RadioLab Lecture #3 Steve Parkinson MD Bauer London

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Jan 272012

According to Steve Parkinson, MD for Bauer Radio in London, radio is best when it is about passion – either passion for the place that you live, or passion for the things that fill your life with. Steve was the latest professional guest lecturer for De Montfort Universities RadioLab lecture series. Speaking about his time in the commercial radio industry, Steve gave an overview of the commercial radio sector to students and volunteers who run DemonFM, and who want to break into the industry themselves.

Steve’s experience as a senior producer with EMAP, and now the MD of Bauer London, means that he is well placed to comment on the state of the commercial radio sector in the UK. Steve talked about the joys of developing radio services in an age where audiences expect to be able access the programmes they are passionate about on any platform and at any time – and usually for no charge.

Steve shared his thoughts about the approach to programming that Bauer Media take, with their stations Kiss, Magic, LBC, and a whole host of successful regional stations around the United Kingdom. Bauer haven’t gone down the same path as Global Radio and networking all of their output. Instead, Bauer, according to Steve, are committed to local programming through their locally branded heritage stations. Steve argues, that they would change these well known stations at their ‘peril’. So, radio stations like Key103 in Manchester and Radio City in Liverpool, continue to have a strong local following, with programming coming from those cities, and no national music play-listing shaping the sound of each station from the sales team in London.

According to Steve we are experiencing an unprecedented amount of change in the media industries, with substantial consolidation of the major commercial services. However, as Steve points out, at the same time there is an explosion in the diversity of the platforms that media services have to provide. There is no longer a guarantee that broadcast services can support a commercial operation through advertising alone, so media companies are rapidly looking to diversify and extend the contact and number of ways that they reach consumers. The push at the moment in commercial radio is in to non-traditional revenue streams, through social media, audio-visual platforms and more extended digital services.

Bauer station Kiss is sponsored by Blackberry because of their access to a youth market that has driven sales for a telecoms company that was otherwise thought of as a business tool. So stations become more reliant on sponsorship and partnership agreements, and are chasing the ‘transactional’ revenue streams that services like iTunes have successfully cornered. Where Bauer Radio is different from other commercial media operators, suggests Steve, is in the relationship with their proprietors. Bauer Media is wholly owned by the Bauer family, who promise to give a hands-off and more long-term approach to the development of their many international media holdings. According to Steve, as long as the radio stations are generating profits then they have a free hand to get on and manage them in the way that is right for them.

The advantage of being part of a larger media group also means that stations in the Bauer Media group can work with each other, in the same way that the BBC promotes it’s services across different platforms. The nineteen million consumers who access Bauer products each week gives the Bauer radio stations an advantage to cross promote across fifty-three magazines, forty-two radio stations, forty-eight online brands and seven digital stations.

Crafting and shaping the radio services that each of these platforms gives is based on a simple principle, either you are passionate about the place that you live, or you are passionate about the things that you enjoy in your life. So Bauer radio stations have a strong local identity, or alternatively, they have a strong brand identity – Q Radio, Kerrang! or Heat are tied in with popular magazines that have a more specialist appeal and readership, and so can focus on the more passionate aspects of popular culture that people take on board and share with their friends.

The mantra for all Bauer radio producers, according to Steve, is “hear it, see it, share it”. Kiss have only recently recruited a Social Media Manager to the station because audience interaction is becoming so integral to the extended relationship that a radio station has with it’s listeners, that a social media approach to programming has to be incorporated into the planning and development of all the stations shows. Each programme team now has to take what they do on-air and transform it to the stations website almost immediately. This means employing people who have video production skills, who can take photographs and use photoshop, who can do in-house sound design and station identity, who can post material across different social media platforms, who can organise and plan events, and who can work with the technology that makes all these things connect.

The skillset that is expected of people entering into the radio industry has changed in a short couple of years. According to Steve:

  • Don’t think radio, think audio.
  • Don’t think audio, think audio-visual.
  • When you think content, think audio-visual.
  • When you think audio-visual, think technology.

Steve went on to outline how the demands of multi-skilling that are required in the radio industry have reached new hights, with producers and programme teams expected to be both curious, resilient and relentless, while showing a solid attention to detail and a punctuality that meets the demands of live radio production. Steve finished off his talk by assuring students that there is a great future career to be had in radio, and that with the right open-minded approach a new generation of programme makers who are passionate about where they live and what they share can be part of it too.

