Tuesday, 9 July 2019

'Broadcasting in the Seventies' vs Broadcasting in the Twenty Twenties


Fifty years ago this week, the report ‘Broadcasting in The Seventiesrolled off the Roneo duplicator, penned principally by the BBC’s incoming MD of Radio, Ian Trethowan. Although drawing on work dating back to 1967, in many ways, it could have been written last week.

One familiar impact was that it created "a big banging type of explosion" (BBC exec, Gerard Mansell) both inside and outside BH. Indeed, 137 BBC staff were so furious, they wrote to the Times to vent their spleen.


Listeners have not changed much either. Wise Frank Gillard (then director of radio) had warned the chairman of the governors: “the radio audience is the most conservative audience in the whole wide world, and you don’t come out with a great big statement that we’re going to make all these changes. What you do is you infiltrate them slowly and gradually and people get used to them, they take them in their stride”.

The report valiantly sought “to adapt our (the BBC’s) service to a changing world to meet changing tastes and needs”; and “to live within our prospective income for sound broadcasting in the next five years”.

It outlined the recent changes in BBC radio and the latest additions to the clan, including the Music Programme (part of Radio 3); Radio 1; and local radio. Now, it sought to “rationalise and reshape” to serve the audiences of the concrete seventies. Much like today's digital adjustments, however, it agonised over past changes being “grafted piecemeal on to a tree planted in an earlier age of broadcasting”.

The report insisted the BBC should not just concern itself with the biggest audiences but also with "positive responsibility". Whilst that phrase is not bandied around much in NBH today, the territory is utterly and increasingly familiar.

Like recent reports, the BBC was concerned at the end of the '60s about changing audiences, albeit radio’s dirty competitor back then was TV, murdering radio’s evening audience peak.

Representing the regions of the UK was key too, with “the success” of the local radio experiment opening up “new opportunities for broadcasting outside London”. The report  alluded to “centrifugal forces” apparent in “society as a whole”, yet “growing resistance to the apparently inexorable magnetism of London". It concluded that “not only Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland (which) look for a separate identity”.

Familiar challenges. Familiar objectives. One difference is the number of licence fee payers: up from 18m, at the time of the report, to around 26m now. (There was a radio only licence at £1.5s or combined radio/colour TV at £11. Radio-only licences ended in 71).

Radio’s path ahead appeared ‘more complex’ than TV. Indeed, the Chairman of the BBC Governors was so excited about the BBC2 colour set in his drawing room that he guiltily conceded: “we’ve got to talk to the public about radio and have a big drive on radio”. Quite right too.

One key focus would be audience targeting, recognising that many listeners now expected a “specialised network, offering a continuous stream of one particular type of programme, meeting one particular interest”.

Accordingly, Auntie suggested that all the things it had been lukewarm about had actually been jolly good ideas all the way along, with Radio 1 “amply” confirming that there is a demand for pop music, as distinct from the more traditional styles of light music”. It attributed any deficiencies in the new service to a lack of resources, not because of BBC “inhibitions” Perish the thought.

She also conceded that amount of programme sharing between Radio 1 and 2 was a bit silly, or in the plummiest of BBC terms: “the ride is not always smooth”. I suspect the next line was written after a BBC sherry: “to their respective fans, Emperor Rosko and Eric Robinson barely inhabit the same planet let alone the same air waves”.

So, hurrah for Radio 1 which was promised as much more unique programming as could be afforded. Radio 2 meanwhile was promised: “a new clear focus as another all-music network, presenting all that is covered by the umbrella of 'light music' - anything from Sinatra to Lehar. (It is sometimes suggested this should be called the 'sweet' music channel, but light music offers more variety and continuous saccharine)”.  To do this though, the report cautioned that needle-time issues (which limited the amount played) would have to be sorted, and some familiar Radio 2 programmes would be shunted to Radio 4 (which some duly were, such as Woman’s Hour).

