An open letter to Ben Cooper – Chairman of the Radio Academy

The following is written as an open letter to the chairman of the Radio Academy Ben Cooper from a concerned member of the organisation. The following expresses my own thoughts and opinions, as you might expect, and not those of any of my employers or directorships past and present. It is written in light of the fast developing news about the future of the organisation, which it is my opinion there has not been suitable communication or consultation with it’s members.
I don’t often write formally, so I apologies in advance for all linguistic errors.

 

Dear Mr Cooper,

 

I believe you recently requested people’s opinions on the future direction of the Radio Academy. Purely through fault of my own, and the realities of working in a busy role day to day in the world of broadcasting I failed to do this within the original deadline, however I hope yourself and the academy’s trustees will take the time to take on board my views and many others like me who have benefitted from the organisation and may also have not found the time to respond to your original request for feedback. I am writing this as an open letter, in part because I failed to submit my feedback to you earlier, and in part because I think others who have had a similar route into radio to me may underestimate or take for granted the work of the Radio Academy and those other organisations which it works with (such as The Hospital Broadcasting Association, The Community Media Association, and The Student Radio Association) in supporting, developing and bringing together people who are passionate about radio broadcasting at whatever level they are involved.

 

I write as a former chairman of The Student Radio Association, who has gone on to remain involved with the development of Student Radio as an active member of the Judging Committee of the Student Radio Awards over several years. I have also directly offered my time and abilities to the Radio Academy as a volunteer over the past five years on the Radio Festival TechCon committee and also in training and developing the next generation of broadcasters by assisting in the organisation of training days and masterclasses.

 

If I may start by expressing my concerns at the recent announcement of a scaling back of the Radio Academy’s activities. I appreciate that in a changing world, especially in an industry such as our own which is constantly modernising and evolving there is a need to keep pace with developments, the commercial radio sector is largely unrecognisable from when the Academy was registered as a charity in 1986, and clearly it is necessary for the academy to evolve also. However I would be deeply saddened if the sterling work carried out by the academy and its passionate and dedicated staff were to suffer from what I see as a scaling back, if not an active cut to the resources of the organisation.

 

I believe strongly that the most important work of the Radio Academy can be expressed by two statements “Opening the doors of the radio industry to future participants” and “Bringing together all areas of the radio industry” – and I seek the assurance of yourself and the trustees that the announced restructure and any future reviews of the activities of the academy should not lead to any reduction, or worse cessation of the above.

 

I personally have benefited highly from the academy’s activities and have sought to repay this by becoming actively involved myself. My own path into the radio industry was helped no end by the activities of The Student Radio Association (SRA), through their training days, conferences and exposure to the radio industry through their own awards ceremony – as chairman of the Association I discovered how important the Radio Academy has been to the running of the SRA, at the very least offering administrative support – but at times when the SRA itself has been struggling to survive (fortunately far from the case in recent years) stepping in with vital support, knowledge and information without which I can confidently say the SRA, and quite likely student radio as a whole would not be thriving, nor seen as the vital resource for new talent in all roles within the industry it is today.

 

Directly I have also witnessed the wonderful work done by the Radio Academy for people of all backgrounds (including those who have not traditionally been well represented within the broadcast industry) to inspire and assist those who are passionate about this wonderful medium to take their first steps, and further develop within the radio world. I hope I speak as one of many who can look back on masterclasses and regional events around the country and say they were truly inspired to discover what fantastic radio was being made around the UK, and to hear the stories of the brilliant people making it – I would happily count myself as someone who may not be doing what they are now, without attending such workshops. It would be a tragedy to lose events such as these, which are only possible with the hard work put in by the Radio Academy’s small and overworked staff team and the fantastic volunteers who so willingly lend their support.

