Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Spooky stations

The unmistakable sound of someone being sick in a toilet.  It’s not the most attractive sound, but one which sensible late night disc jockeys at Nottingham’s Radio Trent claimed to hear in the depths of night, when alone in the station’s 1794 building.

That was just one of the odd things reported from this former women’s hospital, which had clearly witnessed its fair share of deaths in its early period.  Others reported a ghost wearing a hat frequently gliding through the main studio; and an old woman wobbling a table.  Maybe not too surprising when one remembers the subterranean studios were once the hospital’s mortuary.

Castle Gate, the home of the UK’s13th ILR station, was not the only set of premises which was said to house an extra ghostly freelancer. Back in the early days of commercial radio, it was almost mandatory to find a building with a rich past, regardless, it seems, of how unsuitable it was for a fast-moving media business.

Wiltshire Radio, later to become the lead player in GWR, was housed in a 17th Century house. The first MD’s PA reported a pipe-smoking chap appearing in the Lime Kiln studios complex, only to be heard falling, leaving behind just that unmistakable smell of pipe smoke. On another occasion, it’s reported that the plug to an electric typewriter was pulled out its socket, held aloft, before being replaced. I also gather in later years that a ghost was said to turn on the TV to adult channels late at night. Were they not the days, though, when stations had uniformed security guards sat there alone in the wee small hours?

Beacon Radio’s original premises on Tettenhall Road in Wolverhampton had been a roomy orphanage, and again the home of some considerable teary bairns through the years.  One spooky room was said to house the ghost of a poor baby who passed into the spirit world back in the 19th Century. Little wonder paranormal investigators would routinely ask to spend some time in that building; and it was to be featured in 'Most Haunted'.

Surely something spooky happened in the 1876 ecclesiastic Leicester Sound building next to beautiful Victoria Park?  Indeed.  In this Downton Abbey house, I gather someone hanged themselves on the stairs, in its life before radio.  Gazing at the stained glass windows on the first landing, in the light of the 40W bulbs, it’s easy to imagine. Upstairs on the top floor, in what was believed to be the nursery, poor little mites, stricken by the many illnesses of a century past were said to live on; sat, no doubt, on a pile of paper ad logs and playing with the daisy wheel printer.

I take no delight in announcing the demolition of old West Canal Wharf building from where the ill-fated CBC (later Red Dragon/Capital) was launched. Even though launch PD, Dan Damon, did say he’d get back to me about a job I’d applied for in 1980.  Still waiting. That old place is said to have had its fair share of apparitions.  Maybe they set fire to my rejection letter before despatch.

Let's not forget good old Red Rose radio (now Rock) where hardened journalists would fear the late shift. Booooooooh. And BBC Radio Lincolnshire's home to this day, the former Radion cinema on the edge of the historic quarter, which is said to house a lone usherette to this day, serving lukewarm Kia-Ora orange juice to enthusiastic BAs.

It's not just here in the UK. These things appear to happen around the world. I gather a station in Jasper, Alabama also claims its own resident ghost. Like Trent, it uses the loo.  But let’s not worry unduly, though, about WDIE, where every single breakfast host died within three years of being given the peak show. 

Given there is no definitive book on radio ghosts, I am certain this list is not exhaustive.  Do feel free to add your own.  

Thursday, 16 October 2014

What future for the radio news bulletin?

News bulletins have adopted much the same production recipe since 1922.  Whether the 6.00 immaculately-presented nightly feast on BBC Radio 4 or the hourly juicy snack on much commercial radio, maybe smothered with a funky bed.

Arthur Burrows, who delivered the first ever newscasts on a dark November evening in 1922, would likely recognise the bulletin formula were he still around and taking any interest in such things.  In essence, every hour, to this day, a bundle of successive scripts are toasted and served, seasoned sometimes with reports from gifted colleagues or a dash of illustrative audio. The newsreader duly reads out the contents of the 'newspaper' before a colleague returns to put on a gramophone record.

Had dear Arthur wandered off in a strop that night and the news bulletin had never been born at that time in that way, would we be doing news now like we do?

