James Cridland’s International Radio Trends: Closures and bereavements

James Cridland, radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting. Buy James A Coffee HERE

Above: I saw this transmitter last week. Quite nice looking, though some vandals have dropped some letters in front of it. (In actual fact, this isn’t used to broadcast radio or TV – it’s just for LA agencies like the LAPD, fire, school, etc)

For many in UK radio, it’s been a month of change and, yes, bereavement – both actual and felt.

The sudden death of Paul Chantler earlier this week was hard to take. I’d last seen Paul at Radiodays Europe in Prague, but had chatted with him via email relatively often. He was a clever and pragmatic radio programmer, and – unusually – one who saw opportunity in the medium’s constant change. His obituary in Radio Today is worth a read. He’ll be greatly missed.

On the South Coast, the popular “live and local” radio station Wave 105 was closed down: it’ll (mostly) carry networked programming from Greatest Hits Radio. I never listened to the station; but it’s very clear from the strong comments on social media that people felt very close to the station. I’ve seen the phrase “bereavement” used here, too; and we’re likely to see more of it, as Bauer Media also closes Pirate FM and Pulse 1, the remains of the station I first worked at in 1989.

Bauer aren’t just closing radio stations, they’re also closing buildings. 1 Golden Square, the home of Virgin Radio since its launch in 1993 and, latterly, the home of Kiss, Absolute, Magic and many others, is to go silent. Not mentioned in Adam Bowie’s history of Virgin Radio: Virgin Radio was actually never meant to be based in Golden Square – but the UK’s national pop music station was actually supposed to have come from an office in, I think, Slough; and Golden Square was really only meant for the sales operation. Anyway: I’ve plenty of fond memories of the building, and it’s a sobering thought that nothing now remains, physically, of my first and last job in commercial radio.

Bauer aren’t just closing radio stations and buildings, but they’re also closing some of their transmission platforms. Bauer stations were available on Sky satellite television, cable, and Freeview terrestrial television, but by the end of this month, no longer; they’re turning them all off.

9.4% of the UK listens to radio via the TV at some point or other, and while I was at Virgin Radio we fought quite hard for the space on Freeview, since we saw that it was an ideal way of encouraging trial of the station (and getting the radio into a new room in the house: your living room rarely has a radio in it). Yet, in terms of total time spent listening, digital TV accounts for just 3.7%.

If you think of “radio on the telly” as another platform, it’s not a massive success; though if you think of it as a marketing spend, it gets a billboard into every living room in the country for a relatively low price. It’s undoubtedly a cost that can be turned into short-term profit; but, given that Bauer doesn’t own the biggest out-of-home company in the UK – unlike its rival, Global – you’d have thought it was worth more to them as marketing.

Here’s a peek into one of Bauer’s new studios. Note that the old studio had a touch-screen set of faders, and they’ve (rightly) switched to physical faders again. For a self-op radio presenter, I can’t comprehend doing a show without being able to feel the faders you’re using or the buttons you’re wanting to press. Goodness. No wonder some radio presenters hate technology.

Away from Bauer Media – Greece is planning a local music quota. More than 45% of all music played on the radio – or in public spaces – will need to be of Greek origin.

In exchange for featuring more Greek tunes, radio stations, stressed the culture minister Lina Mendoni, “would be given more time to air commercials”. Oh, great.

The BBC is to carry ads on podcasts in the UK. I wrote about this at length in my personal blog (should probably have sent it in this newsletter, too) – but it’s a very interesting change in a fundamental BBC policy about ads. Still, if it means the end of the delay of The News Quiz’s RSS feed, I’m all for it. I also wonder out loud if auto-downloads should stop for podcasting; write an interminable trip report about my journey to Oslo, Munich, London and Los Angeles; and a thing about podcast recommendations.

The replacement for Steve Wright on “Sunday Love Songs” will be singer Michael Ball. This would be a grumble about hiring radio professionals that know how to communicate rather than a big name, etc, but I can’t really be bothered so let’s move on

The BBC’s R&D team are testing the quality of UK mobile networks for live streaming. Lots of nice data on BBC streaming is included in the blog post – it uses audio segments of 6.4 seconds, we discover, and different handsets perform very differently. Interesting work.

Worth listening to is the The Rest Is Entertainment recent episode on the future of the BBC.

I also have a real, proper blog at https://james.cridland.net/blog should you be interested in the slightly random things I post there.

Brad Hill