 

Moving on to the role of “bringing together all areas of the radio industry” – I think it’s fair to say left to their own devices, the radio industry is a disparate bunch. We’re all working long hours, often at antisocial times of the day and night, in organisations which for commercial or other reasons tend naturally to be competitive not collaborative, so opportunities to meet & learn from others working in the same field, both socially and professionally can be difficult. I have been lucky enough to work with a team which unites several major commercial radio companies, the BBC, transmission providers, the regulator and several suppliers to the broadcast industry to produce a radio technology conference (TechCon) which surprises and inspires me more every year with how fantastically we are innovating as an industry, not to mention providing the opportunity to meet with so many other brilliant people working in a related field who attend every year. I know the work of the TechCon committee is echoed in the Radio Academy’s work in other areas of the industry – and it’s my personal belief that there should be more opportunities for cross-industry celebrations of what we are doing day in, day out – which quite frankly would not exist if individuals were left to our own devices.

 

In summary my thoughts in response to your request for input on the future of the academy is that you are privileged to be chairman of a fantastic organisation which has done so much to inspire countless young and in some cases disadvantaged people to find a role or a voice in radio broadcasting, not to mention singlehandedly proving that by uniting the whole radio industry far greater things can be achieved than as disparate individuals or organisations (as we’ll hopefully see proven by the ‘Radio Everyone’ project I know you are a keen supporter of yourself). I believe the Academy’s future should be investing and increasing the number of opportunities it provides for young people around the UK (not exclusively those with ready access to London or Salford) to be inspired by radio, and seeking to increase the number of opportunities for cross-industry groups to get together and provide as many opportunities to remind the cynical sorts we can all be at times how fantastic the radio industry is, what wonderful and inspiring people work within it and how brilliant we can all be when we put our minds to making fantastic radio in whatever role we ourselves fill. I appreciate that the minutes of trustees meetings are not published in line with common charity practice, but I (and I am sure others who are passionate about the organisation – but not privileged to be in a trustee position ourselves ) would be extremely grateful if the Academy would further elaborate on its future plans especially regarding the areas outlined about, and the resourcing of this through staff and administrative facilities – in order to put minds at rest that future generations will be able to benefit in the way I have.

 

Furthermore, I am greatly concerned that as an active member of the Academy, I received no consultation and no General Meeting has been called to discuss the recent plans to cancel the Radio Academy’s major events and close the office immediately, events which seem baffling in light of the health of the academy according to the most recently published annual reports. As one who has been chairman of a (granted far smaller) membership organisation – I am hugely saddened by the way this appears to have been handled and communicated, and I am sure I will not be alone in requesting answers.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Farrington

 

A concerned member of the Radio Academy.

 

Update: Ann & Robin have also blogged with their thoughts.

A Response To…. Radio’s Unsung Heroes

IMG_0577 © by gwyrah

So, a little while ago – the excellent David Lloyd who hosts the Radio Academy’s TechCon, blogged about radio technology people (of which I am one) – David said some very nice things, of which I almost entirely agree with (apart from possibly the comments about our fashion choices…). In his article David makes the point that in radio technology there are all kinds of creative people with a technical brain on their shoulders who in the most part are keen to help solve problems, make ideas come to life, and do everything possible to make life easier for everyone else involved in making the whole radio thing work, not to mention doing their bit to make the radio station sound great along the way. I found it really interesting reading an article from a programmer who clearly gets the relationship with technology in a radio station (which lets be honest will always be a business which can’t function and certainly can’t develop without it), because for everyone I’ve worked with who does, I’ve certainly worked with people on all sides of the radio world who don’t; be they sales people, presenters, programme controllers or if I’m honest some other technology types. So, this is how I see it….

