Monday, 10 October 2016

Stop Press!

"Next on LBC, we'll take a thorough look at what's in the BBC 5 Live 0800 bulletin this morning'." 

Said no-one ever.

It's certainly not what you'd hear Nick Ferrari say.  Not least because his impressive tabloid gut means he instinctively teases much better than that. 

But, more importantly, he wouldn't say it as I suspect any stories worth mentioning would have been included in his own programme or bulletins; and, anyway, why would he wish to promote another news supplier without good cause?

Why does it happen all the time with press, though? Huge TV and radio stations allot chunks of their output to 'looking at the papers'. 

We broadcasters seem obsessed with chatting endlessly about what another media has chosen to include. Regardless of the fact that the broadcast programme is far more up to date than the press we are chatting deferentially about.

Maybe it's just a peculiar tradition. In my early days on-air in the '80s, disk-jockeys pored over the Sun for a quick funny to slot in between the Dooleys and Dollar. Mind you, there was little other material to inspire us, and no Internet or social media to point us to anything else. 

Back then, and to this day, it infuriates radio station news editors when presenters merrily read out a press headline in a 'wow look at this' tone of voice, when it was a story carried in the station's own bulletins the day before. It's as if it has to appear in the Mail before it becomes real news.

I'll leave others to write of the serious risks of presenters quoting a dodgy newspaper front page headline on-air, with neither the comfort of the caveats in the remainder of the article - nor News International's legal insurance policy. 

To this day, presenters lean on these organs, even though their relevance and importance has long been eroded. Would Theresa May really care nowadays if the Sun happened to picture her face in a lightbulb on the eve of the Election?

TV news channels import weighty panels of chirpy experts to review what's been written about a few hours ago, and won't be seen by anyone until the following day. I don't begrudge any of my fellow broadcasters the dime, and I'd do it, if asked, frankly, but I do wonder what's driving these daily rituals?

It wouldn't be so bad if broadcasters did 'review' the publications, but they don't. They just talk about the stories.  And, as every good broadcaster knows, you don't actually need an in-line like ''s something interesting in the newspapers', to justify talking about an interesting thing. 

It's not as if the press write much about us in exchange, really. Their coverage appears to extend only to miserable industry controversy or an arty Radio 4 play. 

Yes, there are times when the press create some original journalism which becomes a story which lives in the hearts of our listeners. I don't begrudge them recognition for that, and those topics, rightly, are echoed in other media, just as a great line from a live LBC broadcast is PRed impressively and magnified merrily by other media. That's not the same thing as 'let's sit down for no apparent reason and talk about someone else's news agenda'.

We don't routinely talk about what's hot on Twitter, or infrequently what's in the Huffington Post. We do when it's peculiarly and specifically relevant. The World has moved on since this newspaper reviewing fetish began. 

Are we distorting the influence of scantily-regulated press by continuing to talk about what they've chosen to run?  Do we have a vested interest in seeing that all these merry press titles survive a changing age? What would happen if we stopped chatting randomly about them?

I have a book, 'How to Make Great Radio' which no newspaper has ever reviewed. Feel free to buy it.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Getting BFBS out there

When you're in a war-zone bolt hole in the desert, thousands of miles away from home, living off emergency rations, fearing the worst, but with an important job to do, life's tough.

Quentin Howard, now at BFBS, tells the story of how one Marine caught up in Afghanistan was surprised to see a BFBS chap in blue body armour, parachute in with a satellite dish and receiver under his arms.   "Our morale was rock bottom. That one action changed the morale of my troop and enabled us to finish our mission".

It's tough to over-estimate the value of that injection of normality which a few familiar TV and radio programmes provides. In the words of Quentin's friend, without that distraction and the morale boost: "I don't think we would have got through alive".

For our services personnel around the World, radio and TV is more than just a bit of entertainment, it's a utility. From a lonely covert operation to a lengthy submarine stint. The best-planned military operations plan it in as part of the general welfare operation.

For 40 years, BFBS has had the job of disseminating TV services around the Globe. For radio, the history goes back even further to 1943. A host of familiar radio names have appeared, from David Jacobs to Johnnie Walker.

As I drove up the drive through security to one of their UK headquarters last week, it dawned on me that BFBS is not really just about the production of some relevant content, it's about distribution.  The clever, enthusiastic team duly explained in plain English the scale of their task. They simply have to get signals anywhere, quickly.

