Thursday, 27 July 2017

The Legacy of Frank Gillard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you win, toast Frank at your table.

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

Who's Listening and How?

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

They are pretty good at acronyms too. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Rajar


MIDAS study is here.

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


Friday, 21 July 2017

BBC Annual Report 2016/2017 (Radio) - Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The BBC aligns itself to its five purposes. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Radio - the report's dedicated section on radio

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

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

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

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

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

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


Figures

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

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


News in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Money

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


Conclusion

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

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

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

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


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









Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BBC Salaries - An Own Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Monday, 10 July 2017

The Importance of Being Likeable


How annoying is it when someone pops up and asks a devastatingly brilliant simple question which cuts to the heart of the carefully-assembled presentation you've just delivered. Damn you.

Last week, amidst some lively BBC coaching work, the suave Gareth Roberts picked up on something I'd mumbled about presenters needing to be 'likeable'. I'd hijacked a quote from a session at the Radio Days conference, where the German author Sebastian Fitzek had spoken about characters in novels. Seb insisted that if you make them 'likeable', they can get away with blue murder. 

Gareth volunteered the question: "How do you make yourself likeable? Or unlikeable?".

Reflecting firstly on the author's canny assumption, their words do seem to apply to radio talent. Likeability is key. Sam behaves intolerably to Amy on the Gem 106 breakfast show, but carries it off. Chris Moyles moaned on-air about all sorts, and the Nation loved him.

Even Radio 4's grumpy John Humphrys is hugely likeable. Nick Ferrari utters damning words about all manner of things on LBC , but yet there is a twinkling likeability in his mischievous eyes. The perfect Jane Garvey can take a subtle pot-shot at something in the most delicious way. 

You can shake your head at some talented presenters' mutterings, but they get away with it. One half of a breakfast show duo might express ridiculous views, but they are still loved because they are established as being flawed, and have been seen to fail.  The errant brother you still love unconditionally.   In film, Hugh Grant portrays bumbling yet hugely likeable characters.

"People invite you into their lives, their cars, their offices every day - and you are part of their life....radio stations employ you because people like you and you have that likeability". (Neil Fox - Radiomoments Conversations) 

By contrast, I heard a decent hour on one music/talk mix format station the other day, but I just could not bring myself to like the presenter. Despite acres of chat, I didn't feel I grew to know him. There was something about him which didn't chime. Although I'm supposed to know about these things, I cannot explain why I didn't like him. It was likely grossly unfair to the poor bloke who probably helps old ladies across the road, dotes on his kids and incurs a hefty Justgiving bill. But listeners don't know the whys and wherefores either - they just know whether they take to someone. 

It's the same in real life. Why are your friends your friends - and not the person next door?  Thankfully, folk more qualified than me I have given some thought to this more general question in life, and the conclusions seem to have relevance to our world.

Likeable people, they say, are generous in conversation, confident yet self-deprecating, and sometimes vulnerable. They are honest, authentic and consistent. They listen. They make a great first impression. They make mistakes and admit when they're wrong. They encourage others. They're optimistic, but not unrealistic - and they can laugh at themselves. They can have a tough conversation. They don't take credit for other’s success - and give you their undivided attention. They remember your name and live for themselves rather than to please others. They don't try too hard. They smile. (Traits of Likeable People - Andrew Thomas, and other bits I made up).

I guess they are the friend you'd always want on a night out, but also the one you can open up to tearfully in Starbucks. The one who always makes you smile but also will rise at 3 a.m. to run you to the airport. They are there for you. It's not about being 'nice'. That's vanilla. It's about being likeable. On balance, they feel good to be with - which is why you choose to spend chunks of your life with them.

Sometimes people change. They mix with new people, get new jobs, behave differently. Not so likeable as they used to be. Just as some star names sometimes forget who they were, and start to leave an audience behind.

That odd blend of confidence and vulnerability is key. Who confesses their inner worries to Mrs. perfect?  And, as Brene says below, "what makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful".






