Today’s the 10th anniversary that World Radio Day has been marked. It was set up by UNESCO to celebrate how the medium keeps communities connected. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel that this is as important as ever.
Whether on a local, national or a worldwide scale, radio has been innovative and evolved to allow a diverse range of voices to be heard. Evolution, innovation and connection are very appropriate themes for this year’s event.
“Radio is a powerful medium for celebrating humanity in all its diversity and constitutes a platform for democratic discourse. At the global level, radio remains the most widely consumed medium.
This unique ability to reach out the widest audience means radio can shape a society’s experience of diversity, stand as an arena for all voices to speak out, be represented and heard.
Radio stations should serve diverse communities, offering a wide variety of programs, viewpoints and content, and reflect the diversity of audiences in their organizations and operations.”UNESCO
I was at a conference run by the Community Radio Association at the University of Salford, about eight or nine years ago, when a guest speaker talked about communities around the world that would otherwise have not had access to the medium. By listening to radio there was a connection felt, by those invisible waves travelling through the air.
The talk had a profound effect on me – how a radio station’s content has the ability to directly impact people’s lives. Examples of this happening over years are endless and every station will have its own. Access to radio itself is the first step to this feeling of connection. For instance, Trevor Baylis’ invention of a wind-up radio relaying information to communities around the world that had limited access to electricity and / or batteries.
Then there are the calls to action that can be elicited by what’s broadcast. The most recent example of many that I can recall from the station where I work happened during BBC Radio Cumbria’s ‘Make a Difference’ campaign this week.
A volunteer from Silloth Community Hub, a shop where people pay what they can afford for food, had been speaking on Mike Zeller at Breakfast. Listening on his way to work was the manager of a local supermarket who was put in touch with the hub and agreed to make regular deliveries of food donations.
Radio has evolved to survive, listening today will sound very different to that of a decade ago, as the medium moves along to reflect the lives of the audiences that are served by it. It will sound different again in 10 years’ time too. Innovation is as apparent as ever currently, as stations adapt to keep broadcasting while staff work from home during the coronavirus pandemic and will continue to do so.
Happy World Radio Day! #WRD2021
Covid-19 has dominated the headlines this year and will continue in 2021. Mostly unrelated to the pandemic, it has been been a year where much-loved friends and family have passed. Like everyone, social contact has been limited, unless it’s taken place over a screen. There has been a lot of sadness, that’s for sure. It doesn’t need dwelling on, which is why I thought I’d make this review a look back at things to be grateful for.
JANUARY – MARCH
Life continued relatively normally up until March, although the virus was starting to spread more widely. At work I was out and about, reporting on stories. Then, the week before lockdown, I achieved a long-held dream which was to studio produce the breakfast programme.
A holiday of a lifetime had been planned for April to visit New York City to watch a Broadway show and see the sights. It wasn’t to be this year but I’m glad to have took the plunge to book something I had wanted to do for so long. The plans will hopefully not go to waste, when life gets a bit more normal and holidays can resume.
STAYING AT HOME
I started working from home on 19 March 2020, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson asked the nation to do the same, during the first lockdown. Underlying health conditions mean I’m classed as clinically vulnerable to coronavirus. As restrictive as staying at home for such an extensive period may seem there are advantages.
Not having to commute to work gave me extra time in each day. It’s been lovely to spend this with my fiancé, who has been shielding with me. When we both worked together in Blackburn we were able to take our lunch breaks together and it’s been nice to do this again, usually with our cat sitting on one of our knees!
In a busy life it’s all too easy to overlook some of the simple things that bring joy. I’d never paid too much attention to the changing of the seasons before. Noticing the plentiful flora and fauna around us and the way it transforms and continues – despite what nature throws at it – became a metaphor for the year. This enhanced awareness of the world around us is something I hope to take with me beyond 2020.
One of the best things I did at the start of the first lockdown was to set my parents up on an iPad. Something we won’t look back on because it’s been a great way to communicate. I normally visit my family in Manchester a lot and vice versa. To have this contact restricted has been difficult. Video calling on FaceTime has helped massively to feel a sense of connection, for which I’m grateful.
