January 6, 2005 – 8:24 pm
I flicked through the Guardian over breakfast and there was a feature about DAB receivers that was worth a read. A nice way to start the day: gallons of caffeine, leisurely pastry consumption and a side of texty goodness.
I sauntered down the hill to the university, pausing to take a few snaps of some of Lincoln’s nicer morning scenery. On arrival, I grabbed myself another cup of coffee at the university cafe – and it has to be said: while Lincoln University may be scenic, highly regarded and well-equipped, they lack in the coffee preparation department.
However, to my delight, I discovered a nu-jazz/broken beat podcast on the laptop that I’d completely forgotten I’d downloaded. So… a cup of headache dirt with the headphones on and before long, it was time to meet the other panellists – who all seemed very nice – and go in for the panel discussion session.
To be honest, we were a bit worried that the panel was going to outnumber the audience. Going on the bill at 9.30am on the second day of an international conference is always a bad portent for attendance.
It wasn’t too bad though – maybe about 25-30 people in the audience, mostly academics, but a few practitioners.
Some good questions – though a couple that I felt slightly underqualified to comment on – especially concerning the culture of Ofcom, the regulatory body that has replaced the Radio Authority in the last year. However, I was able to provide the provocative viewpoint of the outsider, and occasionally knocked the discussion off one set of tracks and onto another that led in an entirely different direction.
Anyhow – it’s all recorded. On minidisc at present, and as I type this, it’s being transferred to CD. Once I have a copy of it at my disposal (a day or two, perhaps), I’ll make the recording available here.
One of the things I did want to mention, but didn’t get to edge it in, was something on the back of Tim’s comments about how community radio should empower individuals to exercise their basic human right to communicate. I wanted to direct both the panel and the audience to two websites: Transom.org and Public Radio Exchange. I would consider those two sites among the most important innovations in radio. Have a look.
Radio is about music, and it’s about the stories we tell each other. Those sites expand both the range of what’s possible – and who has access to the medium. They – and the growing phenomenon of podcasting – point clearly in some new directions we should be examining as potential futures of radio.
Consider that my addendum to the session.
There are some interesting parallels of debates from within the NZ radio industry – but on a completely different scale, and with a completely different set of presuppositions about the nature of radio.
After all, radio in the UK is dominated by the BBC, it’s fairly heavily regulated, and there’s an assumption – even within the commercial industry – that there’s an underlying public service element to everything the industry does.
Oddly, Jane Hill (Lincs FM’s PD) hosts a specialist country music show on what is essentially the Classic Hits format (plus some older tracks) local station. This is a radio station that commands 45% of the market – which is surely a license to print money.
After the session and a tour of Lincoln’s impressive media production facilities, Jane and I had quite an animated discussion about local music on radio. She struck me as intelligent, reflective and insightful – and, on this issue, wrong.
Her position was an almost word-for-word echo of what I call the Ross Goodwin Defense:
“The standard of the music itself is very low…”
“The audience won’t like it…”
“The audience don’t know it…”
“The market’s too small…”
“It’s poorly produced…”
“It’ll turn advertisers off…”
“It’s bad for business…”
All of which turned out to be complete bollocks in the light of the voluntary targets in the NZ experience.
In fact – I’m convinced there’s nobody left in the NZ commercial radio industry who would dispute that playing more local music has had significant commercial benefits to the industry as a whole – and to individual stations in particular.
I cannot believe that promoting localism on a local radio station is counterproductive. It may not be the path of least resistance, and it may even require some research and an investment of time and effort – but I would bet money on it paying good dividends before very long.
Commercial radio stations have no responsibility to the music industry, local or otherwise. It’s not their job to support struggling artists. It’s their job to make money for their shareholders. Actively promoting local music is purely and simply good programming and good business. A commercial opportunity that commercial operators are terrified to exploit despite all the evidence.
I don’t understand why that is – I’m just glad that the RBA found themselves in a position where it just became inevitable. They’d have never done it without that imperative – but they certainly make a compelling precedent and case study.
There HAS to be some consultancy money in replicating the NZ local music success story elsewhere – or maybe some NZ On Air / Creative NZ / NZ Music Industry Commission money to promote Shihad, Concord Dawn and Rhombus over here…
I keep being struck by how much the changes to the radio industry in New Zealand could inform policy in the UK, and I’ll be having further discussions with Neil Stock (Head of Radio Programming and Licensing at Ofcom) who had been smart enough to identify that as a possibility.
Charlie Partridge (BBC Radio Lincolnshire) was interested in the big picture future-gazing stuff, which I take as a promising sign for radio generally.
If heads of BBC Radio (as leaders in the digital radio field) start to consider digital media on their own terms, instead of simply as prosthetic extensions of conventional radio broadcasting, then the future of the industry internationally looks very bright.
From a policy perspective, the complete deregulation of the industry in NZ (something that still surprises people here) means that we’re seen as something of a cautionary tale – an early warning system for media.
With that in mind, I’m available for seminars, conferences, consultancies, weddings, parties…
I’ll post the mp3 of the panel session as soon as it’s available.
The train ride home allowed me time for a few more albums: