Sunday, 18 September 2011

nextrad.io - the radio ideas conference

Blogs and tweets about last Thursday's nextrad.io conference were requested - I felt I should oblige...

The £99 ticket price was a great start. I'd be hard pushed to attend the Radio Festival this year, even with their generous concessionary rates - a couple of rounds of drinks in the Holiday Inn Media City would be more than this alone. But while I know Matt and James aren't making much on the tickets - at least that's what they told me to avoid buying a round in the Bree Louise afterwards - this meant that attendance was within the reach of those without expense accounts, and so brought along a younger audience, with more "do-ers" than yer standard conference of suits.

The strictly-enforced 9 or 18 minute sessions meant that the day cracked along at a pace, and there was no chance of a snooze for any of the audience who'd set off at dawn to be there for 9am. Several sessions actually finished slightly short; I think Moz Dee won the prize for talking closest to the exact allotted time, and no-one required the shepherd's crook under my chair to be deployed for their removal from the stage. Like a hit-music format station, if you didn't like one of the wide-ranging topics, there was another one along in moments.



One of the most pleasing aspects of the format was the lack of panel sessions. I've chaired a few of these in my time, and always found them difficult to bring alive, particularly if you have to have every question answered by each panellist in turn. It takes some bravery to move away from the old-school format, and on this occasion, it paid off well with none of the sessions outstaying their welcome.

Of the sessions themselves, The Guardian's Francesca Panetta produced an understated but compelling plea for on-demand audio and podcasts to take the opportunity to create something beautifully crafted and treasurable. Some considered that's what ALL radio/audio should aspire to, but occasionally we all need to be reminded of that. Peter Gabriel-lookalike Dick Stone was entertaining as always, reminding us to internalise, and avoid reading out words written to be read on the page, not spoken aloud. And host Matt Deegan gave us words, including "shhh" - avoiding public industry infighting; and "hire" - setting out that the requirements and competition to find and retain the best people for your station will be different for an IT person, than for a journalist.



I found it an intense day - perhaps I just can't think that fast! It felt like several Max Headroom-style "blipverts" had been downloaded into my brain. (Kidz: it's an 80's reference, check it here.) The Magic Circle was a great venue, but somewhat under-exploited - and a magic trick or two, coupled with a little more interaction with the audience, could have offered a some light and shade to the day.

These are minor quibbles. One sponsor I spoke to told me they simply wanted to be associated with "intelligent discussion about radio", and on what I saw, they got their money's worth several times over. The Radio Festival has excelled itself with a very high-quality line-up of speakers this year, but Next has raised the bar for radio conferences, and demonstrated that there can be a different way of doing things. It'd be welcome as a regular fixture in the industry calendar, and perhaps not just in London.

More photos of the conference are here.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Remembering 9/11

Fred Bradley blogged his experience of 9/11, including some fascinating audio of what was then News Direct, and it moved me to do the same.

I was visiting Gloucester with Trafficlink's Operations Director, Jag Ensor, to meet with GWR's head of news, Jo Littlehales, who was based at Severn Sound. We were having lunch somewhere in Eastgate Shopping Centre where they were based, when Jo's mobile rang - there was something going on in New York, and she needed to get back to the station. In no tearing hurry, we settled up the bill and went our separate ways. As Jag and I walked back through the shopping centre, wondering what all the fuss was about, we stopped briefly to look at the rolling news channels playing on the TVs in the shop windows, and it became clear. We drove back in silence, listening through the medium wave crackle to Simon Mayo on 5Live, doing his best to articulate what they were seeing on the television screens in the studio, the occasional moment of disbelief clearly audible.

If you're interested in a non-sensational retelling of journalists' stories from the day - including Metro Traffic Control's John Del Giorno - I recommend the book "Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11" by Allison Gilbert. I've also collected some audio from the day and beyond, which I've used in training courses - some initial coverage from George Weber on WABC, and a couple of clips from Radio 1's Newsbeat, including Chris Moyles who was still on afternoons at this stage. It's below, but even the passage of time doesn't make it any easier to listen to...

9/11 audio by will.jackson

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Inspiration: once a Producer, always a Producer

One of my first gigs in radio was the privilege of producing the breakfast show on Mercury FM, first with Jon Scragg and then with Steve Hyland. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to always keep a notepad with you, as you never know when inspiration for "a bit" for the next morning's show will strike.

Housemates would despair of finding papers with corners or whole pages torn out and stuffed in my pocket for the next day's show. I learned to pick up and read ANY magazine lying around on trains or in waiting rooms - the more obscure the better. My friends know that I still carry my Metropole Hotel waiter's pad from my days as a barman in Brighton and scribble stuff down.



Old habits die hard, but there are obviously better ways of doing this nowadays - I spend far too long reading Twitter and emailing myself intriguing tweets to read and consider later, and the brilliant Evernote app will let you collect notes in pretty much any form, including searchable photos of text. In short, if you're in radio, the chances are you're probably an ideas and content sponge (and if you're not - you should be!).

