@johnco online

the internet home of John Collins

August 24, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Why I’m Looking Forward to Monday

Why I’m Looking Forward to Monday

There are a couple of station programmers who do a thing I like a lot. It’s not that they’re talking to me (though I admit it’s always good to catch up). I like it because they call for a chat about talent. Who’s sounding good? Who’s coming through the ranks? Any students they should be picking up on early?

That interest in new talent is what really drives the industry forward. Of course the ‘A’ team inhabit daytime and there are other players hoping to break through. But in my opinion  working with brand new talent and trying to mould it so that it can shine is one of the best parts of the job.

That started for me in the late 80s when I moved sideways from Audio at BBC Scotland into a producing a programme called ‘Bite the Wax’. (The founding producer, Quentin Cooper, reckoned the title was three-quarters of the mandarin for ‘Coca Cola’.)

Now BTW and it’s successor, Earshot, were both meant to be speech-heavy programmes aimed at younger audiences. They were meant to get an audience and they had to reach a standard. But they had another purpose – give new talent a place to start. Over a few years  both programmes gave an early platform to countless people whose names I’ve long forgotten. But there was a hard core of people who either used the programme to get noticed or even to take fist steps into feature making. I’m avoiding a long list of names – they know who they are.

After going over to the ‘other side’ I found myself getting further and further away from the ‘finding new talent’ part of the job. And the more time I spent away from it the less fun I had.

Talent is the key to radio, and to most media. You can have the best content in the world, but if your presenters don’t cut it, neither will your audience figures.

In the past few years, being ‘talent’ has been difficult. As owners tried to squeeze every cost out of their business there has been ever more programme sharing, networking and voice-tracking. That squeezed out lots of people,, including a lot of on-air staff. But cutting is a ‘one-time’ saving. There comes a time when you’re as efficient as you can be.

Then the best way to improve the bottom line is to produce genuinely compelling content – and for that you need talent.

The big groups have schemes where people can be identified and brought into the system. This (often paid for) activity has replaced the old school way of getting in that involved answering phones and doing menial tasks. All of this in the hope of getting a shot at the mic. These processes are an excellent way of doing short courses and ‘testing your vocation’. Schemes and academies like this are great and get people into stations.

But there is another way.

Next week my new group of HNC students pitches up to West College Scotland. The course is a way of getting a minimum of 432 hours of radio training and access to events and competitions. I love doing this as it gets me back to the best part of the gig – finding and shaping new talent. For some it’s about upskilling and for others its about beginning the process of polishing a diamond in the rough.

And for a couple of programme directors who are looking for talent that has committed to a year of training in an environment where the the core business and passion is about the new starts and not a broader set of priorities, it’s about getting a heads-up before their opposition do.

August 20, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Radio Hero: Bryan Burnett

Radio Hero: Bryan Burnett

Get_It_On_with_Bryan_BurnettFor my money, one suite of skills sets the commercial presenter in Scotland apart from the BBC one. It’s the set of abilities that drives home the station and it’s brand promise. It extends to a well developed ability to keep listeners listening longer. The commercial raison d’être is pretty simple – the more hours your listeners put in, the larger market share you will have, making your product more attractive to listeners.

Add that to (generally) better studio skills than the rest and a willingness to work very, very hard on their gig and you have a great commercial radio performer.

Which is why this radio hero is such a legend.

It’s about 20 years since Bryan Burnett jumped from the commercial world to the BBC in Glasgow. He’d worked around both Northsound and Clyde, carving a niche as someone who lived and breathed new music. His recommendations were things you actually went to check out either live or at a decent record shop.

I first met him as a board member at UKRD’s ‘Clan FM’ when I was MD there. His understanding of the industry and the economics of commercial radio was invaluable at our meetings.

But it was as a presenter that I really understood just what he’s capable of.

After UKRD sold up I elected to freelance for Neon Productions, and was quickly assigned ‘Brand New Opry’, which BB presented. I’ve never known a jock bring more to the gig. He didn’t want long lists of questions for his interviews – he prepped them himself. He had developed an encyclopedic knowledge of country and Americana – and he always had a nearby encyclopedia nearby for when that failed him.