The report muttered about the cost of Radio 3 (still, to this day, expensive per listening hour by comparison to other networks). Sensibly, it planned to stop messing around with two stations on the same frequency (Music Programme and Third Programme) and just make it all Radio 3. Clear branding for a station now dedicated to ‘music and the arts’. The more factual programmes from the old Third Programme  (documentaries, current affairs)  seemed “likely to fit better into a reshaped Radio Four”.

Radio Four would thus become the network we recognise today - largely a speech network with “a strong emphasis on news and topical programmes”, spiced with a few general entertainment programmes.  PM, The World Tonight, Start the Week and Analysis were to be launched following this plan.

Use of frequencies will always be a thorny topic. In 1969, The Government had appeared keen on identifying FM frequencies for Harold Wilson’s beloved Open University, but the BBC proposed instead squatting on Radio 4’s FM frequencies (let’s remember that using FM in 1970 was a little like using a DAB slot ten years ago).

It saw stereo for radio much like colour for TV, and so indicated it would certainly strive to put BBC local radio in stereo. It would also try to add medium wave support for BBC local which had been launched only on the new FM band, by “reallocating the medium waves now used for Radio Three as part of a general pattern of providing improved medium-wave support for the other networks and local stations”. In due course, the  BBC was persuaded to hand some to the commercial sector.

In local, it had a dig at those ne’er-do-wells proposing local commercial radio: “No human organisation should claim infallible prescience, but we may fairly argue that the BBC was championing local radio before some of its present advocates found their voice". Of course, history suggests the BBC had not actually bent over backwards to rally the local cause.  In proposing to grow the number of local stations to 40, it proposed chopping the regional opt-outs from the national networks.

In getting more cash through the door, the BBC was going to tackle those who failed to cough up their shillings. Maybe it planned to install licence detector gubbins in a new fleet of Ford Capris. But, as now, the BBC was also keen to highlight how much more was being done with licence fee cash: “Since 1946, the licence has risen only once, by 25 per cent. Over the same period output of radio has gone up by 55 per cent”. Also like now, it also flagged up staff reductions. It considering too disbanding some of its orchestras, which was to prove one of the most contentious proposals. Hell hath no fury like a BBC radio listener scorned.

With these proposals we believe we are offering a service which would cater for at least a range of listeners' requirements as at present, spanning the generations and the cultures, capable of meeting any competition, and fulfilling the BBC's distinctive responsibilities as a public service broadcasting organisation.”

In many senses, the media landscape has changed beyond recognition since 1969, yet the BBC executive thumbing through this report on foolscap in 1969 would likely feel oddly at home now wrestling with today’s contemporary challenges, although hopefully he’d notice those round the table better reflected the diversity of UK citizens. He would, though, question why that the BBC‘s vision cannot still be summarised in 13 pages.

Sadly, I just cannot imagine quite so much attention being given to the BBC’s radio output, despite its audience reach being likely greater now than it was then.



email: radiomoments@radiomoments.co.uk
Web: www.davidlloydradio.com
Twitter: @davidlloydradio

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Tuesday, 2 July 2019

The BBC Annual Report 18/19 - Radio Summary


Another BBC Annual report and Accounts appears - for the year 2018 to 2019. Those of us who have assembled such things know that it is what is left out and the nuances of how things are described which tell the real tale. Let´s wade through, alert principally to mention of our beloved radio.

BBC Sounds

The app is thoroughly trumpeted in the report: 'A part of our ongoing commitment to reinvent the BBC for a new generation…a brand new audio product bringing together our live and on demand radio, music and podcasts into a single personalised product'.  I admire the thinking behind the app, but I wish it was not the only thing about radio the Chairman deigned to mention in his preface.

Later, the report adds that BBC Sounds had a great start with more than 2 million app downloads.  Its ability to personalise is much-vaunted, although I confess I am hoping for further strides in this area, and also tighter starts to listen-again, so I don‘t get a random two minutes of the Archers before my chosen listen.

Awards

The DG is rather proud of his mantelpiece of 36 awards which 'swept the board' at the Arias (no mention of the Radio Academy).  There were some worthy winners for sure,  with Radio 1 as National Station of the Year.  BBC Radio Leeds was mentioned too, as Local Station of the Year. Other programmes recognised include Rabbi Lord Sacks’s Morality in the 21st Century on Radio 4 and New Age of Consent.

