Monday 21 April 2014

What the hell is an 'earlier accident'?

Cheery travel announcers have once again been treating us this bank holiday with the implications of ‘earlier accidents’.  It’s another radio cliché.  All accidents were earlier.

If what they mean is that the accident is just about cleared away, but I’ll still face some residual delays, then, in fact, I’m still being delayed owing simply to ‘an accident’, aren’t I?  To a motorist, there is little difference between being delayed by an accident whilst the metal is still smouldering; or by a man in a fluorescent jacket sweeping the detritus from the road.    

They do love these extra words, don’t they, these travel announcers.  Roads are ‘closed off’ rather than closed.  And roadworks are always ‘ongoing’. As opposed to what exactly?

Call me thick, if you like, but on a motorway, I often don’t know whether I’m driving North or South, so telling me there’s a delay East-bound is of little value to me.  All I know is where I’m driving to.  Motorway junction numbers are a similar mystery.  I think I know which ones I use regularly, but I couldn’t swear to it. Can you help me in your bulletins please?

Trains often appear too complex for travel announcers.  After a cluster of words about the 'railway network' (what?), they will say ‘check with your travel company'.  Cheers; that's useful.  And when we do get a train mentioned, it’s often one from Crewe.  I’d prefer if you told me if it was the one I get on; given, frankly, I have no idea whether its journey started from Crewe or not.

I heard today of some problems on the arterial routes. The what?  I’ve rarely heard that word mentioned anywhere else.  Apart from on travel bulletins.

"Do allow a little extra time for your journey". As opposed to thinking you may get there quicker owing to the accident?

And, when the snow falls, "don't go out unless you absolutely have to". I often wonder if driving to work qualifies as a necessity or not.

Peter Stewart reminds me of 'stagger your journey'.  As he rightly suggests, doing that is impossible unless each driver liaises with everyone else. 

Oh, and 'busy owing to the sheer volume of traffic'.  That'll just be 'busy' then.

In focus groups, listeners insist that radio has the inside track on travel news.  They
believe that we have information they cannot access.  And, if assembled by someone who knows what they are doing, that’s true. And those great eye-witness reports which radio can call upon are truly unsubstitutable.

I’ve written before about the wonders of passive language, where ‘drivers are advised to...’. Not only is it passive, it’s third person, suggesting you are talking about the listeners rather than to them. How odd.

B road numbers  in town centres are another mystery.  They often exist only in the minds of those purveying the travel news. Names usually make more sense.

Thank goodness for the RDS travel alerts. One of those lovely ideas which must have sounded great on paper.  I have yet to meet anyone who attaches any value to it.   It does, however, offer great sport for BBC locals who like to press the button when you are in Brighton, and alert you to some temporary traffic lights in Evesham. Preferably loudly.  Car manufacturers kindly do allow one to switch this device off and on, or reduce the volume; but they have all clearly reached an international accord to hide such controls away as well as possible.

BBC Local Radio has quietly switched away from dispensing its own travel news to deploying outside contractors.  Many such broadcasters are good on-air, actually, with an enviable command of the road network.   It’s inevitable, however, that they will not know all the crazy pronunciations which pop up in every broadcast area.  As a result, those poor presenters sometimes get them wrong.  And nothing. Yes, nothing, annoys a BBC local radio listener more than a presenter who gets a pronunciation wrong.  In honesty, when the BBC prides itself on being purveyor of all things local, and travel info pops up as frequently as it does, I’m puzzled about how this decision to farm things out was taken without civil unrest.

Like rather too many items on radio, we are routinely informed at the outset who is reading the travel news.  Not quite sure why.  Do any listeners  ever remember the name, unless it belongs to a presenter who pops up on the same shift ever day and injects a little personality, where a case can be made for relationship and trust? That pervasive self-identing on radio  goes back to BBC wartime news, and it’s a habit which has stuck with us.  The War is over.

Radio is now not the only source for travel news, but its influence is still hugely powerful.  Focus groups confirm that.  Radio can not only tell you what’s happening – it understands. 

The best travel news translates clinical information from a variety of reliable sources into the informal 'you' language you’d use if you phoned a friend to warn them of a problem.  It then
keeps you in touch with that dynamic situation whilst you are on the move.  