A range of sturdy satellite dishes of all shapes and sizes are employed on location, costing anything from £75 to £4,500 for a permanent installation in Africa. And, given the teams on the ground haven't got time for a lengthy IKEA assembly job, they can be dismantled and erected with ease. These bad boys duly pick up the signals from four satellite footprints covering about three quarters of the World - and bring them to base.

What then? If required, dinky little FM or TV relay transmitters, housed in sturdy moulded flight cases can relay the signals to neighbouring remote areas.

Internet delivery also plays its role - and many locations can enjoy wi-fi too, beamed across a newly-populous area, by a clever mesh of baby transmitters, designed to ensure that Eastenders doesn't stutter.

Personnel can then enjoy on-demand entertainment on the 'BFBS Player'. I noted the dedicated iPad dashboards also offered daily press too, and was reminded that it's a lot easier for 'our lads and lasses' to read the Sun's headlines online - than it is to ship out the hard copies. Training videos were hosted too, including the one I glimpsed about how to search a ship. That knowledge may come in handy one day. Let me know if you need me.

Submarines can be tricky.  Of course you can't use wi-fi in those, I was told. I nodded knowingly, although had to cup my hand round my mouth and quietly ask why a little later. Apparently wi-fi signals are a giveaway of your location, which is not a terribly good idea. BFBS's remote delivery platform is the solution.

TV feeds are distributed of the main BBC and ITV channels, news and sports channels, alongside programming from BFBS's own stable including Forces TV and BFBS TV. Suitable familiar programmes are cut from domestic services, topped and tailed and fed out in linear fashion, interspersed with continuity and public service announcements.

Copyright matters are negotiated by BFBS with sympathetic partners, aware of the value of the service and comforted by the fact that reception is limited to specific 'bits of Blighty' around the World. Online assets are password-protected.

With radio, again a host of services are available, including BFBS, BFBS Radio 2 and Gurkha Radio, complemented by some online music channels.  The principal BFBS music and entertainment services include an informative welfare and communications package aimed at the target community.

News is beamed from the busy BFBS newsroom, feeding Forces TV and hourly bulletins on radio. All very important, but I just played with the teleprompter.

Across UK bases, community radio licences have been acquired in relevant locations to broadcast locally-tailored material, backed up by a UK sustaining service.  It's aimed at military service personnel, their families and the wider local civilian community.

Overseas bases, in places like Cyprus, also enjoy their own localised radio programming, sustained by a global network service.

There's cinema too. Literally. A canny partnership with the distributors means that films can be downloaded on site and watched by a congregation of forces personnel on a huge screen. The cinelink box and screen can easily be moved from the mess room to the officers' quarters to share the goodies around.

And for those tough to reach places, there's always an up-to-date bundle of DVDs to bung in a Jiffy bag. I suspect a work experience chap does that.

Live performance has been a staple of forces entertainment for generations. The tradition lives on, although the quality has moved on a little since the 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' ENSA days. Accomplished performers descend willingly, knowing the event management on site, wherever it is, will be spot on thanks to CSE: "Serving those who serve".

It was great to see some evidence of archiving too, given we know media companies are notoriously bad at 'keeping stuff'. The British Defence Film library is cataloging and keeping stuff from way back - offering a rich trove of visuals of warfare, vehicles, communications  - and life.

BFBS is now the broadcasting arm of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC), a registered charity.  Like much of media, budgets have been severely reduced in recent years, just as the number of platforms and opportunities grow annoyingly.  From what I saw, they have coped admirably.

Although the structure means that shareholders are not breathing down the necks of programme providers, a careful eye is kept on the appeal and value of the contribution. The  MOD demands independent audience research.

The response which BFBS garners speaks volumes about the value of the service. We  all know that comfortable feeling of being wrapped up at home, curtains closed, watching a favourite programme.  Imagine getting that same warmth if you're stuck thousands of miles away from family and friends. And, in challenging times, the value of accurate tailored information also provides rich assurance. "A rewarding audience who appreciate us like no-one else".

Well done to the programmers, programming with purpose. And, maybe even more importantly, well done to the teams who make it happen in the most hostile of climates.

Grab my book 'How to Make Great Radio' now on Amazon. Available in print and e-book. Food for thought for today's presenters and producers - new and experienced.

Monday, 26 September 2016

What made Terry Wogan a radio great?

