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It’s only Wednesday, everyone.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Why does every radio station obsess about the proximity of the weekend?

“Not long until the weekend,” I heard today. The other Thursday evening, a presenter told me this was the “official start of the weekend,” which was both hyperbolic and incorrect. On a Monday afternoon show recently, someone told me “only two hours to go and we’re one workday closer to the weekend.”

It started with the false invention of ‘Humpday’. Has anyone you know in real life ever used that word? A quick look at Wikipedia suggests “the earliest ancient sources record a seven-day week in ancient Babylon prior to 600 BC.” That means we’ve had roughly 135,928 Wednesdays since the calendar was invented and it’s served us pretty well.

Look, I love Saturdays and Sundays as much as anyone. But I also think there’s joy to be found in the other five days of the week.

Suggesting otherwise ignores (1)  the large numbers of people who work at the weekend too (2) all those people who actually enjoy what they do for a living and (3) the fact that there’s a good third of each weekday that’s your own time (depending on how much of a night owl you are).

Whilst it’s depressingly predictable and safe to zig while everyone else zigs, how about zagging on this occasion? Let’s start encouraging our audience to cherish every moment of their lives. Not just the ones at the end of the week.

Searching for the Doc

Friday, October 4th, 2013

So right now I should be making a documentary. Not blogging about the fact I’m making a documentary. But I’m discovering that actually making a documentary is like sex, or ironing perhaps. You really need to be in the mood to do it well. 

1976 or so, Longleat

1976 or so, Longleat

Doctor Who is the reason I’m in radio. I was captivated by the Sea Devils onwards, sitting in front of the telly with my Grandad, sipping orangeade, and waiting to be taken on a journey in time and space every Saturday (after switching over from the wrestling). Walking to school, I’d imagine what would happen if the TARDIS materialised and Tom Baker whisked me away from double PE.

As I got older, I wanted to be the Producer of Doctor Who. Seriously! And having read a book in the library called ‘How To Get A Job in Broadcasting’ or somesuch, was struck by the advice that a ‘proven interest’ in media was all important – and that experience in any medium, radio perhaps, was a good first step. I joined hospital radio in Aldershot, and still remember the buzz of being behind the Citronics mixer, playing in jingles off a cassette deck and cueing up Billy Joel. I was a red light junkie, and I’m still addicted.

Spin forward 30 years, and I’m an independent radio producer. Doctor Who is about to celebrate its fiftieth birthday. I pitch three Doctor Who radio projects – and one gets commissioned. Thanks, BBC Radio 1! The Story of Trock tells the story of the Doctor through Trock, or time lord rock. Music inspired by the characters and stories of Doctor Who, performed by talented fans like Alex Day and Charlie McDonnell and popularised on YouTube.

Here’s one of my favourite Trock songs, by the band Chameleon Circuit.

Since getting this dream job, lots of people have asked me how you make a documentary. I’m certainly not an expert. My first documentary (well, first for many years and the first I’d made digitally) was well received, but I suspect there as many ways of making documentaries as there are documentary makers.

So here are some first observations. Again, THIS IS NOT HOW TO MAKE DOCUMENTARIES. Just some personal thoughts mid-journey. I’ll save a second post for after The Story of Trock airs … “SPOILERS!” as River Song might say.

1. Start with the maths.

How very left-brain. In live/sequence radio, I love the way a good clock keeps you honest. And that discipline is even more important when you’re building a recorded show.

So for an hour of documentary, particularly for a Radio 1 audience, I want a range of voices, room for a few whole songs, and plenty of interesting production ‘moments’.

Working that out has dictated the number of interviews I’ve recorded and how much stuff I’ve aimed to record with them. And by plotting the hour, I know how much time I have to tell each part of the story.

2. Find great people to talk to. And not the same ones as everyone else.

The internet has shrunk the world. It’s your research tool, archive and contacts finder.

There’s a lot of activity around the fiftieth, and I didn’t want to use all the same voices and contributors who’ll be on Radio 2, BBC4, the Breakfast sofa etc. Ten minutes with the newly-skinheaded Matt Smith, and twenty with genius show-runner Steven Moffatt provided standout clips.

But around them are fans, musicians, academics and other stars of Doctor Who that were generous with their time, thoughts and memories. The best edit in the world can’t rescue dud interviews, so pick your contributors wisely.

3. Work in your way, and don’t sweat it.

For Your Story, I transcribed every interview before editing a word. I chose that way as all the interviews had been done by other people, and it helped me understand the audio better. I worked with Chris Holliday, the presenter, on finding common themes in those transcripts then hunting the audio, slowly building up the documentary on the time line before adding his script track, then all the music and archive that really brought it to life.

For Trock, I’m trying a different technique. As I did all the interviews this time, I’ve rough-edited everything into clips – de-erring, taking out all of me, losing superfluous phrases etc – then labelled everything on its own track. ‘Matt on DW theme’, ‘Alex invents Trock’ and ‘Anneke on Troughton’ are examples. The edit is the laborious, if necessary part. After it’s done, there’s still about 150 minutes of stuff, and that’s before any songs go in.

