The Radio Academy’s Festival of Radio, Glasgow, 30th June 2008

The Radio Academy held a radio conference in Glasgow this week. I was lucky enough to attend . . read on if you’re interested.

Monday

I rolled up at Glasgow’s City Halls for my first ever media-related shindig. Having spent over a decade attending more IT conferences than is humanly possible I was intrigued to see just what was what. Day #1 was a kind of optional event given the moniker Techcon and was aimed squarely at the engineers amongst us. I sniggered, wondering what just what laughable level of geekiness could be achieved by media folks. More fool me: about twenty minutes later I found myself immersed in the intricacies of a new traffic reporting protocol (and let me point out to any geeks reading that traffic here means literally that, nothing to do with internet congestion but rather a protocol for reporting what the cars and lorries are doing on your roads) and being presented with flowcharts that would put an EDS software architect to shame . . . the presenter was merely warming up however, for just a few minutes later we were actually into packet level structure, MTUs and ACK/NAK algorithms. Awesome. Just like the old days, although I thought I detected the odd yawn from my World Service colleague Richard.

If that doesn’t get your geek juices flowing then next up were three blokes who demonstrated how to best construct an actual antennae for radio broadcast. The lecture included an actual 12-foot high solid steel pole with large bits of metal protruding vertically. Again, a fascinating insight into the real business of broadcasting right down at the level of electrons vibrating along bits of metal. You can see just how the radio pirates of the 70s managed to do what they did and if you’re planning a pirate station of your own allow me to promulgate rule number 1 for any antennae: height is far more important than power. Oh, and I learnt a new word: dipole. Dunno exactly what it is, but it sounds cool and if I were forming a new indie band I’d definitely try and incorporate it somehow into the stage name.

Tuesday

Tuesday was the main day and with Jeremy Vine as compere things progressed smoothly . . . right up until a specially-commissioned video featuring radio factoids presented by Steve Wright failed to play (it worked on the Weds though). First up though were a bunch of folks from the Digtial Radio Working group. I love DAB and everyone’s got a DAB radio right? Wrong. It seems take up of DAB is being hampered by many things: competition from IP (aka broadband) and the lack of a single European DAB standard to name but two. I also find out that the car manufacturers have a lot to do with this. 20% of all radio listening is done in cars, ergo getting more DAB radios into cars will be good. Sadly, the lack of a single Euro standard is turning off the car makers and they are still continuing to offer DAB radio in-car as an extra and not as standard. A sad state of affairs, but one which the speakers were adamant would soon be sorted. All good speakers apart from the guy from the DCMS who simply read from a sheet of paper a prepared statement — it woulda been better to just send us the MP3 Mr. John Mottram.

Next up was Emily Bell, Guardian Dir of Digital Content, who presented clips of a bunch of prominent media folk (Alan Rusbridger, Peter Bazalgette et al) expressing their hopes for radio. All in all a nice take from a radio outsider and not a little reassuring to hear all Emily’s bigwig pals in the world of print envisaging a bright future for radio.

Most hostile session of the three days soon followed with two blokes from the PPL and MCPS PRS putting forward their side of the licensing and payment story. I thought they did a good job: the slide showing just who has to be paid when a song like Take That’s Shine is aired was a great example . . . briefly, you the radio station must pay a) the record company 50% and b) the artist 50%. However, in this case that second 50% gets split up between the featured artist and the ‘others’ on a 65:35 ratio (bear with me). Well, the featured artist here is of course Gary, Jason, Mark and that other bloke, but also present on the pay sheet were another 20-odd people ranging from the composer to the conductor to the bass guitarist to the choir. Basically every Tom, Dick and Harry who ever plucked a string or hit a cymbal on the song gets a slice. Imagine being a BA on Sunny Govan radio and having to negotiate that each time you hit play? A convincing case for centralised licensing I thought, but it wasn’t good enough for the audience — they wanted blood and the questioning got pretty heated. It seems the MCPS and PPL are simply out to screw the broadcasting industry; accusations of aggressive, commission-lead hounding of small shops and businesses who use a radio in the workplace were bandied around in spades. I asked the MCPS guy afterwards if he’d been expecting such a shafting: “Yes,” he said quite matter-of-factly. I then made the mistake of mentioning that I produce the ocassional podcast for friends and family and that I’d never sought out a license. “Let me take your e-Mail address,” said Mr. MCPS with what I though was the slightest hint of a cat smile, “and I’ll have Gary get back to you with some information” . . . as I scribbled down my details I couldn’t help wondering if I was going to get “visit” from the men in grey.

