Thursday, 31 July 2014

London Rajar - Q2/2014

The latest results are now out and cover the period from 31st March - 22nd June 2014.

To be honest I'm not really sure what to make of these results - they're a bit of a mixed bag.

The star, though, of this quarter's game of 'musical chairs' has to be Smooth with a strong performance in its first full three months since the relaunch.  Since Q1 it has increased Reach by 216,000 (38.3%) and added an extra 1,785,000 hours (49%), while year on year (Q2/2013) Reach has grown by 89.6% and Hours by a whopping 138%! The other Smooth FM stations have also shown increases, although not as much as in London.

It'll certainly be interesting to see how things develop over the next few quarters. Things could start to get rather 'interesting'.

Apart from that I shall let the figures do the talking...

(Click on images to enlarge)
 
 

Here's an updated version of a chart I've posted on a few previous occasions. It's a good demonstration of the volatility of the London commercial radio market. In particular it clearly shows Smooth pulling away from the pack at the lower end of the chart.

 


Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Total Absolute Radio (London)
Q2/2014 Survey period - 31st March - 22nd June 2014. Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.
 
As usual I issue my standard 'health warning' about not taking a single quarter's figures in isolation - Rajar is more about trends than a single snapshot so a year-on-year comparison is the better one - you'll find the charts for Q2/2013 here and Q1/2014 here.

You'll also find some good, informed, analysis and observation from Matt Deegan and Adam Bowie while the general figures for each station are available on media.infohttp://media.info/rajar (the new name - and look - for Media UK), Radio Today and, of course, Rajar

Friday, 25 July 2014

Golden Years

Fifty years ago - at 4.00pm on Saturday 25th July 1964 to be precise (the first record played was Rag Doll by the Four Seasons) - a young singer-turned-disc-jockey presented his first-ever show on the offshore 'pirate' station Radio Caroline, which had launched at Easter that year.

Since then Tony Blackburn has been on our radios throughout that time and at an age when many people are happy to enjoy a quiet retirement he remains as busy as ever with Pick of the Pops on Saturday lunchtimes on BBC Radio 2, as well as occasional Bank Holiday specials, regular shows on several BBC local radio stations and also for commercial radio at KMFM in Kent and the Magic AM Network.

That's a busy schedule for anybody which puts many people more than half his age to shame. Tony's also an enthusiastic adopter of new technology and a regular user of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

I've been a fan of Tony Blackburn ever since he was on the offshore pirate stations in the mid-1960s, as well as the first-ever presenter on BBC Radio 1 in 1967, and his was the show I'd listen to while getting ready for school.

To many of my classmates at the time Tony was seen as the antithesis to everything that was "cool"; after all he liked pop music and Motown singles rather than album tracks from artists such as Pink Floyd, Captain Beefheart or whichever band was being championed by the late John Peel that week.  He also told corny jokes and sounded bright, rather than the low-key presentation adopted by Radio 1's "serious" DJs such as Peel, Bob Harris and Pete Drummond.

As a radio fan (the term "anorak" hadn't appeared at that time), though, I enjoyed Tony's shows because he was a "slick operator" and I was able to appreciate, and begin to understand, the qualities needed to do a fast-moving show like that.  On the breakfast show I felt he struck the right chord., whereas Peel & co were rmore suitable for the evening or late at night, when people were more likely to listen because they had time to do so properly, rather than use the radio as the background to their breakfast/morning routine.

Tony at Capital Gold for his 25th anniversary in 1989
In the early-90s I had the pleasure of working with Tony for three years at London's Capital Gold, where he was presenting the Breakfast Show at the time. He was always a total professional and a genuinely likeable person who was a pleasure to work with.

I remember on one occasion, after falling off his roller skates (don't ask!) at a 'Capital Gold Listeners' Night', he fractured his wrist, which meant his right-arm was in plaster for several weeks and he had to take some time off. After a week or so of having to stay at home he was, understandably, itching to get back on air.

Around that time the station was having to close down overnight because of engineering work to upgrade the transmitter, which meant the Capital Gold studio would be empty.

Tony asked if he could come in during those off-air hours to 'practice' using the studio in his current condition to see just how much he could do.  To his delight, and probably surprise, he was able to drive most of the desk and get CDs from the studio rack (we used the Denon CD cart machines). The only difficulty he had was using the DAMS commercial playout system, but that was solved by getting his producer to key-in the ads for each break and he was then able to press the 'Start' button.

Now that's what I call professionalism.
In 1989 Tony received the Radio Academy's Gold Award to mark 25 years in radio. Earlier this year he became the first person ever to receive this 'Lifetime Achievement' award for a second time for his 50th anniversary.

