Monday, 12 July 2010

Budgets, cash flow and creativity

There’s been huge coverage of the jobs lost at commercial radio over the past few weeks. If you want to get up to speed on this, check the Guardian’s pages here. I feel desperately sorry for the several hundred people who will now be leaving the industry they love, some of whom have been hard at work for decades.

Of course, the business rationale is that in a recession, commercial radio needs to find ways to shoulder the extra burden of digital transmission costs, and provide better services to attract listeners to digital. I hear the transmissions costs argument loud and clear, but I’m not going to even discuss issues like ‘quality of output’ now that stations are turning into brands – it’s a pointless exercise.

But there’s a lot of point in thinking about how things can be done convincingly on low budgets. Two weeks ago, I participated in a TV show, hosted by the excellent Apache Indian (check his Wikipedia entry here) from his Corporation Street venue, Apache’s Bar. It was carried on BritAsia, Sky channel 833. He does this monthly. Apache laid on a live band (jazz horns and dhol rhythm section), an audience with things to say, and a key topic – why does radio not do more to support local talent? I was there to talk radio, of course. Interestingly, I was the only guy who turned up from my section of the media; others were invited. Funny, that. And there were only two points I could make.

Firstly: I was not going to defend the indefensible. Radio’s move from local to corporate is soul-crushingly awful for musicians making their way in the world and looking for some exposure.
Secondly: But, hey, radio be damned; great music will find always find a way to its audience, and the better it gets, and the more the audience buys in, the more radio has to acknowledge this. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen radio scramble to catch up with music developments it can no longer begin to control. So.... if you're a musician, get great. Simple.

But those points are tangential to this post. The fact is that Apache delivered a credible, engaging show on a minuscule budget. The same applies all over the country at community radio level. What you need, always, are clearly thought out ideas that your audience will engage with. What you don’t necessarily need is expensive kit.

Still on this topic: I’m just coming to the end of a month-log schools educational project. The equipment we were promised has yet to materialise, through no fault of the school. So we’ve been improvising, using borrowed kit, pressing unexpected tools into service, and working on ancient computers running
the excellent and free open source Audacity editing software. Although we’ve had to adapt and revise a fair amount, at no point in the project have these limitations blocked the flow of ideas, and some of these ideas have been belters. I’ll blog separately about this in a week or so, when the project reaches its conclusion.

The best programming approaches, like the best ideas, come for free. They are the results of clear and focussed thought. And often – not always, but often - that clear and focussed thought flourishes best where it won’t be stifled by large corporate structures. If you’re in a tiny operation with zero budget, you may be blessed with a creative freedom you could look back on fondly in future years.


Qasá Alom said...

Hi Mr Valk

My name is Qasa Alom, I'm a trainee Broadcast Journalist in Birmingham. As you can imagine it's an exciting time to get into the industry with so many new opportunities in online radio.

However it's also quite a difficult time as your blog alludes to with the decline of commercial radio and the beeb.

I was hoping that I could get a 3 minute interview from you on media privacy and the future ownership of media sometime this week if possible.

Many thanks

Qasa Alom

Robin Valk said...

Not a problem. What course are you on, and how can I contact you?