His love of the music comes through in every link and he never sounds like it’s less than a pleasure to be on your radio. Now as host of the nightly ‘Get It On’ on BBC Radio Scotland he demonstrates his real depth as a presenter in handling many genres and styles with seeming ease. And when he gets to interact directly with listeners he does it in a way that makes the listener the star.

Then there’s the gentle hooking and teasing – keeping listeners listening longer and more engaged. Often presenters on his current station don’t sound so engaged with their content and sound like that they’d rather read an essay about every song. This can often end up with a programme sounding like a lecture, turning it into hard work. Brian’s hugely commercial style is what makes his shows popular and engaging.

To many, Bryan Burnett is best known as the guy that hosts athletics events up and down the country and runs (a lot) himself. But to me he’s one of the best there is. His commitment to his gig and his deft and light touch with whatever content you throw at him is an example to presenters on both sides of the divide.

And that’s why he’s my latest radio hero.

August 7, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on It’s Radio, Stupid!

It’s Radio, Stupid!

My Old Bush

This old Bush valve radio still works – it has a ‘lovely tone’.

It was a gift from John Cavanagh who presented ‘Earshot’ on

BBC Radio Five/ Scotland (while I produced) over 20 years ago.

Two things caught my eye in the last 24 hours that have started me worrying if people that make radio are in danger of losing sight of the medium’s hundred year heritage.

Yesterday Bauer announced a series of new promotions as their radio business moves towards regional management. They’re a truly multiplatform business operating across a wide range of media, with print, online, TV and radio all contributing to the bottom line. The thing that worried me is at first a no-brainer, but overnight I’ve had second thoughts.

The new managers would previously have been called Programme Directors – they’re now called ‘Content Directors’. I get it: they make much more than just radio – they’re responsible for material across a wide variety of platforms. The change in job title reflects the companies aspirations as a 21st Century publisher.

BBC radio made the switch years ago. In Scotland Content Assistants work with Content Producers to create programmes and ancillary content. Again this reflects the extension of the old bi-media approach, when radio and TV teams started working together, with the addition of online and other initiatives.

I wonder though if TV would do the same. Jeff Stelling is a TV presenter, synonymous with Sky TV’s Saturday Football coverage. This despite the fact that their coverage appears on a multitude of devices and in many formats.

Or newspapers. David Dinsmore of The Sun seems to be a newspaper editor – not a content editor. Even though the Sun operates right across the media with print, audio, video and a premium online offering.

In fact the whole business still seems confused. This morning the great Robin Galloway tweeted:

“Sharleen from Texas chatting on the show right now. The Robin Galloway Breakfast Show available on multiple platforms across Scotland.”

What are ‘multiple platforms’?

We know as practitioners that it’s a multiplatform world where radio dovetails with video, social media and online. But do the listeners?

I have a feeling that the 90% of Britons who listen-in don’t consume content in a multiplatform environment. I think they listen to the radio.

A wise old sales director once told me that you don’t sell the sausages – you sell the sizzle. By extension, the last thing you want to do is complicate the issue by letting them know what’s actually in the sausage.

The same is in danger of happening to the medium I love – which I reckon happens to be the medium best placed to benefit from digital developments.

We’ve had a century or so to tell our ‘listeners-in’ that they are consuming ‘radio’, even though it’s just the name of the transmission technology. . The word is used all over the world in dozens of languages. To end users that one word is instantly recognisable as a kind of content. Radio.

Yet the people that make the stuff seem desperate to cast off the word as if all the other ‘platforms’ are somehow cooler and sexier. Many former colleagues started in radio and went off to TV and print. Interestingly they describe their industries by the traditional name – despite working in a ‘multi platform’ world.

Radio has changed before, from AM to FM; short wave to internet. But it remains largely the same thing. One broadcaster, speaking to hundreds of people individually at the same time.

The industry’s ability to add video to the mix, support its audio with written content on the web and even mount outside events doesn’t detract from the thing that gives it the sizzle. It would be mad for it to abandon a word that’s existed 20 years more than ‘television’ in the public mind.

The amount of positive brand value that’s been built up over the years, when the device we use to consume has the same name as the medium is worth millions. Even the new entrants who don’t really make radio in any sense I recognise like to use the word.

The consumers know what radio is and isn’t thanks to it’s heritage. And the consumers know, without prompting that producers don’t make sausage-filling content.