In the halcyon days of this wonderful medium of ours, families gathered round their Bakelite sets, bathed in the warm light of their standard lamps, to eavesdrop in wonder on the World.  Apart from the odd World War and too many incurable diseases, there was little else to distract.  Radio was a spectator sport.  Programmes and programme items were appointments to listen. Listeners joined them at the start and likely sat through respectfully to the end. Now, we know listeners dip in and out of the majority of programming.

Journalists agonise over the identification of the lead story. They even argue amongst themselves, which is tremendous fun to watch. The listener may well have a different view altogether of what's important to them.  Some may have missed the start of the bulletin, in any case.  Radio bulletins do not have a front page.

We know too, from much research, how listeners zone in and out of radio even when they are 'listening'. The mind is cleverly able to filter out what is relevant and what is not, so they may not even 'hear' the lead story.  At the very moment the reader thunders in with the voice of authority over the crashing cymbals of the news jingle, the listener may well be mulling  over their imminent hot week in Majorca.  When the story about airport disruption is pumped out as story four, that's when the listener hears their lead.  And, if you do believe in 'the lead', is it not a puzzling objective to make the content of a bulletin deliberately less interesting as it proceeds?

Since when has the BBC's 'most viewed online' story list corresponded with the order of any BBC news bulletin?

What of this 'on the hour' business'?  Radio was once first.  Its content was a day ahead of the local Chronicle and likely some considerable way ahead of the heavy TV cameras trundling out to see what's happening.  Now, those who like to keep up to date glance at their Twitter feeds to see the latest, and their friends become their personal news editors, sharing the stories they feel are important.  Such content is 'broadcast' and received within seconds.  Your friends, and indeed news organisations, do not sit drumming their fingers on the desk until some arbitrary time to despatch a social media update.  Why do we afford our social media audience the luxury of priority service, when we make our loyal radio listeners sit and bloody wait for the next bulletin?

With the exception of newsflashes, radio can be a good 55 minutes away from the ability to
insert a news story.  Whilst radio is better than Twitter at bringing home the emotion, background, voices and analysis in a useful way, for many people, social media like Twitter has broken the story.  Why do we hold up the news to broadcast it on the hour?

Audiences are larger on the hour, surely. Rajar indeed suggests that the first quarter hour is more heavily consumed. Most sensible people would likely agree, however, that this says more about the way radio is measured in the UK than  how it is consumed.  In markets around the World where radio is monitored by meters, there's a rather different conclusion.  People are just as likely to listen to each of the four quarter hours. They are as likely to have missed your bulletin as heard it.

Listeners value news hugely. They tell us so in every focus group I've ever attended. So, when that news jingle chimes, one imagines that attention levels soar. As the Jam or Wise Buddah singers chorus the station's name, surely listeners say to themselves: 'hey, come on, something important's happening'.  No, suggests Peter Niegel, who troubled to analyse audiences to a station called P3, a service from one of Denmark's national public service broadcasters, which used PPM (metering) research.  He observed that, whilst listeners insisted they valued the news,  “there was a big difference between perceived listening and actual listening”.  When they studied actual  behaviour, they noticed  listeners  tuning out when the jingle came on:  "The top of the hour is a natural switch-off moment because it’s an appointment time.."  "Every time we ran the news jingle, people would say: oh my God, it’s eight o’clock, I have to go!”. 

Pavlov understood about conditioned reflexes. Whilst we hope the reflex is to listen attentively when the  news jingle airs, are we sure the contrary does not occur?
When a major news event occurs, it's likely listeners do find it useful to know when they can find out more?  Does that suggest a wise policy of news detail on the hour in exactly those circumstances?

Radio is great at many, many things.  It's probably not so hot on lists of detail.  I challenge anyone to listen to the twelve inch version of the weather forecast and then tell me whether I'm going to need my coat tomorrow. So, why do we assemble the most demanding content and broadcast it all at once.  Given most of us can barely remember a large round of drinks, how many stories are safely recalled half an hour later by the average busy listener? Ironically, it might be suggested that story memorability from the longer news programmes, where time is taken to paint the pictures at which radio excels, is likely much higher.  Had the tradition of hourly newscasts on all formats never begun, would we not do it in bitesize chunks on many of them.?