(c) Mark Farrington

Pretty much everyone who got into the radio industry did it because it was fun (I certainly did), most of us could probably be earning more money doing something else somewhere else and if we were (as much as we moan now) we’d probably be less happy for it. This applies as much to techys as anyone else – certainly none of us thought ‘what I really like doing is filling out reports of silences on air, getting the air-con serviced by an incompetent contractor and turning the photocopiers off and on again’ – all of that stuff is what we do because we have to. The part we’ve always enjoyed is filling the problem solving role in the creative process. If you (whatever part of the company you work in) come to your engineer with some mad cap idea you want to make happen which will sound great on air, improve the studio environment, be brilliant marketing or boost revenue and they don’t jump at the chance of helping you to make it work in a way which you’ve never done before, which works brilliantly, and which leaves you free to make it as creative/interesting/profitable as possible – something’s gone wrong somewhere. I was called a genius last week when I demonstrated a system I created which should improve information flow in our studios, and make them a bit more paperless for our team up in Birmingham who are going to be using it in their new studios. I don’t think there’s anything particularly genius about it, I’m just doing my job (if I’m honest I find the fact you can come up with new ideas every day to make a radio show thousands of people want to listen to genius – I’m just using the skills I have to hopefully make it easier for you to do that).

There is a certain stereotype of the engineer (which David refers to as the ‘Program Prevention Department’) of us being grumpy people who sit in the corner who never want to help out and to whom everything is an inconvenience. To my mind this comes from two things; one is not involving us in the planning stages early enough – I’d love to be asked along to SPI meetings, or programming planning sessions – maybe I can suggest a new bit of technology we can get our hands on which might make whatever is being discussed work better or possibly even (shock horror, aren’t you just the IT guy?!?) have an idea of my own which might just work. On the other hand,  if you dump a demand for a PA kit at the weekend on me thursday afternoon without really knowing what you’re asking for, without realising that it’s possible I can’t just drop everything to sort this out for you, I may be a little ratty. The other is the view (prevalent amongst some ‘old-school’ managing directors) that technology is somewhere between a drain on their profits and a necessary evil – this is not true at all, think of us as a resource which can be tapped into by your entire team to make the creative process run smoother, contribute ideas, suggestions and solutions and quite possibly actually save time and money overall, increasing those profits (or for our friends at the BBC, delivering quality first).

I find in my daily life as an engineer I quite often have to push ideas forward for improved workflows, better ways of using technology, or improvements to the radio station; I have no problem doing this (to be honest you’re never going to stop me anyway) but it would be brilliant to know you were on the same page as me and weren’t scared to drop past my desk when you were looking for new ways to spend your clients money, had this thing you’d always wanted to do on air but didn’t think was possible, or think there must be a way to make this, that or the other task easier but just can’t get your head around it. That’s the kind of stuff I and most of my colleagues enjoy, and a little more of that would make us that bit less grumpy when you’ve spilt tea in a mixer, or can’t work out why your laptop doesn’t work when the battery’s flat. I’ve been lucky through my career to work with a few great programmers, presenters, commercial schedulers, sales people & MDs who do ‘get it’, and hopefully I’ve been able to help them achieve the best from the studios they work in and the technology they use on a daily basis (I know one presenter who thought we managed to make the crappy studio they had to work with one of the best sounding in the group, either they were incredibly flattering – or we got it right…!) – the more chances I have to be useful and do new stuff that makes great radio, the less grumpy I’ll be!

And incidentally if you’re looking for a proactive and interested engineer (who’s even honest enough to admit he’s a frustrated programmer at heart), I’m very affordable…. (jokes!)