They know that the magical thing we produce is… ‘Radio’.


a subbed and no doubt improved version of this article can be found at the lovelyallmediascotland.com website.

June 27, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Radio Hero: Mike Riddoch

Radio Hero: Mike Riddoch

RiddochMany years ago Radio Clyde cut their afternoon drive show in half. There had been a lot of footering with that part of the schedule and every new iteration was more wrong than the first, so I had no love for the new ‘Clydewide Tonight’ show. From memory it ran from 5.45pm to 7pm and was initially fronted by other Clyde DJs. This led to me hearing Dave Marshall twice in the same day. Something that worked in the morning never quite clicked later on for me.

Then a Scot from BRMB passed through. Dave Jamieson was a revelation – as slick and tight as you please. I found a cassette of him talking up the intro of Ace Frehely’s “Back in the New York Groove” that not only took care of the post but also included meaningful content – not a regular occurrence in those days.

But Dave moved on and the programme settled into a looser shift that eventually became the drive time show – fronted by Mike Riddoch. Not as slick as Dave and with a voice that crackled out of my cheap radio rather than jumped. But what a personality.

Mike got away the music with aplomb, but had real skill getting around the speech elements that filled ILR shows in those days. Just by listening to him I learned that a music show can work on more than one level, with clever treats that regular listeners grow to love. The helicopter effects and regular remark that “that’s management knocking off for the day” sticks in my mind 30 years on.

I remember Mike hosting a Sunday evening arts programme on the station too. Here he sounded animated and knowledgable but with a foot in the present-day and keen to contextualise the content for the general listener.

It was the mixing of clever with straightforward that really made Mike’s shows work and when he inevitably turned up on Breakfast he kept it up for years. In 80s radio it was a treat to hear clever humour that didn’t depend on phone starters or surveys – it was the work of a quiet man with something to say.

It’s no secret that the late 90s were a difficult time for Mike with him leaving Clyde and then spending some time at both Qfm and Scot FM. If was a slog to track him down, convince him that he still ‘had it’ and get him back in the studio where he belonged. But after a few false starts he did just that and the powers-that-be at Clyde did the right thing and invited him home.

Back on Breakfast at Clyde 2 he Mike still sounds great. In some ways the act sounds a little old fashioned than before as he doesn’t talk for hours on end and relies on neat & tidy interactions to raise a smile. But he’s sharp, funny and slick. I have industry friends who spent their whole career listening to him in the morning.

It all comes to an end tomorrow at 10am when he closes the mic on his tenure at the Clyde 2 Breakfast show. Changes in the group mean that the local morning shows are being replaced by a new show from Monday. There’s been some controversy about the change – and there wouldn’t have been if Mike wasn’t such a morning radio legend in Scotland. He’s a great presenter and a class act. Hours spent listening to him taught me a lot about how to put a show together.

I’m hoping that he finds a new radio home. The Culture Show at Radio Scotland would be a good home for his talents as a reviewer or contributor. And imagine Riddy working with a producer to create great radio at PQ.

There’s a lot of mileage in Riddy yet – and that’s why he’s one of my radio heroes.

(You may be interested in this post about Forth’s Bob Malcolm)

June 13, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Radio’s Digital future better not get fumbled

Radio’s Digital future better not get fumbled

So many of the radio people I bump into just now are looking at their stations’ digital operations and asking lots of questions.

Over the years I’ve seen and heard some excellent practice and some that has failed to hit the spot.

I blogged some time ago about using social media to be… erm… ‘social’ with your listeners. I’ve seen some programme makers with mindsets rooted in the 90s that won’t allow even minor criticisms of their product to appear on Facebook or Twitter. There was the chance for the person at the controls to engage with the audience and find out more. Of course there’s a chance that it can all get out of hand with a troll – then removing/ blocking may become an option.

Many stations just use social media as another way of publishing listings. This is a waste of time – there are already lots of other ways to find out what’s going on. Indeed, listeners who follow/ subscribe probably have a fair idea what you’re doing – so why treat them as if they’re a little slow?  Given that the users will read the content on a connected device, why not pass on images or a link to an audio highlight. Rather than treating it as a free Radio Times, how about using this stream to add value to content? Radio Five Live are beginning to do this really well, using twitter as both a back-channel for the audience to interact and as a place for listeners to get quick highlights delivered soon after broadcast. Not one of the commercial breakfast shows I follow turns this content around and tweets it. With Audioboo now more strongly integrated into twitter this looks – and sounds – excellent.