Elsewhere, Matt‘s excellent British Podcast Awards get a mention. Brexitcast is even honoured with a pic; and is dubbed 'irreverent but analytical' and 'unashamedly geeky'.  It certainly deserved its accolade, and, as I tweeted, is actually some of the very best 'radio'. If 5 Live sounded like that itself more frequently, it would grow its audiences. I think Chris Mason was correct on the Radio Today podcast when he suggested that styles will seep from podcasting to radio, and vice versa. That is good news as Brexitcast’s informality has oodles of the relaxed authenticity which today’s best radio features.

In 2018, podcast downloads for Radio Wales and Radio Cymru combined saw a 50% increase year-on-year.  Radio Current Affairs is mentioned too, albeit sans mention of Mair, for continuing  its daily podcast reporting from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

News

Whilst a general comment, rather than radio-specific, the DG talks of how determined he is ’to explain the news as well as report it. We’re taking more time to explore the context behind the events – the why as well as the what’. I believe the BBC´s efforts in this arena are impressive, and a tribute to the correspondents who have been working in unprecedented circumstances.  The BBC’s research suggests the opposite, however, with the proportion of people who think BBC News and Current Affairs is effective at helping them understand what is happening in the UK/world today dropping from 73% to 70% and those saying it is ineffective rising from 12% to 15%.  Maybe our country is simply becoming more difficult to understand.

I still feel the BBC could be bolder in defending itself and presenting the evidence of its processes, against the tide of hugely ill-informed and often downright nasty comments about 'bias' and its journalists. Indeed, in general terms, I think we should see and hear more from both the DG and Chairman on this and other matters.

Quality

Those who feel BBC radio is decent quality falls from 81 to 75% and distinctiveness falls from 77%-73%. Cited in this section as good examples are The Reith Lectures  BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind and the BBC Loneliness Experiment. The Infinite Monkey Cage is mentioned again this year, marking its 100th episode.

Local News Partnership

The Local News Partnership has ’succeeded beyond all expectations’ with more than 78,000 stories supplied.  The report says the approach is now attracting international attention from other countries keen to replicate its success. I am in Germany at present, and there were questions about it (not that I represent the BBC). I would say that the TV channel I chair makes use of this source. The BBC reminds us that the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Wright, has paid tribute to the scheme’s success and its contribution to local democracy,whilst the Cairncross report on the future of UK media called for it to be extended. Beyond this report, I gather the BBC is keen on a broader local democracy foundation, with funding from such sources as silicon valley.

The World Service

The World Service merits a mention, owing to its landmark year, with the ’biggest expansion in over 70 years’, now operating in 42 languages and growing its audience to 319 million from 279.  Like our Prime Ministers, the BBC seems to get more fair recognition abroad than back home. The BBC would blush on hearing what I witness being said about it when I am overseas.

Local Radio

The DG has a wry dig at commercial radio “As others move away from local radio programming and replace it with shows based in London, we are investing more and creating new shows on our local stations’. He cites the 150 new shows in the evening on BBC local radio ensuring ’local radio stations better reflect the communities they serve’. ’More than 80 of the new evening shows are presented by people new to broadcasting and many of them are now being featured elsewhere on our output’.

As I have written elsewhere, I am sure some great new talent and some excellent output is included in this development, but BBC folk around the country mutter to me about its varying quality. And, as John Myers said, are evenings the right place to start when you are reinvigorating a network.  And as I said, I worry about radio stations with a lack of focus in a competitive world and question whether audiences will find the new offerings.  I suspect someone will also work out the cost benefit too in due course which, whilst rightly not the sole criterion, will be questioned as economies are demanded.  The new programmes help the amount of BBC Local Radio and nations radio hours of output in England (excl. London) rise to 236,870 from 222,946 hours.

