I heard a comment earlier this week that was very true. That comment was a reference to the views of a community radio licensee who believes that community radio is not about the presenters on air, it’s all about the content.
I agree wholeheartedly but I have a problem with it too. My problem is a simple one. I hear very little evidence of such a philosophy being implemented in Community Radio generally. Let’s look at the presenters on community radio. Community radio is not about creating celebrity status for those presenters. It seems to me that celebrity status is what most presenters are after, especially those cheesy presenters who don’t know what they are doing and have a distorted view of what is expected of them in the first place.
A word of advice
Community radio is about creating great local content. If your reason for presenting on any radio station big or small is simply to become a celebrity then my advice to you is to think again and do so quickly. You see, Community radio is not about creating celebrities. Yes, a small level of local notoriety may be achieved as a result of some very decent broadcast talent but that notoriety is usually a by-product and is always short-lived. Local radio has got nothing to do with celebrity and it never has, thank goodness. Remember, listeners have very short memories and their loyalty to or relationship with any one radio presenter is fickle and best and non-existent at worst. If you want proof of that just ask the presenters who were on your local station in 1988, if you can remember who they were.
Celebrity is for the big boys, the national broadcasters like Radio 2 and others. If that is your aspiration then it is worth realising that you need to be a celebrity before you get a radio show at all. Just take a look at the radio 2 schedules and see how many recently hired presenters owe their fame to careers outside of radio… quite a few!
Local radio, Community Radio (call it what you will) is different. It is all about content, well presented. It also relies on the ability of the management team to drive that content strategy forward that leads to a successful local radio station. Two things are required to achieve this.
Firstly, you need a great programmer who knows how to create good quality local content. The second thing required is a good salesman. He needs a good product to sell and that product generates large numbers of listeners. Those listeners only exist because of the product created by the programmer that builds a strong audience … yes you’ve got it … the station content.
Let’s speak for a moment about the anorak presenter. I can tell you now that these people are ruining Community Radio. Why? Because they are the ‘anoraks’ who always wanted to present on Commercial Radio or BBC local radio before Community Radio ever existed but got turned down every time because they were simply not good enough. They are cheesy amateurs who have a warped view of what local radio is about.
If they did manage to get a job they didn’t last very long. I know, I did the turning down (politely of course) but I did keep some of the demos. I listen to them now and again just to remind myself that radio presentation is a talent and no matter how some people try they will never make it onto any decent radio station… unless you, the station Manager lets them.
With the advent of Community Radio, the advent of the unpaid presenter and the advent of the ‘local pillar of the community’ who gets a community radio licence but knows nothing of how a radio station works, means the airwaves door is now open to those who could not succeed before.
I don’t blame Mr ‘Pillar’ he did everything right and fair play to him. If you are faced with a seven day schedule of at least 15 hours of live broadcasting to fill and Mr ‘Cheesy Anorak’ keeps knocking on your door saying he’s the best thing since Terry Wogan landed at Heathrow and will present your Drive Show for NOTHING…well it’s difficult to look a gift horse in the mouth. This is happening wholesale across the community radio network now. What’s the old saying about peanuts and monkeys?
Let’s be positive
Now before you accuse me of being negative let me say that there is some great talent on Community Radio, presenters on stations who clearly realise that Community Radio is the new ‘LOCAL RADIO’. There are some stations out there that realise that ‘local’ means the radio station is a catalyst for the area rather than being just a pet finding service or the home of Mr Cheese and his record collection.
There are local programmers who realise that local radio is more than just asking your listeners what 73% of people do before they brush their teeth (What I do know is… 100% of your listeners don’t care). The skill lies in finding these people, training these people, nurturing these people who will go on to develop a sector of the radio industry that needs developing and needs developing now. Will this ever happen? I believe it will not because the desire to fill airtime with unpaid, unqualified and frankly, uneducated presenters is far stronger than the desire to provide a proper professional sounding local service that may cost a little more but would reap much larger financial benefits.
The reason is money or more accurately, the lack of it. It’s got nothing to do with community, nothing to do with local content and nothing to do with the true values of local radio.
I did have a fantastic idea once, I toyed with the idea that I could become a consultant for Community Radio; I could bring all my management expertise, experience and broadcasting skills to bear on a little station that would see the benefit in listener numbers and revenue if they took my advice. It could take some time, probably longer than Mr ‘Pillar’ is prepared to accept but I know it will work and they could take the credit, I wouldn’t mind. Perhaps I could claim a fee based on success of the station only. Perhaps I could sit on the management committee and offer further expertise from time to time and even have a role in coaching new talent in the academies.
It’ll never happen though. Why? Well the truth often offends and a cold, impartial ear on what his station broadcasts will reveal things that Mr ‘Pillar’ simply doesn’t want to hear. A misguided loyalty to those who are systematically keeping his station from real success stands between him and that success. Finally, he suffers from something that other business people do not suffer from… Mr’ Pillars’ fear of loss is far stronger than his desire for gain.