surprises me that BBC local radio is on Freeview these days, albeit in mono. (Blog amended). I gather the cost of implementation is low - although it would be interesting to know how low - and whether there is an opportunity cost.  Whilst it's a sound and thoroughly understandable vision to appear on 'all platforms', a cost-benefit analysis is, of course, needed for each.

And I'm sure someone will remind me why we need BBC Radio London on satellite. There must be a jolly good reason.

BBC local radio spends 11% of its overall budget on distribution (16/17) - and a further 10% on distribution and support. 

DAB is clearly a good idea, although I imagine someone is scratching their head and wondering whether the reserved 128 kbps stereo (the same as Classic FM or Radio 1), with its commensurate cost, is really needed for the speech-intensive local radio format - and whether each of the stations really needs to invest in such hefty capacity.

The local network needs to make savings - AM is a sensible one.

Grab one of my books:

Radiomoments: 50 years of radio - life on the inside

How to Make Great Radio - Tips and techniques for today's presenters and producers

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Uniquely-gifted voice artist Peter Dickson and I ended up chatting about changing vocal styles when we met to record his edition of the Conversations series

As soon as he mentioned BBC Home Service stentorian newsreaders like Brian Perkins or Peter Donaldson, I could hear those influences in his own voice work. There is little doubt in my mind that their DNA exists in his own vocal range, and as he gets psyched up to assume the character of the X Factor voice, it does appear to me to be reminiscent of how Peter Donaldson might have sounded when shouting on the touchlines .

As we went on to agree, there is something of our radio heroes in all of us. Like a mongrel dog, we merrily assume all manner of genetic make-up from the voices which inspired us. We naturally season it with something of ourselves and create the person we are on-air. And, as those genes are passed down again, so the style of on-air presentation across the country evolves.

In this country, we did not really experience too much of the ‘bossjock’ radio sound of 1950s/60s US radio, with its booming, slick voices – a presentation style which is almost more about the sound and energy than it is about the words.  But many early music radio presenters liked that sound from what they’d heard on recordings, or indeed on Radio Luxembourg from the likes of Bob Stewart (often cited as an influence in my Conversations). Maybe this is why early music radio disc jockeys were often accused of faking mid-Atlantic accents.

In the 60s, Tony Blackburn arrived with an interesting style, influenced, he says, by the likes of Pete Murray, but a touch of US influence in there too, perhaps owing in part to his love for American music. But this was still, overall, a very English sound, characterised by the smile in the voice. It wasn’t 'received pronunciation', but you knew he’d been to a decent school. 

Was it his real voice? It certainly is now. Like many of us of that generation, as time marches on, the real voice and the on-air voice fuse.

Then - in the 80s - demo tapes all started to sound like Steve Wright.

The United Biscuits network was an early berth for manypresenters who were to turn up in the first wave of UK commercial radio. The UBN sound manifested itself in the slickness of the approach and also the residual ‘sssshhhh’ at the end of words by the likes of Graham Dene and Roger Scott - and the many, in time, influenced by them.

The BBC Reithian sound remained for years, and news and programmes right up until the '70s often bear that hallmark. One by one, those presenters have been replaced by those who still have the Radio 4 air of authority, but sound very less plummy.  Sarah Montague on the Today programme these days is different from Margaret Howard or Sue MacGregor.  Side by side on Woman’s Hour, Jenni Murray is certainly a tad more 'proper' than the truly brilliant, heir to the throne, Jane Garvey.  

One thing’s  for sure, never again will our news delivery sound like the fascinating speedy, high pitched and clipped delivery of the Pathe newsreels.

Even where the individuals remain, their delivery changes during their career, as has society around them. Just as the Queen's cut-glass voice has changed hugely from her first radio appearances to the more conversational speeches these days, John Humphrys careful early efforts at a very proper BBC sound has evolved into a much more authentic listen. 'Received Pronunciation' speakers now are said to account for less than 2% of English speakers, and that's become the case on British radio.

Authenticity is now key in radio. Energetic music radio now does not boast the deep ‘radio voices’ of yesteryear - and the US influence has waned. Delivery now is more real, albeit often shouting at the level they would in a busy club.  Regional accents have now been rehabilitated, and class impacts less.  Away from fast music radio, neither Jonathan Ross or Chris Evans could be said to have the 'classic radio voice'.