After lunch the BBC’s Matthew Bannister took us on an entertaining romp through the world of compliance. All given added pathos by the recent shafting of ITV to the tune of several hundred thousand for rigged phone-in comps. The most revealing moment came when a member of the audience candidly put up his hand said that he’d worked in radio phone-ins for over 10 years and had never run a competition where they — the broadcaster — hadn’t already decided who the winner was going to be in advance based on a person’s ability to sound good on air. Well done mate. You are to be saluted . . . and sadly, in all probability, sacked upon your return to xxxxxx FM.

The next session was about community radio and this laudable project was well-represented by a strong panel advocating the strengths of the UK’s third tier. The main message was that CR can complement commercial and Public Service radio and that its listeners generally don’t mind the slightly amateurish presentation and feel. Kudos to the panel for introducing me to Sunny Govan FM. Click here to hear the real voice of Glasgow.

Tuesday finished up with R5 Live’s Colin Murray chairing a Radio Academy version of his Sat morning ‘quiz’ show Fighting Talk. Contestants included Scottie McClue, Mark Story, Phil Riley and the incomparable John Myers who, I think I’m correct in saying put Derek Hatton on air back in the day. Great fun and had the audience bellowing.

Wednesday

First session of the day was chaired by Vanessa Feltz who asked if we in radio go too big on showbiz news? Entertaining enough and Vanessa is as sharp as a tack although I wasn’t alone in detecting a definite frostiness from La Feltz towards the very attractive Beverly Lyons of The Daily Record’s Razz team. Vanessa then had newsroom dilemmas for the panel the first of which went something like “Iran and Israel are about to go to war and 5 minutes before your news bulletin Michael Jackson is found dead with a suicide note confessing to years of child abuse.” Other dilemmas equally close to the bone soon followed . . . what would you do?

Next up was the future of speech radio. Moz D of Talksport was put immediately on the spot when he was asked why they’d sacked provocative and very popular presenter James Whale for allegedly asking his listeners to vote for Boris in the recent London mayoral elex. “It’s Ofcom rules . . . We sacked James Whale with a heavy heart” said Talksport boy. “But you could’ve suspended him,” said Jeremy Vine, “Why sack him?” Long pause. during which pins could be heard dropping. “We took the decision to sack James with a heavy heart.” he repeated while squirming. Such is the life of a controversial DJ in the UK. Best line of the day came from James Rea of GMG who, when asked whether he’d discuss on air a Gordon Brown story or a Michael Jackson story, said: “Commercial radio is about delivering an audience to advertisers . . . so we’d go with Jacko.” Food for thought.

The organisers were understandably jittery about saving the best for last — anyone who’s travelled to a conference of any sort will know that sneaking out early on the last day in order to get your flight is almost tradition. JV was however, persuasive and those who stayed — nearly all of us — were rewarded with a real highlight featuring the BBC’s former economics editor Evan Davies, fresh from 3 months on the Today programme being interviewed by JV. Alas it would be a breach of trust and almost certainly obscene to report some of what was said but suffice to say, Mr Davies is getting along fine in a role adroitly summed up by JV as “the nation’s newest top interviewer on radio 4’s Today programme.”

Comments

One Response to “The Radio Academy’s Festival of Radio, Glasgow, 30th June 2008”
  1. Arian says:

    Nice piece Paul. This reads like the review of a seasoned writer. You’ve managed to make the conference a fun place to be by adding flesh and blood to its dry-bone issues.

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