Using Zoom and Microsoft Teams has kept me connected to colleagues too. I was delighted to give a talk to journalism students at my former university, UCLan, remotely using this technology. Video conferencing also enabled me to be involved in BBC’s England’s Diversity Action Group. Connecting people and ideas across the north. I’m passionate about diversity, inclusion and equality and am glad I can be involved in this important area, alongside my job as a journalist.
This blog was updated more than I expected, as a way to document and diary my time, particularly as I was shielding. It’s been cathartic to do this and I hope one day I can look back on these posts when Covid-19 is a distant memory. This year has allowed me time to expand the pages on this website and very soon the content will all be able to be accessed by visiting www.katybooth.com.
A DREAM COME TRUE
In this challenging year, for so many reasons, a career ambition of mine was realised…
I’ve had such a varied career in broadcasting and journalism which has given me valuable experience. For the majority of time, this has either been as a freelancer or via fixed term contracts. I’m at a point in my life where I want to settle, which is something I can now do thanks to becoming a permanent member of BBC staff on a continuing contract. I’m delighted this can be in Cumbria – part of a talented team at a fantastic radio station.
The positive reactions to my posts on social media about this step in my career have been phenomenal. Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with kind comments It’s been nice to share such a joyous moment with so many people.
2020 has taught me not to take anything for granted – to take a day at a time. My thoughts are with everyone who has lost loved ones to Covid-19 or other causes. Just because the date changes doesn’t mean the problems of the pandemic will go away. We all need to be as vigilant as ever. However, a new year brings new hope. I wish you health and happiness in 2021. Stay safe.
I was delighted to be invited to speak to journalism students at my former university, UCLan in Preston, about how I work from home for BBC Radio Cumbria. Also, how the broadcast industry has adapted to the changes we’ve seen this year, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve been working from a back room in my house for more than seven months due to underlying health conditions. In keeping with the topic of the talk, it was delivered via video call to the students who were watching in their own homes on Microsoft Teams. An enjoyable session with about 40 people watching, who asked excellent questions at the end. Some of the salient points of the discussion are included here.
As a key worker, it’s a privilege to continue to contribute to the radio station throughout the pandemic in an important role. There’s a wide range of things you can do in the broadcasting industry, while working from home. I mostly produce items for the breakfast programme but can also record and edit reports as well as broadcast live, using specialised apps and software.
Here’s political correspondent, Paul Rowley, doing exactly that on BBC Radio Cumbria. Even with disruptions, it turned out to be a memorable moment and Tweet!
Without a commute of over an hour each day, I have a lot more time. I’m able to read for pleasure a lot more than I used to. There’s also more time to spend with family and pets… Even if my cat does seem to know when I’m on an important phone call because that’s exactly when she’ll meow for Dreamies! For parents, arrangements can be flexible to allow for childcare and appointments.
Technology has increased our connectivity; people from across the organisation can connect in an instant with the likes of Zoom. That’s something I do weekly for a diversity and inclusion steering group that I’m part of. I’ve had training sessions, without the need to travel or meet face-to-face, and even taken part in a Pilates session during a lunch break.
One of the main aspects I miss is the social side of going to work. Those ‘water cooler moments’ where you get to know colleagues personally in the little chats in the kitchen or corridor. Bouncing ideas around with others and having a banter in the office is great… it’s not quite the same over email! Our weekly team Zoom call to catch up with each other is something I look forward to.
The amount of screen time has, understandably, increased. Usually face-to-face meetings provide a break from this, but not so on a video call. It can be tempting to avoid taking breaks and just plough through but it’s actually even more important to do so when working from home, to prevent eye strain. Try to move around, rather than stay completely sedentary, too.
It can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from work when there’s no commute to provide a mental break and a chance to assimilate all that’s happened. My tip is to try to have a separate workspace that you can leave at the end of the day. If you only have something like a dining table to work off don’t sit in the same place to eat as well. If you use a laptop, pack that away once you’ve finished using it.
When the computer is only in the next room it can be tempting to “just do a little bit more” work – something I have been guilty of on occasion! Set boundaries so that you will only work the same amount of hours as you would, if you were physically in the office.