“They’ll probably have to drag me away from the microphone when they decide to elbow me. I shall cling to it. There’ll be a lot of tears and screaming“.

It was a crackly performance on the Light Programme, ‘down the line’ from Ireland, which saw the voice of Michael Terence Wogan appear on the BBC for the first time this week fifty years ago.  

He had applied beforehand, only to be turned down by BBC 2 Controller, David Attenborough, who advised they already had one bloke from Dublin, thank you very much. Of course, Attenborough assured Terry limply that he’d pass the letter on to the head of presentation: “If a suitable vacancy should occur, he will get in touch with you directly“.

His voice deepened and lilted a little less in the ensuing decades at the Corporation, but he was to emerge as one of the radio industry’s favourite performers.  

After serving loyally on major BBC shows, Terry ascended the Radio 2 breakfast throne in the decimal days of 1972, entertaining the Nation with his ramblings, interrupted only by JAM jingles and pan-pipe music. Although television was to wag its beckoning finger for a brief brown-suited spell in the mid eighties, he returned home in 1993.

As the entertainment world changed  beyond recognition, Terry continued to rule. By the end of his early stint in 2009, he was attracting almost a fifth of all breakfast radio listening and almost 8m weekly listeners.

But what was it about Terry which endured?

He would explain the answer more clearly, more colourfully and with fewer cliches, but, in his absence, let's try.

He simply did well what radio does best.

His whimsical storytelling was profound. Tales founded on fact  would be embellished with a Wogan flight of fancy.  A few words from a 'listener' on Basildon Bond turned to gold in the hands of the master.  A river of vocabulary flowed effortlessly from his wryly smiling face.He recognised that radio’s intimate conversation continues in a listener’s head. “People think when they listen to radio; TV eschews thought, your thinking is done for you”.

Terry became an amusing, eccentric uncle muttering from behind his newspaper. He spoke to you and you alone. He did not tell me to get ‘my brollies’ ready as a weather forecaster insisted I do last weekend.  In the words of John Humphrys: “Terry liked his audience  - and they liked him. He wasn’t broadcasting talking to them, he was talking to them.”

That connection serves to explain why listeners' grief was so fulsome on his passing. Each listener in each corner of Britain had lost a friend. To say that you’ll miss someone is the greatest tribute of all: “Such very sad news, the world will be a lesser place without you Terry. Will miss you X”

He recognised too that the breakfast audience was, in his words, ‘susceptible’. Most great breakfast radio, even the most frenetic of formats, becomes sufficiently comfortable not to annoy you too much at a critical time of day.

His delivery impressed. ‘I can impose my own pausing, my own timing”. The Wogan pause meant that this high-earner took home almost as much for saying nothing as saying something.

He was himself on-air. Broadcasters only reach their true potential when they can be themselves. We acknowledge we witnessed a daily amplification of the most likeable and entertaining parts of his character, but we certainly know it was him. Radio exposes fake like no other medium.

Like many BBC greats, he tolerated the Corporation like an errant brother. Despite the annoyances, there was unconditional love and pride: "It's the greatest broadcaster the World has ever seen."

Terry protested that his was an easy job, whilst quietly recognising the skill involved.

"The proliferation of radio stations has led to a tremendous lowering of standards. The people are beginning to sound like blancmange. If what you are being paid for is to introduce a record must give it something more than..the hip phraseology ...a request....banality. If you are being paid to produce a record programme you must give it: yourself."

The delivery of his his famous farewell speech is a lesson to all broadcasters. I gather he was annoyed at the rabble of assorted bigwigs gathering in the adjacent control room to witness the end of an era. They were not even treated to a passing fond glance; his eyes were only for the listener.

"I’ve always said that I hope I’ll have enough sense to get off the beach before the tide comes", said Terry.  He did.  We'll miss him and we'll remember him.

Grab my book 'How to Make Great Radio' now on Amazon. Available in print and e-book. Food for thought for today's presenters and producers - new and experienced.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Commonsense Call Charges Apply

In our adult lives we are required to perform all sorts of duties. We are asked to fill in tax returns or benefit forms; take the driving theory test; compare energy tariffs, fill in mortgage and job applications; and vote on who runs the country.

Yet it is believed we are too daft to know that when we pick up the phone to call a radio station or text, it might not be free…but might cost our ‘standard call/text charges’. Our ‘standard call charges’ being called ‘standard call charges’ because they are, well, ‘standard’.

