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!’