I recall one foreign visitor asking me why our news bulletins are always the same length. 'What if there's not much happening?', they queried.  Of course I told him how silly he was being, but between you and me, he had  a point.  We recall with a smile that tale of the Good Friday bulletin in 1930 where it is suggested the BBC declared that there was no news and treated us instead to some piano music.

Regulators used to have a fetish about bulletin lengths. The difference between a 2' bully and a 4' one could have amounted to the deciding factor about whether your company won the licence to broadcast or not.  Long was good.  Longer was very good.

What's more important, the news or the weather? What is the most significant to listeners' lives really, in the long run?  On most music stations, one hears the weather, rightly, repeated over and over again on the hour. The news, often bearing matters of life or death, is confined to its half hourly island.  A twenty minute breakfast listener, and there are many of them, will presume you don't actually have a newsroom.

The BBC's brilliant Lyse Doucet
Owing to the very nature of this 'performance piece' on the hour, it is usually presented by someone different from the programme hosts. The general presenters are, therefore, less likely to notice and alight on the importance of a story.  Were they charged with delivering the titbits as they happened, like a friend tugging at your sleeve saying 'hey, look at this', they'd likely repeat some stories many, many times in the hour, on merit. When a despatch on a crucial story is available from a reporter in the field, you can guarantee too it would be readily trailed if the presenters 'owned' the news.  Given the role of the journalist and that of the newsreader demand such different skillsets, maybe such a strategy could, accordingly, free journalists to go do journalism.

Has the time come to take a fresh look at this thing we call the news bulletin?  We know news content is hugely valuable currency.  What on earth should we do with it on radio in our much-changed world?  Should our news coverage take its inspiration from social media in frequency and format, rather than the newspaper?

Monday, 29 September 2014

How old are the best presenters?

I was 19, a spotty young presenter with straggly hair and a long duffle coat.  My then Head of Programmes peered over his large desk, before pushing his spectacles up the bridge of his nose and concluding one of our rare coaching sessions with the remark: "You won't be any good as a presenter until you're 30".

At the time, I puzzled over the observation.  Actually, that's a grown up way of saying I was a tad upset.  My age was not something I could really do awfully much about. 

Looking back, he had a point.  It really is not until later in life that a presenter can really master their art.

Your command of radio techniques does improve with practice, of course, but more importantly, you have lived. 

Provided you keep in touch, you can display a cultural grasp of both now and then.  Showbiz is littered with older personalities revered by younger fans.  Older soap opera actors are the real stars of the show.  A younger radio presenter can often struggle to relate well to older listeners. They can so easily be out of their depth.

When a caller comes on-air, you have but seconds to connect: to show that you 'get them'. To react; to say the one thing they relate to; to help them build on their own story;  to find the entertainment; to avoid responding insensitively.  You draw upon your fund of life.

Great shows often rely on story-telling, whether as an entertaining anecdote or setting up a topic.  As you grow older, your bank of stories becomes almost limitless.  Whatever the topic on-air, something relevant has happened to you or to a friend.  You've met people rather like every single listener you'll ever have.  

Importantly too, by the time you hit your thirties, things have usually gone wrong for you.  You've likely loved and lost; faced a death or two of someone you know; had money problems and heartache.  When in trouble, we reach for advice for someone who's had their own problems and can empathise.  We do not reach out for a perfect person, or seek advice from the lanky 19 year old down the road. Listeners open up to people whom they feel are like them. 

When the broadcaster's face starts to wrinkle, the authenticity on-air grows; and being 'real' on-air is utterly key for so many formats on today's radio.

When we go for a great night out, we'll often surround ourselves with people our age.

The UK has a tradition of young broadcasters, certainly on music radio.  As commercial radio was born painfully here in the 70s, many of its first presenters were relatively young, even though the stations were full service, serving birth to death.  Meanwhile, in that same decade, across in the more mature US radio market, many Top 40 presenters were much older and yet still very much in charge of their markets. 'Veteran anchors' were commanding the most dollars.  Here, there was a seeming obsession with transferring presenters arbitrarily to Radio 2 or to the AM Gold service as soon as the clock caught up with them; whether or not they were doing an excellent job.  