Download or oder my book 'How to Make Great Radio' now! 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Farewell, Paul Hollingdale

Just about everyone knows the name of the first presenter on Radio 1 in 1967 - and the station's first song.  Fewer would know that 'The Sound of Music' was the glorious opening tune on Radio 2 - and its first presenter was Paul Hollingdale.

Just shy of the station's 50th anniversary, news has reached us that Paul has died, aged 79.

Like many of his generation, his confident, capable tones were first heard on Forces radio at what was then the British Forces Network, whilst serving in Germany in the late 50s, fronting Two Way Family Favourites in 1959 from Cologne. 

Paul hosted at Radio Luxembourg for a spell in 1960 and 1961, with the 'Six O'Clock Record Show', sponsored by Philips and 'The Big O Show'. He was to be an early pirate, working on-air and as Programme Director of CNBC ("The Commercial Neutral Broadcasting Company'), an English language service from the Dutch Radio Veronica ship, funded by three brothers who'd made their fortune selling stockings. 

The BBC beckoned - and his voice was heard on the Light Programme, with such programmes as 'Swingalong', 'Nord-Ring' ("Your popular music passport to Northern Europe"!), 'Swing into Summer', 'Teenagers' Turn', 'This Must be the Place' - and 'Breakfast Special', the programme which was eventually to straddle the Light and its new Radio 2 identity from Saturday September  30th 1967: "Paul Hollingdale with resident bands and singers of the week discs news, weather, and traffic reports".


At 5.30 a.m, on that day, some ninety minutes before Arnold barked, the Sonovox sang, and Radio 1 debuted, Paul delivered the first news bulletin 'on Radio One and Two' and began Two's first programme, so in a sense, his voice was the first on both networks.

After the initial announcements, Paul slid what was to be one of the year's biggest LPs onto the turntable. Julie Andrews sang - and the show got underway. It was unusual in the era at the BBC for the presenters to spin their own discs, but this was the start of a revolution.  His inaugural show included some more light favourites, and thoroughly mainstream 1967 hits, spiced with news and weather forecasts from High Holborn.  

Thus began Radio 2, also warming up the transmitters for the imminent Radio 1 - and for Leslie Crowther later on Radio 2 - albeit both services remained as conjoined twins that day and for some years, sharing chunks of the week's programming.

As was common in the time, hosting Breakfast Special was split between presenters, with such names as John Dunn and Ray Moore sharing the spoils with Paul, and presenting the news when not on disc-spinning duty.

Paul moved from Radio 2 in January 1970, onto a spell with what was then BBC Radio Brighton, a forward-looking BBC local.  

Six years later, his voice was to launch a station once more - Reading's Radio 210, alongside a typically grumpy Arthur Lowe, in character, and Richard and Karen Carpenter. Paul was also part of the station's launch management team.

He went on to help establish the famous Blue Danube Radio in his beloved Vienna in August 1979 - and, in later decades, was to be heard for four years on LBC;  and Chiltern; London's short-lived AM country station, Country 1035; and, most recently, his Vienna International Radio project.

Paul Hollingdale 1938-2017

(More about Paul on Andy Walmsley's excellent blog)




Tuesday, 4 July 2017

BBC - Interim Annual Plan - Summary and Comment

It surfaced a day later than Ofcom suggested it might, and Wales is still on tenterhooks, but the BBC annual plan, has arrived today. 

Whilst it may not sound like great holiday reading, the missive emerges at a critical time. The BBC has a funky new Board that sets its strategy, runs its operations and is responsible for its output - and, for the first time, the Corporation will be regulated to a much greater extent by Ofcom. The BBC is set to "reinvent itself for a new generation". 

We have seen Ofcom's first stab at a BBC Operating licence, consultation for which is still underway and about which I have concerns. This document from the BBC itself sets out how it might deliver on those draft requirements from Ofcom - and on the BBC Charter.

