Archive for the ‘Radio’ Category

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!)

Braindump 30/04/2010

Leaders Debates

Leaders Debates

For one reason or another I haven’t had much to blog about these last few weeks, or at any rate – nothing which was too long to fit on twitter.

A few quick bits that have passed through my mind though….

  • Radio Listening: I’ve been enjoying the excellent ‘Vote Now’ show on Radio 4. A fantastic satire on the election process and the British political system in general – I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of these at the recording stage, and they’re even more amusing up close. I’m also genuinely impressed by the production team on this show, who manage to turn the show around in about 4 hours from finishing the recording to airing the programme itself.
  • Leaders Debates: These are second only to ‘The Apprentice’ for programmes to follow along with on Twitter (really missing the apprentice so far this year by the way). The debates themselves have proven fantastic in engaging the public with the election – and whilst most of my contributions tend to be childish remarks on what is said by the leaders, I’ll be amazed if these (along with the ‘Hung Parliament’ situation) don’t lead to a record turnout at the polls.
  • … and on the above, why has no-one done a decent cut-up of these yet. I’d have hoped cassetteboy would have weighed in (although his One Show efforts are brilliant) – maybe I should have a go myself, what do you recon?
  • It was also good to see a relatively high brow interview on breakfast commercial radio this week when Absolute Radio interviewed Professor Brian Cox (who’s series on the Solar System I must watch more of) – I think Absolute got the  balance between educational end entertainment spot on with this (and I was a little bit late to work, because I had to hang on to catch the whole thing). I’ve been listening to absolute a lot since acquiring a DAB radio recently, and whilst it can be a bit blokey and football-focused for me (though what to expect with a world cup on) the experience has been far from unpleasant.
  • Other things I’ve learned this week: The radio-mic was invented in 1949, I discovered this after this humble gadget played a big part in this weeks news (dot.Rory being my source).
  • Music recommendations this week: Train – Hey, Soul Sister.
  • Oh, and a nice little toy from Farrington labs for those interested in Student Radio. Here’s the Student Radio Playlist for this week.

Hopefully I’ll find something to write a proper blog about something interesting soon, promise.

The Nice Guys of Radio

A Winning Quiz Team [or some of it]

A Winning Quiz Team (or some of it)

So, yesterday I got back from the Student Radio Conference in Nottingham – the event proved to be a really enjoyable weekend, with some fantastic sessions – aside from this I probably had the best time I’ve had at a conference since Southampton in 2006 (probably aided by the removal of the stress of organisation from more recent years).

I also had the opportunity to talk to some really interesting, funny and genuinely nice people (not to mention winning the annual pub quiz with Sarah Ghost, Matt Hurst, Martin Steers, Will Jackson & Paul Jackson (who aren’t related).

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that radio (particularly at a senior level) is a cut-throat business so it was really nice to be reminded that amongst the shouty bosses and demanding talent are some really nice guys. Whilst I’m sure the following is by no means a complete list of everyone from the industry I chatted to, and certainly does not deliberately exclude anyone – I thought I’d just mention a few names who’d reminded me of the fantastic industry radio is to work in – and also how much of a community the industry can feel like when it comes together.

  • David Lloyd – Orion Media.
  • Lloydie – Trent FM
  • Kevin Hughes – Capital (Who is also the best quizmaster a student radio conference has ever had – Leeds 2009)
  • Paul Jackson & Mike Cass – Global (Who stuck around for the SRA Quiz and the party which followed, chatting to students and getting involved, in a way senior types generally don’t)
  • Neil Sloan – BBC
  • Chris North – Wise Buddah
  • Mark Crossley – Absolute Radio
  • Tim Howlett – Heart 106.2

and finally Bruce Mitchell, Kiss’ Head of Digital – who we bumped into in the Chicken Shop on the way back from the club on the way back, and chatted to in the hotel bar for an hour or so after we got back, despite the fact he had a 6.30 train the following morning (hope you made it Bruce!).

I also talked to some fantastic students – who prove there’s still a huge passion for all areas of radio and some who’ve definitely got the talent and the confidence to go a long way in the industry.

Hopefully I’ll get myself along to next years conference in one capacity or anther – as I had a fantastic time this year, and it’d be great to do it all over again!

Here’s a little streetview of the conference venue if you happen to be interested…

Working for free…

Sunscreen

Sunscreen

So, the guardian have yesterday published the shock news that nearly half of people starting work in a media job begin by working for free, I’m not entirely sure why either the newspaper or Skillset who produced the research are surprised at this. My first experience within a professional radio company was unpaid (two weeks work experience with global radio) and almost everyone I know who’ve gone on from student radio to working in the industry have done so through similar circumstances. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in a professional environment with equipment far superior to that I got to play with in student radio.

The thing I don’t understand is what Skillset think is wrong with this, no employer is going to recruit someone without the skills or experience they’re looking for – or at least some obvious sign of the dedication or foundations needed to achieve these skills. All employers are the same in this case, there’s a good chance you’ll have to do some work-experience to get to the level employers are looking for. In a past life when I was destined to become a Chemical Engineer, I wasn’t paid as I gained some of the skills needed to work in this industry – in fact I was paying for the privilege. This is called a degree, and I don’t see the papers suggesting these are exploiting innocent students by charging an obscene amount of money for what amounts to subsidising the research of aging academics, whilst occasionally being rambled at by said academics or worse still cheap post-docs who struggle with the concept of the English language (let alone thermodynamics). As is often said, there’s no set route into media – some go down the degree route, others from voluntary/community radio, others purely through work experience type roles – all of these have a part to play.

Further to this, the idea that to gain the experience to work in an industry you’ll end up working for free somewhere along the line is hardly unique to media – my girlfriend has just landed a short term contract working as an ecologist, about 10 months after graduating from a biology degree. She found it hard to even get an interview for a paid position before peppering her CV with internships and work-experience. It’s a vicious circle, when the job market is competitive every employer is looking for some experience of a similar job – but until you’ve had a job you wont have that experience – work experience offers a chance to do that.

As for the idea that the best people might not find themselves working in the industry because they don’t get the ‘foot in the door’ – I shall misquote Thomas Edison and say that Creativity is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration – in any job you’re going to need to work hard and be willing to take on a number of things, possibly with quite long hours (commercial radio is well known for this) – the dedication to make contacts and get placements etc. should confirm you’re likely to put this kind of effort in for an employer.

Incidentally – if you are interested in getting experience within the radio industry, The Student Radio Association has a vary nice opportunities page (wot I wrote) featuring paid and unpaid positions, and also a couple of sites it’s worth a nose around if your interested in structured work experience such as that offered by the BBC.

Having said all of the above, one further piece of advice – don’t let yourself be exploited by being too willing to work for free. At some point you’re going to want to convert this unpaid work into an actual job, right – and the longer you work for free – the more likely you are to be taken for granted. Don’t stay anywhere too long, participate in structred schemes where possible and make sure you’re getting something out of it; making contacts, learning skills or whatever. Once you’re in a position that you can do whatever it is your doing blindfolded – the role is no longer any use to you as experience – at this point you need to start asking if there’s any paid work going within the station – if there’s not, stick it on your CV (along wit ha nice bullet-point list of the skills learned) and either get applying for jobs, or move on to do work experience somwhere else – allowing you to further increase that skills list, and making you an even tastier prospect for a potential employer.

After giving all that advice I feel a bit like Quindon Tarver having read the excellent monologue for Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – for that reason (and naturally completely off topic) I’ll leave you with the last Stanza of that monologue originally from a New York Times article by Mary Schmich (the full lyrics are here)…

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen…

(Photo: Florian on Flickr)

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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.