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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.

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.

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.

The Reluctant Mac User #1: Preconceptions

 

Apple

 

So, I am entering a brave new world – my company in its infinite wisdom has decided that it’s time to wave goodbye to good old dependable Dell & Windows and say hello to racier shinier Apple. As a technical type person within the company I’ve found myself being part of the pilot phase (Alpha testing, call it what you will….) – on the way back to sunny Hampshire having received my Macbook it occurred to me that it might be a useful activity (for me as much as you, although good to have you along…!) to record my thoughts/feelings/opinions/experiences. I intend to be entirely honest, as such if use a piece of software or whatever and think that’s great, I shall record it here. If I find myself thinking “I could do this better with Windows/Ubuntu”, then I’ll be jotting that down too.

Firstly (for anyone who’s stumbled across this blog by accident and doesn’t actually know me – a little bit of a background on me):

  • I have quite literally been brought up with PCs – and in some ways, was an early adopter – when Windows was at the cutting edge. I had windows 2.0 the first PC I had to myself (an old IBM AT) – and I moved through 3.1, 3.11 before being early to take the big leap to the strange new world of windows 95 with its fantastic new interface.
  • I’ve not only used windows, I’m above average on command line Linux, and have tinkered about with Ubuntu’s GUIs (KDE and Gnome flavours, and the new unity) – I’ve used Unix occasionally on Sun and Silicon graphics machines (going back a few years) and my fist computing experiences were in the murky world of acorn and BBC, so I’ve not always done things Bill Gates’ way by any means
  • My home desktop PC has ALWAYS been Windows
  • I have always used Windows in the workplace (unless you count the odd Redhat Web/File Server and some ubuntu boxes for playing with)
  • I am a “power user” – I have in the past looked after active directory infrastructure, software distribution etc. I’m the one that tells you to turn it off and on again, not the one who’s calling up support.
  • I’m a fiddler – I’ll mess about with a computer until it does what I want it to, and can take several weeks to give up and ask someone else’s advice (although I will google things)
  • I have an iPad (also works) – so am not totally unfamiliar with Apple kit.
  • I have certain preconceptions about Mac Hardware/Software and most importantly the sort of people who’d use these devices – which will be the subject of this blog.

So, here we go with my preconceptions (I’m not saying there’s any factual basis in the following – but it’s always been the impressions I’ve had) before I enter the brave new mac world.

Macs are for arty types

You know what I mean; graphic designers, music producers, web designers. They’re machines for the people who make arty stuff, and as such the applications they have for doing this (photoshop, protools etc.) are great on a mac and do the job they do really well. Macs don’t really sit with an accountant or an office it guy – these people belong in the corner typing into MS word on a dull grey box, it’s just the natural order of things.

Macs are style over substance

Even I with my general stubbornness, and complete lack of anything that could be called ‘style’ can’t pretend for a second that the MacBook isn’t pretty. It’s a really nice piece of hardware, which just feels well-built and solid – but that’s next to useless if the software inside the box isn’t up to much, at the end of the day an office PC needs to be functional not pretty – and I’m assessing the usefulness of the Mac in replacing my HP in the office, not the PC at home I use for listening to music/watching videos.

I see having a mic/iPhone/iTouch as being a brand statement, something the cool kids do – and I’ve never been one of the cool kids – and I’ve never been an uber geek. I view having a mac like having to have the right brand of car/trousers/jeans etc… and that’s not just me. I dress comfortably and drive what I’m given – ultimately I’ve never been one to fall into line with any stereotypes, and I don’t intend to now, but I guess we’ll see…

Macs are overpriced

Not really my problem in this case, as the machine is provided by my employer, but given this machine retail price would cost in the region of twice an equivalent spec Dell – I’d really hope it could perform in a way which would justify this (both the hardware & software)

Mac users are a cult

I have no allegiance to Microsoft or Linux in any way, both have pros and cons – and I often flip between the two depending on which is best placed for the task I’m doing. I generally code in Ubuntu – I use windows for media consumption as I’m totally happy with the software environment I use for this. Now I have a mac at my disposal I totally expect it will usurp on of the other platforms for some tasks as I naturally expect it to outperform the other platforms for some applications (see previous point). However mac users aren’t like you and me (unless you are one) – they’re Obsessed, their mac can do no wrong in their eyes – and can perform every application under the sun better than any other computer ever formed, and as soon as a new one comes out you bet they’ll be opening their wallets up and letting Mr Jobs in, “What Mr Farrington – your home PC is 7 years old – ha ha, how can you live with such a dinosaur” – they’ll ask, surely you wanted to buy a new and slightly shinier one a year later because someone told you to. Well actually no, it still does everything I need it to without causing me any frustrations – why would I replace it. I regularly voice my irritation with (particularly) Windows, but also Linux when I can’t do exactly what I want to out of the box, you’ll never hear this from a mac user – if it doesn’t do what they want it to, it must be them that’s in the wrong.

I’ve regularly got into arguments with a couple of quite vocal mac users keen to defend their shiny pieces of metal when I’ve said “but does it do this, can it do this” and start going on about me “being a PC” (I’m not I’m a person) etc…. and being some kind of dinosaur for daring to suggest that the millions of PC users probably aren’t wrong.