• It seeks to outline the BBC’s creative plans that show how the BBC’s output contributes to its mission and public purposes.
• It strives to demonstrate how BBC services contribute to distinctiveness, through the conditions in Ofcom’s draft Operating Licence  - and adds 'additional BBC commitments'
• It describes a performance framework that the Board will use to judge BBC delivery.
• It seeks to set out the BBC’s three-year strategy, work plan and top-line budget.
• It also outlines changes proposed to public or commercial services that might be potentially material and how the BBC will be governed. 

My conclusion

My view is that the general direction of travel in this report is sensible, and it recognises how people are consuming, particularly news, in increasingly different ways. It addresses digital head on and incorporates it strategically.  It indicates wisely a keen focus on younger audiences which are crucial for the future of the medium as a whole - and it's right the BBC should do its bit in that territory.

I worry that the radio overall, however, which is not particularly well-defined by the draft Ofcom rules is still not clearly defined. Are the elements that listeners really care about protected?  Is the BBC really being charged with, inter alia, delivering radio content that the commercial sector cannot provide?

The BBC has suggested 'additional commitments' beyond what is required by Ofcom.  Whilst that may lend for a pithy line in a speech, I'd invite scrutiny of the 'additional' pledges for radio. Overwhelmingly, the BBC simply dreams up illustrative examples of how it would meet the Ofcom requirements. Rarely more. Let's remember too that the Ofcom requirements were, in the most part, already diluted down from what the Trust had required in the ancien regime.

I worry most about BBC local radio. The Ofcom licence offers very little by way of safeguarding the real character of this huge network.  I had hoped to be reassured by additional pledges from the BBC, but my forehead is furrowed.  Much programme sharing may be permitted, news bulletins may be 'at intervals' rather than hourly, if desired, and the stations have no further need to champion their local areas. 

Crucially, the 'over-50' target audience demand for BBC local radio has gone.  No BBC service is charged with serving the over-50s specifically, despite the generation being the most loyal radio listeners. 

“Our refreshed strategy for BBC local services in England will prioritise improving our digital proposition”. I wonder if that's what my dad wants.  


Remember, the Trust triggered a reversal of decisions on 6 Music and BBC local radio last time. Will Ofcom prove an easier regulatory bed-fellow?

Once again, just as Frank Gillard struggled in the sixties to get the BBC locals on the air, the network remains unloved and misunderstood -  by decision-makers based in areas which are not the heartland of these potentially wonderful animals.  

If the BBC is claiming to reach out geographically and demographically to diverse communities, as its Chairman claims and its Charter demands, why does it not pledge to keep all its local stations originating much dedicated local output and playing a full role in their areas, providing companionship for 50 plusses? I understand the need for a more efficient, cheaper operation, but just ask any decent member of staff - they will help you identify the cost savings you need .

Detailed Analysis

The BBC's Chairman, the respected David Clementi, opens this report with his key themes. He notes people are now playing hide and seek for their news; and there is a general commitment to offer a safe trusted place for children to find content.  He speaks of strengthening the profile of trusted, impartial news vs the threat of fake news; and highlights the importance of reflecting the UK's different cultures and voices. Finally, he refers to  the range and breadth of programming whilst allowing space for  creative freedom and risk taking. The last point maybe says to Ofcom, 'don't stick your nose in too much'. It's a solid start.

DG Tony Hall says the BBC's aim is to "reinvent itself for a new generation". This is to be achieved by reaching the right numbers of people, delivering good value and being creative. It'll be underpinned by financial stability and making the BBC a great place to work. Yes - keeping the BBC looking forward is important.

He outlines a dozen BBC priorities, including young audiences; growing the World Service; reflecting diversity; and growing and developing audio. There is welcome mention of some radio jewels in the effusive account of things to be proud of,  but no specific mention in dispatches of Radio 2 or BBC local radio. 

Addressing the BBC's four purposes:

1.News 

There is an acknowledgement that consumption is slipping from TV and radio and a wish that news should "sound and look more modern than it currently does". There's a pledge too to monitor how young audiences are using BBC news in its various incarnations.  They are correct, radio's role - certainly for under-55s - is fast-changing.

File on 4, post-election and Brexit Radio 4 programming and ‘ad hoc commissions’ merit special mention and (the brilliant) 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy.  