Our ability to work from home will probably be with us, long after this pandemic. It would be a shame not to take the positives of what has been learnt to become more effective in future. Without the need for as much travelling, it gives us more productive time in the day – and it’s better for the environment too. Our homes are now the equivalent of district offices.
As broadcasters and journalists working in the media, being adaptable is what we do. It’s how the industry has developed into what it is today and we shouldn’t fight this. We’re currently in a period of great change at the moment anyway, but the possibilities of what can be achieved when we put our minds to it are still limitless.
A recent example of how working from home has become a ‘new normal’ was evident in how the latest episode of Strictly Come Dancing was broadcast. Showbiz reporter, Betty Redondo, Tweeted that it was actually directed by crew members from home. You wouldn’t have known any different while watching the show live on Saturday night either:
Finally, you can claim tax relief of £6.00 a week for job expenses, while working from home. More information is available HERE.
It’s a strange time to be writing a review of the past year but, let’s face it, 2020 has been a strange year! August is also a month of anniversaries. I’ve worked four years consecutively for the BBC, (a bit longer in total but I left, came back and also freelanced for a while) and I’ve spent the past year of that service with BBC Radio Cumbria.
It was a tough decision to leave my previous station, BBC Radio Lancashire. I’d worked in most roles in the newsroom there, my last substantively was producing the drive time programme. I had a great working relationship with the presenter; we were a small and effective team of two, who reformatted the programme. It was going down well with listeners and that was reflected in the listening figures.
I feel like I ‘left on a high note’, as the idiom goes, which is always good to do. The team gave me a brilliant send off and I’m still in touch with many former colleagues. Another saying is ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’ and my life was taking me further north. The time was right for my fiancé and I to live together, so moving base coincided with moving home to beautiful Cumbria.
Carlisle’s a historic city: on one side of the studios is a castle and the other a cathedral. It has a particularly familiar feeling for me because of the aroma that comes from the nearby McVities factory. I grew up close to a biscuit factory near border of Stockport and Manchester. There’s nothing quite like it! The scent is very reminiscent of home. Even though the two are more than 130 miles apart.
After my first day, I was reporting in Kendal about work on Victoria bridge. As I was recording that report news broke that a lorry had hit a nearby railway bridge and I ended up being one of the first reporters on the scene, which demonstrates how important it is for news outlets to have a local presence.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know a new patch and developing contacts. In the months that followed I did a range of shifts. Filming and editing social media videos was something I’d never done before joining BBC Radio Cumbria and that’s been a useful skill to develop in an ever increasing multi-media industry. Here’s one of them… (Post continues below.)
Producing the overnight election programme in December has been a highlight – powered by pizza and coffee! I worked with two experienced presenters who took direction well, with a team of talented reporters based at counts across the county and inserts from political experts. Even the technology worked well. As a producer, you can’t ask for much better than that.
I’ve stood in for the news editor, covering the comings and goings of the news desk and I’ve read bulletins. I can recall when coronavirus was in the running order when I was on shift on New Year’s Day. I knew it was a big story but I didn’t realise then how life-changing it would eventually become for us all.
The week before I began working from home I was the early morning producer of the weekday breakfast show. A career milestone for me, as it was something I hadn’t done done before and I enjoyed having overall editorial responsibility for the programme. Covid-19 was high up the news agenda then, as the first cases of the virus had been identified in Carlisle.
Shortly after that I started working from home, which I’ve documented on this blog previously. I’ve been doing that for 20 weeks now. When it began I never thought it’d be something that would last for five months, but here we are! I actually thought I’d be back in the office so quickly that I almost left my headphones in my locker. I’m glad I did think to bring them with me because I use them everyday.
While I obviously don’t have the range of shifts available than the likes of what I’ve described above, I’m classed as a key worker. It’s felt like an important time to make a contribution to the radio station, during the pandemic. Mostly as ‘late prod’, the afternoon producer of the breakfast programme. I can also edit audio from home too, so I’ve been able to record audio remotely on my computer and package it up.