                                    Dan Ingram on air in the US, aged almost 60

But look at the biggest names. Was Chris Moyles losing audiences as he grew older?  Not really, no.  Is Chris Evans worse now than he was when he was 23?  No, far from it.  Would Simon Mayo do an even better job now on Radio Nottingham than he did years ago?  I suspect he might say yes.  

To his credit, Richard Park realised that Birmingham's Les Ross still had another FM decade in him when he rescued him from Xtra AM in his mid forties and returned him to the hot rockin' BRMB.  One imagines Parky had wisely drawn a parallel with Les and Tarrant, who commanded  London on 95.8 until the age of 57.

Broadcasters try so hard when they are young.  As they mature, the best become stunningly instinctive.  Their stories improve, as does their story-telling. Their pacing is tuned and their sense of humour and timing matures.  Skills both in radio and in life have been honed. They are better and funnier.

It's good news that the BBC has turned its thoughts to encouraging more women broadcasters. Being parachuted into a peak show, however, is a demanding gig.  Few Olympic athletes would take their first skate at the Commonwealth Games.  Just as with a male broadcaster, if they have the skill to persuade listeners to value them, I wish those new recruits every success.

Should a similar initiative be established for older broadcasters? Is the age of a presenter not more important than their sex?

60% of all radio listening is by those over the age of 45. Are 60% of presenters over that age?
BBC Local Radio is targeted at those aged 50 and over, with a "strong emphasis on interactivity and audience involvement". Appropriately, 88% of all BBC local radio listening is by those over 45.  But are 88% of presenters? 

76% of all BBC Local radio listening is by those over 55. Are the majority of presenters?

If you are a 24 year old BBC local presenter, or indeed 'producer', how must it feel to know that 92% of the audience are older than you? 

There are a host of reasons why Radio 2's audience still loved Terry Wogan as he presented his last breakfast show, aged 71.

My mother used to ask when her voice was going to start sounding like a crackly old woman.  By the time she died at 76, it never had.  When you use your voice and are aware of it, it stays remarkably consistent into your 70s and beyond.  Does Tony Blackburn sound so much different in voice quality from when the was a bright-eyed 24 year old?

Yes, some gifted older BBC local radio stalwarts are still on-air, but as local radio  has become the route in to radio, there are many very young presenters on-air too.  Not because the listeners suggest that is what they want; but simply because the local stations help us feed our industry.

One can witness some of the younger presenters on that 50+ format struggling to relate.  It's hardly surprising. Why should they know that the death of Kathy Kirby is worthy of a mention  when they were not born when Abba were at their peak? Even their parents are a little too young to help. For a talk format, that diminished level of insight into the target audience can be a real handicap.  The very best younger broadcasters address the challenge with huge self-awareness, hard-work, sensitivity and skill. The rest may not.

That's not their fault, they are seizing an opportunity, just like I did at 19.  It is the responsibility of the programmers, especially for the older-formated stations, to look beyond the university graduates, and to reach out to those characters who have graduated from the college of life. Certainly there's a rich seam of spirited women of a certain age who could become genuinely brilliant radio communicators. I witness few 'Loose Women' panelists in their teens and twenties.

There's a place for younger broadcasters and we all must learn our craft, but the younger formats are best places for this.  There's a place for inexperienced broadcasters too: off-peak hours. 

It's much easier to carry off being older than your target audience  - than younger.  In life, you have always been younger, but never been older.

If you've been in radio a few years, I challenge you to listen back to those old cassettes from the box in the garage.  Cringe at your first ten years of work.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The best radio is a simple one

I was delighted when RadioPlayer's talented Mike Hill stoodup at the Next Radio conference, armed with a yummy cake his wife had baked for him, to illustrate how complicated the current generation of radios are.  He said what I had thought for some time; but expressed it better.

Radios are getting too complicated.

Having collected radio sets over the ears, it's easy to glance at the shelves and draw ready comparisons.   I adore those early 'solid state' transistor sets.  Most boasted an on-off button, a tuning dial and a volume control.  Some clever ones combined the volume control with the on-off button. Remember that satisfying click as you turned it on and cranked up the sound. It was a simple life

Now they are all just too awkward. Both in and out of cars. 