2. Children and learning

Radio does not feature under the 'Children's purpose'.  With 'learning', radio on-air also appears not to be a crucial element of the BBC's pledge to “transform” “our mission in education” - only Radio 1's Academy in Hull is specifically highlighted. 

3. Creative & Distinctive 

Natural history issues and storytelling is highlighted, with a pledge that Radio 4 will continue to explore natural history and conservation. 'Tweet of the Day', the inspiring ‘Dawn Chorus’ and 'Natural Histories' are also cited.  In science, we learn that Radio 4 will play a key part in the 'Tomorrow’s World' season and 5live will contribute to topical science news and analysis with 'Naked Scientists'. Radio 4 promises new programmes covering histories of China, the Cold War, the Middle East and the End of Empire, and a range of Reith Lectures.

In religion, the report states that "Radio 4 is a key service for religious programming" with "space to reflect" and grappling with ethical implications, alongside regular programming such as 'Thought for the Day', 'The Daily Service' and 'Daily Prayer' on Radio 4; Sunday mornings on Radio 2; and 'Choral Evensong' on Radio 3.  BBC local radio’s regular faith programming on each one of its stations fails to merit a mention.

In arts, Radio 4’s 'Front Row' (not my favourite programme - mind you, I hated 'Kaleidoscope' too) is mentioned; "a regular weekly offer on Radio 2" (Ken Bruce recreates his favourite Archers moments?); and Culture UK  "will dominate the Arts agenda" with related content on BBC Four, Radio 3 and Radio 4. Hull, as City of Culture, is mentioned yet again – and the desire to reflect the City nationally and internationally, but no mention of poor old BBC Radio Humberside. 

It’s reported that Radio 4 will showcase a range of landmark seasons crossing music, popular arts and art and politics - and Saturday Review will be replaced with a weekend edition of...'Front Row'. Oh no.  Radio 3 will continue to provide stimulus for deeper thought and contemplation with 'Free Thinking'; and there’s mention of that fab ‘new’ phenomenon of ‘slow radio’, which Auntie does brilliantly.

In Contemporary factual and documentaries, there’s an assurance for the future of 'Gardeners’ Question Time' (b. 1947), 'You and Yours' (b. 1970), 'Moneybox' (b. 1977) and 'Woman’s Hour' (b. 1946).

In drama, witness a pledge to showcase a range “which demonstrates the ambition of the BBC, focusing on largescale series and serials that create impact”. The brilliant Home Front is commended. Radio 3 plans 30-minute plays from emerging Russian writers and a special Joe Orton season

In comedy, the report recognizes how TV steals radio’s ideas. You’re welcome. We like that. 'Just a Minute' is mentioned, 'Mark Steel’s in Town', alongside the new offerings  some of which I really don’t get – but hey, comedy divides.  The New Comedy Awards will continue in 2017.

In sport, it’s asserted that radio 5live and 5live sports extra offer a wider range of sports than any other UK broadcaster: “We will also provide live radio commentaries of 144 Premier League matches this season, more than any other radio broadcaster in the UK, part of BBC Radio 5live’s unparalleled commitment to the nation’s favourite sport”.    

There’s a pledge to continue to explore ways to broaden the range of sports coverage broadcast on 5live sports extra including a range of podcast content. So, not on your actual 5Live.

Music. The range across the BBC is highlighted, “from classical performance and full-length opera on Radio 3 to urban freestyle on 1Xtra or Glastonbury coverage across TV, radio and online”; and the role in supporting new or unsigned UK artists through platforms such as BBC Introducing or Radio 1.

“Our strategic focus in music will be on refreshing music radio and supporting Radio 1"

”Radio 1 is the home of new music on the BBC for young audiences. In 2017/18, it will continue to be a focal point for live music and exclusive coverage of live events”

As for Radio 1’s 50th birthday. It’ll be special. “September 2017 will also mark the 50th birthday of Radio 1, and the station will mark this moment with special output”. You’re doing a special offshoot service, by the way.

