Sunday, 17 January 2016

There's a new online kid on the radio block.

Our city. Our music. Our stories.

Radio tells stories better than almost any other medium. Take it with you. You don't need to look, just listen. 

It's been that way for close on a century. But now, the rules and the tools have changed. 

It doesn't break the bank to get started. Anyone can get on air. So there's tons of internet stations. Some want to turn the clock back - big mistake. Some are vanity vehicles. Others have specialised agendas; I approve. And all the time, mainstream media shrinks its offer, cuts costs and shuns local. The gap between large and small is now a chasm, a yawning gulf, financially and creatively.  

Can this gap be bridged? I'd like to think it can. And here's one way we might find out. Welcome to Birmingham and the world, Brum Radio

Full disclosure

Sharp-eyed readers will have spotted a new feature at the bottom of my blog pages, listing work I've lined up for Brum Radio. Brum Radio is now up and running after a month-long bedding in period. I'm doing music interviews, documentaries and live recordings, all of them produced. The station carries a lot of specialist shows, done with enthusiasm and some style, from a very wide range of presenters. And the music plot for non-live hours is resolutely, comprehensively and proudly ... local.

Birmingham is the focus

I'm well aware that many of my contemporaries at mainstream radio will sneer at this idea. I've already been told I'm bonkers to get involved. But bonkers cuts both ways. To me, super-safe radio, dishing out inanities and working a music plot of 200 bland songs, is worthless, empty and uninspiring. It's built for profit, not long term satisfaction. It's a haven for careerists, and I'm far too old to worry about that. 

The idea of a locally focussed station with a huge range of specialist shows, not necessarily compatible with each other, and a music plot that mixes the familiar with the very very very unfamiliar, all of it local, might well seem insane to many of my industry pals.

But consider what the great Paul Murphy said when he launched his ground-breaking Songwriters Cafe streams, on which I was prouder than proud to work: his aim is not to broadcast, but to narrowcast. Paul's focus was and is the singer-songwriter and the audience; Brum Radio's focus is creative work in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands.

The Potential 

Brum Radio streams online; all shows are available to listen again. There is no terrestrial transmitter. That's expensive, and there's no room left on the FM band anyway. So audience growth, while theoretically unlimited, in is practice a tough proposition. Most online stations struggle to get double figures for their audiences. Online streaming's share of listening is still growing, but not at the pace it was a few years back. 

But listen-again is one of the big developments of this century. The big, big listening figures here go to stations and shows with reputations. Superstar shows get millions of plays; we're hitting hundreds at best so far. But those numbers, in the field Brum Radio is in, are already out-performing the norm. Not bad after a month. 

It's perfectly possibly for this area to grow. Social media comes in especially handy. Brilliant ideas can and do travel. Reputation helps, a lot. Endorsements too. But great content is essential.

The Music

Here's something for radio geeks. When I started programming music on a computer in the 80s, for the old BRMB and XTRA-AM, the idea of management-driven music was anathema for jocks who, up till then, had had almost complete freedom. My early consulting years were filled with rancorous discussions about who had the right to tell a DJ what to play. My personal view is that such systems work best when approached collaboratively: remote and lofty management at commercial and network radio, who refuse to let their DJs have any input, are losing out. They should wise up.

In those early days, it cost thousands of pounds a year to rent software that merely produced a printed running order. Streaming kit and digital file storage hadn't even been thought of. In 2016, the kit Brum Radio uses was bought for a shade over £200, and not only does it schedule, it lets you manage your music library and delivers an audio stream. New rules, new tools

And while conventional wisdom is that you must have consistency by playing the hits of the day, or at least the cred artists of the day if you're 6music or 1Xtra, there is a logic, and a consistency, to championing music from Birmingham and the region. Given the extravagant range of talent in the West Midlands that gets little or no support from London-centric operations, it seems an absolute no-brainer. This makes for a very diverse music plot, but, mixed with brilliant specialist shows and arts and magazine programmes, that's really not not a bad thing. That's exactly what the biggest station in Europe, Radio 2, does, after all. With a nice budget, of course.  