Radio also reassures.  When you’re in a jam there’s something comforting to know why - and that your plight has been recognised by ‘ the radio’. Giving you a sense of unity.  Making you part of something.  

Half the job on-air is putting your arm around those travellers. 

Old travel bulletin memories, recalled here courtesy Andy Walmsley 

Monday 7 April 2014

Commercial Radio - An A to Z of jobs

"Are you on-air or just behind the scenes?", people ask when they discover you're in radio. When you mumble "behind the scenes'" the conversation then usually reverts from Moyles to Moyes. 

It doesn't sound very interesting, this 'behind the scenes' business, does it? That's why, when the bespectacled Tom Williams from the Student Radio Association Tweeted that I'd be talking at this year's conference about 'jobs behind the scenes in commercial radio', I rather feared no-one would turn up to my humble break-out. How great though to see so many tall Generation Z Digital Natives just buzzing with energy about this hundred year old thing called radio.

I guess the real topic was the spread of vacancies for which we've often sought to recruit great candidates - and sometimes failed. And the importance of commercial awareness in them all. 

Yes, there are presenter opportunities. If you're going to be better than the rest at that, I'd be the first to say 'stick at it'. Britain needs you. But if you're likely only to be average at best, you'll be competing against hundreds of others for very few opportunities.  You'll need luck to get through the door; and even then, the path ahead may not be smooth.  Decent presenters can often be out of work.  And, rather like the confident singers poised in the rain at X-factor auditions, many people who think they are gifted really are not. 

And then there are the other opportunities.  Many, many of them. Exciting jobs in a truly brilliant industry. Creative opportunities, seizing the spirit and energy of this great, great medium.  They're not 'behind the scenes'. Your work will be seen and heard by thousands. If you apply yourself to winning one of these gigs, your chances of success are great.  And, unless you are a truly gifted presenter, they can earn you more money and afford you more security too. 

C. Creative copy-writers. Every commercial station has ads. Great ads are crucial to clients renewing deals; and important to listeners, given they account for up to 25% of the output. Can you write to a brief to sell a product in a memorable, pithy way? That's one job. And bringing those scripts to life through directing the voice-over and mixing the sound elements, that's another.

D. Design. Great radio brands look awesome. Radio stations now have an ever-growing range of areas where visual identity is crucial. There are a multitude of projects for hard visual material and online content. Talented graphic designers with their jeans hanging low (thinking of no-one in particular) are kept very busy. Similarly, although few stations will have full time photographers, there's always a call for someone on site to have that gift (the great dog shot below by our Kirsty Whitaker). If you've got that skill alongside another, make sure it's known. 

I. Imagers.  Listen to the fine production you hear on a great radio station.  Its audio identity, helping to sell the benefits of listening to that station. Sounds and words which influence how you feel about the brand. That's Imaging. If you're a gifted creative writer and you can bring your ideas to audio reality with a brilliant ear for sound, jobs in Imaging are for you. If the power of your scripts is above average, you'll quickly set yourself apart. Even some imagers struggle with the power of the word.

J. Journalists. Think newsrooms are overflowing with people? Think again. If you've the right instinct, training, knowledge and intelligence, together with the ability to 'tell' the news in a voice which does not sound whiney, you can likely walk into a gig. Commercial radio newsrooms are fluid places, with many great candidates moving quickly from commercial radio to Sky or the BBC. Sad to see them go, but understandable that many will wish to move gently to new homes where speech forms a greater proportion of the output. They've now made room for you, if you're up for the challenge.

M. Marketing. In competitive markets, stations do crazy stuff to get noticed. The marketing teams are involved in getting the brand out there. From devising and booking TV campaigns on the largest brands; to organising an appearance or visibility in a local shopping centre. From delivering a breakfast show stunt to organising a Christmas lights switch-on. From getting car stickers in garages to arranging smiling weekend activity in a car dealer. Can you devise concepts? Or simply bloody good at making sure things happen through impeccable event management. As the radio and entertainment landscape grows ever more competitive, Marketing staff are key. 