RadioLab Lecture No2# Dave Walters – Global Radio Broadcast Technology Operations Manager

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Nov 252011

wpid-wpid-wpid-wpid-dave-walters-001-2011-11-25-18-13-2011-11-25-18-13-2011-11-25-19-13-2011-11-25-19-13.jpgThe second of the DMU RadioLab lectures was given this week by Dave Walters, head of technology and operations for the Global Radio group. Dave travelled up from London to talk to sixty students from DemonFM and the media courses at DMU. Dave delivered a concentrated and detailed overview of the the commercial radio sector in the UK, and explained how consolidation has meant that there has been a concentration of ownership from many hundreds of stations, a radio economy that is now dominated by three large commercial networks.

Dave talked about his time working in the industry and some of the changes that he has witnessed and lived through. Dave was trained as an Electrical Engineer, so his natural interest is focused on the platforms and technologies that have evolved to make radio what it is today. From the earliest days of broadcasting with the valve was the biggest technological innovation, to the microprocessor, when many millions of electronic switches are built into to a chip the size of a fingernail. What once filled an entire building can now be squeezed into a hand-held device.

Dave’s passion for technology and the way that it is used to service the production of radio programming clearly runs deep, and while the route into automation might not please everyone, the challenge working through of the technological demands of running a networked commercial radio service was something of a wonder. The best example of this challenge that Dave gave was the Smart Radio Studios that run ClassicFM. While the station has a single studio it feeds-out into a layered network of transmitters and alternative media platforms that must all do things at the same time and in the same way, despite sending different commercial messages out to each of them. It’s a bit like landing a jumbo jet in eight different airports at the same time from a remote control base in the middle of London.

Dave is convinced that radio has a great future, but it’s going to have to work hard to differentiate itself from the online and multimedia industries that are now dominating the web and mobile media. The rise of Facebook offers a new challenge – personalised advertising that is bespoke to the individual user based on the expression of their interests. Will radio be able to cope with the shift from broadcasting to narrowcasting? One thing that radio has in its armoury however, according to Dave, is the ability to cover live events and react to what is happening in the world. Sports events are likely to become more important to radio as no one ever listens to a recording of a football commentary.

Afterwards, in the pub, Dave and I chatted about the recruitment requirements of the technical teams coming in to the radio industry, and he was keen to emphasis that anyone who wants to consider a broadcast engineering or technical development role in radio should have experienced radio by getting involved in a student, hospital or community radio station. Experience and a sense of the priority of ‘liveness’ is what drives radio. With music production, there is always the chance to take a recording way and polish it, or to remix it. With radio, according to Dave, the challenge is to ensure that the broadcast systems and the production management systems all work together to ensure that the listener gets an experience of radio that is of-the-moment’ and immediate, while also being an increasingly high-quality audio experience. What passed for good quality audio in the past today sounds thin and weak in comparison. Things move on, and our expectations about the quality of audio moves with it.

I’m hoping that we can work more closely in the future to develop the technology, multimedia and production management skills that DMU radio students get, as well as making great content for DemonFM.

Oh, and when I explained to Dave that BSc Radio Production & Technology is accredited with the IET he said ‘Cool!’

DemonFM Outside Broadcast from FD2D 3rd Birthday

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Oct 162011


Intermission Show Strand Producer Role

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Oct 142011

Here is the role profile for the Intermission Show Strand Producer:

  • Role: Co-ordinate and facilitate day-teams by maintaining communication links, chasing actions & noting common operational issues (snags).
  • Main Duties: Act as SPOC, update forum & Facebook pages, co-ordinate content scheduling & team availability.
  • Reporting To: Module leader. Keep informed of team issues, resource requirements and training/development requirements.
  • Attributes: Good listener, able to keep detailed records, project management planning, co-ordinate information, calm, well organised.

Application Process: Submit a 1-page CV and 1-page covering letter to Rob Watson by Wednesday 19th October 4pm.
Interviews will be held on Friday 21st October 9am-11am

Intermission Show Production Teams

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Oct 122011

Here’s the groups for the Intermission Show on DemonFM.


Intermission Show Production Teams

TECH3013 Cultural Quarter Podcast Workshop Week Two

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Oct 112011

Myers-Briggs Personality Testing

At yesterdays TECH3013 Advanced Radio Production workshop we gave some thought to some ideas about how to move forward with the Cultural Quarter Podcasts for DemonFM. The first thing that we did was a Myers-Briggs personality test, which I blogged about when I undertook the test recently as well. What was interesting was the way that these results where spread across a wide range of personality types. Usually when I’ve collated the results from this they have been clustered in the bottom right-hand corner. There is a tendency for media courses to attract extroverts who are good a leading other people. What was fascinating on this occasion was how far spread the results where across a wider range of personality types. Hopefully this will make team-working easier to manage because their will be more complementary and less antagonistic personality types working against one another.