In explaining BBC local radio strategy, the report stresses the need to 'champion' all audiences across England, 'particularly underserved audiences. This means we have to transform the BBC’s audience offer as well as helping to grow the creative and economic impact of BBC England. In Local Radio our mission will be not only to provide local news but to reflect and connect with audiences by owning the local conversation. We want to provide opportunities for those new to broadcasting and be a place that seeks to constantly innovate'. Ironically, the very word 'champion' was taken out of the operating licence as it transferred from the Trust to Ofcom. After two years without a clear audience target, I am pleased to hear of one at last. I shall be more reassured when I can ask any member of BBC local staff what their objectives are, and get a really decent answer.

Commercial radio´s changes in Wales are also cited: ’it was a year of significant audience and industry change in Wales with both major commercial broadcasters ending locally-produced breakfast programming. BBC Radio Wales marked its 40th anniversary in November with a major expansion of its FM footprint, but the radio audience landscape continues to be challenging, leading to changes to the Radio Wales breakfast news programme’.

Music, Comedy and Sport

’Our Classical Century’ is highlighted, ’an ambitious year-long season of documentaries and concert broadcasts...joining up all of the BBC’s classical services and performing groups for the first time in one big idea’.

Across on  Radio 1, ’Live Lounge Month in November brought listeners performances from the biggest and newest music acts including The 1975, Mumford and Sons and Jorja Smith, and 1Xtra continued to champion UK artists who get little mainstream media support’. BBC 6 Music featured ’new and alternative music from the UK and beyond and gave significant support to emerging artists. Lauren Laverne at breakfast is singled out and the renewed focus on the amount and range of music played in daytime, with at least 30% of music played in daytime being new.

BBC Introducing continues to provide a weekly platform on BBC Local Radio for the best new musical talent. The BBC does some great work in this area, but I am not sure they have nailed its branding and promulgation. It is worthy of a bigger stage and profile.

In comedy, Dead Ringers is mentioned with its satirical take on the world of politics and Newsjack’s ’topical comedy with sketches and one-liners submitted by the public’.
BBC Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra ’offered a wider range of sports than any other UK broadcaster in the last year’, with  comprehensive coverage of the World Cup in Russia being  complemented by exclusive interviews in the World Cup Daily podcast’ and ’more Premier League matches than any other UK radio broadcaster, Test Match Special covered every England home cricket match and we broadcast live UFC for the first time’. Meanwhile, BBC Local Radio has more than 80 commentary deals with football teams.

Figures

The BBC radio reach figures look a touch lukewarm with every single demographic/social class falling in both reach and time spent listening.  Women fall the most in reach, down from 62 to 59%. Of interest is the reach amongst C2DEs for BBC radio falling from a low 56% to 53%. 55 pluses show the highest reach at 72%.

Hours spent listening amongst 16-24s falls further - down from 4’39 to 4´20, with reach falling from 53% to 51%. This clearly remains a challenge, but I hope the Corporation does not fall into the trap of icing everything with youth appeal. That is not the answer.

The length of time UK adults (16+) spend with BBC Radio each week falls from 10.03 to 09.33.

BBC local radio spends 6m more than last year and its reach falls to 13.1% from 14.3%.

Over the long term from 2013 to now, average time spent listening to BBC radio per week falls from 10.33 to 9.28 per week, commercial radio is marginally up to 8.32, and streaming grows from next to nothing to 2.32. Of course, listening to CDs and the like has declined in that time. Weekly reach of BBC radio goes from 64.2 to 62.4 in the year, with commercial radio staying constant at 65.4. Music streaming jumps to 25%.

The DG is chuffed at audience figures following ’some bold choices’. ’Zoe Ball has hit the ground running as the new Radio 2 breakfast host as part of a refreshed schedule, while there was new record reach for Lauren Laverne in her own new breakfast slot on 6 Music….Jess Gillam, former Young Musician finalist, as its youngest-ever regular presenter’.  As far as the big shows are concerned, it is probably a little early to claim victory, but were I Tone, I’d have mentioned them too.

The overall picture suggests most BBC radio is costing more, with fewer listeners. Prices are rising of course, and the competitive backdrop has become increasingly vigorous. 
Radio cost 504m, up from 480m.

