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Let’s (Not) Talk About It

22 Jul

The pesky BBC. Filling our nation with all of those radio stations, enriching our listening experience and – get this – having the cheek to do it with your money.

Honestly, if you believed some of the rants in recent days from apparently well-educated and well-heeled radio professionals, you’d wonder why the BBC was ever allowed to broadcast its blend of national, digital and local networks.

We’ll start with Len Groat – former programmer of Radio Trent and the pioneering oldies station Gem AM (the original medium wave one in the East Midlands). Goodness knows that Len has more years of wireless experience under his belt than many of us could ever dream of. For what he provided in those days, I salute him.

But (and this won’t surprise you), I simply can’t endorse, defend or do anything but argue against his relentless hatred of the BBC. If it’s not the large budgets afforded to some stations, it’s the (often female) voices he detests. Or the jingles. Or the managers. I might concur on one of those three subject areas, but there’s probably a good reason why Len’s blog is entitled “Radio Like It Used To Be”.

And yet, there are very good reasons why radio simply isn’t like it used to be. And – if Bauer gets its way with OFCOM – another tried, tested and failed commercial format will soon be no more.

624citytalk

Radio Today reports that Bauer wants to flip it’s FM and AM frequencies in Liverpool – putting City Talk (currently on 105.9FM) onto AM – and swapping it with (Radio) City 2. This would be in addition to the existing (original) Radio City on 96.7FM.

To the casual listener this might just seem like a bit of housekeeping. But the changes go much further. Because City Talk (the clue is in the title) would become an all music station. Only with a slightly different format than the other two “Radio Cities”.

The argument of whether commercial radio really can support all talk or talk heavy formats has been well documented. And, indeed, played out on the airwaves. Back in 1989, Radio City did something similar.

split-front (1)

It didn’t last too long. So perhaps – in an ever more diluted market – we should not be surprised that Bauer now wants to effectively ditch its speech heavy commitments. Perhaps the most tangible and surprising aspect of this is the ending of football commentaries on Liverpool and Everton games – which will give the nasty BBC a free run on radio coverage.

Maybe it’s this which has prompted Steve Penk‘s astonishingly personal attack on Simon Mayo, followed by a rant on Radio 2’s funding formula, bemoaning that the BBC dies not operate on a level playing field with commercial radio.

Penk is best known for his hilarious prank wind up calls during the 1990s; a reputation that briefly catapulted him to network commercial radio fame and a couple of out-takes show on the telly. Simon Mayo – by contrast – is best known for his comedic Confessions feature; which briefly translated to a TV spin off.

Funny how only one of those features is still considered to be acceptable on air these days. But then again, radio’s never been a level playing field.

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7 Comments

Posted by on July 22, 2015 in Journalism, Radio Stuff, The Training Zone

 

7 responses to “Let’s (Not) Talk About It

  1. NewsMutt

    July 24, 2015 at 20:25

    An update. A reader has suggested I don’t allow comments on this blog. Not true.

     
  2. Len Groat

    July 26, 2015 at 14:25

    I am not in the habit of posting long responses to other people’s blogs but ‘Newmutt’ asked me to reply to his and justify my blogs and Twitter posts. So…. . It all started with a gentle ‘Twitter spat’ (between 2 people who both ‘love’ radio but from opposite ends of the spectrum) over my posts on the BBC/ BBC local radio (…unless you are deeply involved/interested in this no need to read further!)

    “Newsmutt” said in his blog: “if you believed some of the rants in recent days from apparently well-educated and well-heeled radio professionals, you’d wonder why the BBC was ever allowed to broadcast its blend of national, digital and local networks. We’ll start with Len Groat – former programmer of Radio Trent and the pioneering oldies station Gem AM (the original medium wave one in the East Midlands). Goodness knows that Len has more years of wireless experience under his belt than many of us could ever dream of. For what he provided in those days, I salute him. But (and this won’t surprise you), I simply can’t endorse, defend or do anything but argue against his relentless hatred of the BBC. If it’s not the large budgets afforded to some stations, it’s the (often female) voices he detests. Or the jingles. Or the managers. I might concur on one of those three subject areas”

    Now, I have no idea where you get the idea I have a “relentless hatred of the BBC” ?