I see these in my sleep.

I see these in my sleep.

What I call assembly is where the fun starts. I like to group clips around subject areas, cutting interviewees up against each other making like (0r opposite) points. I’m thinking about the beginning, middle and end of the whole story I want to tell, but I’m building in sections.

Sometimes I sit down to edge the timeline forward a few more minutes. Nothing comes. Tonight is one of those moments, hence the blogging. What’s writer’s block for audio? Then other times, unexpectedly, wham. The words you’ve listened to so many times form into something perfect in your head, or suggest a new way of being arranged and you’re sailing through, smiling at how easy it is. << I just broke off here to go and try something else I just thought of. It didn’t work. Compare that to a mad idea I had on the train the other day. Fired up ProTools on my MacBook and did it there and then and was giggling to myself like a lunatic at how amazing it sounded. >>

4. Edit, edit, and edit again.

No-one will ever know what you took out. Every second is precious, so lose stuff that sucks the blood out of the radio. After the first edit above, when you thought every crafted clip was sounding beautiful, you listen through again and hear whole sentences, phrases, words that add nothing. Out!

5. Have talented friends.

You need confidence in your judgement. And friends. I’ve played little bits to people whose judgement I respect – not to mention my awesome Exec Producer, Jo. All indie BBC shows have these. They’re your second pair of ears, a critical friend to keep you on track and to pick you up on compliance.

You need time too. Time to go away and come back (like tonight). Time is running out though. On Monday, I take my Lacie drive to another talented collaborator, Eloise, who’s a sound designer. I don’t think she’ll be thrilled if I’m umming and arring about the order, when she’s sitting there waiting to go to work with her plug-ins, polishing the audio and make it sing like an Ood.

So. 1110 words and no spoilers. And it’s after midnight. Time for bed, and to come back to it fresh tomorrow. Somewhere in the time vortex, the Story of Trock is materialising. But now I need to sleep.

Somewhere on here is an hour of radio about my favourite TV show in the World.

Somewhere on here is an hour of radio about my favourite TV show in the World.

The Story of Trock is a 2ZY production for BBC Radio 1, part of the fiftieth birthday celebrations of Doctor Who

UPDATE:

We now have a transmission date. You can hear The Story of Trock at 2100 on 25 November on BBC Radio 1, and for seven days thereafter on the BBC iPlayer.

 

4 Questions about Women at Breakfast on BBC Local Radio

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

So Tony Hall has decreed. “By the end of 2014, the corporation is aiming for 50 per cent of local stations to have a woman presenting the high-profile Breakfast shows – either in a solo capacity or as part of a team.”

Kate Adie at Radio Durham

Kate Adie at Radio Durham

I worked in BBC Local Radio for 23 years. I ran three stations, including Radio Manchester for over six years. I was responsible for one of the very few solo women on Breakfast, and hired and developed a range of female talent over my BBC career. I believe in Sound Women, certainly in their aims, if not always in their execution. I’ve blogged about that before. (And in the interests of full disclosure: a year ago, 2ZY pitched a training project idea to BBC Local Radio to incubate and develop female presenting talent. This was not commissioned.)

And whilst I’m still not sure if the modern listener really cares about the number of chromosomes, just whether they’re any good or not – the figures for solo women are terrible. And there are still plenty of brilliant, and rubbish, men and women on the air every day.

A few questions, then, about how this stretching target will be achieved.

1. Does making sure a female newsreader is rota-ed, and that she chips in a bit, ticking the ‘part of a team’ box? If so, stations will be accused of mere tokenism.

2. Will we see hastily-forced marriages, where established breakfast journeymen are given equal billing with a new on-air partner? Getting a double-headed show right is at least twice as difficult as a solo show. There has to be absolute single-mindedness to balance age, seniority and personality to ensure you don’t end up with ‘Old/Nice Young Man in Chinos’ Presenter +’ Younger Female Newsreader Who’s Never Presented Before’ or any other gender-sterotypical cliches.

(And while we’re on that, will there be forensic snooping to eliminate any note of ditziness, assumed mumsi-ness, and naff cross-generational flirtation?)

BBC LR is hardly the home of the ‘side-chick’, but it would be good to ensure any woman in a double-head has genuinely equal billing. Like actually driving the desk too, or doing the presentery stuff around the news and so on. Or to put it another way, if you imagine you were playing Presenter Top Trumps and in most of the skill categories, the guy has the higher score, you’re setting up the woman to fail. This achieves nothing for equality.

3. Will Managing Editors be supported by their regional managers and HQ, through brave decisions to remove established (male) talent and replace with new (female) talent? The BBC LR audience is loyal and dogged, but making any big on-air change (and it doesn’t get much bigger than a presenter change at breakfast) can be a trial. In annual performance review, there’s more attention paid to RAJAR than you might think …

4. Where are all the new women presenters going to come from? It’s not since Viva! 963 that twenty great female presenters were needed in one fell swoop. But the radio road in 2013 is littered with older, ex-commercial, or former BBC Local/network women who left the business for whatever reason in the last 20 years. It will take time for the new generation of female talent to percolate into the territory of BBC LR from universities, so former presenters are a richer seam.