Radio now hears ‘real’ voices - and that's probably a good thing for such a personal medium. The natural changes in delivery which are evident in British society generally are aired too: the 'uptalk' at the end of sentences; 'vocal fry'; and, notably, CapiTULL now has the ‘T’ it never had for its first thirty years.

Grab one of my books:

Radiomoments: 50 years of radio - life on the inside
How to Make Great Radio - Tips and techniques for today's presenters and producers

Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Legacy of Frank Gillard

Having overheard a few bright young things in BBC local radio call their awards the ‘Gilliards’, it might be worth a quick canter through the life of the man who was Frank Gillard who lent his name to your annual budget knees up awards ceremony. He is the reason you are here.  

The BBC was not awfully keen on the prospect of BBC local radio. Why would you trouble to set up loads of rebellious expensive offshoots in places with funny accents?

Frank was recognised as an accomplished war correspondent after he joined the BBC full-time in 1941. His valiant despatches, sometimes under fire, still bring home the sights and smells of conflicts around the World, witnessing the Dieppe raid, broadcasting reports from the Normandy landings and breaking the news of the link-up between the US and Soviet forces in 1945

As the War ended, Frank began in the BBC's Western region, still putting his commentary skills to good use on Royal visits.  He moved to London as chief assistant to the director of sound broadcasting, returning to the West as regional head before returning to BH as head of sound broadcasting in 1964 . Frank wrestled with both the BBC radio structure and the schedules, tackling such matters as the thorny issue of the end of Children’s hour, in the face of much opposition. ‘Any Questions’, which remains on the Radio 4 schedule to this day, was one of his offspring.

Frank was instrumental in the strategy to deliver a new pop service to the nation prepared to take-over from the pirate audiences, and in the re-organisation of BBC radio from the Home Light and Third to the 1,2,3 and 4 we know today.  Let us remember, at this time, those were the only radio services here; with listeners still resorting to Radio Luxembourg for further entertainment choice.

Frank was also evangelical on the prospect of local radio, having seen it in operation in the United States.  The BBC's origins, of course, had been local in the 1920s, but more by necessity than strategic objective.

In a bid to bring a reluctant BBC to his way of thinking, he arranged for closed circuit programmes to be recorded in a series of locations in the early sixties.  As Michael Barton, an early BBC local radio network controller recalled to me recently, Frank played clips from the programmes to an invited audience of local dignitaries to persuade them to help fund the new operations, given the BBC itself felt unable to stretch to the new venture.  They were persuaded by the passion of his case.

The 'broadcasts' were also used to help persuade the Pilkington committee, which was reviewing broadcasting, to enable the new network to be launched by the BBC, at a time when the Corporation was battling to retain its radio monopoly. He emerged from one early meeting "feeling it was a lost cause".(Frank Gillard, speaking in 83, cited in 'A History of BBC local radio in England -Matthew Linfoot)

Without his energies, leadership and powers of persuasion, many suggest that BBC local radio may never have been established.  Had commercial radio pre-dated BBC local stations, as seemed eminently possible in the early 60s, the BBC would likely never have become a local broadcaster.

A series of experimental stations were duly planned, with a reviewpencilled in after two years. Radio Leicester became the first, having secured its funding, in November 1967.  The network was confirmed and grew incrementally to the present day.  I hope its future is assured.

"A tribal feeling of comfort through an association of place. The best definition is: in an area where the buses run…beyond the final bus stop in that route is someone else’s land, somebody else’s community. Where the buses run - I belong. My community is the people who breathe and talk my language and same the same sorrows and joys as I do. That’s local radio." (Michael Barton, former Controller BBC local radio 1975-1988, interview, June 2017)

Frank Gillard CBE retired in 1969; and died in 1998, aged 89. The awards bear his name – the Godfather of BBC local radio. 

If you win, toast Frank at your table.

More memories in my new book 'Radio Moments': 50 years of radio - life on the inside

Who's Listening and How?