In 2017, “Radio 1 will launch a new Brit List initiative to provide long-term support for emerging British artists. This year, 1Xtra will celebrate its 15th birthday with special 1Xtra Live, Carnivals coverage...and another season from Jamaica”

BBC Asian Network will "continue its strategy of refocusing on a younger audience and developing its role as a source of new talent".

Radio 2 will “continue to bring specialist music to mainstream audiences with a mix of jazz, country, blues and folk programming and events...the showcase for Glastonbury...another Hyde Park event, and...another season of In Concert".

Radio 2 will “try harder to reach younger and more diverse audiences”.  Again, a desire for the BBC to focus younger even on Radio 2. “It will build on the new Saturday night Soul Zone with a Black History month".

“It will continue the use of overnight genre playlists which have replaced scheduled presenter-led programming“. Yes, be assured that this odd approach remains as odd as it was.  I’m sorry, Radio 2 should be a live human being overnight - the right live human being.  And don’t say it’s about cost savings – it needn’t cost a lot.

6 Music will "continue to provide the soundtrack to the lives of specialist and alternative music fans. The station remains a champion of alternative and independent music… The station will continue to grow its reputation as a significant tastemaker...and add important context to important moments in music".

Radio 3 “continues to provide a comprehensive range of Classical music programming with definitive seasons to accompany landmark moments" and “context to wider BBC TV seasons on opera”

Of note, “Online, we will progress with our plans to offer greater personalisation within iPlayer Radio as part of wider plans to offer an audio product that can meet changing audience expectations. Over time this could include a richer digital music offer, which would be subject to a materiality assessment.” Watch this space.

4. Reflecting UK’s diverse communities.

The challenge is recognised. "it is not straightforward to represent or portray every aspect of British life across all of our services. However, the BBC has a major role to play here. An important step has been the creation of a single Nations and Regions division inside the BBC, with the appointment of a new Director".

In diversity amongst its own staffing, the BBC seems to be making real progress with achieving its targets, and it’s exceeded its LGBT goal!  By 2020, it seeks further progress on-air and in lead roles.

There'll be "increased investment in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland across the next three years which will deliver output across a wide range of genres. We are committed to telling the story of the whole of the UK and our refreshed strategy will help us achieve that ambition".

In Scotland, only Breaking the News on Radio Scotland merits specific mention. The BBC pledges more funding in Wales - and Radio Wales will benefit from seeing its FM signal boosted, making it available to an additional 175,000 households. Radio Cymru will offer a new breakfast show on DAB and digital platforms. “On radio, Tudur Owen remains central to the comedy output on Radio Cymru“.

In Northern Ireland, “new digital content for younger audiences and new digital investment in radio” is promised.  On Radio Ulster, comedy will be reflected in a new series, and new talent showcased on Radio Ulster and digital. The importance of news is also recognized: “BBC Newsline, Radio Ulster and Radio Foyle and BBC News NI Online are all key outlets”

It’s good to see something substantive written about BBC local radio, albeit we are now at page 31; and there appears an odd lack of role for BBC local radio for all the other BBC purposes.

“Our refreshed strategy for BBC local services in England will prioritise improving our digital proposition”.  The report refers to “shifting resource to digital specialist teams, and produce stories in formats that are attractive and engaging on both BBC and social media platforms. To make our content more available when they want it, we will develop an improved local digital news service aimed at weekday breakfast commuters to complement the current news bulletin coverage on TV and radio”. 

“We will also pilot a local news bulletin service for the new generation of voice-activated platforms"

“As more listeners begin to use digital platforms for local information, there is an opportunity for us to develop new and engaging radio formats and programmes that bind communities together. Our local radio faith teams will continue to work together on campaigns".

"In a partnership with Radio 2, we intend to examine the role of neighbours in building communities."

"Each local radio station will partner with at least one local music festival as part of a BBC Music project to showcase the range of music festivals across the UK."

"A new radio format to follow the work of the mayoral regions will also be tested. These local politics programmes will also draw on the journalism provided by the 150 local democracy reporters funded by the licence fee but employed by other local news organisations as part of our local partnership work."

