Archive for October, 2007

Believe it or not, people in Milton Keynes do want to hear about what’s happening in their town.

If there’s one area that often gets maligned, often unfairly, it’s the domain of the local radio DJ. An odd blend of personality, cheese and the rural/urban area they broadcast to, for all those who sneer, they’ll be just as many who’ll tune in religiously.

 

Perhaps GCap’s Chief Executive, Ralph Bernard, has heard too many doomsayers as, along with other radio heads, he’s asked for the amount of local programming to be cut to just three hours a day, so the stations can compete with the likes of Chris Moyles and Chris Evans.

 

Now on one hand, I can see several reasons for the GCap board, why this would make sense. However, as an ex-GCap employee, I also think it would be completely the wrong move to make.

 

Commercial radio cuts its cloth quite fine, and with increasing competition for advertisers, it’s a move borne as much out of necessity as anything else. Like any company, there are efficiency savings to be made and if roughly 2/3rdof their local DJs around the country can be cut out in favour of networked shows, then that’s going to make a big difference to the balance sheet and possibly the shareholders. And if the network shows can be demonstrated to appeal to a more lucrative advertising demographic, then there’s an opportunity to increase revenue.

 

But that may make for a very healthy balance sheet and please City investors, may cause long-term problems for local stations. As somebody who’s recently worked on the front line for a GCap local station, if you will, and used to regularly interact with listeners, then I can firmly say one thing: locality matters to these people.

 

Yes, there are the popular networked shows. Late Night Love has a cult following. Myleene Klass may be proving popular as the girl of the moment. But these work well in the timeslots they’re scheduled for – early evening and late night.

 

To me, the argument that local stations can’t compete against the likes of Moyles and Evans doesn’t ring true, as I don’t believe local stations should necessarily be aiming for exactly the same audience as Moyles or Evans in the first place.

 

Local commercial radio occupies a niche that isn’t always fully exploited. Sure, you could network Johnny Vaughn’s Capital show, and it may prove popular in cities such as Brighton, Bristol and Birmingham. But one-size certainly doesn’t fit all, and whether Johnny’s shtick would prove quite so popular in Hereford, Cardiff, Somerset and Plymouth is a moot point.

 

Local commercial offers is very different from the more speech-heavy local BBC stations, which tend to attract a slightly older audience, but for those who’re not so keen on Radio 1’s playlist, or Moyles’s laddish humour, don’t want their programming too speech heavy, but still identify with local issues (and there are a significant number who fit into this category), then local commercial radio fits the bill nicely.

 

The letter from GCap, Emap and others to offer says: We all agree that localness is important to our listeners. However, it is also clear that quality of output is of greater importance.” This implies localness and quality output are mutually exclusive. I’m sure a lot of local DJs, and listeners would find this both offensive and slightly patronising.

 

The principles of good programming are no different in Exeter, Edinburgh, or London. Get a good presenter, or presenters, who can make entertaining radio and connect with their audience. Often the best local DJs I’ve heard are the ones who love getting involved in local issues, be it local carnivals, breast cancer awareness campaigns, new shopping centres or follow the local football and rugby teams.

 

Get that blend right, and for the listener it gives them a show that entertains, informs, educates and even evokes empathy. Reithian core values need not be the exclusive domain of the BBC.

 

The argument that any money saved will be ploughed back into making one quality programme doesn’t wash with me. Radio is all about building hours, and if you’ve got listeners only tuning in for one three-hour show, and turning off for the networked content, you’ll achieve a loss. And, having had plenty of contact with listeners and potential listeners over the past 18 months, I strongly believe that for any new listeners commercial would pick up as a result of networking, it would lose as many, if not more, for those who tuned in precisely to hear the much-maligned local DJ give them the lowdown on move to redevelop the bus station. Unlike Morrissey’s disc jockey, these broadcasters do have something to say about my life.

 

It may not be entirely politic to criticise your recent ex-employers, but I’ve just got a problem with the upper-echelons of GCap’s management in this case, as the station I used to work for was a prime example of how local could work wells, as sounding more local was something they’d been pushing in a big way. I was proud of the balance struck between good programming and including the right amount of local balance.