Another senior radio person was wondering aloud if technologies like BBC iPlayer render some pod cats redundant. Of course not!! People who listen to podcasts are core listeners who have devices set to pull down their programmes to listen to at another time. It’s effectively a ‘push’ technology, where the broadcaster has a direct feed to that listener. America’s NPR do an excellent job of posting web-exclusive content to listeners of ‘RadioLab’ and others, effectively rewarding listeners for their attention. Would I go to a website, search for and stream content? It’s probably a click too many before I leave for work in the morning. Effectively, by giving consumers responsibility for getting the content, the risk that it won’t be heard increases.

I wonder if radio stations could do a better job of pushing out different content – especially local broadcasters. Those interviews that last 4 minutes just to get a 15″ cut would be great to push to subscribers. Similarly main sports bulletins would work for many. Be creative. Use knowledge of the listeners and the way they live their lives to push them the content that adds to the station’s output. Local stations already have the assets – this is a way to get more out of them for almost no effort!

The most enlightened operators are looking at other ways to add to their content. Visualisation is playing an ever-larger role and I live for the day when it becomes normal for a smartphone or tablet feed to have the option of pictures or additional streams with access to FREE VIP content.

In a world where Spotify and others are about to be joined by iTunes radio the last thing the radio industry needs to do is give up more ground to the pretenders and use the web to deepen the relationship the stations and their programmes have with the listeners. Most people wouldn’t leave a station that super-serves them for a stream of music with gaps.

It’s not about the platform, neither is it about what it’s called. Radio is about compelling content.

Compete by making it more compelling and demonstrating that simple truth every time, everywhere.


June 6, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on It’s not about where they’re sitting

It’s not about where they’re sitting

Robin Galloway (pic: Bauer Media)

RADIO has a problem: its past.

All of us who love the medium frame it in the radio that we grew up with. Whether it was listening to Radio Luxembourg under the covers, as it faded in and out, or me listening to a heady mix of American Football and US DJ shows on the US Army’s Radio Network. Others listen nostalgically to recordings of old radio shows from around the world or share recordings of the ‘glory days’ of 1970s and 1980s commercial radio in Scotland.

Working in radio from the 1980s, I saw it a different way. There was a constant march of technology. When I started, BBC producers in Glasgow weren’t allowed to cut tape – that was a specialist task. Now, thanks to computer-based editing systems and more forgiving studios, most content in Scotland is edited and balanced by producers – as was always the way at commercial stations.

Much of the way radio was run was about individuals mastering technology and chatting to listeners. And there were many, many listeners. Even at supposedly-struggling Scot FM, we got over 300 letters a week for a weekend love songs slot. Listeners called or actually posted letters.

The technology now allows a presenter in Glasgow to press a button and appear to be local to listeners in Aberdeen or Edinburgh. This has happened for years and proprietors have slowly come to the realisation that they don’t need to have 40 presenters dotted around the country playing much the same music when ten well-resourced presenters can deliver just as much audience.

That’s why I welcome Bauer’s decision to appoint Robin Galloway to host a ‘networked’ Breakfast Show on their AM stations in Scotland.

I’m gutted for some wonderful former colleagues who’ll be looking for work in a contracting market, but it’s the right move.

Robin is talented, creative and already well-known in the markets he’ll be broadcasting to. He also does my favourite radio trick of always sounding relevant to his listeners, whether they’re young or old. He’s kept his act modern and fresh and avoids cheesiness. He’s a class act.

Strategically, Bauer are right to create a national brand for Scotland. Done right – and I expect more developments in the next year – they can grow the audience with a station that doesn’t make 45 year-olds feel old. For them, it’s not about local. For any commercial radio operator it’s about using what they’ve got to maximize audience and revenue – and sorting out the Greatest Hits Network can deliver personality radio that’s relevant to Scotland.