    What I DO hate is financial waste going back YEARS, and services run by people with little knowledge/love of radio, and about 50% of BBC Local stations DO fall into that category. So with apologies to the ‘good stations’ (which include the one you work on and are a journalist’s union rep) my comments apply to the ‘bad’ ones. Yes, it’s the old, ‘good station/bad station’ routine!
    Now as regards Twitter: I have ‘commented’ by pasting links to cases of known/accepted waste by BBC Local Radio or TV, BUT I’ve only posted a Blog ONCE in 2015. And it is SIXTEEN months since my blog ‘Dear BBC I’m typing as fast as I can’ in which I said:

    “BBC Coventry /Warwickshire had just 8.6 hours so did not even get into the ‘top 20’, and an equally poor 15% weekly reach. This leads me to ask WHY the BBC continues with very brittle, speech-led local breakfast programming when it clearly does not work in many areas? There is also the factor that ‘Lord’ Tony, the BBC DG wants’50% female co-presenters on BBC local radio breakfast shows by this autumn’, as widely reported last year. At a time the BBC needs severe financial stringency they are responding to feminist pressure groups and promoting inexperienced or newly trained (in a hurry) staff onto what should be their main show of the day. (In MY 40 years radio experience good broadcasters are never ‘trained’ they are born…)”

    So how does this add up to ‘hatred’ of the BBC? Poor word choice for a journo.

    But back to NOW and there is even more to blog about! The fact is there are SO many examples of ‘bad’ BBC Local Radio, where do I begin? Let’s listen to the Radio Today interview on 22 July with Trevor Dann and Rod McKenzie. McKenzie has a BBC journalist background but was spouting his thoughts on music – saying a playlist of 1000 songs was too much. Yet he has no EXPERIENCE in that field! He believes the core of Local Radio is still “journalism”….

    McKenzie said that BBC Local had “TV journalists editing for radio” and that the whole of BBC Local Radio was ‘journalised’ and admitted the audience DON’T LIKE IT! The whole interview was a laboured conversation with someone who’d been in a position of influence but (like Trevor Dann) he was clearly glad to be out of it – I wonder why!?

    QUOTE

    McKenzie: ‘It’s too tricky to handle’
    Dann: “Thank goodness you and me we don’t have to handle it anymore”

    So even these two (long-term) BBC men acknowledge there IS a big problem!

    And for this interview no one was “available for comment from BBC Local Radio”! And the BBC press-office announced, “No reduction in news programming” even BEFORE the research process is started/done! How can they pre-guess its results? I suspect this policy will change dramatically as soon as David Holdsworth is gone.

    They also mentioned the £160,000 wage of David Holdsworth. Which makes the fact they were paying £180,000 a year to a LOCAL female tv journalist a management farce – another subject of my blogs; not ‘hate’ just pointing out a HUGE waste! At least when the BBC finally parted company with her they advertised the replacement at a mere “£30,000-£50,000”.

    You want MORE examples of BBC waste/inefficiency?

    The “Extended responsibilities for Helen Boaden” a story from Radio Today showed she was to be in charge of:

    BBC Radio 1 BBC Radio 2 BBC Radio 3 BBC Radio 4 BBC Radio 1Xtra BBC Radio 6Music BBC Radio 4 xtra BBC Radio Asian Network BBC Radio England at MediaCity UK BBC Radio Sport BBC Radio Children BBC Radio 5 Live BBC Radio Learning and Outreach BBC Radio Birmingham and Bristol bases BBC Radio Performing Groups BBC Radio Proms BBC classical music & performance television

    I asked, “Would the BBC now like to reveal the number of SUITS from the list who manage this ‘management pyramid’ under Helen?” That’s not knocking the BBC it’s asking a pertinent staffing/financial question. Another commentator said “ Well for her to do ALL of that, she will have to work 24/7 365 days a year, but OK as the Peggy Lee songs says “I am a woman”

    Now, back to BBC Local Radio and apart from my Blogs on the ridiculous gender-balance on breakfast shows here’s another recent example of waste and awful (journalised) management.