Or you could always hire some nice station announcer types. This has gone badly wrong before, though. Training non-radio people to do radio at breakfast, especially opposite existing talent is a volatile mix. And hard to believe as it may be, there are still some BBC LR stations without a single woman in the daytime line-up, so there’s a low base to work from in some areas.

If this is mis-handled on the stations, it will destabilise many good breakfast turns in BBC Local Radio, cost more money, do the ’cause’ no good at all and damage audiences; If this goes right, it’s the foundation to modernise a key daypart for BBC Local Radio.

You can hear what I said about this issue on BBC Radio 4’s Media Show here.

12 Songs About Radio (and One about Telly)

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Lots of songs reference radio, probably because artists think we’ll play them.

Here is a collection of the most gratuitous wireless loving tunes. And one not-at-all affectionate take on TV.

The Clunker

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Radio/The Corrs (#18, 1999)

The role of radio in this bleaty commemoration of a failed relationship is fairly tangential, frankly. The rhymes are sub-Des’ree with lots of ‘bed’s vs ‘heads’, and two separate lazy mentions of dreams.

She has a “full glass and an empty heart”, but makes a fundamental mistake when she listens to the radio. If she just retuned to Radio 4, there may have been an edition of In Our Time or a tedious afternoon play to “occupy her mind”. If you will listen to Magic, then there’s no escaping the songs “we used to know”, love, consequently reminding you of your ex-fella. FAIL.

Not helped by the fact that the Corrs by this point were well past their ‘Runaway’ prime, beyond even the 12-singles-off-the-album Talk on Corners, and were clearly phoning it in, even covering Fleetwood Mac than bothering writing anything. And as for the performance, watch them go through the motions here. She sings “Listen to to radio” with all the passion you might muster for going to the post office or emptying the dishwasher.

Presenter Worship 

Our second category is where the presenter is the star.

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Pilot of the Airwaves/Charlie Dore (#66, 1979)

The last song played on one of Caroline’s incarnations, and the first played on Crawley’s mighty Radio Mercury, this is more like it. Charlie’s enthusiasm is almost at ‘Play Misty For Me’ levels. But she displays a pragmatic understanding of the power of the DJ, hoping he’ll “do his best” to play her song. And of course, in all songs the DJ is always a bloke. Sorry, Sound Women.

I suspect she’s also been a victim of the inverse ratio between how hot a DJ sounds, and, in the year 15BF (before Facebook), how he looks on his DJ Postcard. As  she puts it, “Ooooh, I don’t need to see your face”.

Strange how many songs about our beloved medium concentrate not on breakfast where we put in all the effort, but after dark listening. In Charlie’s world, we “make the night time race.”

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W.O.L.D./Harry Chapin (#34, 1974)

Clearly Harry Chapin was a thoroughly nice bloke and a total genius, who was horribly killed, way too early. He makes our list for this blisteringly good song that’s as true today as it was thirty years ago. It’s also the only first-person presenter-perspective song I know.

Eight years after splitting up, our “feeling all of forty-five, going on fifteen” hero calls his ex-missus to ask her to take him back, now his career is tanking, maybe start that record store (the only bit that really dates it). He used to a be an FM jock, but ‘they liked the younger sound’ and let him go after he hit the booze, and ended up doing a late night show, before drifting to small market after small market. We all know one or two jocks like that …

There’s an economy about these lyrics – “that’s how this business goes” – and some clever tricks like the jingle-esque backing singers singing W.O.L.D! that sum up this bitter-sweet tale. As each chorus soars, it mirrors the way jocks have to check in their pain at the door – “right, tits and teeth,” as one of my friends always says – before going on the air.

Joyous.

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Rex Bob Lowenstein/Mark Germino (1990, not a hit, ironically)

Such a bargain basement 1990s W.O.L.D. Our hero gets a name and a personality disorder. This time he’s “47, going on 16” in what I like to think of as a tribute rather than a rip-off of the earlier song.

Rather than a Chapin-esque tale about his failed relationships and career, Rex is raging against the machine, the machine being Selector. We all know how that one ended. Sadly we all know a Rex Bob too, but maybe not one as ‘tightly wound’.

I like to think of an anglicised equivalent, staging a lock-in at a 1990s Plymouth Sound, rather than talking to “truckers on the interstate”, he’d be chatting to “caravanners on the A38.” Until Devon Constabulary tasered him.

What both tunes cleverly play on, are the call letters of the stations. Chapin’s unnamed jock works on WOLD, and OLD is what he is becoming. Rex Bob does drive time on WANT, allowing Germino to spell out that he knows “what the people double-yah, ay, en, tee.”

Of course, all 1990s jocks loved this one, as they also believed their music choice was better than the research. (Nowadays, of course, the “man in a pinstriped suit” is from Global and unless Rex lucks out and gets regional Heart Breakfast alongside a girl without a surname, he’d be replaced by a computer in a cupboard. God only knows what he’d do to the studio after THAT conversation.)