5. Reflect the UK to the World. 

With the World Service now fully in the BBC tent, it is hailed as “the UK’s most important cultural exports. It inspires and illuminates the lives of millions around the world, helping them make sense of the world they live in”. The impressive growth in language services, announced a few months ago, is hailed as the biggest single expansion since the 1940s; and the array of specific programmes flagged is impressive.


Performance measurement 

The BBC heralds “a new way of looking at the performance of the BBC and will require new surveys and updated methodologies”.  It’s right they should be investigating new methodologies, and sensible to evaluate by the strategic objectives, but  I imagine almost everything is covered off somewhere in the BBC’s compendium of online, radio and TV services, and it is challenging to hold it to account through  such reviews. There'll always be a cunning alibi. The average listener or viewer, however, cannot sample all that the BBC broadcasts. Radio listeners, particularly to BBC services, are notoriously loyal, they only care about their own selected services. Such scrutiny will come as little comfort to the 31% of BBC local listeners who consume no other BBC radio.

Contribution to distinctiveness

The BBC says it will respond shortly (Only a couple of weeks to do it!) to Ofcom’s consultation on the draft Operating Licence and expects to propose a ”small number of changes to avoid negative impacts, clarify differences in definition, capture most up-to-date performance, and reflect achievability over the long term”.  

Ofcom, of course, has to balance any BBC pleas against any other feedback it has received from we treasure-hunters who managed successfully to track down the consultation on the Ofcom site. “We think that regulatory conditions should be used only where absolutely necessary and that they should not unduly restrict creative freedom or the Board’s ability to set the BBC’s strategy”.  It argues that they want to be creative and not sitting around ticking boxes. I get that. 

The Ofcom proposals for the draft operating licence are explored. This part of the document puzzles me.

The BBC volunteers how it will implement the conditions of the Ofcom licence and, in a dedicated proud column, suggests how it might generously add to them. One imagines the BBC hopes that, by volunteering extra commitments themselves, they will avoid extra regulation and reserve more freedom to change their mind, as they wish.

Let's examine some of those 'additional pledges':

The BBC proudly trumpets an additional commitment: “Radio 1 will play a more distinctive mix of music than comparable providers, with a daytime playlist that features a greater range of songs”.  I am unsure how that is an additional pledge beyond Ofcom’s requirement for "a broader range of music (number of plays and size of playlist) than comparable providers during peak and daytime". It sounds even less of a promise!

“Radio 1 will support the discovery and development of new and emerging UK artists, including through BBC Introducing and new initiatives such as The Brit List”. I am not sure why this is incremental to Ofcom’s requirement for at least 50% of the music in Daytime is New Music, of which a significant proportion must come from new and emerging UK artists".

“Radio 1 will continue its year-long campaign focused on mental health issues. The Radio 1 Teen Awards will celebrate the achievements of some of the UK’s most inspiring young people. There will be coverage from a diverse mix of live events" There is here a nod to social action which Ofcom does not require - although the Trust did demand two social action campaigns. So, it's still less than they had to do before.

"Radio 1 will maintain an editorial focus on its key audience of listeners aged 15-29".  That’s not hugely different from Ofcom’s demand for "a broad range of young listeners". Is a focus the same as a ‘target audience’?

"1 Xtra has commissioned a special selection of documentaries for its 15th birthday". Yo! Happy birthday. But, actually, that’s not an extra commitment - the Ofcom draft licence dictates 40 documentaries.

"1Xtra will continue its commitment to supporting UK artists in daytime", volunteers the BBC. Phew. As opposed to what exactly?  Just playing Gordon Lightfoot?

"1Xtra will continue its commitment to new music in daytime, retaining its position as the home of new urban music". Ofcom asked for “A service of contemporary black music, with a focus on new and live music, alongside significant speech output for young audiences”. Is the BBC's pledge really going above and beyond? 

"1Xtra will focus editorially on young and BAME audiences". See above.