Apple are an evil corporation

Microsoft get a lot of stick, and a lot of it is justified for being an evil corporation – but more or less from day 1 Mr Gates and co haven’t prescribed what hardware is required to run their software, nor have they attempted to control what software can be run on their platform in any way, and yes I understand that this leads to some of Windows’ traditional instabilities and leaves it open in some respects to viruses and the like – however it also means that there’s an open market in both hardware and software (yes folks, that’s why PCs are cheaper, as there’s real competition between vendors) the attitude of Apple has always struck me as the opposite of this – I’m always amused when Mac types start going on about “evil microsoft” – as at the end of the day Apple isn’t run by Ben & Jerry’s hippies meditating on bean bags, it’s run by people every bit as ruthless as those on the other side of the silicon fence. If you want socks and sandals – run Linux!

As I’ve said these are just my preconceptions if you’d asked me in 2008 what I thought of macs I’d say all of the above. When I first suggested writing this all up as a blog on the twitter one very vocal mac type I’ve many times baited argued with on the subject, suggested I’d be writing a blog entirely eating my own words. Well above are my own words, and in many way I hope to be eating them over the coming months. I don’t believe I’ll be completely renouncing the PC, and saving up to replace my old dependable Win 7 machine with a shiny box any time soon, the future is multiplatform and I’ll be running windows, linux and the company mac for a good while to come – but who knows, anything can happen!

I plan to do this more or less weekly updating you (and as such me) with the little niggles, and any big issues I come across – who knows you might even be able to give me some tips to help me get along with the new challenge.

I’m set in my ways, and out of my comfort zone – but I managed to write all of this on the Mac without combusting so who knows – I may be just fine.

There’s Purdah on The Dancefloor…

… or at least on the radio!

So, on Tuesday the “one eyed scottish idiot” (Clarkson, 2009) called a general election – as this isn’t really news as most of the word knew the election would be on May 6th, I thought I’d talk about an interesting side effect of the election instead. Gordon also chose my birthday to make the announcement – meaning yet again that story was knocked off the front page!

Anyway, the month running up to the election is known as Purdah, and as well as being a period of no major decisions being made by parliament,  increased regulation on news reporting etc. in the media applies. A further side effect is that the COI (corporate office of mis-information) aren’t allowed to advertise, based on the logic that advertising government initiatives (apart from the election itself) is in part publicity for the sitting government, and thus an unfair advantage.

Now, unlike some – I don’t have a particular problem with COI advertising, despite it occasionally being annoying being told to turn off lights, recycle, do my shoelaces etc (actually I do need the latter) and I should also point out that my present employer, like a lot of the commercial radio industry benefits significantly from COI advertising – yet I do have a problem with a particular advert I’ve heard a lot on the radio these last few weeks.

The advert in question is a Home Office Ad encouraging people to report suspicious behavior to the police – it’s actually quite a clever advert from a script writing point of view, using odd words from the ‘talking heads’ in the ad to make up the overall message – my issue though is with the message itself which seems to be “look out for your neighbors, they might be terrorists”. Ok, so it’s possible that old Mrs Davies at Number 23 is putting together a dirty bomb – and Mr Watson from the corner shop might be plotting to overthrow the government, but both seem unlikely (well the latter possibly not as Mr Watson does have a vote conservative sign in his window – n.b. Mr Watson is  fictional).

My concern is that as soon as you start treating everyone around you with suspicion, you stop treating them like people. I’ve lived in my current block of flats for about 6 months, and have barely shared more than a few words with my neighbors, and I think if I were to try engaging them in more of a conversation than a ‘Hi’ when passing in the car park – they’d probably think I was a bit weird, and start actively avoiding me in future. Worrying isn’t it.

I’m not proud of this fact, but when I get on a tube I’m actually a little nervous if there’s more than a few young asians with tatty rucksacks in the carriage. This is actual insanity on my part as I know full well that in excess of 99.9999999% of people on tube trains are as harmless as I am (if not more harmless) – so why do I react oddly to someone my age, with dark-ish skin and a rucksack like mine. Mostly this is due to the press for making us suspicious of people around us in busy places, but it’s worrying that the government have now jumped on the bandwagon, and are trying to make us suspicious of those who live around us.

There was a time that neighbors all said hello to each other in the street, lent each other sugar and helped others out, that time was gone long before my 90’s upbringing – but we were always civil to those who lived around us, and through a number of fairly complex social connections pretty much everyone on our street was on first name terms (and despite this being Worcestershire, not everyone was whiter than casper) – now it seems we’re supposed to be popping around to Mr Plod if we see ‘er up the road talking to a tall dark stranger, or if that new family by the shop have a car with blacked out windows.

This is stupid, as there are probably innocent explanations for these things – and real terrorists aren’t stupid enough to leave the kind of obvious trail hinted at in the advert. If we actually got to know our neighbors (as I grant you I’ve failed to do) then we’re more likely to spot real signs if something actually suspicious is going on and will feel a lot safer in our homes than the government seem to want us to be.

Right, cheesy ending time – “That’s when good neighbors become good friends”, I’m off now to say hello to one of my neighbors and I don’t care if they think I’m a bit weird!

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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.