Thank you, Terry and Gerry! Thank you, Vix!

Like a lot of tiny stations, Brum Radio is amateur, in the best sense of the word. 

Nobody gets paid. 

Most of the kit is donated, loaned or recycled. Outgoings are rent, streaming and PRS/PPL.
The software tools the station uses are either free or eminently affordable. 

It's this development, above all else, that's made Internet Radio possible. 

But no station can run on fresh air and love for ever. There will be sponsorship and fundraisers. The first was announced in Birmingham this week: Terry and Gerry will headline a launch party gig; Vix and her MsChiefs support, with two more acts to be announced, along with Brum Radio DJs, at the Hare and Hounds on February 17th. Get your tickets here.

Oh the stories we could tell

in 2016, Radio is a web-powered world of multiple platforms, of podcasts and listen-again. There are millions of songs to be heard for free. We can all do our own playlists. That makes it tougher for music DJs. 

A long time ago, I was a rock DJ, a specialist jock in a pre-internet world. I was a teen music obsessive; most people are at that age. Music still fascinates me, but I no longer burn to be a DJ. DJs are mainly live creatures these days. They have audiences to react with; they have conversations, face to face with their crowds. 

I'd rather tell stories now. Everyone has stories. Everyone is interesting. For me, it's where radio comes in to its own.

Telling the story

I'm lucky. I've had decades to practise. Writing this blog for seven years has helped. I've done a fair bit of training in that time. Watching people turn into presenters – some do, some don't – is fascinating and wonderful. The critical thing for me is to strip the process down, down, deeper and down, to focus on just four things.

What you're saying right now
What you're going to do when you stop talking
What you'll talk about next

Who cares about what you're talking about 

If you want to do radio, those must be clear in your mind. That's what you're dealing with in the studio. Later for the longer view.

It's ironic that the role of the DJ – a hoary old concept that has been around for nearly a century – is evolving, again, as the medium of radio shifts onto new platforms, with mutable timeslots, weird and wacky approaches, and potentially worldwide audiences.

Me? I'm having a ball. This is something I love doing. There's nothing, simply nothing like getting that great interview, mixing a show so it sounds as sweet as can be, capturing a great set, or coaxing the best out of a presenter.

This is a tiny, tiny start. Time will tell if the station can grow into something bigger. But I never thought radio and its hybrids would get this interesting... again.

Brum Radio website
Brum Radio's Mixcloud page

See more radio and broadcasting posts on Radio To Go


Radio To Go on Brum Radio 

Mon 18th, 10pm: In The Studio - David Campbell
Tue 19th, 4pm: Big Wheels: Roy Williams pt2
Wed 20th, 11pm: Live and Local: Trevor Burton at the Roadhouse. Also Sat 23rd, 11am.
Friday 22nd, 4 pm: Muso Takeover - Ryan Webb of Rhino and The Ranters

Brum Radio is in test transmissions now. After their first airing, these shows can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

All Radio To Go shows aired on Brum Radio are listed on the blog, here


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Dear Robin, I'm posting a message here, not because I wish to outline my views on local radio or local music, or indeed radio generally, though I've been involved with radio for a long time through the work of my husband, Charles, now retired but formerly of ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Classic FM (and think that radio makes better pictures than television), rather because your name came up when I googled Will and your parents' names, as I want to contact Will whom I've known since 1969 and not seen since the 70s when he came to stay in Western Australia and spend time with us. I had lunch with Diana in 1970 and have followed your late father's career with great interest, particularly as I have a friend here, formerly Professor of German at Adelaide University, who saw your father on stage in the north of England and has never ceased to sing his praises. Brian Coghlan, as he's called, is now old and frail and I need to catch him and make a recording of him speaking of your father as soon as possible. It is for this reason that I was endeavouring to ascertain the whereabouts of Will; I recall he lived in Wales, but I've not had news of him for years. My email account at the University of New England (NSW, not the States), is and I would be delighted if you contacted me there. Amities, Jane Southwood