 

To give an example, recently the station did an OB at the opening of one of the city’s large new shops. In the middle of this, they cut to an ongoing on-air promotion live elsewhere in the city, before a live promo teasing a major event that weekend. This was highlighted as an excellent example of what the station should be aiming for and, if the response was anything to go by, it achieved it. Now if you add the buzz those outside events would have created in the city anyway, you’ve got an excellent example of how local radio can, and should, work.

 

It can take years to build up that reputation and the listeners that come with it. It can take just a couple of months to lose them. As John Plunkett says, “How the heart lifts when Andy, H and the other one (Steve) mention some local south Bucks gossip, some irritating roadworks or there’s yet another trail for Hazlemere food hall (I still haven’t been).”

 

Quite.

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Football causes disappointment and delight for fans. It does the same for libel laywers.

Following the Usmanov case,there seems to have been a raft of ‘cease-and-desist’ actions around the internet, most notably the bunch of Sheffield Wednesday fans wondering where the money’s gone[1], and secondly the Society of Homeopaths who got somewhat miffed at the suggestion that this relatively unproven medicine might not be all that [2].

Firstly, I doubt very much this is a relatively new tactic. It’s just before Usmanov the internet community wasn’t quite as aware, or as bothered by it. Very much like the phone-in and BBC scandals, once people start looking, or bothering, the instances are there. Anyway, that’s somewhat of a side issue.

What this does show is that the internet, while on one hand democratising us all and giving anyone and everyone a voice, is also the most vulnerable to the stifling of free speech.

This largely comes back to a problem I’ve repeated ad infinitum. You could make an argument, certainly in the Quackometer site, that what is being raised is in the public interest. To my mind, Dr. Lewis would have several other defences in a court of law before he’d even have to fall back on Reynolds. That’s assuming he’s actually libelled someone, which I’m not entirely convinced he has. Yet Ben Goldacre can write about the same topic in the Guardian and nobody’s removed the article or forced Goldacre or Guardian Unlimited to be taken down.

If anything, this neatly highlights the problem. On one hand, major media organisation writing about issue worthy of debate. Publish and be damned, and the article remains in situ. Internet blogger catering for a more niche community on exactly the same subject – one lawyer’s letter later and the offending article, if not the whole site, could be forced down.

Yes, given anybody can take finger to keyboard and make any kind of accusation, it’s probably useful to have some form of legal controls and redress in place. But the playing field seems far from level with all other forms of published media, tilting the scales away from freedom of speech.

That, to my mind, shows our libel laws need to be rewritten sharpish to take into consideration the vastly changed nature of communication rather than waiting for piecemeal case law judgements that can often be at odds with each other.

In the case of the Sheffield Wednesday fans, there’s a slightly different, if still very much related to the core area, issue. To be honest, much of what I have to saw on this would be parroting my post on Martin Watson, the Hereford United fan banned from the ground for running an internet forum.

It’s not unsurprising football should be seeing more than its fair share of cases in regard to this issue. The 92 league clubs, plus the hundreds more in the lower tiers over have a very passionate, (inter)active fanbase who willingly engage online. Take a look at any unofficial forum for any football team and that’ll immediately become apparent.

In some respects the Guardian somewhat mislead by describing the Wednesday fans as bloggers when the offences took place within a forum. Unityneatly describes the differences between libel issues faced by bloggers and those by forum admins:

“Getting back to Iain [Dale] and his warning to anonymous commenters on his blog, notwithstanding anything else that I’ve said, the position in law that Iain faces is no different to that which has been explored by several bloggers in the wake of the Usmanov issue. UK libel law hold ISPs, webhosts, forum owners and bloggers liable not only for their own content, but for anything they ‘publish’ up to, and including, anonymous comments. It all very well issuing ‘warnings’, as Iain has done, but in doing so he rather misses the point that its only by virtue of the largesse of the litigants in the Owlstalk case that it appears that they’ve chosen to pursue claims against a small number of specific members of the forum, when  they could just as easily – more easily, in fact – have pursued the owner of the forum.”

