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#RADFEST10: It takes a long time

October 23, 2010

As I wrote in another blog post, the Radio Festival sessions featuring Timmy Mallett and BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans were touching, reassuring and inspiring.

Really great radio needs inspiring people. It’s not just someone with a great voice but someone with ideas. Those ideas might come from a producer. They might come from the presenter. They could be concocted through great team work. Whatever the source of great radio, it’s difficult to generalise. It’s impossible and ultimately pointless to apply a template to churning out good stuff. It just won’t work like that.

But there’s one point I didn’t hear mentioned at the Radio Festival, which should have been. A truth which hardly anyone says out loud. And they should. Especially as we’re all supposed to be living in a more transparent world: Producing radio takes time. A long time.

I don’t mean the craft – the actual process. That’s a matter of days maybe weeks. Rock up with a microphone, record something and then edit it back at base. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The production process is straightforward and should be.

No. What takes the time is reaching the status of “radio producer”. At least it is in my limited experience.

A friend of mine from the BBC recently got his name in the Radio Times. He’s worked at the BBC for a while now. A few years, if I recall correctly. I first met him five years back when he was working at BBC Resources. Five years later he’s produced an edition of World Routes for BBC Radio 3 after having spent a considerable amount of time as a broadcast assistant. When we first met we both confessed our dream to work in radio production. Mr Craven has reached the goal. Good for him. I’m very pleased. No really, I am. I’m not in any way jealous at all.

My point is that it has taken five years. That’s no statement on him, by the way. I’m not suggesting for a moment he’s been a lazy wotnot achieving this particular goal. Far from it. More that he’s stuck with it for that long because that is how the media industry is. As much as us storytellers rely on overnight successes or like to condense years of hard work into a more manageable few months or weeks, the truth is the lead time in the media industry is considerably (and perhaps unnecessarily?) longer.

And if radio really does need to sell itself back to the listener and potential listener so as to secure future audiences and make the distribution of DAB just that little bit easier, then a quicker turn-over of ideas generators needs to be made possible.

I’m not calling for revolution. I’m just saying. The river needs to run a bit faster. Because, if we’re looking to secure new audiences – young audiences – for the future then the stuff they listen to on the radio needs to have been created by people who may have gone through less of a gestation period.

I’m not whingeing. I’m just saying. Five years seems a ‘bit too long’.

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