Bauer’s competitors have an open goal and the challenge is for them to find an USP in each market and exploit it. Of course, they understand their target audiences and play music that’s relevant to their listeners. But will they be generic, preferring to sound ‘big’ and regional or will they exploit the fact that they’re at the heart of their communities? There’s plenty of evidence that the latter works, but in an industry where people want to work for ever larger stations, it’s a tough fact to accept.

Radio’s future isn’t about where a DJ is sitting when she or he plays a record. It’s about the compelling, relevant content between the songs that will differentiate it from services like Spotify, Deezer and so on. Different broadcasters will have different approaches and new formats will emerge.

Radio is every bit as exciting as 40 years ago when land-based commercial radio launched in the UK. It’s just different.

And better for it.

February 6, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on 2013 starts a month late

2013 starts a month late

January was a quiet time on the blog, but now we’re into February I’m going to write much more.

If you missed the RAJAR last month, you probably missed my RAJAR thoughts over at allmediascotland.com – they’re still worth a visit here (free login required).

Last year’s Radio Heroes will continue, but I’m going to turn down the frequency of them just a bit.

A chance conversation made me think about doing some radio stories. I’ll try to do some without actually defaming anybody – as they appear I’d really appreciate your opinion.

I also have some ideas around reviewing programmes, helping you discover things I like that you may not have heard and wee random thoughts around the industry.

Have you any ideas that you want me to get on to? Let me know and I’ll give it a go.

Thanks for all your support last year – here’s a belated push for 2013!


January 21, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Rajar review – Q4 2012

Rajar review – Q4 2012

The following appeared at allmediascotland.com – one of my must-visit media websites:

THE Bauer Media Scotland radio group has had a busy 2012 and it has paid off in its final quarter listening figures – as reported by RAJAR.

Its FM stations in the Central Belt have registered increases against the former GMG-owned Real Radio. The fact that much of this result is down to hard work at Forth and Clyde is borne out by a dent in Capital FM’s fortunes, indicating that they’re strong at either end of the demographic in a way they weren’t a couple of years ago.

Now the ‘ship has steadied’ and the evening programmes have really begun to demonstrate their worth as national shows, I predict further growth.

The promotional activity continues at Clyde 1 and Forth One, while Real sets plans for its next round of changes with an expected name change in the first part of this year.

The continued improvement of Bauer’s AM network is reminiscent of the very best ‘stealth-relaunches’ in UK radio. The music has acquired more focus while maintaining the ability to throw up gems that don’t show up on other stations and the line-up has settled into an assured and settled team.

The strong figures for the bulk of the network – recently rebranded ‘The Greatest Hits’, with the heritage name attached – demonstrate that their early travails are mostly behnd them.

That said, Forth 2’s reach is still down year-on-year. It’s difficult to tell whether that’s down to strong work at Kingdom FM who are clearly audible in the capital or that there’s more work needed to get more of Edinburgh’s heritage and uniqueness onto the station.

They’ll be cracking open the bubbly at Bailieston where Real XS – the rock brand formerly known as ‘Rock Radio’ has had a hugely successful year. Where XS surprises many is that many of its listeners aren’t middle-aged men. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that their approach is finding favour with younger listeners who don’t like pop. That attitude, combined with credible presentation and a determined music policy, make them a difficult act to compete against.

Spare a glass of champagne too for Central FM. They’ve moved to brand new studios in the last few months, which brings with it the danger of concentrating on things other than the audience. But they’ve posted a 22 per cent rise in reach.

This survey is too early to give a clean read of the football phone-in with Peter & Roughy (Peter Martin and Alan Rough), which debuted at the end of last year. But it’s the kind of brave move that deserves respect and audience success.

Taking on the team from Real Radio’s Football Phone-in is the kind of brave move that deserves respect and audience success. While the smaller transmission area and the poor transmitter coverage of Glasgow don’t help, the show serves up the kind of content that really makes the station stand out. But they need callers and there needs to be a lot of work done to alert people that don’t already listen to the station that they have the show.

We’ll know if they managed it in just 12 weeks – with the next set of RAJARs.

January 7, 2013
by johnco
Comments Off on Let’s Levy for Scottish Media

Let’s Levy for Scottish Media

The following appeared at allmediascotland.com – one of my must-visit media websites:


OF the 194 comments that currently accompany the suggestion, most appear to be against.