I believe the most important factor in Tony Blackburn's continuing success is that he is a true radio personality in an era where few 'personality' presenters exist; whether because (thanks to poor programmers and programming) they've been stifled or because, frankly, some of them never had a proper personality in the first place. His style is always "up" and he's still one of the best in the business when it comes to  "selling" the station, the music and the show.

Congratulations on this landmark achievement, Tony. Thanks for some great radio and here's to many more years!



Tuesday, 1 July 2014

40 Years On...

My original LBC pass
It’s hard to believe that 40 years ago today - Monday 1st July 1974 – I began my first ‘proper’ job in radio, as a young, wet-behind-the-ears ‘Sound Technician/Studio Operator’ at LBC in 1974.

Radio has always figured strongly in my life. It was at about the age of 10 months when, according to my mother’s Baby Book, I was “…recognising tunes on the radio…”.  In 1954 it would have been one of those large, furniture-like, wooden radio sets with a tuning dial and a warm glow from the valves inside.

I must have found it intriguing to have this “magic box” which seemed to conjure music and voices out of thin air and I grew up listening to radio in the 50s and 60s. I remember listening under the bedclothes to Radio Luxembourg and the offshore pirates, especially Caroline and London, as well as tuning in to hear Tony Blackburn launch BBC Radio 1.

Then in 1970 Len Elman (L) and Marty Rose (R) – seen here at the station’s 40th anniversary celebrations - were in the process of launching a radio station at the brand-new Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow and were happy to take on this young, enthusiastic 16 year-old. Len later admitted to me that, while they had initially received some basic training from a few BBC people, much of their radio knowledge and expertise was actually gained through working out how to make things happen – and often just ‘winging it’.

Somehow it all seemed to work and hospital radio turned out to be a very enjoyable, and useful, apprenticeship as I found myself becoming more interested in the various aspects of how programmes were produced.

This led to the decision that I was going to try to get a job in radio and I began applying to a number of BBC local radio stations where they were advertising ‘Station Assistant’ vacancies. This was ‘rewarded’ by receiving a growing number of rejection letters in return.

Then a friend from another hospital station, Dennis Rookard, became one of the original presenters on LBC, the first of the new Independent Local Radio stations, when it launched in October 1973, which gave me the chance to pay a few visits to have a look round.

One night while listening at home I heard an ad recruiting Sound Technicians for the station.  “I can do that”, I thought, and sent off an application the following day.

A few weeks later I got a letter inviting me to come for an interview, which took place on Thursday 23rd May 1974 with Chief Engineer, Mike Barton, his deputy, Ronald Pickup (no relation to the actor of the same name) and personnel manager Peter Wilson.

I wasn’t really sure how I did at the time but it can’t have been too bad because just over a week later I got the letter that was to change my life. 

Dear Mr Easton,

Further to your recent interview, I am writing to offer you a post as Sound Technician. You would commence your appointment on the 1st July 1974.

Result!

Over the following 40 years I not only worked at LBC, which I left at the end of 1987, but also climbed my way up the career ladder, doing all sorts of things and ending up in a number of senior/management roles in programming at some great stations, including three years at Capital where I found myself working alongside some true radio legends such as Kenny Everett, Fluff and Tony Blackburn.

Blue Danube Radio - December 1988
One favourite period was as a presenter and newsreader with the ORF on Austria’s ‘Blue Danube Radio’ from 1988-1990 where I began my long-running love affair with the beautiful city of Vienna.

I’ve helped launch a few stations, including Contact 94, which broadcast from France into the Channel Islands in the late 80s), Melody Radio (now London’s Magic 105.4) and 106 Jack FM Oxfordshire – for whom I still do a lot of work – and not forgetting overseeing the launch and general programming of 40+ audio channels for Music Choice Europe.

There was also a brief dalliance with television while setting up ‘Selector’ for British Satellite Broadcasting’s music channel, ‘The Power Station’. One person making his TV debut there at the time was this ginger-haired chap from Warrington. I wonder whatever happened to him?

40 years on and I’m still enjoying working with some great people who are passionate about radio and trying new ways of doing things. It’s been an exhilarating ‘rollercoaster’ ride with, at times, probably more than its fair share of ups and downs but it's given me some wonderful experiences and fond memories.

Radio faces challenges today that were unheard of even a few years ago and, despite what some people might think, the way forward is not by turning back the clock to how things were done 20+ years ago.

The world is constantly changing and radio must continue to evolve if it is to remain relevant. The idea that “This is how we used to do it  - and we should still be doing it that way” is a fallacy.

