I was browsing the Absolute Radio website earlier today, and noticed just how much they push DAB. On the Listen live page, it actually highlights DAB as the most prominent option. You can see how important digital is to Absolute.
Also, once again I was listening to Radio 4 this week when Eddie Mair mentioned people listening to cricket on longwave. But no mention of the excellent 5 Live Sports Extra service, which broadcasts the same as Test Match Special on Radio 4 longwave, just without the shipping forecast interruptions.
The news that the BBC is considering reversing its decision to close down the Asian Network marks the corporation’s second major U-turn on a digital radio service closure. The first was the more high-profile threat to close 6 Music.
The dithering indecisiveness is enough. But what really annoys me about these decisions is the underlying reason behind them — ratings — and the story it tells.
Both 6 Music and the Asian Network had relatively poor ratings before the BBC announced that the services would close. In that sense, it was easy to see why the savings-seeking BBC was lining them up for the chop.
Then something funny happened. Ratings shot through the roof. After its closure was announced, the number of 6 Music listeners doubled from 600,000 a week to 1.2 million a week. It wasn’t just a flash in the pan either. Since 6 Music was saved from the axe, ratings have remained over the 1 million mark.
The problem is that beforehand, awareness of BBC 6 Music was extremely low. Only 20 per cent of UK adults had even heard of the station. No wonder ratings are so poor if four fifths of the potential audience doesn’t even know of its existence!
Similarly, ratings for the Asian Network have increased by a third since its closure was announced. The increase in ratings has been given as the reason for the BBC’s U-turn.
Publicity vacuum hurts BBC digital radio
The problem is that the closure threat was the most publicity 6 Music and the Asian Network had ever had. The BBC isn’t usually shy of promoting its own services, but it has completely failed to sell its digital radio stations to the public at large. In fact, it has completely failed to sell digital radio full stop.
A measley 18 per cent of Radio 1 listeners listen over a digital format. The highest figure among BBC radio stations (excluding those available on digital platforms only) is 5 Live — 36 per cent. These listeners have a significant incentive to move to digital though, as otherwise 5 Live is only available on poor quality medium wave frequencies.
Meanwhile, over half of listeners to Absolute Radio listen over a digital platform. Absolute’s success in pursuing digital platforms is well-documented.
Considering that the BBC is supposed to be investing in digital radio, it is not doing a very good job of promoting it. Despite having great content on its digital services, the BBC is shy of actually promoting them.
In this department, it is being considerably outperformed by Absolute Radio, a commercial outlet that doesn’t have a chunk of license fee money set aside for pushing digital. The BBC seems to have lost all of its enthusiasim for digital, even when it is producing excellent digital services.
As James Cridland pointed out, fans following the Ashes earlier this year will not have missed a ball were they listening on 5 Live Sports Extra, as I did. Yet all over the news the following day was the fact that BBC radio listeners were deprived of the victorious moment because the shipping forecast was being broadcast on Radio 4 longwave at the time.
This provided plenty of good coverage in the shape of, “ha, that crazy old shipping forecast, eh?!” All very good. But why wasn’t the point driven home that an excellent digital service was broadcasting the cricket completely uninterrupted?
I am sure there are lots of avid cricket fans out there that rely on their longwave signal. But I have checked, and I don’t even own any equipment that can pick up longwave. I suspect if I were to go to the shops to buy a radio, I would have to make a special effort to find one that could receive longwave. Meanwhile, I could pick up a DAB radio for about £30 with no trouble whatsoever.
Where are the promos?
Why did the Radio 2 breakfast slot get a big push when Chris Evans started presenting it? The Radio 2 breakfast show is the most popular radio programme in the country, with around 10 million listeners. If there is one radio show that does not need promoting, it is this — whether it has a new presenter or not.
With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network? Why isn’t it pushing 5 Live Sports Extra harder at avid sports fans?
With radio, the BBC seems to have got its marketing priorities all wrong. Where are the big promos for stations like 6 Music, Radio 7 or the Asian Network?
Over the past year or so, I have become a big participant in pub quizzes. Quite quickly, I gained a reputation among my friends for being reluctant to guess.
This is an issue for our pub quiz team, because we have a few major weak areas. Part of this is down to our youth. All of us are around 23 or 24, making us among the very youngest of the regulars. As such, we are disadvantaged when it comes to questions about decades before the 1990s. This quiz contains many ‘guess the year’ questions. We also have big gaps in our knowledge in films, television and sport.
As such, it is important for us to be able to guess. So I understand why my fellow team members might be frustrated when I begin to pick apart the guesses we do make.
But the notion that I don’t like guessing is not quite true. What I cannot abide is bad guesswork. This is because I have realised there is a real art to guessing.
Taking a complete stab in the dark won’t do. Questions themselves are full of clues, even if they have been neutrally written. You just need to sniff the clues out.
I often ask myself questions about the question. What makes this an interesting question? What makes it something worthy of a pub quiz? Is it something topical? Is the answer perhaps amusing or ironic?