Radio and TV programmes are replete with dull announcements saying the blindingly obvious. Wasting everyone’s time.

I can probably understand the merits of announcements suggesting I am going to be charged significantly extra than I might imagine, but there are even requirements to sing and dance about the amounts of pennies few would bother to pick up from the street. 

You don’t need to tell us that picking up the phone might cost us something. We know that. We don’t have signs outside shops saying that buying things might cost us. Or signs in pubs saying drinks might not be free. And I don't recall Jean Metcalfe having to bother announcing the price of a stamp when she requested Family Favourites' letters.

The final straw was the Twitter poll from the Archers. Deep into the current plot, which is being excellently delivered, alongside stunning digital media support, the Radio 4 soap chose to stage a Twitter poll.

If you use Twitter, you’ll have seen them before. It was clearly a ‘just for amusement’ question, with no prize listed - but it was evidently felt by Head Office that the poll Tweet had to be accompanied by a second Tweet with a link to a terms and conditions document. 

I clicked on the supplementary message, praying for a parody - but no.

We know such things are free.  We know they are run by Twitter. We know they are a bit of fun. Goodness, we know it all.

The painful prose was, no doubt, approved painstakingly in some nice central London office by people whose salaries we are paying. 

We probably have more cause to be alerted to the cost of unnecessary compliance procedures which have resulted from the over-regulation of this sector, when the pendulum swung too far from poor regulation.

Is it time to credit our citizens with an ounce of common sense and free our media from the sort of pointless coda which serves no-one?

Is it time for individuals to take responsibility for their own lives, and not expect the ASA's advertising rules to prevent us from eating too much; nor Ofcom's content rules to stop us being violent?

Grab my book 'How to Make Great Radio' now on Amazon. Available in print and e-book. Food for thought for today's presenters and producers - new and experienced.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Digital News vs Broadcast News - Who Wins?

As the reassuringly smart newsreader delivers their glossy, lengthy TV news programme impeccably from their hefty newsroom, they sometimes seem oblivious to the breaking story vibrating on my iPhone as I lie on my settee eating a Time Out.

I imagine their phone merrily buzzing in their inner suit pocket as they think ‘shit, what’s happened’, when reading a jolly cue into a ‘why so few butterflies nowadays?’ package or something.

I recall hearing on BBC social media of Anne Kirkbride’s death thinking, surely BBC TV news will mention it in the half-hour news programme somewhere, even if they do not have an obit poised. They didn’t. Given dear Deirdre was covered amply later, I concluded this was not a matter of news judgement but just because they oddly hadn’t got round to it.

I was curious to establish the role and efficiency of broadcast in a world where those same broadcasters have their own social media presences. How speedy is broadcast media and what does it add to the understanding of a story?

Accordingly, on a clement Tuesday 6th September, Migraleve tables at the ready, I surrounded myself with an panoply of news outlets as the day’s news unfolded. BBC 5 Live; BBC Radio 4; LBC (97.3); IRN; BBC News Channel (TV); Sky News (TV); the websites of BBC News and Sky News; and the Twitter feeds of BBC News; BBC Breaking, Sky News; Sky Newsbreak; LBC; LBC  Breaking; alongside the news alert notifications of Sky and BBC News.

At 1025, LBC Breaking Twitter declared the number of arrests following the protest at London City Airport. BBC TV showed live pictures from the scene. BBC Breaking Twitter communicated the number of arrests at 1029, with BBC News re-Tweeting. 

The arrests featured in LBC’s 1030 bulletin; and the story appeared on LBC’s Twitter and on IRN's 1100 radio bulletin, a bulletin which ignored Vaz speculation, in favour of matters like Obama being insulted by other leaders.

LBC’s hour on-air was dedicated to a typically beautiful James O’Brien ‘revenge porn’ angle on the Keith Vaz story. 

James paused to make clear, however, exactly why he was not bothering with the protest story. He said people will do silly things to protest and the more we talk about them, the more silly they will be. He has a point.  

LBC’s travel news, however, in great colourful and useful conversational style was keeping us in touch with the genuine implications throughout the hour in a 'matter of fact' way.

By 1133, LBC Twitter stated that protesters had been removed, and the fact was repeated in 5 Live’s headline at 1134. BBC News Twitter had got to it by 1139 and it was on the BBC TV news ticker by  1140.

