Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0” and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.

Journalists: make the most of your network

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 2, 2009

Just wanted to share a cool story treatment we tried out at Viking FM last week – which shows the power of using your wider network.

Viking is part of the UK wide ‘Big City Network‘  with stations from Manchester to Liverpool to Sheffield. It gives us a formidable pool of excellent content when big stories break.

Last week it was our turn to share, as a small walkout in North-East Lincolnshire (in the southern half of our patch) became a national workers’ strike. I spent Thursday morning at the picket line between the police and the protesters.

I’ve covered many protests, but this one had a real anger to it. It was like something out of the “Winter of Discontent”.

The next day, as the strikes turned national, we were able to call on sister stations in Teeside and Edinburgh where construction workers were walking out.

The result was this ‘tour of the UK’ style package at 1 o’clock which took our listeners to different picket lines in just over a minute.

Click here to have a listen.

It was sent and broadcast to other stations across the UK too, and really shows the importance of a well used network.

Of course the internet these days provides journalists with an almost unlimited network of people to link up with.

Local radio: out come the knives

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 29, 2009

If you don’t follow the ins and outs of commercial radio in the UK (why would you?!) you probably won’t be familiar with one of the big trends which has upset the industry…

…merging and networking.

Where years ago there were dozens of radio companies running the 70+ local radio stations, now there are about five.

More radio is produced off-site and piped in. News is more increasingly being produced and read outside the local station, a system known as hubbing.

The most controversial bit of networking’s come from the company Global, who recently bought up dozens of local stations and, to save some cash, changed all their names to Heart.

Each station has a locally produced breakfast show, but the rest…well, you might as well be in London.

And that’s played into the hands of their rivals, who are keen to capitalise on the loss of local content.

Here’s a promo running on the alternative station Jack FM in Oxfordshire. It’s local rival Fox FM has recently joined the Global Network, with much content coming in from London (although it’s name hasn’t changed yet).

And they’re certainly cutting close to the bone – click here to listen.

On the flip side, according to this week’s listening figures, Fox FM have a 10% share of the audience. Jack FM have a 3.8% share.

A quick disclaimer: a couple of years ago I did a bit of freelancing at Jack FM’s sister station Oxford’s FM107.9 – they are a very talented group of people who serve their audience particularly well, and probably deserve to be a bit smug.

Radio gaga

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 7, 2009

A great find from James Cridland here:

A TV news report about how commercial radio is struggling under recession. One station has gone out of business, two companies have merged, and critics are blaming over regulation.

There’s only 1 thing: this report was broadcast in 1984….

Some things to look out for in the first 3 minutes:

  1. A very young looking Nicholas Owen
  2. Peter Sissons unable to read an autocue, even 25 years ago
  3. Timmy Mallett acting like a complete twat

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Can local radio succeed online?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on November 13, 2008

Well, ask Andrew Harrison at the Radio Centre in this week’s Radio Magazine, not really.

He claims commercial radio is another victim of the BBC’s local TV plans, along with the online aspirations of local newspapers.

Well certainly in the 100m online contest, local commercial radio is at the back of the pack. Many sites have old clunky websites which haven’t embraced web 2.0.  Content is rarely updated, I’ve often found the code is full of holes. Most of all, they don’t give their listeners a reason to go there.

Compare that to their BBC radio rivals, and now their newspaper cohorts and it’s a tadge shameful.

But maybe that doesn’t have to be the way.

Over at Viking FM this week, we trialled the station’s first live webcast. We arranged for a local financial expert to come into the station and answer questions from listeners about the credit crunch and what it means for them.

You can see the results by clicking here.

It was a lot more popular than we’d imagined, thanks chiefly to heavy plugging over the airwaves. But it shows, I think, people do have an appetite for this sort of content.

There just needs to be more dedication to doing it.

2007 in 9 minutes

Posted in Adam, Broadcasting and Media, News and that by Adam Westbrook on December 24, 2007

Hello!

Yes I’m back, after an absence so long it puts Noel Edmunds to shame.

In case you’re wondering what the hell I’ve been up to since May…well I’ve been working and 2007 ended up being far busier than I imagined.

Thanks to the wonder of radio it’s now been succinctly summarised in a podcast special on the 102 Touch FM website – introduced by yours truly.

Click here to go see (you’ll need to scroll down to “Exclusive: news review of 2007”)

Merry Christmas readers; I’ll be back in 2008 – I promise…!

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All quiet on the Westbrook front

Posted in Adam by Adam Westbrook on May 30, 2007

Been wanting to use that line for a long time…

Yes it’s been pretty quiet round here for a while..ever so sorry n all, it’s been proper crazy don’tcha know.

I usually don’t bother talking about myself on here – no-one’s interested in that – but it’s been a month of change which is probably worth scribbling down.

First things first, I’m not a student any more. And I’m now a proper journalist and everything.

I finished my exams 8 days ago and started my new job just 7 ago, which was a streak of luck, not half because I’ve also run out of money.

I’ve taken up a reporting job in Warwickshire with Touch FM, owned by the CN Radio Group. It’s a brilliant job which gets out and about lots and doing the whole reporter thing and the station’s got a good rep in the area.

So I’ve said goodbye to sunny Clapham and moved back to the Midlands and more specifically to Leamington Spa which’ll be my home for a good few years I expect.

It’s proper mad busy like, but fear not: I’ll still be keeping the blog torch alive within the contractual bounds of my job, hopefully adding some insight on life on the very greasiest bottom rung of the UK media ladder.

Oh, and another little milestone: this blog’s been visited more than 10,000 times since it started in September. Well, it looks good on the side don’t it…I’ll sum all that up shortly.

Pirates ahoy!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on April 20, 2007

Is there a battle raging in our airwaves?
A study by the UK media regulator Ofcom published yesterday showed that there are as many as two hundred pirate radio stations in Britain; half of them are based in London.

But the survey of three London boroughs – Hackney, Haringey and Lambeth  – shows that they’re becoming increasingly popular: around a quarter of people in those areas regularly tune into illegal stations:

  • 25% of these listeners tune in for the non-english programming
  • 16% tune in for the unique music

Last month I produced a short radio package on pirate radio in London for my coursework at City University, speaking to Ofcom, LBC and ex-pirate station Voice of Africa Radio.

It’s available online – click here.

Getting “in Touch”

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on December 18, 2006

Or so the pun goes.

I’ve spent the last week on my first ever bit of paid freelance for Touch FM in Banbury, North Oxfordshire.

It’s a small station on a small patch, but it was cool to be covering it all by myself like grown up journalists do.

Touch is one of a growing number of radio stations that use a ‘news-hub’ system…that is to say several stations are branded with the same name, and the news is produced and read from a central newsroom, which can be miles away from the patch itself.

So although I was reporting, writing and filing from Banbury, the bulletins were read by someone else from Statford-upon-Avon.  It’s a very cost-effective way of producing news as you can hire one newsreader to cover as many as three different stations every hour.

But it does mean some bulletins are recorded in advance (about 30 minutes) before being  FTP’d or even emailed to the individual stations.

So being a reporter for Touch is a bit different to most other places. As the Banbury reporter I was in charge of almost all the content from Banbury – this means filing 2 stories with audio and another 6 copy stories (just a script for the newsreader to read).

And on Fridays you’ve got to file Saturday, Sunday and Monday content.

So it means you don’t get to go out as much on stories and have to rewrite press releases a lot of the time.  But it’s still interesting and brilliant copy writing practice.

If only stuff happens in Banbury!

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