Songs about the Science

It’s easy to forget how amazing this thing we work in is. We sit in a small fabric-covered box and stuff we say and play is enjoyed (or heard, at least) by people anywhere in the world. Yay, radio! These two talk about radio’s everyday magic.

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Atmospherics (Listen to the Radio)/Tom Robinson (#39, 1983)

Nowadays Tom Robinson is as known for presenting radio as being played on radio. This was from “Hope & Glory,” the follow-up single to “War Baby.” Much of this song appears to be about a daily routine in what I always thought of as an Eastern European city – the sense of scurrying around in the video, “show your papers, be polite.” Robinson had been living in East Berlin for a while too. But Onkel Pö is a music venue, Wiki tells me, in Hamburg, so what do I know?

There’s actually a lovely blog about this song here, but it’s in my list for the one section where Tom (or maybe Peter Gabriel, who co-wrote it) describes the science of radio in such artistic language. “Atmospherics after dark, noise and voices from the past, across the dial from Moscow to Cologne. Interference in the night, thousand miles on either side. Stations fading into the unknown.”

Oh, and the video is bonkers.

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FM (No Static At All)/Steely Dan (#49, 1978)

This whole shebang should really appear in my other blog about terrible approximations of radio in dramaThis trailer sums it up. All wacky DJs turning up in the studio with seconds to spare, getting head under the desk, and high on weed. Lincs FM, it ain’t.

But Steely Dan are clearly gods of rock, and it’s an interesting moment in time when everyone thought FM was the end game. There aren’t many lyrics, and those there are mainly suggest ways that music will get girls to do things with you. “Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice. Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice,” indeed.

And you could do that with what in those days would have been called a record player. But it’s the titular chorus that gets this one on the list. So, who’s up for a remake? DAB (as bubbly as hell).

The Cheese Counter

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Wired for Sound/Cliff Richard (#4, 1981)

It’s the 80s, kids! That means we’re living in the future. Cliff’s got his leather pants on and he’s strapped a throbbing Walkman to his belt. It may be overcast but he’s got his (car) top off and insisting size doesn’t matter (when it comes to speakers.) He’s off to Milton Keynes shopping centre with some multicoloured Lycra-clad buddies for some hi-tech roller-skating. If he tried it today, some health and safety knob in hi-viz would soon put a stop to it.

We’ve got B.A. Robertson to thank for lyrics like “into the car, go to work I’m cruisin’, I never think that I’ll blow all my fuses, Traffic flows … into the breakfast show.” But did you ever try listening to FM/AM on a Walkman? Not sure ecstatic is the adjective I’d use …

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Hi Fidelity/The Kids from Fame (#1, 1982)

Every Thursday night in the early eighties this lot high-kicked their way onto BBC1. In this massive number one song, Bruno discovers the synthesiser about 9 years after Kraftwerk and shows us why he usually wasn’t allowed to sing. Thankfully, Valerie Landsburg is on hand with a supreme key change as required. This video is notable also for Danny’s inability to mime-guitar and at 1.53 for the incredibly macho performance by a hot-panted Chuckle Brother who appears to have roller-skated in from a Village People video on the stage next door.

That’s obviously the version from the TV show. For completeness, (and no, I can’t believe I care so much either), here‘s the single edit in which new lyrics join the middle eight – “is it real or is it synthesised?”

Hi Fidelity. Hi! We missed you.

The Fantastic Four

Our final selection get it. They understand why intimacy, power and connection make ours the best medium, and throw in a healthy bit of nostalgia and sentiment.

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I Love My Radio/Taffy (#6, 1987)

My favourite, probably apocryphal, story about this song is that Radio 1 so so influential back then that Taffy recorded two versions of the lyric ‘the DJ after midnight’. At the time, Britain’s Favourite, Radio 1, closed down at midnight, so their version was duly re-recorded as ‘the DJ UP TO Midnight’.

This is like a crazed, updated, Charlie Dore, who’s been schooled in English by Yoda. All the words are there but not necessarily in the right order. “And now the radio is my mind’s new video. Because your memories are revived there only so. And now the radio is a film of my life’s show,” so at least she gets that the pictures are always better on the radio.

It’s also notable for the video. “A video? They want a video?! Ok we’ll send her to lip sync the bloody thing down the car races, cut in some pics of a hand caressing a knob, a few old radios and tape machines, some nasty 1987 Quantel effects, jobs a good ‘un.”

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Turn the Radio Up/Eric Carmen (#98, 1988)

The only body part preposterously larger than the gratuitous beach blonde’s breasts in the opening shot of this, is Eric Carmen’s Farrah Fawcett mane. No finer voice than legendary US rock DJ Kid Leo introduces the song in which lion-headed Carmen is out cruising.

This being America, he’s not in roller skates in Buckinghamshire like Cliff was, oh no. He’s in one of those classic cars like off the movies and “the city’s the colour of flame in the midsummer heat. Oh yeah.” No-one ever said that about Milton Keynes.