The diligent folk at Rajar are unassuming. They don't shout about all the canny analysis they do. 

They are pretty good at acronyms too. 

MIDAS is their excellent 'Measurement of Internet Delivered Audio Services' survey, designed to provide context and insight into how audio content of all sorts is being consumed. Like radio features, I'd wager the name came before the definition. 2,000+ patient Rajar respondents are knocked up again and asked yet more questions.

It’s an impressive seasonal project, giving those 'share of ear(time)' stats we know and love. I just wish those cocky characters at the big ad agencies would just put down their Costa Coffees and stare at these pie charts through their straggly beards once in a while. Yes - things are changing – but radio is still far, far bigger than Jack, Jake and Josh think.

What is radio's place in the league table of audio entertainment? Taking away the time spent watching TV (with its own audio), the Midas Summer 2017 data  suggests radio commands an impressive share of ear-time: 76% (75% last Summer). You'd only need half an ear to consume all the other sources of audio entertainment. Your other ear and a half are owned by live radio.

Despite being able to receive radio nowadays on everything apart from your kettle, the good old box radio delivers the bulk of live radio listening. Each of AM/FM and DAB enjoys 41% of listening (down from 44% DAB, 46% AM/FM last Summer).  Listening to radio via a smartphone/desktop/laptop or any TV set each have a share of 4%. Tablets have a 1% share.  When it comes to reach, yes, TV (11.5%) and smartphones (10.8%) do cut through, but it appears it’s not where the serious listening is done. 1.1% already listen to live radio on an Amazon Echo.

On devices, you can guess the demographic story. Whilst AM/FM/DAB boxes rules for adults generally, for 15-24s, their phone is bigger than either of an FM/AM radio or  a DAB set – but, taken together, the radio set is still bigger than the phone for that age band .  

The picture is much the same for audience penetration amongst audio types. Radio reaches, as we know, around  90% of adults – with all other sources coming way down the chart; with 17% of folk using on demand music services; 27% playing digital music tracks; and 28% still playing their old CDs. Online audio/video clips are radio’s strongest contender, but only scoring around a third of radio’s penetration (31%).

The differences between the age groups are notable - and amplified usefully by Rajar. We’ve always known that younger demos listen to radio less; we just didn’t know too much about with whom they'd been unfaithful.

Turning, for a moment, to Rajar’s main data, ten years ago*, radio’s reach amongst 15-34s was almost on par, in percentage terms, with all adults; but time spent listening each week by 15-24s was, on average, at levels of about 16% less than for all adults, and 12% less for 25-34s.

Contrast that with the latest main Rajar study which suggests that radio is now reaching an appreciably lower proportion of 15-24s - 83%, compared to 89% of all adults .  Loyalty, however, falls further, with 15-24s listening, on average, 35% less than all adults; and 25-34s 19% less. 

Loyalty amongst all adults, incidentally, on that simple survey-on-survey comparison suggests, however, just a 2% overall drop in average time spent listening since Gordon Brown knocked Tony Blair off his perch. We remain much-loved. (*June 07 vs Mar 17, UK TSA,  Rajar/RSL, All radio)

Two things are stark: one is how strikingly resilient radio has been over the last busy decade across adults in general.  It reaches around almost the same percentage now (89%) as ten years ago (91%)'; and bounces around at about that figure. There are many industries who would kill for consistently enjoying almost universal consumption.

The second point is that, without doubt, the younger demographics do not adore radio quite as much as those age groups used to.  Whilst loyalty does still grow as we climb the demos, will today’s Centennials behave in thirty years as Baby Boomers now do? I doubt it.  You wouldn't punish an errant teenager by confiscating his radio.

It is easy to over-state this decline, and innocent onlookers annoyingly do, but it is a decline we must take seriously – and the efforts of Radio 1/Xtra/Kiss/Capital to keep radio sexy are an investment for us all.  (See JAMJAR for some good insight into habits amongst 4-14s).

The MIDAS data echoes the theme, suggesting that only just over half of eartime of 15-24s is now live radio, compared to 76% for all adults; with on demand music services accounting for almost a quarter of all such time from 15-24s, compared with 7% for all adults.  (What I cannot ascertain from the graphs Rajar have circulated is the relative size of cake for the demographics.)