    “Edward Adoo is joining BBC Three Counties Radio for a new weekly show with news, entertainment, music and human interest stories” proclaimed a press-release. Edward said, “Having lived in Luton for five years I’d fallen in love with Bedfordshire so I‘m delighted to be back. I’m chuffed to have joined such a great, passionate and down to earth team. BBC Three Counties Radio truly represents what local radio is all about. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m looking forward to serving the people of Beds, Bucks and Herts with great stories, conversation and music.”

    Edward may be ‘chuffed’, and think “BBC Three Counties Radio truly represents what local radio is all about”, his website says, “he is an expert on dance, electronic and black music”. As the BBC Local management say their core audience is 50-70 year olds this is totally out of their official BBC remit! And as for Edward saying the station was a “down to earth team”, I think he meant down in the ratings; a weekly audience reach of only 11% (the next to lowest of all the network) so few will hear him on a Sunday at 8pm.

    He is a very good presenter, but amidst a load of “dance, electronic and black music” (this 66 year old had never heard before) was inserted an extended talk feature on Genital Mutilation. For this he had his ‘producer’ (who judging by his unanimated voice is a middle aged serious journalist) link to someone from the ‘community’ to comment. Maybe a great feature for Radio 1 in the evening but NOT on a BBC Local station at 8.30pm on a Sunday! And WHY does the BBC think it can afford PRODUCERS for off-peak shows!?

    The press-release about this show included a comment by Toby Friedner (who is a “Senior Broadcast Journalist at BBC Three Counties Radio”) so again, note that word ‘journalist’ again in charge of a show with MUSIC. I’m appalled that the BBC are again WASTING licence fees on a show very few will hear, and for a service meant to appeal to 50-70 year olds. It makes a farce of how loosely the regional and national BBC ‘suits’ run/supervise local radio when a station that needs to urgently sort its WEEKDAY output is faffing around with a Sunday night show not even aimed at its core market!

    As the BBC are arguing for the NEXT licence period of course it’s fair to JUDGE it on what happened in this LAST period. For example, “the total cost to the BBC of actually moving out of Television Centre and into new facilities at the expanded and refurbished “New” Broadcasting House in central London and the new MediaCity complex in Salford, has been put at around £800m.”

    http://www.tribemagazine.org/tribeblog/-the-strange-death-of-television-centre

    I don’t need to remind anyone of the ridiculous re-location fees, London to Salford taxi charges, OR the fact both the ‘stars’ and technical people pointed out how it could easily have renovated the existing (historic) London building for 75% less!

    And let’s not forget the standard BBC answer to requests about financing of staff or programming:
    “The information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature. The BBC is therefore not obliged to provide this information to you and will not be doing so on this occasion. Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBCs output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.”

    To go back to one of your many blogs:

    “Obviously I’m out to protect my own job and those of my colleagues. I recognise that these views may not sit comfortably with all.”

    So you basically want to ‘protect’ jobs. But surely in protecting jobs of journos all you are doing is speeding up the inevitable loss of audience/ eventual closure of any station where programming is controlled by journalists’ who do not understand ‘radio’? BBC Local radio has pursued this path for long enough to SEE the results – declining audiences. Change is INEVITABLE.

    I would also point out that I have never defended commercial radio, as in my view much of it is un-defendable – an awful cut-throat industry both financially and aesthetically which the big groups and government have allowed to wallow in a muddy, fake musical world of 15-30 year olds.

    You, as someone who cares about local radio from INSIDE the BBC, should keep your ears and eyes open for the opinions of people OUTSIDE the BBC who also love radio, but hate the WASTEFUL, over-politically correct system – ‘gender balance’ hierarchy’ run by too many ‘suits’, journalists and former journalists, and not enough people who DO know about ‘radio’.

    I’ve said nothing in my Tweets/blogs that has not already been noted (and several years back) by ‘gurus’ such as John Myers and David Lloyd.

    And as for your comment on my station’s phrase, ‘Radio Like It Used To Be’ – surely that would be the IDEAL phrase to use for the 50-70 age group the ‘suits’ report to say your service is MEANT to be aimed at!?

     
    • NewsMutt

      July 26, 2015 at 15:02

      Goodness! Where to begin Len? You’ve made so many personal attacks on individuals who aren’t here to defend themselves, so I’ll allow the readers to draw their own conclusions.