The unnamed radio station he’s listening to pleasingly keeps playing songs that put Carmen and his bay-bee in the mood for lurve, hence the act of turning the radio up ‘make me lose control.’ I hope he pulled over first.

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Radio Ga Ga/Queen (#2, 1984)

It credits two massive radio moments, it inspired Lady Gaga’s stage name and it’s given lazy local newspaper journalists a headline about anything vaguely ‘zany’ happening on 106.7. Gasworks FM ever since.

“Through wars of worlds, invaded by Mars,” references Orson Welles’s infamous radio play and “you’ve yet to have your finest hour” is a Churchill nod from WWII. Queen had to clear use of the film Metropolis with the rights holder – at the time, the communist state of East Germany. It’s even got a vocoder in it. By then the only other person in the world with one of those was Steve England.

So thank you Roger Taylor for your love letter to all of us, your “only friend, through teenage years.” “Let’s hope you never leave old friend. Like all good things on you we depend,” sang Freddie, but according to our final song, the war was already over.

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Video Killed the Radio Star/The Buggles (#1, 1979)

“And now we meet in an abandoned studio. We hear the playback and it seems so long ago. And you remember the jingles used to go …”

I’ve been in a few abandoned studios recently, and that line always comes into my head. There’s something incredibly sad about a silent, decomissioned studio, where bands once played, records were cued up, and guests were interviewed.

The granddaddy of them all. From our ‘songs about radio’ checklist, it has them all. The star cut down in his prime. References to jingles, rewind, and studios. It is nostalgic but hopeful. Television is the enemy. And there’s no better way to get radio people on side than that.

The brilliant Thomas Dolby has a hand in it, and behind the ridiculous glasses, of course, was Trevor Horn who went on to make many of the songs that kept radio very much alive in the coming decade.

And one about telly …

Love how radio songs are affectionate. And this … kinda isn’t.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from Algeria

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Mr Bean, Manchester United and our obsession with talking about the weather … these Algerian perceptions of England were the first subjects of conversation when I met the 12 Algerian local radio managers I would be working with for the next three days.

One of four groups of Algerian Local Radio Managers.

One of four groups of Algerian Local Radio Managers.

I have been sent to this massive North African country by BBC Media Action, the BBC’s international development charity. It is currently supporting Radio Algeria to transition from a state broadcaster into a public service model. My responsibility is to offer management training for the men and women who run Algeria’s network of local radio stations, delivering the same three day course, four times during my visit.

It’s the first time I’ve ever been translated, a strange experience that takes time to find a rhythm. But my brilliant interpreter Sarah switches seamlessly from perfect English, to French and Arabic to communicate my stream of consciousness to the group. The experience makes you realise how much your own language is peppered with idioms. I found myself explaining phrases like ‘red herring’ and ‘take the Mick’ before Sarah found the appropriate local version!

Powered by coffee

Powered by coffee

Commercial radio is on the way here, but at the moment these stations are the only ones in town. (And when I say town, I mean one in each of Algeria’s 48 provinces. The largest of these, Tamanrassat is over three times bigger than the UK! There are station managers on this course travelling further to the training centre in Tipasa than I did from Manchester.)

Without competition, there is no audience research. Without audience research, there is no pressure to focus each station on a particular demographic. But many of the Radio Algerienne local outpost transmission areas overlap, so there is already a professional pride in not losing listeners who live in your Wilaya to a station in the neighbouring area.

One of our biggest debates on the first course was whether it was right to fix a consistent breakfast presenter in the schedule through the week, as the presenters all wanted to present the show, therefore it should be rota-ed equally.

My guidebook describes the Algerian people as ‘incredibly hospitable and eager to show you their beautiful country’ and this was definitely evident on a night out in beautiful, Parisi-esque Algiers, with Khaled from Radio Chlef and some of his pals.

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Language aside, perhaps there is more that unites us in radio than sets us apart. Balancing programme hours against diminishing resources, facing new competition, motivating broadcast staff and the search for new talent are all key discussions here. Just like back home.

12 More Heinous Crimes of Radio News

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

OK, so people seemed to like my blog called 25 Heinous Crimes of Radio News. So much so, it’s now an interactive training session. Contact me if you’d like 2ZY to work with your newsroom!

And here are another twelve, all of which I’ve heard on actual radio stations since Christmas.

1. Dubbed

Fine if referring to bad American TV commercials, or maybe Mexican soap operas. No-one else would ever ‘dub’ anything anything in real life.

2. Next …

See also ‘In other news,’ from the original blog. Totally redundant. Just get on with it.

3. Horrific rapes

Unless you’re Kenneth Clark, there really is no reason to describe rape. Particularly if your description suggests some rapes are better than others.

4. Hit the Headlines

I know. I really heard this.

5. .. is set to …

Never use language you wouldn’t use in your everyday life. Would you really tell your friends you’re ‘set to’ buy the next round? Or you’re ‘set to’ worm the dog? No.

6. Probe

A noun to describe something that lands on Mars, or something medically invasive. Not an investigation.

7. The Oscars of …

Agh.