The reach figures bear out the same theme, with on-demand music services now reaching 42% of 15-24s.

4.2 million adults (was 4.9m last Summer) use ‘listen again’/‘catch up’, mostly at home - alone.  18.9m people claim to have access to a bluetooth speaker or soundbar - and I suspect future studies will tell us more about the use of smart speakers.

5.6m adults (4.3m last Summer) fiddle with a podcast weekly (around 10%), choosing to listen principally by smartphone; and a significant proportion of all podcasting hours may be attributed to middle aged blokes, listening in the morning on trains. I'm being a tad flippant, but if you study the graphs, my themes are sound.

Radio apps are popular. 49% of the UK population have downloaded one (43% last Summer). That includes 5m 15-24s and 5.6m 25-34s -  an impressive 62% of each. On average, app users have not one, but two radio apps stored on their device.

What do people do when listening to the radio? Oh-er, Missus. They travel, relax, do chores. 1.3% determined folk even listen whilst shopping.They do stuff- or do nothing – to this great medium.

And – King MIDAS confirms that most people listen to radio - alone (53%) . I’d contest that the radio experience is always alone in your head. Ask any Heart listener to describe what's going on in their head as they hear Gary belt out 'Rule the World' - or ask two Radio 4 listeners to describe Ambridge. 

Thanks, Rajar

MIDAS study is here.

More on research in my radio techniques book 'How to make Great Radio'.
Refreshingly little on research in my 50 years of gossip book 'Radio Moments - 50 years of radio: life on the inside' - out soon.

Friday, 21 July 2017

BBC Annual Report 2016/2017 (Radio) - Summary

I’m not saying that the BBC sought to bury the contents of its Annual Report and Accounts for 2016/17 by publishing its stars’ salaries on the same day, but the necessary timing had that effect. Actually, it was probably more tempting to try to bury the salary stats instead.

Onto the report itself, the BBC says it’s been a “busy year”, with the new Royal Charter etc. They’re right. They're emerging from a painful period of left-field challenges, only to enter a time when the broadcasting world is fast-changing around them. It's not easy.  

The Chairman pledges: “I want the BBC during this Charter to be defined by boldness, originality, and risk taking”. Agreed.  Meanwhile, the DG worries about the decline of young audiences to TV and radio; yet is reassured that Radio 1 is the biggest radio station in the World on Youtube.

The report states rightly that, “despite global competition in audio, BBC Radio remains an integral part of British daily life – informing, educating and entertaining 34.7 million people every week with an unrivalled range of speech and music content”.

Aside from the arty pic of Monty on the Today programme, radio merits its first substantive mention with a justified plaudit for the Archers’ domestic abuse storyline on Radio 4; which I concur was handled brilliantly across all platforms, with social media to die for.

I know we wouldn’t get far without mention of Hull. We’re told that “The BBC is a key partner for Hull’s year as UK City of Culture". I also suspected, rightly, that we wouldn’t get a mention for the cheerleaders for the project on BBC Radio Humberside. Perhaps that local station never mentioned it.

We’re reminded that the BBC now runs ten UK-wide radio networks and two national radio services each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, 40 local radio stations in England and the Channel Islands. BBC World Service Television, radio and online services in 28 languages, with 11 more announced in 2016.

In general terms, the BBC highlights that since 2014, 1% of its workforce has been made up of apprentices and there’s to be a £1 million scheme to train journalists with disabilities.  The BBC says it also remains committed to developing the best in new talent through such schemes as Radio 1 and 1Xtra’s 'Where It Begins'.

There’s mention that the paybill for senior managers has reduced by over £36m since 2009 and that total spend on on-air talent has been reduced to 11.5% of the spend on content. The paybill for senior managers has reduced by over £36m since 2009. £172 million of annual savings were delivered during the year.  That’s good. Does it suggest that the BBC had become a little obese, given that audiences appear as satisfied as ever with what is broadcast, according to data included later.  Whatever, they've pulled it off, and change is always challenging.

The BBC aligns itself to its five purposes. 