When starting at GTN, my colleague Paul Hutton told me about Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads, and his emailed "Monday Morning Memo". This is described on its website as "a weekly contemplation prepared by New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling business author, Roy H. Williams. Whether the memo contains business advice or a philosophical muse, it’s guaranteed to be something you’ve never heard before. The Wizard of Ads has a strict policy: No Rehashed Pablum." I read the email every week. Sometime I get what he's on about, sometimes I really don't - but it's never a dull read. This week, he asked for his readers to mail in with the one email mailout (other than his own) that they always make the time to read.

The resulting emailed suggestions are a very long read - but I'll helpfully summarise for you. The one that came up time and time again was the blog and email newsletter from Seth Godin, who wears the most "meejah" yellow glasses I've seen in some time.



But one email stood out for me. It wasn't just another self-help, inspirational email newsletter, it was an actual practical idea, that takes the "magpie content sponge" idea one step further. I think it's brilliant, and I'll be doing it from now on. Credit to Kevin, and the Wizard of Ads - but also remember, it's only because of being a long-standing content sponge, and going through the emails to see if there was anything interesting and useful, that I found it in the first place...

From: Wolff, Kevin
Sent: Monday, August 29, 2011 9:38 AM
To: Jackie@WizardAcademy.org
Subject: Examination Day

My link: 'Do not deliver before:'

A few times each week, I come across an insightful piece of knowledge or experience that moves me. It might be a famous quote that inspires, an image I shouldn't forget, or a mistake I've made that doesn't deserve repeating. I often use these powerful tidbits of life until the next one comes along, and the former is forgotten. That's why a couple years ago I began to email myself this knowledge on the time-delay of 365 days. It's amazing how often I wind end up giving myself encouragement, advice, and reminders at the very moment I need them.

I open the email every single time because I know the author personally, and he knows exactly what I need to hear.

Kevin Wolff, Promotions Director/Marketing

Footnote: Serendipity - There was a knock at the door just now, and it was ACTUAL Jehovah's Witnesses. I didn't think that happened in real life! They handed over copies of The Watchtower. I'll read them - because you really don't know where you'll find that next bit.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Not goodbye, just au revoir

My colleague Paul Hutton has written a very balanced and eloquent blog post entitled "Goodbye Traffic Radio". I'd prefer "au revoir". As Paul has noted, Trafficlink has already jumped in with its own station, and is certainly following his advice to shout about it! We'll also have to wait to see whether any new Highways Agency-licensed Traffic Radio service gets off the ground.

Similar developments are taking place elsewhere. In Montreal, this week sees the launch of Radio Circulation 730, a French-language traffic station now unexpectedly replacing CKAC sports, and a sister English-language station is likely to follow shortly. It follows AM730 Vancouver, which I visited last year - where you'll find three dedicated staff at any time, taking turns to be live on air for 20 minutes and then producing/information gathering for the remainder of the hour. We'd have loved that level of staffing at Traffic Radio.



However, those that argue about whether a traffic station should play music and be more entertaining (and we may return to that one at a later date), or be analogue or DAB - I'm looking at you, DigitalSpy - miss the point. As with any content, it's about making the required information available on whichever platform or format is easiest for the user at that particular time. At breakfast, yes, that might be the local radio station that they're listening to already. In the car, if they have a satnav, it could be through the traffic included in that package, or indeed from an a rolling-travel news radio station accessed via a popular iPhone app* such as the Highways Agency's.

I believe a really significant change in travel news has taken place in the last year, which hasn't yet been fully appreciated. It used to take rooms full of researchers to gather the data by phoning up Little Chefs and bored coppers, whereas now accurate and as-live flow data is freely available from multiple sources, whether government: Highways Agency/Traffic Scotland/Traffic Wales/Transport for London, or private: TomTom/Googlemaps/Trafficmaster/Inrix (who own Trafficlink). Each will obviously say their specific sources and algorhythmic magic is better, but my experience suggests they're all pretty similar. (TomTom has a slight edge for covering ALL roads, not just trunk routes - which could be useful if you're a smaller, rural station - and Inrix has a good app for BlackBerry users like me.)

So - if all that data is now out there, then the competition moves to become what you do with it. And here's where the steering wheel turns full-circle, as for radio once again, it comes back to making it sound great, and easy to access across multiple platforms. That means high-quality, trusted travel presenters, ideally with experience and tons of local knowledge. Being the station in your market that "owns" travel news, through sub-brands such as "Travel you can Trust" or "Traffic on the Ones" and delivering on that promise. And bringing it to platforms such as Twitter with a unique house style - for a great example, check @bbctravelalerts.

The announcements last week from TomTom (video below), and Ford, who'll be demonstrating a social networking concept car at the Frankfurt Motor Show, show the direction of travel, and the in-car competition. That's before crowd-sourced traffic apps, such as Waze. In all of this, we radio types also need to make sure we know where we're heading, otherwise we'll all just be listening to automated satnav voices us telling to take the next exit and leave the motorway. There's a lot for those new stations to consider...



(*Do not use your mobile phone while driving. Sorry, just can't get out of the habit of adding that!)