8. Hailed a hero 

You can only ever hail a cab.

9. The man was hung

No, unless you mean he had a large penis. I think you usually mean hanged.

10. The people were evacuated 

Ewww. The people were evacuated FROM the burning building, you just about get away with. Better, the burning building was evacuated.

11. Nationwide

I love Sue Lawley as much as the next man, but national is so much better.

12. Time will tell.

The boring way out of any news feature in which the resolution is inconclusive. Will this blog vastly improve the quality of radio news across the UK? Only time will tell.

Thanks to Emma Gilliam for additional grumpiness about the state of radio news writing. 

 

A 2ZY Christmas

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

This is the first Christmas and New Year of 2ZY – and there’s a chance to hear three programmes in which we’ve been involved.

Broadcasting House

Men’s Hour’s New Year Special was recorded here at Old Broadcasting House

Men’s Hour is a Tonic Production for BBC Radio 5 Live. I worked for Tonic as Series Producer on Series 3, which went out between April and July. I also worked with Radio 4’s Women’s Hour on an historic joint show in August. Tonic also asked me to put together the series New Year Special, which is themed around Men Who Sing. It features the amazing story of the Castrati, who underwent surgery to maintain their pre-pubescent vocal chords. They were the rockstars of the 17th Century. We report from the Parliament Choir, and from the Choir with No Name for homeless people in Birmingham and London. We hear how the Arab Spring has led to an explosion of new politically inspired rap. And Jon Holmes discovers how football chants begin – and starts one of our own! You can hear Men’s Hour on BBC Radio 5 live on Sunday 6 January at 1100 and repeated at 2100, and for one week after transmission on the BBC iPlayer.

A real passion project this year was Your Story for Gaydio. Gaydio is the FM community station for Manchester, which I chair. You Story is a Heritage Lottery Project telling the story of LGBT lives in Manchester. Back in the Summer, our incredible volunteers undertook over 100 interviews. 2ZY worked with Chris Holliday and Jack Busby at Gaydio and assembled an hour-long documentary using those interviews. From the dark days before decriminalisation in the 50s, through the emerging campaign for equality in the 70s, AIDS and Section 28 in the 80s and Queer as Folk in the 90s – it’s an emotional and evocative journey.

Pride

Gaydio’s Sara Payne and Chris Holliday at Pride 2012

“This was vivid social history, engagingly told. It captured the reality of lives lived in a city now famous for its gay village, and did so with a brilliant range of voices and perspectives. I loved the gay man who lived happily with his wife, but after she died decided to come out. He was alone and openly gay for the first time in his life. “Thank God,” he said, “it was in Manchester.” Elisabeth Mahoney, reviewing Your Story in the Guardian

You can hear a revised repeat of Your Story on Christmas Night on Gaydio (88.4FM in Manchester, or at gaydio.co.uk) at 1800.

It’s been a momentous year in the LGBT political scene, particularly around the issue of equal marriage. The Lesbian and Gay Foundation in Manchester hosted a Queer Question Time a few weeks ago, and I was delighted to be asked to host. The show was recorded by Gaydio and edited by 2ZY. You can hear this debate on Christmas Night on Gaydio (88.4FM in Manchester, or at gaydio.co.uk) at 1800.

… and a Happy New Year

2013 starts with our first commission under the 2ZY name for BBC Network Radio, a rewarding collaboration with the Prison Radio Association at Hindley Young Offenders Institute near Wigan, a co-production with fellow Manchester indie Sparklab, and big plans for the Manchester International Festival. We’ll continue to be very involved in the development of Gaydio in the coming months. Not to mention our side-project, Retro Silent Disco, which takes to 2022NQ in Manchester’s Northern Quarter on 15 February.

Logo for Retro Silent Disco

Thanks if you’ve been a part of the first eight months of 2ZY, whether you’re a client, customer, supporter or friend. It’s been a blast.

John

Silent Disco Pic

In the Retro Silent Disco Headphones

3 Things ‘Sound Women’ Could Do Next

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

I attended the Sound Women networking event at Media City last week. I may be a man, but I like to think I’ve earned my stripes.

From the appointment of Liz Kershaw to a solo BBC Local Radio breakfast show in 2000, to championing brilliant women like Heather Stott, Liz Green, Diana Luke, Sam Walker and Becky Want; I hope I’ve only ever discriminated on talent alone.

Sam Walker, from Real Radio NW and BBC Radio 5 live.

So at the event, organised by Kate Cocker and Jo Meek of Sound Women’s NW branch, two things struck me as, well, awkward.

The first; with one notable exception (Hello, Christine), all the human beings invited who have radio stations or departments to run, along with jobs to offer, were in possession of penises. That was sad, and an illustration of how endemic this problem is. And how Sound Women really needs to be a long-term project to affect change in our business.

The second was this. A room of over sixty women, by my count, given the chance to quiz two of the most experienced, self-assured and top-of-their-game women broadcasters in the UK, Shelagh Fogarty (5 live) and Sam Walker (Real/5 live).