My DAB set in my new BMW  invites me first to choose between FM, AM, DAB/DMB and, erm, 'sound'.  I suspect few in our business know too much about DMB, let alone normal folk.  Then I choose DAB, to be treated to a list of 'ensembles'.  What does a listener make of these?  

When they wade in, do they know what D1 National is?

If I venture to the 'help' option, lo, the relevant page of the instruction manual which talks of 'bouquets'. Ensembles. Bouquets. Who cares.

And when I drive away from the reception area of any multiplex, its station list remains.  A handy list of stations I cannot receive.  Sometimes, I have the luxury of choosing between the same station on two adjacent multiplexes, but if I choose the weaker one, it does not trouble to hop across  to the better one.

Don't get me started on how to turn off the RDS traffic announcements.  No, I do not want to hear there are hold ups in Surrey, when I'm in Nottingham.  I never did. No-one has ever said to me in any focus group ever that RDS travel flags are useful.  Stop inventing things we don't need.

Back home, I think I've bought just about every DAB set that's ever been made.  Too many seem to me to have a life span of two or three years before the transformer gives up or another bit of it decides it's feeling ill. Frankly, who can blame it. 

My favourite 1968 Roberts is still working fine.  My rather newer Colourstream Roberts FM/DAB/internet  is not.  It claims to have touch screen technology, yet that long ago stopped responding to my crusty finger.  I'd need nails the size of a dainty princess to be able to make sure I press on the right bits.  And you can only use the online stations, naturally, when you have managed to marry it to your Wifi, which is again a full time fiddly job.  Arrows back to previous menus. I'm lost.

It was eminently sensible to have radios which can receive streaming stations as well as FM and AM. But they are horrendously complicated. The design of the Pure Sensia is stunning, but operating it drives me to distraction.

Even having to wait for DAB radios to come on annoys me. I'm easily annoyed.  In the morning, I press 'on' and it stubbornly has a good old yawn and stretch before it saunters into action. I thought waiting for a radio to warm up was a ritual from the valve age. Ovaltine anyone?

My dad's talking Pure radio is a boon.  Press the handle and it tells you he is listening to Gem 106. Actually it doesn't.  It tells him he's listening to Century. It clearly has a fundamental objection to rebrands

The DAB set in my kitchen almost works. Provided I extend the aerial so it pokes out the eye of anyone wandering into the sitting room.

Mike produced a box which did what we wanted it to do. You find a station easily by name on search, and it delivers it to you by DAB, FM or online, dependent on which appears most satisfactory. That's all we want.

This is a worrying time for radio.  We have lost the bedside war, as glowing alarm clock radios have suffered the same fate as the TeasMade (ask your granny). Now the dashboard is at risk.  Having enjoyed pride of place in the dashboard since the 60s, access to radio is at risk now of being hidden away. If it can be received at all. If we lose both the wake up and driving moments, there's a risk radio itself is in peril.

I'm proud of the early work by Pure on DAB, with some brilliant pioneering sets; and Roberts too responded well. Having stations available by name was indeed a step ahead of the old frequency numbers. But in the days of Fabulous 208, we could just about remember those digits and which stations were AM and FM.  Now there are more stations, and growing listener repertoires.  We want one set of pre-sets which locks onto stations regardless of platform.

Stop asking me questions.  I don't have to choose which power station my electricity is coming from; I have a similar level of disinterest in how my radio station is getting to me. FM, DAB, online. Just let me listen.

The beauty of radio in general terms is its simplicity. Someone else is selecting the news stories and songs for me. That's why I like it.  Don't make just turning it on a full time job.

Tesco 2014. 16 of these sets did not receive DAB
If radio is to survive, we need instinctive technology on radio sets and in cars.  Simple is best. Choose your station, turn it up or down.  Sorted.

Friday, 29 August 2014

More gobbledygook in radio ads

I hope one day this will be a fond piece of #radiomoments history. It is the ends of three ads from the same ad break today.

Under UK laws and restrictions, ads are currently required to carry all manner of disclaimers. The idea is that they protect consumers. They truly do not.