My first year with BBC Radio Cumbria has been amazing, I packed a lot into the seven months I was in the newsroom and the five months of working from home have been a learning curve that I’ve adapted to. There’s exciting things on the horizon as well. I’m part of BBC England’s Diversity Group North which focuses on inclusivity and equality, an area I am incredibly passionate about.
Other than that, it’s quite difficult to predict what the future may hold. Could there be a second wave of the virus? What will happen to the radio industry in this uncertain time? A lot can happen in a year and if this past one’s anything to go by, it has reinforced my outlook to take it a day at a time and not take anything for granted.
This week the front and back pages of newspapers have been filled with news of Liverpool Football Club being crowned Premier League champions. However, in what seems like an eternity ago – but was actually just a week beforehand – I was getting some other sport breaking news to air. In what is a big story in my patch of Cumbria, Barrow AFC were promoted to the English Football League for the first time in 48 years.
Many followers of current affairs will be familiar with “breaking news” as a banner on news channels or smartphone push notifications to describe anything new or developments to an existing story. That’s one take which somewhat dilutes the term, I think. The kind I’ll be discussing in this blog post is the sort that, as a radio producer, makes you completely rethink a programme and turn items in a running order around.
Breaking news is the bread and butter of journalism; it’s something to be enthusiastic about, rather than panic. These are often times when we produce some of the audience’s most memorable moments of our output. Often, but not always, it will happen at unexpected moments – at the end of a shift, when you have made plans after work, for example. The news of Barrow’s promotion certainly wasn’t unexpected but happened right at the end of my shift.
Due to the nature of breakfast programmes on BBC local radio, which are broadcast from very early in the morning, there’s an afternoon producer who takes over looking after the programme from the morning producer when their shift finishes. The role includes reacting to the day’s developments as well as setting up content throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The role of ‘late prod’ is on a rota for the news team at BBC Radio Cumbria and I’ve been doing my most recent stint for the last month, while working from home.
It was 19:00 on Thursday, 18 June. I’d just subscribed to a Sky Sports day pass so I could watch my team, Manchester City, play their first game after the season break, due to the coronavirus pandemic. I’d finished setting up the next morning’s breakfast programme and was out of the loop while I’d sat down to have tea. The call from a colleague followed to inform me the announcement had been made – Barrow has been promoted.
It was not a surprise; due to the nature of this year, the non-league season wasn’t able to be completed. Therefore, the final standings were decided by a vote of all clubs in the league. When the season was suspended, Barrow were top of the league and became champions. Ironically, 48 years earlier the team had actually been voted out of the English Football League, as was the protocol at the time. The Bluebirds hadn’t even finished bottom of the league that season either. It’s reported the decision was made due to where the town is located and how long it could take some away teams to travel to the Holker Street ground.
I logged back onto the computer in my home office, that I had only five minutes earlier shut down, and began moving items around the running order. Previously, a plan had been devised on how the breakfast programme the day after any possible promotion should sound. It was a case of implementing that and ringing round some guests that had already been set up to ask if they wouldn’t mind being put on hold. All were very understanding of the circumstances.
A lot of liaising was done with my colleagues in the south of the county to set up certain pieces and deliver kit to the commentator, so he could appear live outside the Holker Street ground in the morning. Then guests that had been set up in advance had to be confirmed. Once all that was in place, I allowed myself a 45 minute break to at least be able to watch the second half of the football match that I had initially intended to. After that, I finished writing cues and drafting questions. The whole four-hour programme had to be re-worked and I finished putting everything in place in the early hours of the morning.
The advantage of working from home is that at least I didn’t have a commute to contend with after I’d finished and just went straight to bed. It’s part of the job to be flexible and hearing the programme go out live the next day makes it all worthwhile – the jubilation in the fans’ voices and the elation of those who work at the club. It’s always nice to play a part in such a celebratory programme. I believe it showcases the importance and value of local radio to be at the heart of communities like that, reflecting what matters to the people who live there. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with breaking news during my career and it, almost certainly, won’t be the last.
I started 2019 on a high. Last New Year’s Eve I presented my first live radio show in years, since immersing myself in broadcast journalism. The programme was ‘Songs from the Shows’ on BBC Radio Lancashire and featured movie musical hits.