On the Olympics

Me at the olympic park

So, on Monday I went to the Olympics. Quite a long time ago I spent £60 on 3 tickets to the Women’s Waterpolo for the simple reason they were quite cheap, it was a sport I more or less understood (I actually played it once) and I figured going to the Olympic Park and being part of London 2012 was a once in a lifetime experience.
I was right!
I (fairly famously) don’t get sport – I’ve never successfully sat through any Olympic Coverage, Wimbledon etc. and left to my own devices I wouldn’t watch international football (although I do enjoy watching it with others), I don’t mind playing sport although I am universally bad at it – but I’m even less of a spectator, so it seems slightly illogical that I enjoyed my day out at the olympics so much – but here’s why.
The atmosphere was incredible, everyone there was really happy to be there – from the spectators who were really enjoying the experience, to the army working the security who were laid back, polite and funny, to the ‘gamesmakers’ who genuinely went out of their way to help everyone and nothing was too much trouble. The whole place was treated with a massive amount of respect by everyone as well: there wasn’t any litter anywhere (and not because there was a small army of people picking it up: litter pickers were wandering around with half empty bags) – because everyone there treated the place like people who are proud of their country and what it’s achieved should.
No-one queue jumped, no one was rude to people who were rummaging in their bags trying to find tickets, no one got annoyed when muppets with cameras stopped randomly to take photos in the middle of the crowd (that would be me then…)
The sport itself was fine too, I mean I didn’t really understand it, and team GB lost – but I’m not sure it was one of our medal hopes anyway – and the crowd were really behind the team and genuinely excited about the activity in the venue. The phrase ‘carnival atmosphere’ is horribly overused but the whole place had it – and it really felt like a rare celebration of the UK actually making something good happen when it tries.
London in general was working at it’s best as well, the transport infrastructure wasn’t falling apart. The trains were busy but not overcrowded, platform staff were polite (borderline mad in some cases, such as the singing bloke on the tube platform at Stratford) and friendly – and everything just worked. The whole tube (even stations well away from the olympic hubbub) were cleaner than I’ve ever seen them and London’s streets generally seemed to have had someone go over them with a feather duster. Everything felt good about being in London yesterday.
This is now the 4th time, something I’ve expected to be horribly cynical about has swept me up and got me excited this year: I was caught up in the magic of the little ships on the Thames for the Jubilee, I fell in Love a bit covering the Olympic Torch relay and I got somehow filled with a believe that I really live in a country that’s pretty bloody great really during the Olympic opening ceremony – I said on twitter after watching that particular masterpiece I will give up cynicism for good – I am seriously contemplating genuinely trying.
Wish me luck,
Strangely optimistic Mark.

Trying something new…

To-do list book. © by koalazymonkey

So, I’ve been thinking a bit recently and have come to the conclusion I’ve become a little bit stuck in a rut. I’ve got quite a lot of time on my hands and am struggling to come up with stuff to do with it, not to mention finding myself doing basically the same thing every weekend. Due to my relatively low boredom threshold I’m not very good at just sitting watching TV/reading a book so I need to find something better to amuse myself with.

I figured the most sensible thing to do is to set myself a challenge to do at least one thing a month which I’ve never done before – and assuming I don’t do what I normally do when I get an idea into my head and forget about it/get bored of it/suddenly run out of all available time I’ll try and record my sucesses/failures here. I plan to pretty much do one of these a month for the 26th year of my life (which conveniently starts next friday).

Anyway, this is where you come in – as I need inspiration for things to do to complete my task.  I’ve losely defined ‘never done before’ as “not done in the last 10 years” which takes me back to 16 and finishing my GCSEs, and my only real restrictions on the task is I’m not doing anything which I have a preexisting fear of (skydiving, bungee jumping, you get the idea….). I can’t promise doing everything that’s suggested (especially as I predict at least one suggestion designed to humliate/embarass me) but I’ll give a few of the better ones a go. I’d also love a guide/company on any of the suggested activities if you’d be up for it…

The Reluctant Mac User #2: First Impressions

So, I’ve been given a company Macbook Pro as my new office computer – as a longtime user of anything but a Mac, there’s a slow process of getting used to it – which I’m documenting here. I’m trying to stick to using the mac in general rather than specific implementations of applications by work, or the associated policies and procedures. I’ve been using this Mac for about 2 weeks now – and thought it was about time for another update on what I love, hate, tolerate, etc. so far.

So, in no particular order…

The Screen

Is fantastically sharp: it’s really nice for looking at photos, and documents, websites etc, all appear that bit crisper than they seem to on a PC. One slight drawback to this is the shinyness, it does ‘glare’ a lot from windows and flourescent lights which can cause issues with viewing the screen (and getting the brightness right so you can read it over the glare, but it isn’t so bright it hurts your eyes is difficult).

It’s also too small – but that’s probably because it’s the 13″ version.