Anyone who understands how radio, and indeed the consumption of much media, works knows well that listeners reap only a few takeaways from each ad.  The people whose job it is to produce ads know that all too well.  Any detailed caveats, therefore, are utterly redundant.

No-one can buy anything instantly by shouting at the radio, there is ample time for due consideration of deals and small print.  The point of advertisement is not the place. It achieves less than nothing, and the time must be right for a sensible view of the sort of regulations which drive these requirements. They ill-serve consumers.

Even 'Ts and Cs apply' is a pointless phrase: a) what is the opposite? Absolutely no terms and conditions apply to this offer? And b) Many listeners may  not even understand what a T or a C is.

I rant more here: on an earlier post.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Very Good Morning to You

“And a very good evening to you”.  It’s not a phrase anyone uses in real life.  It’s particularly odd when a major BBC TV news bulletin starts with those words, just after we've witnessed dark images of death and destruction around the World.  It’s even odder when those pictures are as truly appalling as they have been in recent weeks.

Why is it a good evening? More to the point, why is it a very good evening?

It’s all very polite, but does it not sound strange? Just like the obsession in radio and TV with ‘thank you’.

Note when newsreaders do their thing and the presenter utters the gratuitous ‘thank you very much, Susanne’. For what exactly?

Why does Susanne enjoy the privilege of being thanked; and not those who sang the songs or made the ads, or those hard-working jingle-singers.  It’s most unfair.  I do find particularly fascinating those who thank the network newsreaders many hundreds of miles away down the line, in the full knowledge that the reader will never hear the fulsome gratitude.  Is it not like writing a thank you letter and ripping it up?

Witness too, those occasions when a studio presenter takes some time to preface an OB report.  They go to pains in the delivery of the cue to describe the background and carefully set the scene for the report.  On TV, that studio presenter even goes to the trouble of half-nodding at the end of the cue, with the head sympathetically on an angle as they anticipate the report unfolding.   At that point, just when the listener or viewer has been taken emotionally into the very heart of the story, the remote presenter breaks the spell and chooses to say a chirpy ‘thank you very much, John’.  For what exactly?  Reading the cue?  Maybe even a cue into which the reporter had considerable input. 

Why whisk the listener away from the place they have been taken, back into the politeness of the English sitting room? Given there’s also likely been a gap for the ISDN line or satellite feed to catch up, the whole thing sounds inordinately pregnant.

Guests have caught on too.  Maybe it’s part of their media training.  ‘This situation has been described as appalling by many consumer.   Fred Farnsbarns is from the trade body.  Fred, people have been seriously injured owing to these problems, what have you got to say about it? “, struts the presenter with theatrical aggression.  Good morning”, responds guest Fred, before pausing; stubbornly determined not to carry on until the grumpy presenter spits out  a reluctant sotto voce ‘good morning’ back.

Callers are almost as bad.  In midst phone-in, at just the opportune moment, a presenter will swiftly turn to a caller for input ‘John, this has happened to you hasn’t it?’, they  query, smiling smugly that they have managed to conduct the orchestra of voluntary contributors so skillfully.  Caller John  then merrily  ignores the question - and just says ‘good morning’ to the presenter.  What’s more, the caller then  proceeds to ask the presenter ‘how are you?’?  This British ‘how are you?’ business is a puzzle to most people from outside our fair Isles.  They correctly observe that neither of the participants in a  Home Counties ‘how are you?’ exchange is remotely interested in each other’s welfare.

Let’s stop saying ‘thank you’, or ‘thank you very much’, or ‘thank you very much indeed’ or ‘thank you very much indeed there’.  Or ‘thank you very much indeed there, Trevor’.  Or ‘good morning’, or ‘good evening’.  Or ‘a very good morning’.  It usually isn’t. 

If we stop, maybe callers and guests will swiftly catch on and we can all be as naturally rude to each other as we are in real life and save an awful lot of time.  And not appear weird when we describe the most atrocious sights this Century as being part of a good evening.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Psychology of Radio - 1935 style

“It has already grown from the insignificance of an embryonic idea in the minds of technicians to the stature of a Goliath in industry and public affairs. Vigorously endowed and shrewdly directed, it has developed sturdily, and with lightning speed has fashioned for itself a place in our national life” 

So says a 1935 book called ‘The Psychology of Radio’. 