Compliance

Ofcom found the BBC to be in breach of the Broadcasting Code for one Radio 4 matter, where ’the presenter should have been prepared to provide challenge and context to Lord Lawson’s views on climate change’. That’s an impressive compliance record for the entire radio output, and the lone complaint suggests too that Ofcom regulation can bite when it needs.

Technical

The report marks the end of the installation of Vilor, and the introduction of OpenMedia, the new newsroom computer system. I was shocked to hear from other sources of the annual cost of the news predecessor ENPS, and would have been tempted to rollout a replacement before waiting 20 years. Maybe it was a long contract.  I would welcome updates in the report on major IT projects including budgets, actual costs and timescales. I would be interested to see the figures on actual spend on Vilor, including all installation, training and support.

People

The thorny topics of  gender culture and career progression at the BBC are highlighted, and the BBC claims progress. The efforts on-air are to be applauded and Mrs and Mr licence payer are now thankfully more used to hearing and seeing women doing all the things which once appeared puzzlingly to be the province of men.  Outside of the report, the BBC Women group has suggested that the reviews in this area remain painful and slow. If they are anything like my contact with BBC HR or payroll, I can quite understand what they mean.  "Stories featuring strong female leads and dramas from female writers featured throughout the year on TV and radio."

It feels naughty seeing the salaries but we all have a peek, albeit this topic is well covered elsewhere. And whilst genuine fairness is essential, I hope it does not stop the BBC paying more to those with considerably more experience and higher listener profile and value.  It is odd seeing just how few programmes a Today presenter hosts (140), compared to the likes of Scott Mills or Nicky Campbell. With a few anomalies, as probably happens in all our salary lists, the remuneration looks as i would expect and has parallels in the commercial world. (Frankly, I would try out my newer presenters on Saturday mornings for the Today Programme rather than trouble John H, but maybe he likes the Saturday jaunt).

The freelance tax matter is covered too, and a 12m sum has been classified by the NAO as irregular. ‘Whilst we would clearly have preferred not to be in this position, the Board considers that the approach being taken (including the settlement proposal which has led to the provision) is the most fair, and best protects the interests of licence fee payers’.

Five sexual harassment cases are reported, along with 81 bullying and harassment. 52 are closed, 24 ongoing with 10 withdrawn. The Average time to close a case is 108 days.

I would be annoyed this year were I Jeremy Vine.  Again this year, despite his hosting a top-notch popular show each day on Radio 2, doing all the things the BBC should and all the things at which radio truly excels, his only mention is in the salary list. And what of Greg James’s contribution? This is where I start to fear whether the folk at the top actually get good radio.

"Without great people, the BBC is nothing. Our outstanding programmes, services, radio, podcasts and journalism are only possible because of the dedication, skill and knowledge of the people who work with us – whether for a few weeks as a freelancer or for many years." 

The BBC is always lovely at saying these things, and evidently well-intentioned, but my experience and what I know of others' suggests it simply is not sufficiently well-led or organised to make people feel as valued as they should when they work for the world’s greatest broadcaster. There is work to be done.


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Monday, 17 June 2019

Is There a Future for Local Radio?

Ask the question: ‘is local radio a good thing?’, and you’ll get the same answer as you would to the question: ‘are local  corner shops a good idea?’. Albeit from a driver who then promptly screeches off in their 4x4 to Tesco.

Local radio has been around for over 50 years. We’ve grown up with it; and maybe cherish those listening memories just as we recall our first car, home and true love. Is it still a decent idea - and, if it is, how should it be structured and delivered in the most disrupted audio world since radio began? Would fresh thinking pay dividends?

Over the decades, local radio thinking has shifted in line with the Government of the day. It was anticipated that the first local stations in the '60s would be commercial rather than BBC, with BBC local radio arriving later - if at all - judging by the general Corporation apathy at the time.  BBC local stations could have continued to seek additional local funding, as they did at the outset, rather than rely wholly on BBC coffers. Commercial radio could have launched with a national model. Community radio would have arrived in 1985, had the Home Secretary's plans been adopted that year. And in 1977, had the Annan committee recommendations been followed, both commercial and BBC local could have been sucked into a distinct joint authority.