The buzz of live radio is why I love my job; there’s nothing like it. I presented Eclectic 80s live on Good Friday, alongside my main role producing the drivetime programme. Lancs will always have a special place in my heart because that’s where I got my first paid work in the industry, before moving to commercial radio and coming back again.
In summer, I transferred further north, to BBC Radio Cumbria. A station I knew previously, having done work experience there. I’m based in Carlisle and moved home from Blackburn to Milnthorpe. The drive to work takes over an hour, but it’s probably one of the most scenic commutes in the country.
In under six months I feel like I’ve developed so much, as a person and a journalist. Learning the intricacies of a new patch has been an exciting challenge. I get to do the newsroom roles I’m familiar with, like bulletin reading and reporting. I’ve learnt new skills too – including making video content for the social media pages and produced the station’s overnight general election coverage. The team have been so welcoming and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.
At the beginning of the year I made a resolution to update this blog more often and set myself a target of posting at least one new entry a month. I’m glad to say that, once I publish this post, I’ll have hit that target. I think I’ve written some of my best pieces this year, including my take on the changing local radio landscape and disability representation in the media.
It’ll be an early night for me, this New Year’s Eve. My alarm clock will go off in the wee small hours of the morning because I’m reading the breakfast news bulletins on BBC Radio Cumbria. It’s great to be able to start 2020 by doing what I love. Happy New Year!
When you start out in radio you’ve got to be like a sponge, absorbing all the techniques and tricks of the trade of those around you. And the truth is, this never really stops as time goes on. Technology changes, you may move to another role or fresh ideas are tried out. That’s the beauty of working in a creative industry; no two days are the same. You’ll get to try new things all the time – learning as you go.
My old school motto was ‘Education for Life’ and at the time I couldn’t stand the thought of sitting in a metaphorical classroom forever! Maybe it meant the things you learn in school stay with you but I now take it to be that you never stop learning. Part of that process is receiving advice. I’ve had lots of it over the years and have chosen to follow it from people I trust. Two pieces of advice I received throughout my career stick with me to this day… even though they are, in essence, contradictory.
“Don’t specialise too soon”.
This advice was given to me when I was presenting music programmes on community stations and I wanted to make the jump into becoming professional. I was specialising in the chill out / easy listening genre at the time. Having presented the same style of shows on three separate stations. I adore music and have a massive passion for it… But the advice was right.
There are very few opportunities out there for people who specialise in particular genres, in an industry which is shrinking, even for mainstream presenters. The specialist music presenters I know combine their work with other roles in the creative industries – for example club DJing alongside their programme – or something else entirely. You should never lose sight of your passion and there’s more ways to demonstrate that than ever. Blogs, Vlogs, podcasts. If you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.
“Find your niche…”
My passion for radio developed beyond just music and my fascination with broadcasting grew the more of the medium I consumed. I’d been told I needed develop as many skills as possible, so you name it and I did it. From roadshows to promo to research to interviews to desk driving to street team to making jingles to presenting and producing… if it was something to do with radio I wanted to know about it. The anorak within me was unleashed!! Zzzzzzip!
I was doing anything and everything, then one day at a networking event I was told to ‘find my niche’. This was confusing, since I’d been told not to specialise before. Then I looked at where I wanted my career to go in the future and I combined this with the voice work I’d been doing. My niche was news.
Only news isn’t a niche. There’s so many roles you can do under that umbrella term: reporter, producer, bulletin reader and that’s just skimming the surface. However, hearing that advice helped me get the direction I needed to enrol on a masters in broadcast journalism.
You need to use your judgement, of course. Not every piece of advice you receive will be right for you. One person actually told me not to enrol on a course, which if I had followed wouldn’t have led me to where I am now. In fact, my whole life would be very different – a scary thought!
It’s funny how things said way back when can strike a chord many years later. I remember going to a school progress review meeting one day. It was getting close to exam time and we were thinking about careers. My form tutor said “what about being a journalist?” I laughed and said “Absolutely not!” Well, I didn’t know then how happy I’d be now.
I’m still learning new things all the time and I’m still and all-rounder. In the past year I’ve reported on a stories and made them into an audio package of my report. I’ve read news bulletins, produced programmes, planned upcoming outside broadcasts and I’ve presented a specialist music programme.