At 1134, LBC Breaking Twitter had run with the guilty verdicts for the manslaughter of Elizabeth Edwards and her daughter. This was issued as a Sky Alert by 1143.

1142 saw BBC Breaking Twitter reveal the  protesters had been removed; and Sky Newsbreak Twitter relayed the Elizabeth Edwards story. 1145 saw the protesters removal on BBC TV. At 1149, James O’Brien at LBC briefly repeated his stance on the whole protest affair.

1145 saw LBC’s Travel news usefully repeating the airport was now open.

I do love the BBC’s comfy reassuring and leisurely weather forecasts up the hour on TV. I sometimes wonder what level of story would be needed to displace it.

By 12.00, BBC TV news had live pictures following the protesters removal, although you couldn’t see very much apart from a distant plane and some Lowry type figures nearby. IRN had a live reporter in the 1200 bulletin.

The ‘will he or won’t he’ resignation story from Keith Vaz rumbled on through the morning.

By 12.00, Sky’s  Darren McCaffrey  had Tweeted on his own account that he'd heard from a committee member that Vaz would resign.  Sky duly followed with a Sky Alert ‘Vaz expected to resign’ and accompanying Sky News TV ticker and discussion.

At 1203 Sky News Twitter suggested Vaz would resign and Sky News Breaking Twitter followed at 1207.  Radio 4's 1200 bulletin suggested the afternoon might herald a decision.

BBC TV News joined in at 1210, with speculation and comment. The correspondent did not share the same source as Sky, indeed their correspondent was altogether more bullish about Keith Vaz’s likely ’carry on as usual’ obstinacy, but he conceded that there were many opponents to that strategy.

Sky’s line was ‘he’s expected to go’. Auntie was sticking with ‘we’ll hear later', as probably befits the style and approach of the two news providers. “Committee to urge Vaz to stand aside’ suggested BBC News online, whilst the Sky News website stated ‘Keith Vaz set to quit as committee chair’.

At 1215, LBC travel reminded us that the airport was still closed. It is important, sometimes, for news providers to remind normal people what they need to know to live their lives when the excitement of a story has died down.

1230 LBC news declared the runway had reopened. 5 Live's headlines did not mention the re-opening and nor did the ensuing travel news.

By 1235, 5 Live had moved into topical discussion, and reflected the Black Lives Matter protest story with an interview on the cause, but without an update on the state of the runway. Presumably this is the sort of outcome the protest group desired; even if they were duly  challenged by an unusually animated Adrian Chiles and risked Nick Ferrari's Taser. 

BBC TV news, was reveling in the airport drama, with a decent live Q & A about the protest from near the scene. I did like the commentator’s use of what appeared to be one white iPhone earpiece with the wire dangling down. I presume that was for cue and not because she got bored and was enjoying Drake as she waited.

Vaz is resigning! It's happening. BBC TV news was in front at 1239, with the confirmed resignation - and the full statement on screen. The resignation had arrived before news sources had indicated (1445). BBC TV won, but its tickertape slightly lagged the developing story.

At 1245, 5 Live covered the announcement and flashed efficiently to a correspondent. At the same time, LBC Breaking News tweeted it, and the main LBC account was Tweeting James O'Brien's angles.

At 1247, Sky TV were onto the matter, accompanied by a Sky News Alert and coverage on Sky Newsbreak Twitter. 

By 1249, BBC Breaking Twitter had seized it (ten minutes after their TV channel carried it), retweeted by BBC News Twitter. Sky’s tickertape still suggested it had not happened, contradicting the in-vision story for some time. 1252 saw a BBC News alert, with a Sky News Tweet at 1253.

LBC usually rule with breaking news on radio, in my view, but it  was 1253 before they broke this story. The report, however, was typically engaging, with a natural dialogue  asking exactly the questions normal people would ask.

By 1.00, all news sources were Vaz-aligned for their news bulletins.There was no agony about the lead - and even IRN joined in at last. 

Throughout the morning, Radio 4's news bulletins had updated hourly and artfully in the manner of an avuncular figure poking his head calmly round the drawing room door on the hour, gin in hand, to ask 'anything I should know?'".

Just as I was poised to give up the exercise and reach for a glass of chilled Macon Villages, the news of Anjem Choudary’s sentencing flashed up on a Sky News alert at 1309.

First to the post on broadcast media was LBC, also at 1309. Shelagh Fogarty interrupted a call to do what LBC seems to do best, hold whatever they are doing to tell you something. Just in the way a friend would naturally but politely interrupt a conversation.

