When a non-radio person gallops up wide-eyed and says: “Have you heard Radio 1 this morning? I just wanted to carry on listening but I had to go to work”, you know the station has nailed it.
Radio 1's #Hideandseek is back - and the game is on.
‘There is a crack team of seekers back at Radio 1 HQ who you can contact with any leads by texting 81199 or tweeting @BBCR1 using #HideandSeek. If you’re onto something, they will be in touch’
Greg James started his show this morning in suspicious mood - and promised his audience: "We’ll all find out" what’s happening. He confessed it may be a "mess of a broadcast - and that’s fine every now and again".
What is the difference between this and the radio stunts of yesteryear? And why did it capture the UK last year, when Greg and Grimmers were found in Liverpool after over 22 hours in hiding – and why is it doing the same again?
If authenticity is the key word in today’s radio, this activity has it in spades. No flashing lights. No huge idents in booming voices. Just some mates having genuine fun together and letting you get involved. Seemingly rough around the edges, but delivered with huge skill.
The presenters play themselves, and the listener believes that. Whilst we in the world of radio understand that things always need a little planning to sound unplanned – one gets the feeling that presenters were genuinely only told the absolute essentials. We used to do this with contesting, wherever possible, and the results shine through on-air. Radio exposes fake so easily.
There is rivalry and jeopardy - the hiders and the seekers. And given the honest innocence of the seekers, they can speak freely on-air about their suspicions and, just like your maths teacher used to instruct: 'show your workings out'.
“Last time…we didn’t know it was going to be any good. We didn’t know if we’d enjoy it - or if anyone would care. It felt proper lawless and felt naughty” (Grimmy)
Radio 1 presenters take Hide and Seek seriously. But they also take the piss.
It is effortlessly across the station. There is a role for everyone - and everyone is involved. And they all seem to get on, creating a party you don’t want to leave. That's true stationality.
The plot grows naturally – and the listener excitement grows at the same pace. Not hyper to start with - like the noisy table in the restaurant you really don’t want to be part of - but a conversation in which you cannot help becoming engaged.
It’s simple and easy to join. Who doesn’t know what Hide and Seek is. And the re-setting through the breakfast show with Scott – and later through the day with everyone - is flawless. The activity ebbs and flows - across the schedule; its presence at just the right level. There's no need to trouble with all the 'join us tomorrow' teasing - listeners will instinctively not want to miss anything.
It’s about the audience as much as about Radio 1. This is inclusive - and the listeners have true equity in the journey - at whatever level they choose. ‘We need your help…please send all sightings, suspicions and theories to Radio1 HQ’ (Scott). Listeners Anna and Carlene were confident that they’d seen Greg in Bishop Stortford.
It uses social media perfectly. Helping listeners to get on-board; and to follow the thread to catch up when they've had other things to do in life. And wherever you look online it’s across all the visual presences - with an enviable attention to detail. But for the real spirit, you have to turn on the radio.
It’s feelgood. And radio is all about mood. It’s why listeners turn us on. And we need that more than ever just now.
And, of course, this has benefited from immaculate operational production; and the health and safely folk have also been creeping sensibly all over it. On-air, however, the precautions are delivered by your caring elder bro not your mum: “we’re not in hospitals, a fire station, police station… we are somewhere safe…not in a collapsing building or scrap yard".
But most of all, this activity features presenters listeners like - and care about. Radio 1’s current line-up have developed impressive audience chemistry – so their listeners care about what their mates are up to. Without that – this would fail. Eager breakfast crews on stations across the UK often try to pull off thoroughly praiseworthy feats, but so do people across the World each day who are not on the radio. Sadly, we only really care when we connect with the individuals taking part.
I'd argue these arcs and plots create more memorable radio than many huge cash contests; and certainly more than the "...go online now to win" activity. There are more views on these areas from many other programmers and presenters in my latest book, which is out this week ‘Radio Secrets’. One programmer says ‘radio is no longer propped up by tactics’.
Activity like this helps to keep radio famous – and we all benefit. Whether Hide & Seek, Pass the Pasty or Absolute's wonderful Blockbuster Video story arc, UK radio is arguably delivering some of the most compelling activity it ever has. And - in the most competitive radio environment we have ever witnessed - the stakes are high.
Out this week!
RADIO SECRETS - An insider's guide to presenting and producing powerful content for broadcast and podcast.