Cultural Quarter Perception Analysis

The next thing that we did was to analyse the project of producing the Cultural Quarter Podcasts on the basis of their positive or negative connotations. It is fair to say that there has been a certain amount of anxiety about this project, as a good number of students thought that we would be reporting on ballet, opera and literary festivals. When we went through some of the options and discussed the idea of culture in Leicester, it seemed to open-up a wider range of possibilities for people to go off and produce some interesting content.


Cultural Quarter Production Teams

So the final thing we did was to establish who would be working in which groups, and what roles would they play. The initial breakdown is in three areas – Presentation, Production and Technical. I then set the challenge that we want to have a completed Cultural Quarter Podcast broadcast on DemonFM and posted to the DemonFM website by Friday 21st October, with a review session of the material on Monday 24th October. I was expecting a squeal of pain at such a tight deadline, but to my surprise there was silence. Shocked silence perhaps, but a good sense that the teams will have to move quickly to undertake this work.

The main point of contact and shared information for this project is the Members Message Boards on the DemonFM Forum. I’ve started a thread that will provide us with some space to share some ideas and documents. We are going to use Facebook – the TECH3013 group only – for discussion and alerts.

The main question now is who do we talk to, what’s going to be interesting about what’s happening in Leicester, and how will we package this into something that has pull with the DemonFM audience?

Radio Lab Professional Lecture Series – James Walshe Kerrang!

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Oct 102011

James Walshe Radio Lab Lecture

I never thought that I’d see more than sixty students sit through more than two hours of a lecture without becoming restless. But tonight, James Walshe, Radio Programmer at Kerrang! achieved what I thought was impossible. James came to the Queens Building to talk to Radio Production and Media Production students at De Montfort University about working for a commercial music station, the role of a programming producer, and the things that people have to do to get work in the radio industry.

James gave us a series of very powerful observations about managing and producing radio content, about running shows and working with presenters, about developing distinctive and creative ideas, about using radio as a friend and a companion, and about treating radio as a theatre of ideas.

I liked the way that James started off. First the bad news – radio is boring! By which he meant that most of what we listen to on the wireless has been devised and developed by people who learnt their trade in the days of tape, and who are barely literate when it comes to using a computers. James was emphatic that it pays to be technically literate these days when working in a radio station. So the good news that James followed with was clear, because the technology that underpins radio has changed so much, we now have much more of a chance to do something about how radio works. As the technology of radio changes, according to James, the chances that new people with new ideas can come into the radio industry are increasing.

James spoke powerfully about how radio stations like Kerrang! are integrating multimedia websites, mobile apps and social media into their programming. James said that it’s difficult to know where the contemporary radio station ends and the online experience begins. James was very confident at making a prediction that the future of radio is mobile – i.e. tied in with the mobile phone, and that soon we will be consuming large parts of our audio content – be it music, talk, news, whatever, – on the move via our mobile phones. James suggested that we will move seamlessly from broadcast to webcast content, while at the time making interactive decisions that the radio stations can data-mine and use in order to provide a more dedicated service.

I asked James what he thought of students getting involved with our community radio station, DemonFM, and he had a simple message. The more experience that anyone can get producing content and working on a radio station, whatever type and for whatever reason, will give them a distinct advantage that will help them when they are applying for work in the radio industry. James’s overall message was that nothing can be achieved if presenters and content producers are not prepared to come up with new ideas and to think more creatively about how they can engage listeners with compelling content.

It was a very memorable talk. Full of great stories and given with loads of heart. Watch out for the next Radio Lab Professional Lecture. If they are anything like this they will be engrossing.

Myers-Briggs Personality Testing

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Oct 082011

Myers-Briggs Personality Testing

As an interesting aside I’ve had students undertake a Myers-Briggs personality test as we try to identify productive working teams when hey are running radio production project, such as the Leicester Comedy Festival Podcasts. I’ve not taken the test for a couple of years, and I seem to remember that I came out as an extrovert the last time I did the test.

Imagine my surprise when I took the test again tonight and I came out as an ‘Introverted iNtuitive Feeling Perceiving’ personality type. The last time I was listed with Margaret Thatcher and Gandhi – this time I’m listed with Princess Diana & J.K. Rowling. Here’s my profile. I’ll let those of you who know me decide if it’s accurate or not. Have I mellowed with age?

At least it is good to know that your personality can change, but to have it confirmed that as I get older I’m becoming more introverted. As I sit here at home enjoying a nice quiet evening with a book and a glass of wine, I suppose I should have expected it.