What I would disagree with Unity is on his explanation of the reasoning and motvations behind the original postings on the Wednesday forums – namely suspicions about the balance sheets.

There are a lot of very suspect characters who’ve been involved in football clubs in the past, and there are probably some still running clubs at the moment. You’ll also get a section of the fanbase who are better informed than others and ay use the forums to raise awkward questions. It certainly gets done a great deal on the Exeter City forums.

There will be some postings that are downright libellious. In my experience, moderators are usually pretty swift to pick these up. Genuine discussion of the off-the-pitch matters often concern matters that are in the public interest, and deserve to be at the very least debated and aired. [3]

However, there is a fine line between libel and genuine discussion, and not all posters will have received the basics in libel. Nonetheless, the free speech issue still remains. It may be uncomfortable for the club or individual and they may not enjoy what is written but if it is done fairly, and is an honestly held opinion or, better still, true, it has the right be be heard – nobody should be allowed to censor something just because they not like the content on an unlibellious piece of writing.

The net, specifically forums and blogs, are a fourth and a half estate of sorts. They should be given the chance to behave like one and develop properly into a fifth estate, or merge with the fourth.

[1] Something they’ve probably been wondering ever since they fell out of the top tier of English football.

[2] At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical ‘I’m not an x, some of my best friends are x’s’, I use some homeopathic medicines, mainly to ward off colds. But then I use paracetamol to do the same thing. Both appear to work. One could probably do with a bit more research into it.

[3] And, in the past, I’ve heard some pretty-eyebrow raising football-related stuff covering several different clubs that the media often don’t touch but gets picked up on the forums and then by the media. At least several of these have come from pretty impeccable sources and without the forms a large proportion of the fanbase would have been none the wiser.

Smoking, big style

I’ve been in London about a week now and, you know what, I quite like the place. It may be large, people may not be that chatty but, you know what, I quite like that as well. Generally, there’s lots I like about the place.

For those expecting tales of London-style debauchery, living it up in the capital’s most dubious bars every night repeatedly ending up in compromising positions with Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse while Pete Doherty injects us all with heroin in the buttocks, that hasn’t happened, and nor would I want it to. And, anyway, I can’t imagine ever approaching Pete Doherty for any reason whatsoever other than to tell him he’s a massively overrated musician, and musician is pushing it.

Anyway, I’m alive, and nobody has tried to attack me with weaponry of any sorts. But there are a few things that baffle me about London, despite my general liking of the city.

1. London Transport System. Efficient it may be, but travelcards and Oyster cards and cards in general.  I’m sure its simply once Ive settled, but trains have always thrown me. Some years ago, I accidentally ended up in Barnstaple due to a train error. I’m just not good with them.

2. Fat people running up escalators, then stopping at the top.

Amusing, yet pointless.

3. Wearings jumpers over your shoulders, tieing the garment’s arms in a loose knot around your neck.

I’ve never been in step with fashion, but this just confuses me.

4. The London Paper and London Lite.

I’ve yet to work out what purpose they save. I’ve read one virtually every day and still don’t feel like I’ve actually learnt anything. I’m not a big fan of Metro, but it reads like Proust, Dickens, Shakespeare and JK Rowling rolled into one.

5. The large selection of Cornish pasties available.

I don’t have a problem with this, I just wonder if London has reached Cornish-pasty saturation point.

Apart from that, everything can be described as good. I will have something more sensible to say soon, once I move house properly and get settled, but expect more idiotic confusion over trains and pasties in the meantime.

Wherever I lay my jacket… (I don’t have a hat)

This blog will probably be taking a quick hiatus for a few weeks. Not because I have nothing to say, for once, but simply that I move up to London this weekend, start work on Monday and at some point need to find a house. All of which may prove problematic to regular (ha!) blogging. Or irregular blogging. Or even now-and-then blogging.

