Wednesday, 14 November 2012

It's Grim Up North

Well I wasn't planning to go to this year’s Radio Festival. I went last year, and the debates do tend to come round a few times, so I thought I'd sit this one out.

But then I got a call from John Myers asking me to be on a panel defending local radio. You can't really say no to John - so off to Salford it was.

The festival started on Monday afternoon with a keynote speech from Tim Davie, the departing BBC Head of radio. Or rather it didn't, as Tim had already departed to become acting DG and was busy walking off a Sky News interview when he should have been on stage. His place was filled by BBC stalwart and R2 controller Bob Shennan. He played a straight bat apparently, not tripped up by anything contentious. I didn't actually get to the festival until a little later, and sat down to hear the chap from Spotify tell us how wonderful they were. When the time came for questions I really couldn't be bothered to put my hand up to ask when they could ever hope to become profitable - because I knew there wouldn't be an answer I could understand. Let them carry on is my view!

The head of Twitter for round here (or European VP as I expect he is really titled) was on next - and he was brilliant. I love twitter - and he explained why. He was a radio guy himself, and had tailored his presentation to press all the right buttons with us radio folk (unlike Mr Spotify, who I don't think realised he was even speaking at a radio conference).

Up at the Tech-con conference David Lloyd was chairing the biggest engineering brains in the industry baffling us with science. I went up and caught the tail end of an interesting presentation from an American explaining how programmers over there were using the people meters to develop more insightful thoughts on output. Apparently very few people tune out during ad breaks (less than 10%), songs get progressively more popular (i.e. less switching) and then in time less popular (who’d have thought) - and finally the local post-game sports phone-in is much more popular when your team has won than lost. Not so reassuring for Tom's phone-ins with some of our teams then!

I was invited to the posh dinner hosted by Radio Academy Chairman Ashley Tabor. And very nice it was too - although you felt the BBC bigwigs there would rather have been anywhere else - not a good time to be a boss at the corporation right now! Jeremy Vine was there and told some great stories from his book. Myers too was on form, and started a round of Kelvin McKenzie tales - I contributed my own - which I will not repeat here for fear of breaking some blasphemy law or other.

Yesterday started with Stephen Miron on stage, being lightly grilled by the Telegraph's Emma Barnett. Emma also works for Global which meant she was more insightful about - but perhaps a touch easier on - Stephen than say an interviewer like Steve Hewlett would have been. Just as Bob had done successfully the day before, Stephen avoided any career limiting utterances.

Anyway - with my usual luck, I was on next - being interviewed by Steve Hewlett! 

Actually I was one of four "local bosses" and I spent my time explaining the decision to change to Free, and how it was all going. I suspect Steve has been so distracted by Newsnightgate (he has been an ever present pundit on the state of the BBC for the past month) that he didn't have time to do his normal level of research to properly skewer folk, unlike last year. Then, I was on stage with Andrew Harrison on a general commercial radio panel, and Steve metaphorically pinned Andrew against the wall and fired pellets into his head. I sat, arms folded, and hoped Steve would run out of pellets before he got to me. This year I think Steve's pellets have all been fired at BBC apparatchiks and he's not had time to reload the gun.

After my bit we had the wonderful Fru Hazlitt in conversation with Linda Smith. Fru calls a spade a shovel at the best of times - and as she now runs lots of important things at ITV, she felt suitably unconstrained during her conversation. In the nicest way she is a bit batty, which always livens up a stage. Sadly no youtube link exists to Fru's forthright views on the Welsh, expressed at a previous conference, but Linda did find some video on the comments which amused those in the hall.

David Joseph, the boss of Universal, was up next. He gave a really insightful presentation into the music industry, and was broadly positive about the future, which was good. He couldn’t resist asking commercial radio to do more to support new music, to which the cynical response might be - here's our rate card - buy some advertising, like other folk wanting to promote their products.

Last up before lunch, we had Jeremy Vine interviewing John Myers about his book. Apparently John had interviewed Jeremy the day before about his book. They are moving in together next week.

John was his usual larger-than-life self, and much mirth was had about just how egregiously John used to break OFCOM competition rules. I don’t think there is a statute of limitations on fiddling callers – and I demand an inquiry.

After Lunch, Frank Skinner told Adrian Chiles why he loves radio - and I thought he was really passionate about the medium. He also name checked Tony Butler (and the late Tony Trethewey got a mention too) along with Les Ross, and the wonderful "yesterday never comes". Almost brought a tear to my eye.

I left at that point, and so missed the gala dinner, which apparently featured Sir Alex Ferguson giving a music award to Mick Hucknall, with Peter Kay looking on - that sounds all a bit too surreal for me, and not at all grim either.


  1. The BBC would like to clarify that Tim did not 'walk off' a Sky interview. Time had run out and he had to move to the next.

    The RCS chap (Phillipe) talking on linking audience-metering with RCS playout data was truly fascinating. You know whether the audience are coming and going and - over time- why. Oh to have that level of insight. So, it was good too to hear from Ipsos about the latest stages into their research bunging measurement technology into mobile phones. That, of course, comes with all its own issues - do folk take their phones with them everywhere in their houses - and when do they re-charge them- and how long does an iphone battery last. It would be nice to blame poor audience figures on the battery life on the iPhone9, though. I'd understand that excuse.

    1. Interesting stuff Phil. On the subject of post football match phone in's it is totally different here ( unless its a one off like Blues winning 5-0 at Man U) Here the phones are red hot when a team loses and relatively quiet when they win. I wonder how much of this is to do with the fact that in the USA there is no relegation in American football and also if you have a poor season then in the next draft you get the best players for the forthcoming season. I also believe expectation levels contribute to the fact that losing brings more phone calls. If you expect to win and do why phone but if you expect to win and don't then you are angry and frustrated. Also we all think we are better managers than the man who has the job..we think we are all better strikers or defenders than those playing.I think the Americans call themn the "Monday morning quarterbacks".
      Social media (Facebook/Twitter/Txts) has also made a big impact on post match phone in's and is now an integral part of it with possibly even more people interacting contributing and engaging than ever before but just by different platforms. They want their tweets and comments read out. This allows those not comfortable or confident to use the phone to be a part of the post match reaction to the action hour.

  2. I bet Tim didn't think, when preparing his speech last week, he'd be "trending" worldwide on an embedded video twitter link whilst he was supposed to be presenting it!
    I can see stations encouraging their P1s to download listening tracking apps. a real time rolling sample. you wouldn't be able to take your eyes off the screen.