Been a Busy Old Week…

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Oct 072011

I bought this when I was ten or eleven years old

The first week of teaching is always a challenge. It’s where the planning and the practice come into close proximity, nose up to one another, and then one of them emerges victorious after a grapple and a test of strength. At this point I feel that the planning won out, but I also have a mild state of anxiety that it was a case of holding on by the finger nails, and that if there was a gentle breeze in the direction of the radio modules this week, I would now be floating at the bottom of a dirty puddle like a plastic bag that has been whipped around a municipal park and is now laying discarded and forgotten.


Me in 1978

But the week was good. It was great to meet the new Radio Production students, catch up with the returning students, and to run some sessions that got our minds thinking about the way that we can use radio. I have to say that the highlight of my week was playing Dr Who and the Pescatons to the first year radio production students. It was funny listening back to this audio drama after so long. I still have the album that I bought when I was ten or eleven years old. My eldest brother was into punk in 1977, and used his cash to buy Clash and Sex Pistols singles. I was a bit of a Dr Who fan and spent my money on albums by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Disaster Sound Effects albums. So at my lecture it was great hearing Tom Bakers voice on a high-end sound system, that brought out the tone and the character of his voice. Tom Baker’s voice sits alongside Roger Livesey and Richard Burton as my all-time favourite actors, solely based on their voices.


Radio Production Course Development Mindmap

Later in the week I ran a session with the second year radio production students, as part of their personal tutoring sessions. Rather than just sit in a classroom, we worked in a computer lab and created personal mind-maps that asked what they think that they might be doing in two years time once the have graduated? After each person wrote a blog we sat and talked about how the BSc Radio Production & Technology course can be improved so that we see a more direct link between the course and industry, and how this can be developed to ease the transition from studying and employment for most of the graduates. We agreed that personality can only play a limited role, and that the rest would be dependent on having a set of distinctive skills and grabbing every opportunity there is to gain experience and undertake production work.

As ever there are some major challenges ahead in meeting the expectations of the students, but on the basis of this week it looks like being a good year.

Cultural Quarter Podcasts – Week One

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Oct 042011

It was a very busy, intense but highly productive first couple of sessions for TECH3013 Advanced Radio Production. The lecture was very well attended, and there was a great buzz around the room as everyone settled in and tried to take-in the challenge that I laid out before them. How do we make great content for DemonFM with our partners and friends around the city.

There are three areas that learners will be working on in this module, which will provide an intense focus for the next twenty four weeks of activity and study. We will be working with the Leicester Comedy Festival, we will be promoting and developing the live music offer of DemonFM, and we will be championing arts and creativity in Leicester with the Cultural Quarter podcasts.


Advanced Radio Production – Working Themes

To make things easier to manage, and to ensure that Simon Walsh and I have a good chance to work coherently with each of the groups, we have decided to divide the three tasks equally between each of the lab/workshop groups.

  • Monday – Cultural Quarter Podcasts (Rob Watson)
  • Thursday – Leicester Comedy Festival (Simon Walsh)
  • Friday – DemonFM Live Music Experience (Simon Walsh)

Each of these activities have a very ambitious aims that will demand a lot of attention from each of the learners who work on these groups, but what dividing them up in this way gives us, is a clear sense of cohesion within each group, so that a clear brief can be developed for each content area, and so that learners will be able to formalise their teams more clearly by following a theme through from start to finish.
This doesn’t mean that each area is exclusive, but it does mean that the main responsibility for producing content in these themes rests with the students who are timetabled for each of the groups. Unfortunately because we have so many students on the module, if someone wants to work in a different team, they will have to persuade someone else to swap with them.

I held my first lab session on Monday afternoon, where we all set-up our WordPress Blogs using the DMU commons system. I’m going to help Simon’s first group on Thursday and Friday, after which I’m expecting that everyone becomes autonomous bloggers, using this as a resource to account for the work that they undertake on the module, and then pooling that work as part of Radio@DMU.

We identified three key tasks to start with for the Cultural Quarter Podcasts. Learners agreed to dot he following for week two:

  • First, listen to a ‘culture’ or ‘art’ review radio programme and write a review about it on their new blog. This will be tagged TECH3013 so that we can share what each other thinks about culture based radio programmes.
  • Secondly, think of someone to interview who is doing something culturally interesting in Leicester, which we think that the DemonFM audience might be interested in hearing about.
  • Finally, can we list all of the types of activities that we think relate to culture in Leicester, and which will give us a broad view of the life of the city and what’s happening. It’s really important that we establish a set of links to other culture guides and ‘what’s-on’ so that we can start to figure out how to make this information appealing to the DemonFM audience, and so that we can start to move out of our comfort zones and experience a range of cultural activities far beyond those things that we have established in our own personal repertoire.

I’m really excited at the idea of leading the Cultural Quarter project for DemonFM, and hope to be producing some audio content myself. I think we will be able to range far-and-wide, and we are likely to have a great time in the process.