The Winds of Change by Darryl Morris.
“I always tell them I’m a History teacher” says Lawrence, my line manager at BBC Radio Manchester. A good solution to being asked what you do for a living. Working in an interesting job throws up many awkward questions when it comes up. I usually say I work in radio. It’s hard to say you’re a presenter. 50% of people don’t believe you, and think you’re making it up, they don’t always say it but you know they are thinking it; how could somebody so young be a presenter? The other 50% ask you awkward questions. Not conventionally awkward but awkward because you get asked them a million times a day.
“What do you say?”
“Do you pick the music?”
“Why don’t you play good songs?”
“Play this and people will listen”
“You play too many adverts”
Trying to explain radio to people who don’t know how it works is hard. On one hand it’s difficult because they don’t understand and on the other hand it’s hard because you want them to see it like you do; but they never really will. For example, I’ve never really understood golf, my step father is mad on it, he spends hours and hours on the course and speaks of little more than “Par” “Birdy” “Bogie” and “Boosh”, maybe I miss heard that last one. He see’s golf in a way I never could. I find it the most excruciatingly dull sport ever invented and I’m pretty sure I always will. It doesn’t interest me in the slightest. I regularly find myself trying to share something brilliantly insightful about radio, something that would fascinate most enthusiasts and dazzle most anoraks, but it never really hits home with most of my mates. As magnificently interesting as it is to me, to them it’s something they have on in the background in the car or in the shower and their interest doesn’t reach much further than that. The ins and outs are often quite boring to them. It’s golf.
My mate Ste picked me up from the train station a while ago and after a stop off at KFC we sat eating our dinner in the car park. He put on the radio and up popped a well-known brand.
“Ah, this station is so yesterday” he said, with a smirk on his face. He was referring to a comment I’d made a while ago and one he won’t let me forget. I’d called this station… let’s call it Honest FM… a bit “yesterday”. He accused me, in that moment, of radio snobbery and I can see why. It wasn’t the best turn of phrase but it was one I used to avoid any detail, provoking awkward questions or boring the tits off the poor lad. Honest FM struggles in Rajar. It isn’t as highly regarded as it used to be and it doesn’t seem to appeal.
If radio is to succeed, it has to engage. It has to be more than golf. It has to be something people can relate to. It’s complacency that’s holding Honest FM back, it’s a belief that there will always be an audience for that brand and it doesn’t matter what you say or do it will never go away. Well it will and it is. You have to give your audience something to be passionate about, push their buttons. To simply play a nice mix of ‘hit music’ or the classics of the ‘90’s 00’s and now’ doesn’t cut the grade anymore. This is what I mean about some stations and indeed some presenters sounding a bit “yesterday”. I’ve worked with them in the past, the ones who think they can put up the mic and say whatever they want. It doesn’t matter what comes out of their mouth because the loyal audience will hang on to their every word. Lovely Mrs Jones who works at the post office and gives you a cheeky wink every time you go in, she might. Your mum or auntie, they might. But not everybody loves golf. To build an audience you have to keep them passionate about what you say. Every single word counts.
How many presenters do you hear producing content like “Let me know what you’re up to today?” “What do you think of the Kylie’s new haircut?” “Text me now with your favourite Manchester tune. So what’s next? You read out what Sally in Westbrook is up to today, or what she thinks of Kylie’s new hair cut or what her favourite Manchester tune is. It might have been well and good 20 years ago, when people cared. Now they don’t. They have many more interesting things to do and you need to keep them passionate.
I’m going to let you in on how I develop content. Let me give a simple example. “What’s your favourite colour?” I could simply ask this on air. I’m sure I’d get lots of texts from people eager to let me know their favourite shade of purple. But I want to develop some passion, something interesting to listen to, something that’s going to MAKE them pick up that phone and get in touch with the show. As much as it pains me to admit, John Gaunt was very good as this. Rather than “What’s your favourite colour?” How about “My favourite colour is blue and all other colours are rubbish”. You don’t need to be stupidly argumentative or objectionable (like John Gaunt) but you can give them a reason to get in touch, give them something they will really want to be a part of and can relate to. If, like Honest FM, you want to go on making wallpaper radio, go for it. If you want to keep the music and ads flowing and forward sell to the competition on the website, go for it. But if you want to be a great, engaging radio presenter and stand out from the crowd, do something different to what the guy down the road isn’t doing. Then you have to be more than golf!