      Let me just address a couple of your points, though. On the “policy” of female presenters at breakfast, you’very conveniently forgotten that David Holdsworth almost immediately clarified that it was not a target but an aspiration. But since you dislike the guy so much I don’t expect you to give him any credit.

      And your suggestion of pre-empting research on the future direction of breakfast, it’s actually been done and is currently being shared with staff. There are no massive secrets in there, but I’m certainly not going to release an internal document here.

      Finally you may not think an off peak show deserves its own producer but you’re making a massive assumption that he works full time on one shown per week. I don’t know the circumstances but I’d put good money on betting this isn’t the case. Is the show outside the core remit of BBC Local Radio? Perhaps. But surely it’s well within the ethos of local radio to serve diverse communities, who may not necessarily be white middle class folk who enjoy oldies.

      That’s the kind of distinctivness only BBC Locals provide, since the commercial sector largely dumped its responsibility in this area years ago.

       
  3. Len Groat

    July 27, 2015 at 22:20

    “your suggestion of pre-empting research on the future direction of breakfast, it’s actually been done and is currently being shared with staff.”

    No quite – “the BBC Trust service review” document* CLEARLY states the PUBLIC consultation does not close until SEPTEMBER 28th ! And last week Helen Boaden said she wanted contributions from anyone interested in how the BBC could change. That means if the “future direction of breakfast “ is already decided, gathering the public’s views is a farce.

    * https://consultations.external.bbc.co.uk/bbc/local-radio-news-current-affairs/supporting_documents/terms_of_reference.pdf

    “You’ve made so many personal attacks on individuals who aren’t here to defend themselves, so I’ll allow the readers to draw their own conclusions.”

    “So Many” ?

    I mentioned a few names where a person was identified as the source of the information – how else can I reference my point?

    You pinpoint the problem – the BBC regularly deflect criticism to a department or policy, rarely does it admit one individual/manager got it wrong. Anyone who has to temporarily ‘step aside’ inevitably just gets moved to another post!

    “On the “policy” of female presenters at breakfast, you very conveniently forgotten that David Holdsworth almost immediately clarified that it was not a target but an aspiration.”

    ‘Clarified’? Just more BBC word play – ‘target’ and ‘aspiration’. I’d say (Lord) Tony announced the policy in badly phrased document, without consulting Holdsworth, who then had to clarify the DG’s words!

    = Poor management communication.

    I don’t see any point in us continuing this ‘discussion’ as your brief points take a long time to correct/reply to, plus I EXPECT a journalist who is also an NUJ rep to take the stance you do – so you are never going to change your view whatever I say. And what I say is that the BBC has too many journalists in management positions – and the managers do not communicate /listen to each other. Short and simple – and the failing audience figure show that.

    Best wishes

    Len

     
    • NewsMutt

      July 27, 2015 at 22:41

      Len, you of all people should know that at any point in time, a good radio station will be conducting several strands of research in tandem. That’s exactly what’s happening now.

      Did Tony Hall discuss his rather sweeping and ambitious comment with David Holdsworth? I really don’t know. But the “target” – if there ever was one – was quickly dropped. Why? Because some stations piloted off air shows with two presenters and it didn’t work. The shows never made it to air. That’s taking it seriously, while at the same time accepting that one size does not fit all.

      The difference in our opinions is pretty obvious and you’re right – we are unlikely to agree. But I must challenge your stance that journalists generally make bad programmers and vice versa. There are plenty of good examples across commercial and local radio. I think the issue is that you’d rather pigeon hole them instead of seeing the bigger picture.

      But perhaps there are two issues where we aren’t so different. There are far too many layers of management; something the NUJ has said for many years – and a view shared by our peers Lloyd and Myers. And ultimately we share a passion for our medium. Nobody can dispute that!

       
      • Len Groat

        July 29, 2015 at 08:55

        “There are far too many layers of management; something the NUJ has said for many years – and a view shared by our peers Lloyd and Myers. And ultimately we share a passion for our medium”

        Agreed ! 🙂

        Now let’s see what the BBC don’t do about it …

         
  4. Paul Moseley

    July 29, 2015 at 22:25

    I think I’ll stay out of this as it’s a bit hot in here, but fascinating debate.

     

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