"Radio 2 will play a more distinctive mix of music than comparable providers, with a daytime playlist which features a greater range of songs". Ofcom dictated: “the station plays a broader range of music than comparable providers, taking into account both the number of plays and the size of the playlist, at both Peak Listening Time and Daytime”.  I’m not sure the BBC has offered anything further here.

"Radio 2 will broadcast an broad mix of genres and programming, including the Arts Show, 500 Words as well as specialist music output from jazz, folk, blues and soul to the popular Sounds of the 80s on the Red Button".  This does offer a specific commitment to jazz, folk and blues which is absent specifically from Ofcom's demands,  but Ofcom did require a broad range of popular and specialist music and speech output including news, current affairs and factual programming – and arts programming “not less than 100 hours.

"Radio 2 will act as a showcase for new and heritage UK artists as well as BBC Introducing artists". Is this anything more than Ofcom asked: In each Year at least 40% of the music in Daytime is from United Kingdom acts; and at least 20% of the music in Daytime is New Music, of which a significant proportion must come from new and emerging United Kingdom artists”.  the Trust, however, required "opportunities for new and emerging musicians from the local area" for local radio.

Radio 2 should be “a champion of new and heritage artists, with a variety of live events coverage... It will stage a special concert from Hull as part of the City of Culture celebrations. It will introduce more live music into daytime with the Piano Room as part of the Ken Bruce Show.”  Well, that helps to meet the Ofcom requirement for In each Year it broadcasts at least 260 hours of live music”

"Radio 2 will maintain its editorial focus on listeners aged over 35".  Earlier on, there was a suggestion that Radio 2 would “try harder to reach younger audiences”.  One imagines that this is about target versus delivery – Radio 2’s audience is still older than its ambition. But, the BBC volunteers, at least, a  stated focus – not that anyone would seek to programme this station to anyone else.

Radio 3 will "maintain its role in unique and challenging drama – the only place on UK radio where audiences can consume full length stage plays of over 2 hours’ duration".  That’s more than Ofcom required specifically, but less onerous that the Trust’s service licence which stipulated the amount of drama required.

"Radio 3 will continue to promote new talent". Well, if it has to spend 40% of its budget outside the M25, as is required, it’s got to spend it on something.

"Definitive seasons to accompany landmark moments...pioneering new approaches to live classical music".  That’s good news – and will meet the Ofcom requirement for “at least 45% of the station’s music output consists of live or specially recorded music; at least 440 live or specially recorded performances; it commissions at least 25 new musical works (excluding repeats); and it broadcasts at least 35 new documentaries on arts and cultural topics (excluding repeats)".

Radio 4 "will sustain its commitment to drama and comedy, and will look to innovate in format and focus with new digital drama ...it will celebrate milestones such as 50 years of Just a Minute" (as opposed to just snubbing Nicholas in the BBC lift?). So - drama and comedy is pledged as an extra commitment.  Is that a different drama and comedy from the  “drama, readings and comedy” already required by Ofcom?

Radio 4 Extra will "continue its commitment to drama and comedy as well as archive. It will evolve its drama and comedy offer with a focus on younger and changing audiences".  this additional commitment sounds remarkably similar to Ofcom's demand for "a speech-based service offering comedy, drama and readings, mainly from the BBC archive”.

5 Live and Sports Extra will "broadcast a broader range of sport than any comparable service, including a huge variety of sport in 2018...to regular season coverage of mainstream and specialist sports".  Again, Ofcom required "at least 30 sports’ so is this something new?

"5live will showcase a range of seasons on news and current affairs, such as Brexit – One Year On, Trump – The First 6 Months".  But Ofcom requires anyway that "news and current affairs programming is not less than 75%; and...extensive coverage of local and general elections, and of elections to the United Kingdom’s devolved chambers, as well as regular coverage of European and international politics".

"5live will continue to be a showcase for voices from across the UK through daily debate and regular outside broadcasts..." This is a fresh commitment to OBs, although the commitment to daily debate is probably essential if you are required by Ofcom to deliver ‘24-hour coverage of news and sport’

Similarly: "It will have regular seasons across the schedule on issues such as mental health and cyber security. It will continue to innovate in its content mix". There is a new commitment to social action here.