Applications

iWork

This seems basically quite good, it’s intuitive and uncluttered – but basically powerful. Keynote and Numbers particularly seem clever (on a part with office 2007 – which is the last MS Office version I’ve used in anger), Numbers has some particularly nifty features which make organising data a lot neater than Excel – although quite a lot of formulae don’t seem to work quite the same in Numbers – which I guess would be one to watch for acountanty types etc.)

Mail

This is pretty rubbish – going from Outlook to Mail on Mac is a bit like going back to outlook express. It has threaded email which is quite nice (although I believe this is an option in Outlook 2010) – but it’s exchange integration isn’t all that, and it does seem to not be very standards compliant, meaning emails from it can be a touch mangled on other clients (gmail/outlook for example)

VMWare Fusion

This is a pretty smart little app – and means I can still make use of the long list of stuff I use that just doesn’t work natively on Mac, Unity is a nice mode (although seems to batter processing/RAM) which allows use of windows applications from the VM to appear alongside mac applications – making it at least appear as if the windows apps are running on the Mac

Keyboard

Major major bugbear of mine is the non British Standard keyboard – I am a halfarsed touch typist, and once used to a keyboard can make a reasonable stab at typing without looking down all the time, out of the box the mac ruins this by putting a whole bunch of keys in the wrong place. For example ” is over with ‘, not on the 2 as it has been for the entire of my keyboard using life (which goes back to a typewriter), this is really annoying as you start to write emails to people with email addresses like annoyedwith”mac.com – and then swearing at the mac a lot when it doesn’t send.

Hardcore Mac converts like to go ” makes more sense with ‘ – which maybe it does, but unfortunately the BS 101 key keyboard has been around for a very long time and like riding a bike once you can use it properly adapting to a different layout is a steep uphill curve. Offering a British Standard keyboard as an option rather than just turning around and saying ‘get used to it’ would have been a far better attitude from Apple IMO.

It should be said that it is possible to download keymaps (as I have) to put everything back as it should be – and also making my computer very confusing for an uninitiated user as a whole load of keys don’t do what they say on them – it’s just a shame it’s not like this from the off.

The Operating System

Is fine – I find the menu bar which floats outside the app a bit confusing, but that’s just the conversion from Windows/KDE to a different layout and I’m sure it will become native in time. It’s basically a unixy interface, and it more or less intuitive.

Multiple desktops are a definite highlight and I like the way it handles fullscreen apps (effectively allowing you to have multiple and being able to flick between them like with the desktops).

Restoring Windows States

This is extremely irritating, natively the previous window used in an app is reloaded when you restart the app – this seems to me very wasteful as the computer is chugging away loading a document I’m about to close anyway as I didn’t want to read that one. Also the mac prompts me everytime I log out if I want to restore ALL my windows when I log back in. Of course I don’t – anything I want next time I’m more than capable of opening on my own without the computer loading all kinds of other stuff for me. It seems it’s not possible to have this off by default (grrr….!)

Gestures

Initially baffling I’m warming to the ‘trackpad works a bit like a touchscreen’ thing – I found myself using a windows laptop and trying to scroll with 2 fingers on the pad the other day for example. – I don’t use the trackpad a huge amount on laptops normally as I find an external mouse does the job so much better – but for use on trains etc (only time I really use trackpads anyway) – it should make the job easier.

In general I’m still climbing a hill with the mac – there’s a load of stuff to get used to, but I’ve managed to bend the machine to my will a bit, and I’ve also managed to get used to a fair few of it’s foibles – the pros roughly balance the cons – making it exactly on a par with windows in my book. I think the key thing is it is just a laptop: it does the stuff a laptop does, some well – some badly, I’ve not joined the cult, I have no intention of entering a mac store, and I still think Steve Jobs is a bad man……

 

will that change, will I end up loving or hating this piece of Aluminium – find out in the next thrilling installment.

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Mark Farrington

Mark Farrington
Broadcast Engineer working in UK Commercial Radio, former Student Radio person (and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Student Radio Association) - I also play with bits and pieces of web stuff, cycle, take photos, cook food and enjoy a good pint of real ale.