Many are tempted just to put down any old answer, as it’s better than nothing. And that’s fair enough if you don’t have a better idea. But bland answers don’t make pub quiz questions.
A few weeks ago we were given the following question: “Who starred in a 1950s public information film saying, ‘take it easy driving; the life you save might be mine’?”
I have to admit I didn’t have the foggiest idea. But I started to ask questions about the question. Why is this question interesting? It won’t just be any old person, because bland answers generally don’t exist in pub quizzes. It might be an interesting answer if the person who appeared in a public information film about speeding went on to die in a car crash.
So then I moved on to thinking of famous people of the 1950s who have died in a car crash. One person immediately sprung to mind, and it seemed like the perfect answer: James Dean.
Later, when the answers were announced, our quizmaster — and the owner of the establishment — started chuckling as he read over the answer to this particular question. “If anyone gets this right, I’ll give them £100.” It was looking good for us — my suspicion that it had to be an ‘interesting’ answer seemed to be correct.
The answer was indeed James Dean, and we were the only team in the whole pub to get it right. Sadly, the landlord didn’t stay true to his promise, even when we suggested a donation to charity!
For me, this was one of the highlights of my pub quiz career so far, for a variety of reasons. Due to the format of this particular round of the quiz, for our team this question was the most important of the 25. So it was ultra-satisfying to get it right.
The amazing thing is that I didn’t have a clue. I had never heard of this footage. I just read the question and sniffed the answer out.
It underlines the importance of good guesswork. Every other team in the pub took a stab in the dark. Perhaps if they had asked questions about the question, more of them would have got it.
Sadly, even excellent guesswork skills aren’t quite enough to fill in all the gaps in our knowledge. While a few times we have won the “bingo” round (which involves a heavy element of luck), we have yet to win a proper pub quiz round. We are getting closer though, and I am learning more about how to guess all the time.
I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.
He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.
I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).
His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.
(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)
A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.
I see there has been a frisson of activity over the suggestion that some councils are looking to hold their counts on a Friday rather than the traditional Thursday night / Friday morning when the General Election comes round. The Sunday Times has reported that the BBC believes that up to a quarter of councils are considering making the switch to sociable hours.
Without a doubt, it is fun to stay up all night watching power switch hands from one MP to another, and gradually from one government to another. And there is no denying that the television show has brought us some of the most memorable political moments of recent times. Everyone knows what you mean if you mention “the Portillo moment”.
But is it important? Is it even right? The political class treats a general election like a big sporting event. It is our Superbowl, and David Dimbleby is our John Madden. Coverage of politics is heaving with horse racing and other sporting metaphors. Correct me if I’m wrong, but an election is supposed to be about the serious business of government, not an entertaining night in front of the box.
Adam Smith famously wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.” I do think the cross-party support for election night coverage may be to the detriment to what is good for the public.
It is interesting that three of the biggest stories of the past week or so have been about the entertainment side of politics. There is a big debate just now about whether there should be a presidential-style leaders’ debate in the run-up to the election — Sky News is promising to plonk three chairs on a stage and give anyone who doesn’t turn up the “tub of lard” treament. (Of course, all the smaller parties cry, “Why can’t I be on a fourth chair?”) I’m not sure that anyone genuinely thinks such a debate would be a valuable addition to our political discourse, but it will be entertaining so that’s all right then, huh?
Then there is the controversy over the BBC’s decision to invite Nick Griffin onto an edition of Question Time. Chris Dillow summarisesPaul Sagar’s point that Question Time is “not a platform for debate but merely a zoo in which soundbites are vomited into an audience who clap like hyperactive seals.”
Now there is this controversy; this fear about the future of election night coverage. Don’t get me wrong. I like a bit of political rough and tumble as much as the next person. And I agree that the votes for a general election should be counted as quickly as possible. There are very valid arguments against moving counts to Fridays, as you will see in the articles I have linked to above.
But the focus on the entertainment value of staying up all night is something that I find a tad distasteful. I am particularly surprised to see this point of view being advocated so strongly by any Liberal Democrats.
That party is quite rightly in favour of reforming the voting system. Most electoral reformers agree that single transferable vote (not to be confused with STV) would be the best (or least-worst) system to adopt. That move would almost certainly put the kibosh on any notion that we will find out the result before breakfast time, but it would still be right.
What is important is that we have a result that is fully reflective of the wishes of the people. In comparison to getting the right result, the speed of finding it out or the entertainment of the televisual spectacle pales into insignificance.
I would rather see a complete end to those sporting analogies I referred to earlier — “first past the post” and “two horse race” being among the most important ones to consign to history. I would happily see the television show “general election night” consigned to history too if need be.
So sacrifice your psephological salivating. Yes, election night can be fun and entertaining. But it would be better for democracy if our democratic institutions operated for the good of the voters, not for the good of politico television viewers.