P. Producers.  Like football coaches, many great producers might have done a bit on-air, but are better at helping others do their best work. To the on-air talent, they are variously a friend, a boss, and a creative genius.  They need to understand the art and science of contemporary breakfast radio and be able to create memorable  moments - daily. They understand story-telling. Producers understand the competitors as they understand their own brand; and live and breathe their markets. They're frighteningly well-organised and hard workers too, with their mind on the job whether 'at work' or not.  And they have turned persuading and influencing into an art-form.  Does that sound like you?

R. Research. I know which TV shows my audience love most; and my commercial teams know what proportion of our listeners are likely to be buying a car soon. Our programming teams know what Gem 106 and Free Radio listeners are listening to when they're not listening to us. If you love facts and figures, radio's a great place to use that passion in a creative environment. 

S. Sales executive. It's not about flogging spots. It's about absorbing a client's marketing objectives and understanding how you can best support them effectively through radio. Great sales execs become a trusted 'consultant'  for the client, and you'll be influencing marketing strategy beyond radio. And earning a healthy slice of the spend. Check the RAB site and get your head around the art and science of how radio persuades like no other medium, it's fascinating stuff. Few good sales execs are out of work.

S & P. Sponsorship & Promotions executive/implementer/commercial programmer.  This is where programming and commercial meet in harmony.  Memorable concepts are devised to the advantage of both the client brand and the station.  Here's a quick example: YourVets were one of our clients.  Did we mount a dull competition to win dog food? No. We delivered the 'doggy wedding', which was exactly as you'd imagine. Fancy getting involved in that stuff? Great with ideas? Good with operational detail? Good with relationships? Can you stand up in front of a client and bring an idea to life? Yes? This job's for you.  

S. Social Media/online is growing daily. Operating a radio brand's social presence, combined with the station's website, is tantamount to running another radio station. A 'live' breathing thing which demands the immediacy and attitude of the brand to which it relates. Can you write with
the right tone of voice? It's a rare skill. Do you get what goes viral and what does not? Can you use social media to promulgate the station brand? You should be demonstrating your prowess already in the tone of your own personal social media before you put your hand up for these gigs. 

T. Traffic/Scheduling There's a reason why the next ad you hear will be in the place it is. Someone had to juggle them round, and it's a complex task. Who are they targeting? When? What else is in the break?  Are we delivering against the order? A quart into a pint pot.  Balancing things which do not balance. The 'air traffic control for radio'. Maybe one for you.

T. Technical. From building flashy new studios to mounting OBs from silly places.  From repairing a fizzing mixing desk from Coke damage to transmission technology or true innovation, it's a job for a broadcast engineer. And if you can both mend things - and explain patiently what you're doing to those who don't understand what on earth you are talking about - all the better. A good ear for mixing is often crucial too, and if the station to which you're applying attaches importance to live music, you'll need to excel at it. It's creative technology: imagineering. IT can be a distinct division: IT people who tolerate the creative talent round them, understand the immediacy of this 24 hour medium, and love to enable rather than prevent are always in demand.  Similarly developers to do the hard work on building and re-building the websites and connecting play-out systems to the outside world. When no-one steps forward for gigs like that, I step back and wonder what UK plc is educating people to do.

V. Video. Yes, I know it's radio, but never before have we needed quite so much video - of an increasingly high quality. For websites and for social media; from filming crazy breakfast antics to  producing a neat little video for a commercial client. If you're up to it, stations need you.

Plus, remember the sensible jobs. Every business needs utterly dedicated accounts staff, cash collection, administrators, HR staff and the like.  And, when you're doing one of those crucial jobs, but within a radio environment, it's got to be more fun than in a widget factory.  Yes, you can both be in radio, and keep your parents happy. 

By the time I get back to base today, I'll have some more presenter auditions in my inbox and a flurry of poorly-written and vague work experience requests.  I'll likely hear from no-one with genuine proven interest in many of the above.  And nor will fellow department heads.  

Give the 'other jobs' some thought. You could find your skill set makes you just brilliant at one of them, You'll likely get through the door sooner, and if you're good, that full time job offer will swiftly follow. On smaller stations, a number of the above skills are useful armoury; and increasingly, agile, fresh minds mean that new posts are being created which absorb some of the above -  and new skills.  

And if you do have any real on-air performing talent after all, you'll be in the right place.  

Grab my book 'How to Make Great Radio'. Published by Biteback. 

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