LBC Breaking Twitter followed almost simultaneously, with the line added to the BBC TV news ticker at 1310. 5 Live was engrossed in a package, but read the headline immediately afterwards at 1311, by which time BBC TV news was live from the Old Bailey. Sky Newsbreak Twitter was across it by 1312 and a BBC news alert was dispatched at 1313; BBC News Twitter at 1515. It was also on the BBC website at 1318, with Sky website just earlier.


It was an altogether exhausting exercise. I had in mind my old MD's comments that we shouldn't break our necks to be first with a story, as if they were listening to us they wouldn't know we were not first, although that rationale has diminished since social media descended. But, anyway, does five minutes matter - apart from to the puffed up chest of a heady journalist? Not least when accuracy is key.

The exercise did remind me of the importance of being aligned, and not forgetting a single ancillary channel as stories develop. Also, not allowing the rich and considered broadcast news and programming environment to impinge on the ability to interrupt, when necessary. That's what LBC usually masters. 

It reminded me too of the 5 Live dilemma. The station can, of course, ditch everything to deal with a huge breaking story excellently, but has more agony when a routine rolling story conflicts with the daily array of deep personal and engaging stories. And - if it can cope in daytime, it finds it impossible in times of football fixtures. Is it perverse that, despite the efforts of many in the BBC over the years, it does not have a rolling radio news channel?  

Could there a time when the excellent BBC Radio 4 non-news content sits online or on a dedicated channel, and Radio 4 becomes all news? That would leave 5 Live able to let sport lead.  

It might make sense on paper as an option, but I suspect the might of the Home Counties green ink combined with pressure from the commercial radio industry would quickly dash the plans. Being radical is really difficult for the BBC, and it demands real leadership.

I shall put to one side, for this blog, content questions of how media should report protests; and whether, in general coverage on Sports Direct, 'duly impartial' should require, at least, some nod in the narrative to the many businesses who use zero hours contracts fairly to the benefit of both employee and business.

My hours of analysis reminded me of the value of analysis, reflection and human response which our agile radio medium allows. It also brought to mind the extremely high quality of LBC's work nowadays, even though newspaper columnists seem to ignore its existence. 

More generally, how lucky are we to have what the Government would call 'plurality of views' in our news providers. They operate to a high quality with almost comparable speed and efficiency. 

There are countries in the World who would, and do, kill for what we sometimes fail to treasure.

BBC Home news online 0900

Sky online 0900

Grab my book 'How to Make Great Radio' now on Amazon. Available in print and e-book. Food for thought for today's presenters and producers - new and experienced.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Pride in the Brand

Isn’t it annoying, relaxing in your front room, when a rival’s TV ad interrupts your favourite programme? 

Your mind wanders from the escapism of X Factor – straight back to dreary work matters. It quite puts you off your food.  Even worse when the ad is truly stunning.

That’s how I used to feel in Birmingham in 2011, when the initial Capital TV ads descended.  It wasn’t just a single scud missile, the laydown of that campaign was a sustained war. The quality of the creative was enviable - and entirely on brand. 

The new Capital ad is, again, typically excellent. After a few star-studded executions, the creative has moved on. This time, the stars remain, but in a radio setting, without losing any of the class.

There is little doubt that Global has raised the bar for radio marketing. The degree of care and investment are a world away from some we have seen here and around the World. Their media buying excels too, not only terrestrial TV but canny digital buying too.  

At a time when our medium needs to be showcased well - and in a contemporary way, Global is doing it. If this medium is to enjoy future success, this investment targeting Capital listeners brings benefit to us all; and the same can be said for Radio 1's.

In the UK, as we began to use TV, tactical ads were once commonplace. Capital and BRMB trumpeted the Birthday Game or the Bong Game.  For some years, the original Virgin station led its TV creative with ‘Pay your Bills’, featuring Christian O'Connell knocking on doors. An appointment to listen. 

Contesting per se was probably a powerful approach in those pre-Lottery, pre-internet days days when your radio station would be the only place where big prizes could be won.   I know its impact was duly felt in Rajar. Now, the principal value in contesting is the witness value, not the taking part.  

Galaxy, at the time headed by the gifted Riley/Parkinson/Button marketing dynasty, probably led the way with brand radio ads.  The BJL creations had attitude.  Some campaigns at the time were supported by Outdoor creative that was banned, which, as we well know, is the best thing possible for any canny marketer.