So what were the burning questions in the minds of this sparky, inquisitive and no doubt talented audience? (I paraphrase, but this is the gist.)

How do you not become emotional when covering tough stories?

How do you juggle your family and your career as a broadcaster?

How do you cope with negative comments from listeners aimed at you as a woman?

This could be chicken and egg, but really? Would an audience of female brain surgeons be so predictable? Or a group of male radio people?

Sam gave a great answer about how women can be categorised all-too-easily on the air. She heard Richard Bacon hosting a segment about skincare, and imagined the the flak if that had been presented by a woman. (Another Sam anecdote was a wonderful radio-affirming moment about the regular listener who recently texted ‘just to let you know I’m on holiday for couple of weeks, so I won’t be able to listen’ as an example of how our medium connects like no other.)

So as well as valuable networking, earnest frowning and consciousness-raising, what could Sound Women do to really make a difference? Three ideas.

1. Nail the Lie

For too long, misogynist programmers have hidden behind presumably-mystical research that women ‘have to try harder’. That given the choice, male and female listeners would rather listen to men.

Raise the cash to commission some REAL research into listening habits. Qual and quant stuff that analyses favourite presenter data, then tackles in interview the relationship that gender groups have with presenters of both genders.

The campaign thus far has highlighted the problem. Now is the time to begin the long process to remove some of the foundation of lies that underpin discrimination against women in radio.

2. Celebrate

Run an event, maybe timed to unveil the results of the research above. An event, open to all women in radio, from all sectors, to come together on one day. A single moment of affirmation and inspiration, challenging the status quo.

3. Talent Management

The 200 List (“to celebrate and raise the profile of the many amazing women working in the audio and radio industry”) on the Sound Women website is a start. But it is evident this is not a live document. Some of the people listed have moved on to new challenges.

How about managing a more dynamic list?; making connections with agents and programmers, the Radio Academy networks, and doing some really proactive work to identify great female prospects for roles at all levels, and to be a resource for those in radio power as attitudes begin to change?

 

 

Two Heads are Better Than One?

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

So I recently asked Facebook about double-heading.

Smashy and Nicey

It was after a frustrating experience listening to Saturday Live in which Richard Coles had been partnered with John McCarthy, a relationship as easy and comfortable as anthrax and doughnuts.

How many people you should put on air at once has also been part of recent discussions surrounding Grimmy’s ascension to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show. Now with added music, and, apparently, an added sense of indecision about how many sidekicks to let, well, kick.

Tim Page (Radio Shropshire) offers this: “(It’s a) good way of adding texture and variety in a speech-heavy segment where you don’t have music (or much music), but the danger is that they talk to each other rather than the listener. Same sex can work (I was in two such pairings), but I think you need to watch for character (and possibly voice!) differentiation so the listener can establish who’s talking as easily as a male-female pair. In either case, you want to make sure your pair delivers the variety you’d want from doubling your presenter bill – no point having two clones of each other.”

At the risk of sounding horribly hetero-phile, I always warm to male/female pairings better. There’s an in-built ‘lad’ thing going on in most male-male partnerships.

Not that that excuses the worst excesses of ‘DJ and Side-chick’ syndrome. Michelle Hussey is part of a two-woman show at BBC Radio Manchester (alongside the equally brilliant Natalie-Eve Williams. Full disclosure: I put them on air together.)

“I can’t believe the male lead/female ego-massager still does exist in places. It’s awful and makes me cringe. That’s my only definite ‘please no don’t do it’. Otherwise I think it can be great depending on the people. It is about chemistry and differences, the common ground should be the listener. But I think the day you have to train two people to work together then it’s not gonna happen. Technical training, yes, because there are obvious differences with two people on a studio, but you can’t develop chemistry. Gender doesn’t matter to me if both people are good at what they do and can make the listeners feel involved. Although obviously, on a personal note, two females is the ideal pairing …!”

So how about double-bloking?

“Mark Radcliffe worked better with Lard, in my view,” thinks Paul Bajoria, “because there was an obvious ‘presenter + sidekick’ dynamic there, rather than two equally dominant personalities. But chemistry is the key, and as we all know, that’s impossible to write a formula for. If we all knew what would work before it was launched, how dull our jobs would be!”

Andy Peebles offers the greatest old school example in just four words. “Kenny & Cash. Genius.”

So can programmers-cum-alchemists create that chemistry? I’m as guilty as the next control-freak for arranging a shotgun radio marriage. I once partnered a junior woman with a dinosaur of a bloke, based on their relationship in one regular feature, only for it to self-destruct under the pressure of their joint-billing as show presenters. But not before their genuine discomfort with each other generated some amazing radio moments. So even when it’s not right, it can be OK. Sorry, Whitney.

In speech radio, there’s a lot of double single-heading going on. Where the producer’s convenience of having two presenters (one on air, and one prepping at any one point in the show) is often the tail wagging the dog. 5 live Drive, the notable exception. So often you hear these shows where presenters vanish for a bit. Or when they do appear, there’s no attempt to lubricate between scripts, even in that nasty regional TV sofa style moment. The worst offenders are when one presenter is clearly competing for which stories to cover, which guest to blag or even how many seconds they can clutch from their co-host. These need strong management – and probably a show of their own. After all, if you can’t change the person, better change the person.