But I may find a spare half an hour somewhere to waffle tripe about tripe, or even black pudding. I may be unusual among vegetarians that I used to quite like black pudding.

Anyway, a few random searches that have come my way.

1. To the person who looked for Who is Gary Andrews, I suggest you click on the about page. Although that needs updating.

2. I absolutely love the fact somebody found this blog by searching for: “Who should I be tonight, Matthew?”

Right, back to the boxes.

Dan Hardie: Iraqi Employees Update

Only just got in, but today’s announcement by the Prime Minister about the fate of Iraqi employees has drawn this response from campaigner-in-chief Dan Hardie:

“The Government are saving some Iraqis threatened with death if they’ve worked for us for 12 months, and abandoning others, equally threatened with death but who’ve worked for less than 12 months. They’re playing a numbers game with people’s lives.”

Read the rest of what Dan’s been saying today.

It’s a good job a year reading the news has given me a bit of self control. It’s also a good job I take a bit of time over my bulletins, as when I first saw the story on wires, my immediate response was: “You utter, heartless bastards.”

As Dan says, it’s a numbers game.

Read just why this is so important on Dan’s site.

Rejoice

My old mucker, John Widdop, is blogging.

Expect bitterness, misanthropy and general despair and rage.

There was a three year old general at Waterloo and Idi Amin had a slobbering aunt

The Devil has a pop at 17-year-old Emily Benn, a prospective Parliamentary candidate in the next election, whenever that may be.

Quite aside from the question of whether we need another Benn in Parliament, or whether she’s got a little too enthusiastic with her political past, the Devil raise a good point about age but is, I feel, a tad disingenuous to her on that front.

“What the fuck? Look, at the age of 30, I am pretty sure that I know what I believe in, but I have undergone a substantial change in the last few years. I was hardly ignorant, but I have learned an awful lot about politics, economics and history which has expanded my understanding; I have picked up figures and the best places to find others. I have raged and I have been corrected; I have entered debate and been educated.

What makes this little shit think that, at 17, she knows fucking anything at all? I didn’t. What bunch of lunatics selected her? She hasn’t even been to university, or held down a proper job. She has no idea what tax is, or what living on your own is like. In short, she doesn’t have a fucking clue what life is like.”

On the politics front, there’s a decent point. My politics have changed a fair bit since I was in my late teens and there’s a lot you can pick up that’ll inform your world view. I’ve no doubt my politics will change in the next ten years, and the ten years after that as I’m sure most of the rest of us will find.

Actually, I’m always a bit concerned when I meet people whose politics haven’t changed one iota in ten years. Holding onto your core beliefs is admirable but not taking in the world around you probably means you’re not the best-adjusted individual.

It’s true Emily Benn lacks a bit of life experience. I’m sure there’d be a slight change, in addition to a look of horror, when her first Council Tax bill arrives.

However, I still don’t begrudge her the chance to run for Parliament. Football fans are fond of saying, if you’re old enough, you’re good enough. When Ashley Cole was a mere whip-snapper, and before turning into an irritating, whining little diving prat, he managed to keep Silviniho, then a Brazil international, out of the side. And why nobody could deny Gareth Bale lacks experience, he’s also a darn site better than a large proportion of left-backs in the UK.

By the same token, Emily Benn could probably do a better job than a fair few politicians already in the House. Charles Clarke and Geoff Hoon spring to mind, for fairly obvious reasons. Whether she actually merits a place in Parliament is another matter altogether but she’s just as much right as myself, an 80-year-old or another teenager to run.

There’s also the possibility that she might actually be able to engage younger voters into getting interested in politics. I’ll qualify that with a *might*, as I’m pretty skeptical on that front. But what I have noticed is all the politicians I’ve met who’re closer to my age, I find it easier to relate to. Ok, so that’s using a very flawed inductive reasoning method, and I’m sure I’ll meet one who barely even comes from this planet. But if it gets a few more teenagers at least interested in politics, that’s got to be a good thing. Well, possibly.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com