Since joining BBC Radio Cumbria in August I’ve been learning lots of new things. Over the past month or so I’ve been the social media reporter. Looking after content that has aired on the breakfast programme and also made into short films for the Facebook page too. I’ve enjoyed learning to edit video again; a skill which I hadn’t used in years.
Even though my work has taken me in a direction I maybe didn’t expect at the start of my broadcasting career on student radio, it feels right. It would’ve been wrong to specialise too soon and miss out on opportunities that were to come because I opened my mind to other possibilities. The great thing is, I still get to utilise my passion in many ways and look forward to what else is around the corner.
It’s the decade of big hair, big shoulder pads and even bigger songs.
That’s why, over the Easter period, I wanted to present a specialist music programme dedicated to the music that defined a decade. It’s a popular radio format for a reason and these songs ‘test well’ with listeners.
If the BBC wants to attract younger audiences then I think music of this era is a great way to do it. It evokes memories for those who remember the decade for those who lived it and appeals to those who didn’t. I think it’s testimony to how good the sound of the time was because programmes – and indeed entire radio stations dedicated to the decade – prove so popular.
When I was starting out in my broadcasting career I learnt a lot from the likes of DJ Caz Matthews at North Manchester FM. A few years later, I appeared on BBC Radio Manchester’s 80s programme firstly with Manchester musician Clint Boon and latterly Stuart Ellis. I was delivering travel bulletins into the programme at the time and a great advantage was that I got to hear a lot of the output! I know 80s is a format well done by very knowledgable and experienced presenters, which is why I wanted to do something a little different an put my own spin on things: I pitched “Eclectic 80s”.
My programme on BBC Radio Lancashire celebrates the niche, the novelty and great songs you don’t often hear on the radio. Wham! was the most requested band in my running order but, instead of what you might expect, I played ‘Young Guns’, when was the last time you heard that?
80s computerised TV host Max Headroom makes an appearance with The Art of Noise for ‘Paranoimia’, in what arguably takes the title of most eclectic song played in the whole two hours – and proudly so!
Also, I channeled Brett Davison’s ‘Tricky TV theme teatime teaser’ by playing the full theme from the TV show ‘Moonlighting’, which starred Bruce Willis – back when he had hair. It was performed by the late, great Al Jarreau and producer by Nile Rodgers of Chic. I’ll post a full tracklist at end of this blog post.
I was so proud of this programme, especially with the amount of interaction that I got while on-air. I wasn’t expecting much as it was Good Friday evening, but people got in touch to say they were listening, to tell me what they were doing and share their memories of the 1980s.
It’s only available on BBC Sounds for a few more days so if you fancy a quirky couple of hours to re-live the new wave, new romantic and synth pop style that defined a decade, follow the link here and re-run the fun: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p075j96b
Stomp! – The Brothers Johnson
Sweet Surrender – Wet Wet Wet
Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy) – Scritti Politti
Here Comes The Rain Again – Eurythmics
Rain or Shine – Five Star
The King of Rock n Roll – Prefab Sprout
You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
My Old Piano – Diana Ross
Moonlighting – Al Jarreau
Kissing with Confidence – Will Powers feat. Carly Simon
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox
Let’s Wait Awhile – Janet Jackson
Danger Zone – Kenny Loggins
Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need this Pressure On) – Spandau Ballet
Too Shy – Kajagoogoo
Sweet Love – Anita Baker
Young Guns (Go For It) – Wham!
Bridge to your Heart – Wax
This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush
Paranoimia – The Art of Noise feat. Max Headroom
Rosanna – Toto
Here we Are – Gloria Estefan
Don’t Look Down (The Sequel) – Go West
January, February – Barbara Dickson
Half a Minute – Matt Bianco feat. Basia
Thinking of You – The Colour Field
My One Temptation – Mica Paris
Down to Earth – Curiosity Killed The Cat
Waiting for a Train – Flash and the Pan
I was in a restaurant lately, a smaller group had been taken over by a larger one. The whole place had a refurbishment. The menu’s changed; old signature dishes have been removed in favour of other ones. The produce isn’t local – the meat doesn’t come from local farms and the ice cream is produced miles away, rather than in the dairy down the road. The staff have changed too, I’ve no idea where the managers have gone but some of the bar and serving staff have stayed.
