Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reel-to-reel to Real to Un-real

Reel-to-reel to Real to Un-real

'Radio giant' John Myers recently Tweeted “CFM Radio licence is up for renewal I see. I love that station. launched it, built it and home town. I might apply for that...”

How wonderful to be confident enough to publically announce this, and also have the resources (£20,000) to apply. Most interestingly, the man behind the many mergers that led to the setting-up of large quasi-national services clearly takes a delight in his ‘home town’ station. I hope you DO apply John, and as you say ‘Don’t let me down’.

I’d love to be able to say I could apply for a licence in my ‘home town’. Sadly, that was London, a place I did not like when I was 18, and like even less now. But I applied to Capital Radio (as was) back in 1973, and actually had an interview, 'dreams' like that happened then. But the morning show I lusted after was to be the (temporary) home of (American) Tommy Vance and Joan Shenton, and I was to delight Geordie Land with my posh London accent and the ‘Groat Market’ at Metro Radio from ’74. Both good fun but neither very ‘home towny’ !

Unfortunately, in 2012, to get a licence in many ‘home towns’ now one needs to be not British or even based here, or be the owner of a multi-million pound empire. And as British radio stations merged and syndicated, the chances of getting a local presenter post anywhere moved down towards zero. In any case, if you did there is a high chance the station broadcasts from somewhere other than the ‘home town’. And I do not mean just the small stations, even (for example) in Nottingham with its 1.3 million people, there are stations doing only 4, or NO hours, locally each day. It was not always like that and I’m prompted to write all this, by a small box I came across in my archive recently. It was sent to me, in Nottingham in June 1979, when I was the person who listened to ‘audition tapes’. I recall receiving at least 30 from local hospital radio people, indeed I gave about 10 of them a job!

These audition tapes were of course either reel-to-reel (more impressive) or cassettes, invariably with ball-point pen scribble on the ‘Memorex’ label. This particular box had a typed label, carefully sellotaped onto it, with details of the sender; note I was even elevated by the sender to ‘Esq’, it sounds almost Dickensian. But inside the box was a (then trendy) Dymotape covered reel tape informing me it was, 'full track', ‘mono’, and  ‘7.5 I.P.S’. A foreign language to today’s younger ‘radio people’ but clearly from someone serious about working on his 'hometown' station.

Did the person who sent the tape get rejected, and work instead in a bank who are now making him redundant after 33 year’s service? Or, has his career reached the ‘radio stratosphere’, stretching over a list of stations longer than Her Majesty the Queen’s Prime Ministers between 1952 and 2012? The clue is in the name. I had already taken on a deejay called ‘Vince Mould’ and it did not take much skill to decide it did not sound right/would not ‘sing’ on jingles, so he became ‘Tony Lyman’. So I insisted poor Tony Lloyd (real name) HAD to change his name. Whether you are a radio person of one year or 44 years standing, I hope you now know about whom I’m writing?

Of course, the tape was excellent, and perhaps a ‘clip’ will appear on the tape’s ‘anniversary’ in #radiomoments on Twitter on 21 June this year. The love and knowledge of his ‘home town’ meant it was full of energy creativity and talent. I have not heard it for 25 years not having had a reel-to-reel machine. But I suspect the qualities it had then will STILL shine through as ‘Tony Lloyd’ is also now an archivist of commercial radio so I'm guessing he still has the 'Master tape'. But, this is not an homage to one of the British radio industry’s ‘leading lights’, I’m prompted to write this ‘blog’ (in my day an essay) as I want to ask a simple question.

HOW in 2012 would someone with such native skills get onto their ‘home town’ station?

I wonder if anyone on these ‘local’ stations even listens to demos of ‘2012 Tony Lloyds’. If so, why, as there is little chance of any local work; apart from 'breakfast' any programme they might be able to do would be London-based. Do ‘young hopefuls’ have a chance of getting onto ANY station, let alone the one in their ‘home town’? British commercial radio has shed hundreds of presenter posts, and is so formulaic now, that unless a 'Tony Lloyd' were ‘right’ for a Breakfast show, the number of jobs is very small. Also, the increase in the importance of ‘visual appearance’ for radio (internet, tv ads, tv shows) means that even the best presenter ‘in the county’ might be limited in their employment chances, if they were not ‘handsome’, or resembled the ginger-haired woman in ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’?

The other problem is that commercial radio now bows-down to Academies, Awards, Research, ‘team work’ and ‘Training Days’. I’ve NEVER believed that training can ‘make’ a good presenter; you either are, or you are NOT. The 'radioness' and sensitivity of the ‘Tony Lloyds’ of this world is innate, not something you can learn. Yet it’s VERY easy to lose that quality if you control, change, train, and disillusion an embryonic talent by sticking them in a studio 100 miles from their ‘home town’ and their first 2 years is spent ‘voice tracking’ 5 shows a week in 3 hours. And if they are not ‘visual’, they are unlikely to get a job or succeed in tomorrow’s commercial radio.

I recall that when Radio Trent took over 'Centre Radio', and re-named it ‘Leicester Sound’ I was sent the 30 miles there to oversee various parts of its re-launch, formulate its music, and create the jingles. But Leicester was NOT my ‘home town’, I had no affinity for it or the station, so soon managed to shake-off most of this role to focus on a station and city I DID feel was ‘home’. Ironically, ‘Leicester Sound’ is now just radio history, as its transmitters carry output from London 20 hours a day, and Nottingham 4 hours a day, so any Leicester ‘Tony Lloyd’ certainly won’t be working on his ‘home town’ station.

If the ‘norm’ in 2012 is maintained, we face a future, monopolistic commercial radio industry, where all the ‘bosses’, ‘suits’ ‘CEO’s’ hardly know the many ‘home towns’ their company owns, and presenters are slim, handsome or beautiful. So what chance do today’s hopeful, sensitive, innately talented young presenters stand of ever working in their ‘home town? And if that is true... WHERE will the ‘Tony Lloyds’ of the future come from?


  1. I hope they'll come from community radio, Len because commercial radio has totaly failed them.

    In your adopted home town there is a station, Kemet, that features young, local presenters playing music for young people with a lot of local content and local involvement. Then there are internet stations like Trent Sound (which you know well).

    Perhaps an additional question could be where will more mature presenters come from who have local knowledge, a passion for local radio and a desire to serve an audience older than 30?

    And yes, I do include myself as someone who could be serving that audience as well as a member of that audience.

  2. Len
    The accuracy of your blog is frightening!
    It really is a pity that someone like you, if actually not you, does not have a position in power in a radio authority role!