I refer, of course, to the proposal – published last year in The Guardian – that “a small levy on UK broadband providers – no more than £2 a month on each subscriber’s bill – could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership…[to] solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online”.

Well, I for one, like the idea. And not just derived from broadband use. And why? Not for the narrow purposes of preserving the print media, or even expanding digital infrastructure into remote areas, but to invigorate Scotland’s media talent pool and encourage both localness and risk-taking within it.

I propose that the TV Licence Fee and a broadband levy are managed by a public body.

Of course the vast bulk of the money would go to the State broadcaster, but the link between the public and the money would be improved. Currently, you get the feeling that some parts of the BBC regard the Licence Fee monies as their right. The remainder would form a fund for the aforementioned media ‘good causes’. In radio, in particular, then innovation in new formats, or productions that don’t fit the narrow remit of the State broadcaster and don’t appeal to the commercial broadcasters.

Similarly, the fund could be accessed by community radio groups and those in rural areas struggling to provide broadband to their own communities. In return, there would be tough rules on commercial activities and bodies which are run for profit should be expected to pay into the fund as they make a profit.

I’m thinking this would be along the same lines of the way Performing Right Society levy its fees, with a minimum amount or a percentage of turnover of stations in profit.

Now I expect – and hope – that the vast bulk of the money would stay with the nation’s public broadcaster. They produce the lion’s share of crafted content, leaving (at least in radio) their commercial competitors to go after mass audiences with simpler productions. If profitable, they’ll contribute to the fund.

But the community radio sector is beginning to uncover some excellent new talent. So many of their programmes are so much more than a bloke with a box of records and form a vital community resource.

Behind them is a tier of little online stations. These aren’t regulated and they’re often little more than vanity projects. But the best are worldwide operations with several hundred listeners and committed, talented programme makers. The ability to apply for funding for either special projects or to keep a service on air would free up the minds of the programme makers to continue to innovate and find new audiences.

The march towards ubiquitous internet access is changing the very definition of broadcasting.

Almost all of my listening is delivered by DAB or IP. Apart from the explosion of choice, the process has been simple as I’ve upgraded my kit. There won’t be analogue switch off for many years, but we want to have a creative economy where the ‘big fish’ help fund the minnows.

There’s another benefit. Surely, if everybody had access to this ‘media poll tax’, which could be renamed from the TV Licence Fee to to a ‘Fund for Public Broadcasting’, we would be calling it what it is.

And in a world where the funding is separate from the public service content producers, corporations like the BBC won’t be such a soft target as they are now.


December 20, 2012
by johnco
Comments Off on December’s Radio Hero: Alex Lester

December’s Radio Hero: Alex Lester

One thing I like more than any other in radio is presenters who genuinely connect with their audiences. This can happen in music intensive formats with ease. Lots of people mistake long presenter links for personality and engagement – it isn’t. For me what works is simple. Personality.

Personality means that the listener has to be joined by a ‘real’ person. My favourite people are those who remain themselves and encourage their listeners to join them on the journey. In a small way I did that over the years, finding that it made listeners stay engaged longer which helped the bottom line. This extends to social media, where the ‘real’ (with a small ‘r’) presenters welcome listeners into their world. Radio’s about people.

One of the finest at doing this is tucked away in the wee small hours on BBC Radio 2, a place he’s toiled for years.

It defeats me that Alex Lester gets so little airtime in the daytime. The ‘Best Time of the Day Show’ has run in the small hours and has a club like atmosphere. Of course Alex does a wonderful job on the technical stuff – he’s a radio DJ! But he nails down the basics while doing something way more subversive. For example, having people write messages on the filthy backs of trucks, like WALLOP (We’re Alex Lester’s Lovely Overnight People).

The swirl of catch phrases, interactivity and an attitude that screams “We all know this is a crazy time to be doing anything” makes him one of the most impressive broadcasters on his network.

He’s also really good at supporting new people as they get into our ridiculous trade. I’ve lost count of the new starts who’ve become email friends with Lester over the years.

He’s a name that lots of people have heard – and few have actually listened to. He’s beyond excellent on the radio and really gets what makes it work.

For that reason he’s this insomniac’s December Radio Hero.