This analogy also describes what’s happening to independent local radio (ILR) with big changes announced in recent weeks. Many smaller groups, including a lot of stations I worked for previously, have been bought by either Global or Bauer. This is because rules that restricted networking, by having a requirement that certain hours and news content must be produced in the area that the radio station broadcasts have been relaxed by the industry regulator, Ofcom.
It’s been a process of osmosis to get to this point which has been on the cards for years. At least there are two big players in the commercial world. It’s actually good to have competitors – to keep everyone on their toes and the bar raised. The stations that will remain will sound very slick, even if the links are voice tracked ‘crunch and rolls’ from the latest reality TV star turned radio presenter. That seems to be the trend these days…
Commercial radio has always been about making money and you can’t fault the companies concerned for doing that; it makes business sense to increase productivity in this way. If the rules are relaxed to allow networking then it’s only going to be a matter of time before it happens. Of course, behind every station rebrand or new celebrity slot comes with it job losses, families impacted and an industry with shrinking chances for established talent and newbies alike.
Others who’ve blogged on this subject have mentioned that the gap in the market gives an opportunity for both BBC local radio and community stations. In my experience, community radio sounds at its best when a station is well run by people with industry experience at the helm, usually in paid positions, to steer a cohort of enthusiastic volunteers. Even though community stations can provide a valuable hyper-local service, if the sound is poor people aren’t going to listen for long. What comes out of the speakers is everything, especially when other stations along the dial are going to be on form all the time. Ofcom rules state that community stations must be run not-for-profit and, in this current climate, I would argue this needs a rethink to allow the sector to flourish fully.
As far as BBC Local Radio is concerned, a lot of people’s perceptions are based on old-fashioned stereotypes. I produce the drive time programme on BBC Radio Lancashire and, since I took over this role around six months ago, we’ve reformatted the programme so local news is the focus but you’re never far from a song. If you haven’t listened in a while give it a go – the playlist is closer to many of the stations that will soon be shutting down to become transmitter sites for the bigger conglomerates than you may expect.
The reality is there’s only a finite amount of jobs available in the industry at any one time or, in the case of community radio, most do it for the love of the medium. Due to the recent changes, 250 positions in commercial radio could be lost, according to an estimate by the industry news service Radio Today. This affects many, from presenting, producing to news – not forgetting freelancers. Media and journalism courses up and down the country have optimistic students enrol each year with a dream of working in radio. If the jobs aren’t there for those already established then what’s the knock on effect going to be for those trying to get a foot in the door or develop?
It’s stark, it’s scary and it’s not what anyone who works on the front line in this industry wants to see happening to friends and colleagues who’re affected. The landscape is changing but I’d like to think it’s not all as bleak as it seems. Fewer stations are on the dial but there’s an online presence now that can’t be ignored. Social media, podcasts and listen again services mean there will be need for content producers, just maybe not in a linear format like radio is.
There’s stations like Imagine Radio in Stockport and Cheshire. Despite all the networking announced recently, the station’s new owners announced an expansion. Revolution 96.2 that broadcasts to Rochdale, Oldham and Tameside, is a commercial station super-serving those areas with local content. You might think a market like Greater Manchester may be saturated but there’s a lot of listener choice in these areas and that’s promising for ILR. In time, a hyper-local commercial model may spread to other areas as well.
I believe the trend for networking will buck but it could take a while. There’ll be a shift and demand for localness from listeners and smaller commercial radio stations will rise like a Phoenix from the ashes with a sound that will be different and refreshing. Like what Century did in the mid-90s, with a higher speech to music ratio, football rights and a well staffed newsroom. Something like this would need to be bold, have financial backing and launch when the time is right. Sadly, that time isn’t now and who knows what the local landscape will look like when it is? However, radio will adapt to survive; it always has and it always will.