We are where we are for historic reasons. In a time of unprecedented disruption in the audio world, should we think again on local radio?

Every piece of solid qualitative research I’ve ever seen, whether for BBC or commercial radio, suggests that localness is not the key driver for most listeners when choosing their stations. If it were, then national radio would not account for almost two thirds of all listening (W1, 2019 - Rajar, UK). Trumpeting ‘we are from round here’ is not enough to drive reach. Listeners likely know that already - and many still choose not to listen. Attaining significant audiences to local radio in many areas will become an increasing challenge. In general terms, it works less well in the major conurbations - and life is unlikely to get easier.

People do, however, value 'local' when delivered well in proud areas by an entertaining, relevant, interesting broadcaster with whom they connect - on a station which is friendly and cheers them up. Let’s acknowledge too that the art of that local connection takes real effort and demands rare skills from the very best communicators. There are those who have mastered the art on both commercial radio and BBC local radio; and there are many more who have not. Just having high street premises and on-air local liners doesn’t make me switch from Jeremy Vine.

How should a future for local radio shape up?

The BBC wholly funds local stations in some areas but does not trouble with other locations, dependent on maps drawn up by bureaucrats in a monochrome age. As budgets are ever-stretched, should the BBC consider the future of its largest local stations? Indeed, such decisions were entertained in the '80s. Should it launch new stations in smaller communities? Whilst it was refreshing to hear the DG attach value to local radio, the Corporation mood can change quickly when money is tight - and the extant operating licence enshrines few  concrete obligations.

Public monies are being injected into news locally too, via the BBC, in local democracy reporters. When the time comes for review, is that the best use of those funds?

Some areas enjoy proud local commercial stations such as Yorkshire Coast Radio, Rutland Radio or Mansfield 103.2. Such stations which take pride in doing local well are providing a valuable and popular service - but do not benefit from public subsidy.

Broadcast infrastructure is expensive, whether funded publicly or privately. Audiences are finite, and one anticipates the listening appetite for local linear audio content to diminish in time.

Is it time, therefore, for a fresh look at ‘local radio’ provision if it is to thrive in future generations? Are the delineations between BBC, small commercial and community impeding clarity of thought?

National radio provision is better than it has ever been. The BBC and commercial sector are investing in an unprecedented choice of brilliantly-defined brands. If local radio were invented today, how would it be structured against that backdrop in a fast-changing audio world?

Is the BBC able to continue to fund the sort of local stations it currently does? Is the Corporation sufficiently agile to facilitate the best local radio; or are stations distracted by a demanding Auntie. Is the BBC the best home for local radio?

Should small local commercial stations be able to benefit from some public funding, underpinning their efforts and helping long-term survival?

Should community ‘stations’ be distributing content via others' transmitters, rather than having to spend funds on premises and round the clock transmission?

And, in general terms, how does on-demand audio and podcasting fit in? Is this not likely to become the best route for some destination programming aimed at specific local communities?

Imagine, for example, a single tier of local radio - in a large number of areas, fuelled by some licence fee funding, but not part of the BBC, some commercial income and the ability to strike partnerships. The stations might have specific content obligations to champion their areas but also many freedoms to deliver local radio and audio to their communities in a popular context.

If local radio is to flourish in a new age, in whose hands should it be entrusted? How should it be funded to ensure standards remain high? Would a review nurture some interesting thinking?

Related blogs:
To Target or not to target (2019)
Is Big Really Beautiful? A hyper-local future (2018)
What Future for Local Radio? (2017)
Goodbye from BBC Local Radio? (2017)
What About the Old Folk? (2017)
BBC Local - Lessons from History (2015)
Hope for BBC Local Radio (2013)
BBC Local Radio - a personal view (2011)


www.davidlloydradio.com


Coming in late July

Check out Radio Moments

'Broadcasting in the Seventies' vs Broadcasting in the Twenty Twenties

Fifty years ago this week, the report ‘ Broadcasting in The Seventies ’ rolled off the Roneo duplicator, penned  principally by the ...