Sunday, 20 July 2014

So you wanna be a radio star? Then listen now to what I say...**

Neil Spragg, a veteran musician and DJ/mixer, wrote to me the other week. Working as Sir Real (careful, there are several) he's presented 'The Mouth Of God' on Music World Radio for ten straight years now: an absolute internet radio veteran. Neil wondered it there was a way to move over to to mainstream radio. Did I have any ideas on how to go about it? 

Tricky. But, yes, I did. 

It's not unreasonable to want to take your radio and music chops on to bigger and better platforms, after doing it for a while. I applaud this. What make Neil's proposition interesting is the diversity of his activities - a veteran musician with a vast range of experience, a DJ (twenty years at House of God in Birmingham), sound for gaming and installations, a guy who thinks and experiments. Neil's just collaborated on sound for a couple of huge interactive A/V installations in Lima. One is an LED panel 20 stories high installed on a skyscraper in the business district. It's controlled by the public from a huge motion sensitive panel in the foyer at street level. 

So - this is a man with stories to tell. What makes it tricky is just how far radio has moved away from offering new slots to people who have stories to tell.  

Here's Neil:

Hi Robin, hope you're good. Just wondering if I could pick your brains a bit...I'm thinking of trying to get a DJ slot on *actual* radio lol, figure I have enough experience (and a decent enough collection) to make a reasonable pitch. Do you have any tips / insider info / words of warning etc? I assume the situation is much the same as in most other areas of the music industry (ie there is a snowball's chance in hell of getting work), but interested to hear your perspective...
Cheers, Neil.

And here's me:

Hi Neil. 
The problem, as always, is not what you've got, which is a lot, but what the buyer thinks he needs. What does radio 'need' these days? And can you make them need you? Get them to kill for you, and you're home and dry. 

Breaking it down at national level, and assuming you don't have Radio 1's teenies in mind, Radio 2 and 6 tend to hire big names in preference over experienced veterans. For example, Alex Lester, a totally solid and very listenable broadcaster, seems fated to stay on R2 overnights; he's been there since I produced his show twenty years ago. So I think we can write off the 'start at the bottom' scenario here. 

To be scrupulously fair to beeb parachutees, some of them are fabulous broadcasters, like Tom Robinson and Cerys Matthews. Others have claimed their niche by doing it for long enough, like Craig Charles. Much as he loves his genre, and is now associated with it (he was back at Mostly Funk, Soul and Jazz this year), it didn't hurt that he was a name after working on Red Dwarf and Coronation Street. 

It's not a complete brick wall for new talent. I was absolutely delighted to see Radio 2 hand a one-off cover slot to the Derby-based (commercial radio) Gem 106 breakfast team after they scooped the Music Radio Personality prize of the Year at this year’s Radio Academy Awards. Only a gesture, but a gracious one, and lovely to see. 

So what's there for you in the commercial sector? Would they use you? Mostly, not. Mainstream outfits want young, sprightly, preferably good looking, articulate and, especially, biddable. You play what they want, not what you want: the call is definitely not for deep music knowledge of any type. 
Off in the more specialised areas, there are possibilities at the likes of Absolute, Kerrang, Planet Rock and XFM, but you'd have to mount a pretty cool campaign to convince them to snap you up. I can't back this up, but I've heard the money is pretty rubbish. 

Beyond these areas, there are more possibilities, but the financial pickings get progressively thinner. Amazing Radio plays new music pretty much exclusively. If you can make a case for the areas you want to cover – if there is enough new activity for you to showcase – it's worth giving them a call. They are a tiny national DAB only service operating out of Gateshead. Send them your music, by the way. 

BBC Local Radio? Sorry. Since they networked evening programmes, there is very little room for specialist shows. And the emphasis is solidly on local news topics. But cultivate your local BBC Introducing team. There are excellent people working in this area, and I would love to see this cohort of committed talent go on to greater things. 

Community radio and Internet radio? You're doing this already. But I do think that, just maybe, there is one possibility you could explore: syndication, with a marketing strategy. The odds are slim because the community and internet sector is so disparate, and standards vary wildly. Most internet operations are tiny, with minuscule audiences; some are vanity operations; few know much about marketing. And I'm not sure about the legislative climate. But here goes - syndication and programme-sharing works fine at all levels in the US.

1.  Think who your show appeals to. Do some research. Get facts and figures. 

2.  Find a sponsor who might want to hit the market you serve.
3.  Work out a sponsorship deal where support increases with exposure.
4.  Offer support funding that comes with the show to the stations.
5.  Build, but, of course, don't compromise content. 

Armed with financial support - and that's a very big if - you have a decent chance to get syndication going, as the show would come with funding which all these stations desperately need. Yes, you are buying time, but there are precedents for this, some of them honourable. 

If you can make it work, it builds you as a product. It spreads your reputation. You can legitimately claim a growing audience. And, after a lot of hustle which might yield exactly nothing, bingo! You might just have something which, all of a sudden, stations might want. It means you've got to be producer, presenter, salesman, PR and marketing man.... just like all the musos I talk to. It's a lot of work. And, as in so many areas, you have to wonder if the effort you make to float the project will eventually overshadow the creative effort. 

Hope that helps. I don't think it does, really.


Now, it's over to you. This little idea may be anathema to people at online and community radio. Call it manipulative, or call it pragmatic; the radio story of the past six years or so has been relentless consolidation. So why stop at BBC and Commercial local radio? As with many of the superb musicians I follow on my patch, there seems little point, ultimately, in being brilliantly creative, for pennies or less, to an audience of dozens. Unless it's for the thrill of music making, which, of course, is priceless. Maybe my deeply manipulative stratagem might work. But it is a risky, risky path to take. Anyone else got any ideas?

Here's Neil's bandcamp page. Check it out - it's difficult to pull out a 'typical' sample.
Here's info on Omnia Opera - 20 years of space rock, a
nd Neil's latest 7 Shades project.

** Thanks to the Byrds' deeply cynical and brilliant original for today's post title

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