January – the month of (failed!) New Year’s resolutions and a look back on how the previous year panned out. It’s become a tradition of this blog to do so and I’m happy to say last year was a blast, both professionally and personally. I’m going to be a true radio pro now and try to hook and tease you by saying that I’ve left the best until last… so stay tuned!
The theme of this year, for me, has been to embrace change.
2018 marks my tenth year in radio and I began by continuing to read the breakfast news bulletins on BBC Radio Lancashire. At the start of the year the station had a massive overhaul. We had a studio facelift, to join the ViLor network of BBC local radio stations. In a nutshell, this means all the music and speech clips are played remotely, rather than stored on computers in Blackburn. The studios moved down the corridor and the newsbooth became no more – as the news reader position is now incorporated downstairs, with the rest of the programme teams.
We were the first station to move onto the new system along with a change of newsgathering software to OpenMedia. The beginning of the year therefore involved lots of training and learning how all the technology works. The analogy “like a kid in a sweet shop” comes to mind!
I put the new equipment and editing software to good use throughout 2018 and have been involved in various bits of presentation and production. Before I got involved in journalism, my initial passion for radio came from a love of music. I‘ve been able to present music specials again, including a reprise of my ‘Chilled Christmas’ format and an indulgence in my interest in musical theatre with ‘Songs from the Shows’, which I presented on New Year’s Eve – a dream come to present a live programme solo on the BBC! I’ve also co-presented; again at the Lytham Festival, for the community programme ‘Your Lancashire’, presented the Unmissable Podcast and studio produced ‘Sounds Like Saturday Night’ and ‘Jukebox’.
I didn’t stray far from the news desk though; one of my highlights was producing and presenting a documentary which aired in May. While researching local Lancashire history, I came across a horrific murder case of a baby that was abducted from the old Queens Park Hospital in Blackburn and murdered. 2018 marked 70 years since the death of June Anne Devaney. It was also a police success story – the first case of mass fingerprinting of a whole town, which led to the murderer being hanged for his crime after a trial at Lancaster Castle.
I researched the background, dramatised the story and looked at the development of forensic science over the years. I’ve previously made a documentary and it was great to immerse myself completely into the art of long form storytelling again. I also feel like a bit of an expert on this case in particular.
Towards the end of the year, we had a shakeup of the rotas and now my main role is to produce the teatime programme. I’m really happy with how the show is sounding and loving the opportunity to shape the programme and guide it editorially. There’s something satisfying to start the day with a blank canvas of a running order and by the end have filled it with lots of great local content.
As you can tell, I’ve been quite busy work wise! It was sad to say goodbye to colleagues and stations I broadcast on during my former Saturday job as a traffic and travel reporter. It’s fair to say I’m a workaholic but I took the decision because, for probably the first time in a decade, I wanted more of a work / life balance.
Living in south Cumbria, we’re on the edge of the Lake District and there’s lots to explore. I’m getting more time to develop my hobby of amateur photography and I have a wonderful partner to now share these experiences with. We’ve had some nice trips last year; including Whitby, Kent and celebrating my birthday in Paris. I got to look at the Mona Lisa up close in the Louvre museum, go up the Eiffel Tower and have a meal floating on the Seine opposite Notre Dame… even if it did take a leap of faith off the river bank to get on the boat! No sign of Quasimodo ringing the bells this time though.
You can imagine, with a holiday to Paris planned there were lots of predictions among friends about whether the question would be popped and an engagement would be announced? Well, that’s all far too predictable! It’s too touristy for that and we’re both not the sort to follow the crowd.
I’ll always remember the 11th of November. Of course it’s Remembrance Day for those who have been lost to war. It’s now also poignant for me because it’s the date my partner and I got engaged – on Arnside Pier at sunrise. It was such a beautiful day; there was a stillness in the air and beautiful colours adorning the sky. Finding love and making this commitment has been the most unexpected but wonderful blessing I could ever have wished for.
A memorable year indeed and it’s nice to have a companion, and now fiancé, to share 2019 with. We’ve already had a roadtrip to Portsmouth and booked a holiday for spring. Of course, this is only a snapshot of the highlights of my last year but I do feel the most content I have ever been. Thank you to everyone who shared a part of 2018 with me.
More posts to come in 2019…