Valerie Geller virtually sighs as she contributes, “It’s NOT “One size fits all”. What works is a dynamic of Generator + Reactor (doesn’t matter if it’s Male/Female, Male/Male/ Female/Female). It’s the talent/training & dynamic of the individuals.”

That’s a view, not surprisingly echoed by Valerie fan, Andrew Peach of Radio Berkshire.

“The dynamic of one person who creates an idea and another person who runs with it works best I reckon. Bringing different life experience to the party helps. It’ll never be more than mediocre if the engagement between two presenters is planned, but the magic comes when you get a relationship where you know what the other person might do with something before they know themselves.”

I agree that good coaching will make things better. (Like, dur, I coach people.) Although I’m not a fan of the term ‘casting’, because it involves ‘acting’ and presenters who ‘act’ are not being themselves, it IS possible to work with people to lean into the thoughts and traits (that, crucially, they already own) and discard others, to help complement those of their co-host. As Michelle suggests, there are also practical and technical techniques to help marshal the natural chemistry of a good radio partnership.

Gaydio’s Antony Murphy (himself part of a male/female duo) reckons “You can maybe come up with a formula for what ‘should’ work, but we’re dealing with the complicated beast that is ‘people’. Some things work, some don’t.”

Maybe we should leave the last word to a real-life listener. Neil Woodard went to school with me (and is one of the few people in my Facebook who’s not radio!). “Differentiation is key. To me, it’s also about ‘chemistry’ and the pair being able to actually talk rather than just joke about like two teenage mates – gender mix isn’t too important to me.”

I’ll return to gender in my next blog.

But Neil’s point about talking and teenagers is key.

There are those who think studios should be brimming with people, so that each listener has someone to ‘relate to’, particularly in morning radio. There are fine examples. Elvis Duran springs to mind.

I just worry that in smaller markets, with less experienced talent, it’s easier to lose that connection through the air to the listener, if there’s more than one mind in the studio.

In our endless re-invention of this fashion medium, is the time right to return to solo presentation (but with orbiting friendly faces)?

After all, zoos are for animals.

Sales pitch: 2ZY offers talent coaching and consultancy for your station. Email john@2zy.co.uk or call us on +44 161 834 3282.

 

3 Great Podcasters I put on 5 live – and 1 That Got Away

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Recently, I had a lot of fun working on Helen & Olly’s Required Listening, a TDC production for BBC Radio 5 live.

In it, Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, the guys behind the Sony award-winning Answer Me This podcast, showcased some of the best English-speaking broadcasters you may never have heard of.

Here are three that we featured who are really worth a listen.

Roman Mars of 99% Invisible

Roman Mars, the man behind 99% Invisible

99% Invisible sounds a bit niche. It’s a podcast of a public radio show in San Francisco by the quite brilliant Roman Mars, whose beat is architecture, the urban envrionment and those features of our buildings and city landscapes that may otherwise pass us by without comment.

As a green badge tour guide, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, but even if you’re not, you’ll be able to get to the passion, joy and craft with which this show is assembled.

Don’t take my word for it. Roman’s fans pay more than just lip service. It’s the best performing journalism project on the crowd-funded website Kickstarter. In other words, listeners contributed over $140k to keep hearing his work.

We’d show you a real picture of ‘Betty’. But then we’d have to kill you.

Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase is a charming podcast from a whistle-blowing, globe-trotting air hostess from America. It’s the perfect example of how the democratisation of audio production can give insight behind the scenes of other people’s lives and professions. As well as how you can find bloody good broadcasters, working away on their own projects on the web.

Betty – not her real name – tells stories from her travels and interviews colleagues to paint a fascinating picture of the aviation business, and the everyday miracle of air travel.

We’re Alive show-runner KC Wayland

If you love The Walking Dead, imagine a zombie serial in which the pictures are inhibited only by your imagination.

We’re Alive! is an episodic zombie drama now into its 33rd chapter. Producer KC Wayland explained to us that he chose audio over video for that reason that radio lovers like us already understand – the pictures are always better when you can’t see them. He can achieve the massive effects he wants,  and conjure up a sense of societal collapse in a zombie apocalypse, for less than the make-up budget if he was making it on film.

His experience as an Iraq veteran has also informed his show-running.

Here’s the Thing host, Alec Baldwin.

As a 30 Rock fan, one person I’d loved to have had on our show was the brilliant Alec Baldwin. Sadly, his people politely declined – but I wanted to make you aware of his podcast for NPR gods, WNYC.

In Here’s the Thing (great title), Baldwin interviews people from the worlds of arts and entertainment. That’s it. No bells or whistles. Sometimes people you don’t think you’d be bothered about. But his natural, conversational, wit and warmth really engage you in this simple chat format.

And, of course, he has the most beautiful voice. He could read the telephone book, and I’d hit subscribe. Maybe he’ll come on next time.

Happy listening.