No matter how good something may have been, it must inevitably change. We can revisit the past, respect its heritage and appreciate how wonderful it was, but we should also relish the present and retain an open mind for the future.

Which why I despair of people whose mindset remains stuck in the past.

Similarly, though, I also despair of those (usually) younger, people who dismiss the past as irrelevant. As historians often remind us, in order to make sense of the present and the future we have to understand the past, otherwise we learn nothing about ourselves. More importantly, to paraphrase George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it".

Finally, I make no apologies for repeating this quote, but I think it’s apt under the circumstances. It comes from US programmer and executive Randy Michaels: “. . . this isn’t the radio I got into the business to do, but it is the radio we have today. Those who can adapt and embrace it will survive.”

PS. How time flies. I've also realised it's been 21 years - Thursday 1st July 1993 - that I first arrived in Birmingham to spend a couple of months on secondment from Capital to BRMB. More about that can be found here.




Monday, 30 June 2014

Book Review: 'Me And Thirteen Tanks' by P McD

Although there has been much chronicling of the history of BBC and UK commercial radio, as well as Radio Luxembourg and the offshore pirates, one major broadcaster, however, seems to have received little coverage despite having been very influential; BFBS – the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

Which is one reason why ‘Me And Thirteen Tanks’ makes for interesting reading while filling in a few blanks in broadcasting history.

Although I had known of Peter McDonagh, our paths had never actually crossed until 2006 when I first became a Trustee of the British Wireless for the Blind Fund, of which he was Chairman until 2013. On a number of train journeys back to London from BWBF head office in Maidstone he would often regale me with many scurrilous tales and I am pleased they - or at least those that can be told in public - are now available in print.

Peter is a good raconteur and writes engagingly about his childhood in post-war Berlin, his attempts to prevent his university studies at Oxford providing too much of a distraction from the task of spending most of his waking hours in local hostelries, as well as his 30 years travelling around the world serving at various BFBS outposts such as Singapore, Germany, Malta, Cyprus, the Falklands and the Middle East, plus as a number of spells back at UK HQ.

He also tells frankly, and movingly, of the loss of his baby daughter, his alcoholism and his current battle with cancer.

Under his alter-ego as “pop-jockey” ‘P McD’, his Saturday morning show on BFBS Germany in the 1970s, 'The Great North Rhine West Phailure', is still spoken of in hushed and reverential tones by those of a certain age who were around at the time.

Peter was also instrumental, while at BFBS Malta, for helping to give the station a more contemporary sound – known as ‘Format 77’ – which was later rolled-out to the rest of the BFBS stations.

Eventually he managed to climb the greasy pole to become Director of BFBS. Not a ‘Yes man’ he got himself into the occasional scrape with the upper echelons but because he was good at his job it helped prevent too much fall-out or collateral damage!

Overall a very enjoyable read.

Me And Thirteen Tanks: The Tales of a Cold War Freelance Spy - by P McD  is available in both Kindle and paperback. proceeds from the book are being donated to Macmillan Cancer Nurses.

PS.

There is a wealth of BFBS material on Juergen Boernig’s BFBS Radio Show Archive although, sadly, nothing from McD.

Also, while writing this blog post I happened to come across Alan Grace’s book ‘This is the British Forces Network – The Story of Forces Broadcasting in Germany’ (a copy of which has now been ordered).

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Casey Kasem – The Final Countdown



I'm saddened to learn that veteran US broadcaster Casey Kasem has died at the age of 82.
Since July 1970 his weekly chart countdown show was syndicated to radio stations throughout the USA and around the world for more than 30 years, although here in the UK he is perhaps better known as the voice of ‘Shaggy’ in the ‘Scooby-Doo’ cartoon series.
Blue Danube Radio in Vienna, where I worked from 1988-1990, was one of the non-US stations which took the show.

In those days each week's programme was distributed to stations as four 12” vinyl records (later replaced by CDs, satellite distribution or downloads) and it was the job of one of the producers to have to dub them all onto tape so that the US commercials and sponsor tags could then be taken out and the programme edited to fit into a three-hour slot (it was four hours in the States). Needless to say - especially as the dubbing had to be done in 'real time' - this was quite a time-consuming task.

Also because the discs would sometimes arrive late Blue Danube Radio broadcast the shows a week later than the US to allow for such problems.
For my regular shift on a Saturday I would present the easy-listening programme, 'Serenade', between 2.00 – 3.00 and then stay in the studio until 6.00 to play out 'American Top 40'. Three hours of watching tapes go round isn’t the most exciting job in the world but it’s still an important one as I had to ensure that everything sounded smooth on-air - especially during the tape changes - and finish on time in order to opt back into the Austrian national pop network O3 at the end.
ORF Studio AR-6 (Blue Danube Radio) during AT40
One thing I noticed about the show was that each week Casey would feature some listeners' dedications and play a non-chart song - which, as far as I could tell, usually seemed to be either 'Somewhere Out There (from An American Tail)' by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram, or 'That's What Friends Are For' by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder & Friends.