5live and Sports Extra will "continue to review their schedules, talent and on-air contributors to reflect the diversity of the UK", says the BBC. Good - but Clause 14.1 of the Charter demands more: “The BBC must ensure it reflects the diverse communities of the whole of the United Kingdom in the content of its output, the means by which its output and services are delivered (including where its activities are carried out and by whom) and in the organisation and management of the BBC".

The BBC says 6 Music will "continue to provide a mix of specialist music programmes and documentaries, including a season on Gay Britannia". Ofcom required:  "speech output which provides context for that (outside the mainstream) music".

"6 Music remains committed to championing new and alternative music", states the BBC. Ofcom required  “A service of popular music outside the current mainstream, together with speech output which provides context for that music”.

"Asian Network remains committed to a balance of speech and music across daytime that reflects and represents the views and interests of its audience". Ofcom demanded “24 hours a week of news and current affairs “.

"Asian Network will continue to act as a showcase for the British Asian sound and a platform for the best new music and artists", says the BBC. Yes, Ofcom wanted that: "the BBC Asian Network: a service bringing a wide range of news, music and factual programming to audiences of British Asians".

"Asian Network will be a key platform for creative talent and events, from new comedy voices to landmark events. The station will evolve to remain relevant and engaged with a younger British Asian audience with blend of new talent, new UK and South Asian music".

BBC Local radio will "continue to offer a broad mix of content genres relevant to local audiences across speech and music, including BBC Introducing". Woah! If “a broad mix of content genres’ is an extra commitment, it’s not going to be challenging to meet!  

'BBC Introducing' is a new commitment, albeit one which replicates the requirement for "encouraging local new and emerging musicians" which existed in the Trust service licence. 

"Local radio will enter into more partnerships to promote local arts and events, and each station will partner with at least one local music festival as part of a BBC Music project". This is a new commitment , yet would have been the sort of activity which would have been regarded as 'championing' a local area' by the erstwhile Trust licence.  It's not what drives the audience.

"An impact fund will finance investigative journalism at local stations and allow stations to join up on editorial projects to create more audience impact". To my knowledge, this is cementing something which has already existed, to good effect.  It helps to meet the Ofcom requirement that BBC must ensure that service provides news and information of particular relevance to the area and communities it serves at intervals throughout the day; and it provides other content of particular relevance to the area and communities it serves. 

There is no commitment from the BBC to volunteer anything further for BBC local radio than the Ofcom requirement for bulletins ‘at intervals’ through the day. That's worrying.

Output will also draw on "original journalism provided by 150 local democracy reporters recruited by local news providers in partnership with the BBC". This measure has already been announced.  Whilst there is value in the scheme, the journalists will serve other outlets. And where is the journalism going to live on-air, if bulletins are only broadcast when someone can be bothered?

Local radio will "continue to reach audiences with locally relevant content across the whole of England". This is no more than Ofcom's shallow requirement that "the BBC must ensure that service provides news and information of particular relevance to the area and communities it serves at intervals throughout the day; and it provides other content of particular relevance to the area and communities it serves."

Having read this, I have serious worries specifically about the future of BBC local radio.  Neither Ofcom nor the BBC is pledging to retain a comprehensive service of local news, nor extensive locally tailored output.  They have researched BBC local radio fully - they know what the audience values - and that is safeguarded neither by Ofcom or the BBC. My impression is that stations may be merged, if desired, and programmes shared with considerable ease, which will erode their character. My concerns remain as expressed here.

Ofcom's 'distinctiveness research (March 2017) praised all of BBC radio "suggesting no significant changes to improve distinctiveness".  The only note of caution was "a few participants suggested that BBC Radio could be more distinctive by showcasing even more non-mainstream music, or by more coverage to local issues and music".  More coverage of local issues? Where's that in the plans? 


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Radio - and the Smart Speaker

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