To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage...". Radio 4 merits specific mention for the Today programme's highest ever audience figures.  Whilst the imminent 'local democracy' reporters are trumpeted; BBC local radio's immense existing efforts in that field are not recognised.

Learning. There's mention of the 1.1m volunteering hours pledged in  Radio 1 and 1Xtra’s #1MillionHours campaign; and Radio 2’s inspired '500 Words', in which 120,000 children wrote short and creative stories. I heard a family chatting about it on the train; it's a credit to Radio 2 and to the BBC.

Creative, highest quality and distinctive. The Archers is given due credit here again, as is the Radio 3 programming celebrating seven decades of pioneering music and culture. The 13 golds at the Radio Academy Arias  and Radio 2's 'best national radio station' award are also offered as evidence.

It is noted that BBC radio partnered with Spotify, Deezer, Youtube and Apple on the BBC Music app, and they boast ‘BBC Introducing’ continued "to team up with the National Skills Academies; and that "BBC Local Radio  help build production skills among young, emerging musical talent”. 

Reflect...and serve diverse communities...and support creative economy. It is noted that local radio in England draws in 6.4 m people each week, of whom 1m people listen to no other stations. That solus figure suggests that audience really does need looking after. They note a quarter of them listen to over ten hours per week, which is the sort of stat I used to be guilty of pulling off in the absence of decent headline figures. 

Transgender Love on BBC Scotland merits mention, as does the role of the national radio stations in reporting the devolved elections of 2016 and again in 2017 in Northern Ireland.

Reflect the UK, culture and values to the world. I am simply - and honestly - in awe of what the World Service radio does, as part of the BBC World Group activities. The investment is highlighted, delivering services in 12 new languages, enhance output in the Middle East, Africa and Russia.

Strategic Objectives: Although the BBC is proud of its audience reach, it expresses concern about the disparity between light and heavy BBC users, aiming to appeal more effectively to the young, ethnic minorities and audiences across the nations and regions, noting the importance of distribution in delivering this. It is to strive for ever better global reputation for quality and Worldwide audience reach.

In making the BBC  a great place to work, it's "making our ways of working simpler, removing complexity and making it easier to understand what’s going on".  That will come as a huge relief to every single person - not least those of us who have got suffocated in BBC systems. It also will manage the BBC in a way "that provides financial stability", so they're going to watch those budgets like a hawk.  They need to.

Strategic Priorities: The BBC plans to grow iPlayer; review the brands; and 'personalise', attracting 20m 'BBC 'members'. It's a decent tactic. Younger audiences (0 to 34) will be prioritised

Audio will be reinvented, moving it from "predominantly a catch-up and broadcast-focused experience to a fully personalised experience with the user at its heart", offering "greater flexibility of format, more short-form and podcasts to sit alongside the long-form live and on-demand offer".  They'll also revitalise the education mission; better reflect the diversity of the UK in their employees; grow the World Service; become Britain’s creative partner: and, for completeness, grow BBC Studios and BBC Worldwide.

Radio - the report's dedicated section on radio

The report hails the achievements of  BBC Radio 1, championing UK music to a young audience, with 61% of playlist additions coming from UK artists.  Radio 1’s videos have received 1.4 bn views on YouTube and they mention the station’s Teen Heroes were welcomed to Kensington Palace. 

1Xtra Live outreach sessions enabled youngsters to learn about the music industry and BBC Asian Network Live represented the best in Asian music. 2m people watched Sounds of the 80s on the Red Button. Its dedication to showcasing a wide range of specialist music is stressed, alongside celebrating Black History Month and Sir Terry Wogan's memorial service.  Other highlights include: BBC Radio 3's premiere of an undiscovered Joe Orton play; a new Matthew Herbert commission; ‘Pass the baton’ dedicated to performances by BBC’s orchestras and UK choirs; and the BBC Proms and the  ‘Proms at…’ series taking the festival to a carpark in Peckham. And why not.

What else are they proud of? The  BBC Reith Lectures; the dramatisation of Primo Levi’s Periodic Table; Melvyn Bragg's celebration of  the North of England; Jeremy Irons reading the complete collection of T.S. Eliot and the series of documentaries analysing The New World as 2017 began. Comedian John Finnemore took over Radio 4 as the Lord of Misrule; Radio 4 Extra brought classic musicals from the radio archives; and Angela Barnes took over as the host of Newsjack. 