Some weeks on BDR one or more of the dedications were taken out for timing purposes, but when they were included it did seem to be the same few songs each time.

Every week Casey would also mention some of the stations which took the show and it was always a bonus to hear him say "...and Blue Danube Radio in Vienna, Austria" .
As someone who grew up in the UK and was, therefore, weaned on 'Pick Of The Pops' presented by the legendary Alan 'Fluff' Freeman it was interesting to hear a different style of countdown chart show presentation. Fluff's show was fast-moving and exciting, while concentrating on whether a song had gone up, down or stayed in the same chart position since last week. Casey's style was more relaxed and he gave little snippets of information about each song he played.
Farewell Casey. I shall leave the last words to you - as you always told us at the end of every show "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Next Once More

"If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now" - US President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

I'm sure we've all been there and experienced the conference sessions from hell.

The long-winded panel session that spends an hour going absolutely nowhere or the speaker who inflicts 'Death by PowerPoint' ... 

with

almost

every

word

or

idea

also

appearing

as

a

separate

slide

on

the

screen

... or those slides are crammed full of stats and graphics which are difficult to read or comprehend.

Which is why I'm pleased to pass on the good news that Nextrad.io - the radio conference for radio people who do - is back for a fourth year on Monday 8th September 9.00am - 5.30pm at The Royal Institution in Central London

Unlike some other radio conferences Next Radio is not designed for the 'suits' but "...for people who like radio, who want to be inspired by new ideas, who recognise that technology will help it to change and adapt and for those who want to meet like minded people."

The key difference is that Next Rad.io's sessions run for just 9 or 18 minutes, which not only encourages the speakers to stay focussed on their topic but also makes it possible to pack more than 20 different sessions into the day.  See last year's programme here.

It also avoids the likelihood of feeling trapped in one of those long, boring, conference sessions from hell, knowing that's an hour of your life you're never ever going to get back!

Absolute Radio's Geoff Lloyd at Next Rad.io 2013
Once again 'early-bird' tickets are an affordable £99 (if you book before May 31st - after which the cost goes up (but still not to an eye-watering price) and organisers James Cridland and Matt Deegan are currently putting together another great cast of speaker from the UK and overseas, to inform, entertain and inspire.

You can find full details at http://nextrad.io/conference/  - and also watch videos from previous conferences.

As I have said before I think Next Rad/io is an excellent idea and if my endorsement counts for anything then I'm happy to give it to this event.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

London Rajar - Q1/2014

This quarter covers the period 30th December 2013 - 30th March 2014 and, as always, it's interesting to see how this constant game of 'musical chairs' never fails to intrigue.

It's worth pointing out that the major changes at Smooth and Gold did not take place until the final week of the survey which means we won't really start to see any effect.  However, Smooth has increased Reach from 430,000 to 565,000 year-on-year - an increase of 31.3% - and across weekdays it looks to have pulled itself away from the cluster of stations at the bottom end of the chart.

Magic is back as London's top commercial station in terms of Reach, although Heart can also lay claim to the top spot in terms of Share.  In fact Heart seems to have recovered from what was a fairly lacklustre year

LBC has had a great few months.  The EU debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage took place on 26th March - again in the final week of the survey - so it's impossible to tell if that may have resulted in attracting new listeners to the station. The debate itself got a great deal of media coverage - including being televised live by both Sky News and BBC News for the full hour and you just cannot buy that sort of profile.

Similarly the now-regular phone-ins with Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and London Mayor, Boris Johnson - which won a Radio Academy Special Award on Monday - always gains headlines and coverage, although as Rajar works on an average across the week there are no figures available for individual days making it hard to tell what effect these programmes have overall.

Incidentally, although LBC went national on DAB about halfway through the survey period the figures here are just for the Greater London area.

What is noticeable about this quarter's half-hourly charts is just how close some stations are at times.

(Click to enlarge)
 
Note: Figures used in all charts for Absolute are those for 'Total Absolute Radio (London)
Q1/2014 Survey period - 30th December 2013 - 30th March 2014. Source: Rajar/Ipsos Mori/RSMB.
 
As usual I issue my standard 'health warning' about not taking a single quarter's figures in isolation - Rajar is more about trends than a single snapshot so a year-on-year comparison is the better one - you'll find the charts for Q1/2013 here and Q4/2013 here.