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.