It's reported that 4,000 listeners contacted 5 Live the station the day before the Brexit vote; and that the station launched a competition to find the Young Commentator of the Year. There was live coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympics and the Paralympics, plus coverage of Euro 2016.

The station which was nearly no more, BBC 6 Music,  is hailed as the most listened to digital station. Its Music Festival broadcast live from Glasgow and there was the ‘Art is Everywhere’ season.  The station supported BBC Learning’s #LovetoRead campaign; BBC iPlayer Radio launched improved station homepages; and BBC Radio and BBC Music achieved record online audiences for Radio 4 and big music events.  

There's mention of the pop-up radio stations such as BBC Music Jazz and Radio 2 Country.
It's stated that BBC Radio finalised its new Commissioning Framework, opening up 60% of eligible hours for competition from the independent sector; and that BBC Music’s year has seen a rich variety of initiatives across television, radio and online. 


In the measurables for the national services,  Radio 1 is the only service to show marked audience change, with its reach down from 19.3% to 17.5%. Spending is up appreciably at 1 Xtra ( +£2m) 6 Music (+ £2m) and Radio 2(+ £7m), with the cost per listener growing at the digital services. Appreciation remains largely stable.

BBC local costs less than last year, down £7m. At 4p per listening hour, it’s an expensive job to do, but it still costs less than Radio 3; and a figure close to that of the Asian network. 

News in the UK

The report stresses how 5 live news brought "the full range of public opinion within communities to our story-telling in often fascinating, sometimes poignant and ever thought-provoking radio". The programmes on the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster are one example.

It is recognised that all 38 local radio stations staged special EU Referendum debate programmes. 

Across England, "the BBC’s 37 local radio stations continue to serve, reflect and champion their areas, while holding power to account and providing an outlet for original local journalism".

The report suggests: “It’s easy to take radio current affairs for granted”.  I worry that the BBC rather does.  I agree that radio “sets the standard for intelligent story-telling and investigative journalism". The report rightly trumpets the brilliant ‘50 Things That Made the Modern Economy’ and Intrigue: Murder at the Lucky Holiday Hotel.

It's reported that listening reach to the BBC World Service rose by 10m.

And, as we've noticed, the BBC promises to be “unashamedly Hull-centric” to mark its City of Culture status. "A host of our programmes have been to Hull to broadcast from the city, including Radio Two’s Jeremy Vine show and Songs of Praise. On New Year’s Eve, Hull became the first city ever to guest edit the Today programme. Our regional and local services have been providing extensive coverage of the events". This may even be a quiet nod to the valiant Radio Humberside. Yes?

BBC local radio attracts 14.6% of all adults in England.  Whilst not, of course, a direct geographic parallel with the UK radio services, 14.6% is pretty close to Radio 1's 17.5% (UK) figure and way ahead of 5 Live's 10.4%. If only it got as much recognition and love.


Cutting property costs is a key strand of the BBC’s efficiency plan. A new financial deal is said to have significantly lowered the ongoing cash costs of Broadcasting House, in London. Although the licence fee  was flat at £145.50, there was a 1.2% reveuue increase due to household growth, closure of the iPlayer loophole, and improvements in fee collection.


I doubt many people read annual reports. That's not the BBC's fault.  In largely looking back, as they must, they are less illuminating than the forward Plans or the proposed Ofcom operating licence.  

But I do worry that sometimes the quiet brilliance and influence of radio is not always demonstrated as much as it might be; and the importance attached to it in this report might say something of its profile within the Corporation, but that's been said for decades.  Now, however, we have an added competitor for money - and profile - in digital.  

Whilst the top-line audience figures of radio always make great reading, the particular programmes and content which really deliver the bulk rarely merit much of a mention.  Again, maybe every organisation's annual report is a tad like that.

And, as ever, I sometimes worry the BBC forgets it has a local radio network and the information, news and companionship it provides.