The book was written in America, back in the days when radio was but a small child, and self-appointed experts were penning articles and posturing about it.  Just as they do about this digital thing nearly eighty years later.

It’s a fascinating read.  It makes mention of an impressive early experiment, conducted when there was an appetite to understand better this new fangled thing.  An evangelist gathered an audience and preached in a hall.  His sermon was relayed by sound only, as if a radio broadcast, to a neighbouring hall.  As the call came for the congregation to step forward and participate, the genuine assembly started to take action.  Members of the radio audience in the second hall were not motivated in the same way.  They stood there like lemons.

The author explained he felt this was not through some flaw in this otherwise miraculous medium, but simply because the vocal delivery on radio needed to be different.  In structure, it was said that a live speaker works for “immediate rather than long-run results, for emotional fervour rather than for future action”.  

He concluded:

“A radio spellbinder would have spoken quite differently. He would have used less bombast and more artistry, less brute force and more cunning. He would have directed his attention to the invisible audience and would have made each listener feel welcome as a member of the circle. He would have aroused the listeners' sense of participation in the occasion. "Friends, this is Huey P. Long speaking.."

All those years ago, the authors (Hadley Cantril  & Gordon Allport) had already recognised that radio was a one-to-one thing; and you had to address a single listener as you spoke if you really wanted to motivate.

The chapter observed that the voice on radio is different from a person addressing in real life in that:

  • “In the minds of the listeners (radio) places music in the preferred position among radio program(me)s.
  • It frees the listener from the necessity of conventional politeness toward public performers.
  • It interposes a serious psychological barrier between the broadcaster and his audience through the destruction of the normal circular relationship.
  • It virtually eliminates social facilitation among the auditors with the result that they are less crowdish, more critical and individualistic”.

Witness the medium’s educational prowess too. The publication suggests that radio improves the capacity of the average man to listen. And even “probably increases the vocabulary of the average listener”.

“It was discovered that the college student, with his long training in listening to lectures, is far better able than the untrained listener to understand and to recall what he hears. His advantage, furthermore,is discovered to be greater for auditory than for visual material. It appears, therefore, that intelligent listening is par excellence the mark of the educated man.”

“Although there is a prevailing tendency to use the radio as a background for other tasks, when the dial is turned to a specific program and when attention is directed fully to its message, an auditory training is provided for millions of people and its long-range effects may be exceedingly important. For increasing the world's population of "good listeners" radio deserves an extra star in its crown”.

So, if the boss ever tells you to stop streaming Gem 106 at your desk, just smile patiently and assure him that it’s training you to listen better to his wisdom.

Even back then there was a worry that radio might put people off their work

“Take, first, the case of the housewife or the student who is completely preoccupied with work. The loud-speaker emits its stream of sound, but it falls on deaf ears. The distraction is completely inhibited. As long as attention does not shift, the radio's effect, if it has any at all, is entirely subliminal. In such a case the effort required (and unconsciously exerted) to overcome the distraction may actually enhance concentration on the task in hand.... The stronger the potential distraction the greater is the compensatory attention”.

Attention, RAB! The article goes on to provide early thoughts on the topic addressed in more recent years by Saatchi & Saatchi's 1981/1995 'Ironing Board Study' and Classic FM’s/Bournemouth University's 1995 'Jigsaw study'. The theory that listeners zone in and out depending on what interests them:

“However, attention is at best a restless thing, always waxing and waning, and shifting from one focus to another. The sounds of the radio are seldom inhibited for more than a few minutes at a time.  The mind wanders from the task in hand to the distracting sound”.

Some things have come to pass:

“In certain ways radio is a dangerous competitor of the newspaper.”

And some prophetic observations on the delinquent use of radio’s immense power:

“The Nazi propagandist minister, Goebbels, uses it ubiquitously to spread the doctrines of Hitler and says that ''Some day the radio will be the spiritual daily bread of the whole German nation."

What about children though?