At Free and Gem in my Orion days, we had the hamster. It puzzled some. Mind you, the ‘what has the hamster got to do with radio?' question would  proscribe just about all other TV ads for anything. 

The creative was thoroughly in line with the brief. Orion's Andy Price was on set with the real hamster, which was rather cheaper than the accompanying CGI commissioned from the War Horse creators. 

The ads attracted phenomenal scores in the Milward Brown testing, by which many TV ads are researched. The conclusions of that test were right. After the heavy terrestrial TV campaigns, the social media chatter abounded, amplifying the impact. Hum-Free was thoroughly loved, to the extent that one listener even filmed it off her TV and bunged it on Youtube. That, plus the official versions amassed 170,000 views. 

In breaking the new brands, the hamster did well, and rivalled Capital’s ad for immediate recall, with an impressive legacy tail. Importantly, it was also distinct from Capital's work. You don't confuse Rhianna with a furry thing.

Magic moved on in five years from its deliberately sleepy positioning to a more feelgood approach. As is the case, thankfully, with most radio campaigns, the sophistication grew. I wonder how many alarm clock radios have featured in TV ads for stations. And who has one nowadays, anyway

I did enjoy their 'listener pictures' concept for Magic at Christmas, but I have to confess, I would have tampered with the language and staging of this promising execution - and the abrupt music fade.

Mind you, music is always a challenge. Find the track you really, really want, then then take a seat and a deep breath as you are faced with the cost of licensing.

Outdoor has also been a key medium for the marketing of radio. In many cities, the smiling faces of the breakfast hosts peer menacingly from 6 sheets and the sides of dirty buses.  I am of the view that when you hire stars, or when you are consolidating success of a duo which an area loves, the faces can work, if they look half-decent.  An unknown ugly pair launching their new breakfast show is unlikely to score.

The current Smooth outdoor flags campaign featuring presenter faces puzzles me. Smooth is a stunning brand now, and its 'relaxing music mix' is actually one of the very few propositions where its phrase is correctly attributed by listeners (according to research we did some months back). Listeners join that great station for its music, mood and lack of interruptions. Faces, particularly if not instantly recognised, is not a tactic I would have chosen.

John Myers launched a few stations in his time. His media planning was instinctive and typically blunt. 'More bus backs, m'darlin'', he'd growl down the phone.  John maintained that the backs of buses are seen more than the sides, and if you're going to use a medium - own it. Century's colour and blunt, bright messaging did the business at the time.

Ads work client-facing too. I recall one customer, based hundreds of miles away but doing business in our towns, calling in to book airtime. 'I drove through last weekend. You are everywhere'.

We are in radio advertising. We glibly tell clients that being 'a family firm', 'established for 17 years' means little to anyone. No-one is bothered. Yet, for generations, we produced ads about ourselves rather than implying the benefits our stations bring to listeners.

As a fan of words, I cringe when I see careless language on Outdoor. Wasted words and unnecessary detail. They've likely spend months agonising over the visuals and two minutes on the language. If anyone knows words make a difference, we should. BBC local radio knew that less is more.

And, for any agency dreaming up a campaign using song lyrics. It's been done.

Heart gets it right, with a consistent brand expression over the years. The logo and look was designed generations ago under the guidance of the gifted Stevie P, in the face of lively debate with the grumpy Company Chairman, as I recall with a smile. The 'More Music Variety' line says it all, and they owned that position first . They do go with faces, but usually by the time casual listeners are many in number and have grown curious. 

The bright Heart TV campaigns focused on feel-good in real life and that brand essence is still what listeners infer from that station sound and visual identity. Some of the early ones were filmed in South Africa - cheaper and sunnier than here. More recent executions, like the Olly Murs creative, lean more on celebrity, as the brand seeks to maintain its contemporary relevance to thirty something women. Go on. Give it some Heart.

There is no doubt that radio marketing has shifted up a gear from the tentative early days. Prompted originally  by squabbling amongst ourselves, we are now genuinely thinking about true brand advertising as we face bigger battles.

Whilst currently in a good place, a better place than some suggest, the future for radio is uncertain as rival entertainment offerings become ever more attractive and accessible.  

Great marketing for any radio station does us all good  - and we need to take our own marketing responsibilities seriously for the future health of our medium.

My book 'How to Make Great Radio' is available now.