Grab a copy of my second book 'Radio Moments'. A look at the last fifty years of radio - from the inside. A personal journey from the little lad who just wanted to work in radio.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BBC Salaries - An Own Goal

Congratulations, Government.  Your requirement of the BBC to distort a market has been thoroughly successful. Well done. It will cost you.

The salary figures published today are greeted with the typically outraged response by people who, viewing and listening figures suggest, were largely very happy with what is broadcast by the best broadcaster in the World.  To require that the BBC spend less would result in the use of lesser broadcasters and inferior quality programming. 

Can you think of many people as talented as Graham Norton? As gifted an election host or radio presenter as Jeremy Vine? Were alternatives available, I rather think the BBC would have hired them.  I’m sure they do not pay top dollar for nothing.  Great talent creates value. ITV does not pay Ant and Dec out of sympathy; they pay because it adds value to their company in terms of direct revenue garnered from their programmes and from the extra star value which their very association lends the channel brand. The Corporation, similarly, gains value.  Witness the value of the BBC brand here and abroad at a time when trusted news sources and quality output are ever more critical. The BBC doesn’t always get it right, but it tries so hard - it’s painful.

We can all strike the high moral ground. Some of these figures are extortionate. But what’s the alternative? If Chris Evans is not worth £2.2m, what is he worth?  And if they paid him less, would nurses and teachers be paid more for their efforts? I believe those hard-workers are underpaid, but BBC salaries cannot impact on the wage level of your district nurse.

My dad’s nursing home has a huge turnover of care staff.  As the minimum wage grows, I am told that recruitment proves ever more challenging. Folk prefer an easy job for the same cash, rather than being moaned at as dawn breaks by folk who are as grumpy and intolerable as I shall be at 90.  Whilst there may be a case for an absolute minimum wage, as that level rises as it has, it distorts the market. And care homes suffer. Market distortion is the same both ends of the salary scale. Intervene at your peril.

How would life be in your broadcast work-place if all the salaries were left on a tea-stained copy of an old excel spreadsheet in the kitchen. There would be outrage.  The list of salary status is never, ever spot on.  Some people are overpaid for historical reasons - and some absolute stars are not yet given their worth. As a manager you try to sort it out honourably step-by-step as best you can; and the market means that your newcomers will very quickly achieve their worth. You could fix it overnight - but it would cost.

Are top talent driven by money? Often not.  The experts suggest that, for many folk, it’s not the number one consideration.   They finessed their craft painfully at a time when no-one would pay them mega-bucks.  They honed their natural gifts doing something they loved doing.  And people offered them increasing amounts of money to work for them.  Would you turn it down? Have some talent accepted lower settlements in recent years in view of the climate? Yes. Have some turned down more lucrative offers elsewhere? Yes.

What is happening now at the BBC as a result of today’s figures?  Those lower down the list will be moaning about why they are not higher than colleagues who may well be of lower calibre and value.  They will want more – and they’ll likely get it next time around.  Management, agents and talent now all have intricate knowledge of one side of the negotiating equation and that’s darned ridiculous.

Are BBC salaries too high? From what I know of the commercial world. Absolutely not.  Certainly their radio broadcasters are exactly where I’d imagine they would be. Let’s not forget too that most folk centre-stage enjoy but a short spell in the sunshine.  I’d suggest there are still too many folk working at the BBC, and it’s not as efficient as it should be, but that’s another question entirely.

Has this exposed an alarming gender disparity? Yes. But we knew that would be the case - and there are less destructive ways to illustrate it. And, to their credit, the BBC are already doing as much, if not more than any other broadcaster (Channel 4 do well too), in trying to remedy the gender imbalance in employment.  Salary equity will naturally follow.

This decision to publish was a cheap bit of political point-scoring. But that easy win has cost the licence payer money in future negotiations and – if nothing else - there is a very real cost simply of the hassle of the next few months in handling the tetchy tirades resulting from this openness.

This was not a good idea. The BBC will now be hit by instinctive visceral criticism by the same moaning minnies who accuse our politicians of ‘creaming off’ a salary which would be clearly insufficient to attract any remotely successful figure in business. Do we really want our broadcasters to be as bad as our Ministers?