“About one-third of the children say that they lie awake in bed thinking of things they have heard over the radio. The same number report that they frequently dream of radio plots : three- fourths of these dreams are nightmares”.

Given American radio was, by then, already into commercial radio full throttle, the book also alludes to what later became ‘pester power’ in terms to children hearing advertisements and then lobbying poor Mama for said goodies:

“ The advertising appeal is ingenious and effective. It is directed toward the child's desire for physical superiority (victory at games and ''pep"). It comes just before the supper hour when hunger facilitates mental associations pertaining to food. It arouses the powerful motive of sympathy and compassion by asking the child to tell his mother about the product... Through repetition, tedious to the adult but interesting to the child, the association between the fantasy of the story and the product in question is indelibly established”.

Ah. Repetition builds reputation.

What of station formats?

  • “a slight majority of this station's hours are devoted to network”
  • “far more network programs are broadcast on Sundays than on weekdays;
  • “the early morning hours (6-8) contain entirely local programs”
  • “three-fourths of the programs broadcast during the best evening hours (7-10) are network relays;
  • “the days when listening habits are least dependable (over the week-end) are filled with sustaining network broadcasts to keep the station on the air most economically..”
So, the truth is out.  In implementing 'The Future of Radio' in 2007, OFCOM just copied and pasted from this 1935 book for its Localness Guidelines.

By the way, according to the 1930 US census (which likely enjoyed jolly COI-type ads saying “fill in the form y’all”), there were suggestions that 70 per cent of homes were, were “supplied with radios”.  

If the behavioural assertions above are to be believed, the rest of the homes contained thick Americans with fairly chilled kids.

This is amazing. Average listening time was 19.6 hours a week. In 2014, it is 21.5.  The sample size was 507, by the way if Ipsos/Mori are reading this.  

Popular programme elements included ‘Dance Orchestras’ at Number 1 in the chart, followed by football and symphonies. Wow.  It’s commercial national radio. Absolute, Talksport and Classic.  Sports and old songs are in there too, in the next two positions, so thank goodness we have Smooth.  Least popular thing? “Advertising messages”.

How many stations in the listening repertoire back in the 1930s?

 “The average listener is not accustomed to tune in to all available stations. His habits at the dial are likely to be rutted: 5.6 per cent listen regularly to only one station while 76.6% per cent never listen to more than three stations”.

All these years later, the ‘habits at the dial’ of the average punter are much the same.

There’s some handy listener research, suggesting that 84% preferred music programming, with the remainder opting for speech. It also suggests that speech is used as foreground listening and music as background.

Forgive me for just lapping up the experiments on presenter voices, conducted by WEEI in Boston involving the tones of  twenty-four male (but of course) speakers and over six hundred judges. They sought to establish whether people could judge appearance by a voice.  We must try that trial again. A great contest for your breakfast show, maybe.

They  found that it was challenging to establish height from a voice, although some favourable results were uncovered owing “primarily to the case of a short fat man whose voice was thick, mellow, and "chuckling." . Give that guy a job on Radio 2.

Voices were matched to  handwriting “about one and a half times as frequently as would be expected by chance.”

Photos and voices were matched with some success as was political preference.  Close your eyes. Listen to Nick Ferrari and try to establish which way he votes.

I shall leave you with a brief glimpse into Chapter 7.

“Most people would rather hear a man than a woman speak over the radio. Yet few listeners are able to explain this preference: they can tell neither how the sexes differ in their vocal appeal nor why. Even the supervisor of broadcasting at the studio can seldom give reasons why his announcing staff is entirely male.”

I bet he can’t.

They resorted to another fab experiment with men and women reading articles into a microphone and  respondents were asked to score on various factors. 

"Women were found to be rated higher in some qualities and men in others. In general men are judged to be more natural and more persuasive. Except in poetry and abstract passages, the listeners felt that men took more of an interest in the material they were broadcasting. In four out of seven experiments, women's voices were judged as more attractive".

Before the analysis, 95 per cent of the listeners had already stated that men's voices were more attractive.  The conclusion states:

“This result shows a noteworthy difference between stereotyped and analytic judgments. It indicates that the preliminary judgment was based to a considerable degree upon mere prejudice”

How far have we really come in 80 years?