Category Archives: Radio

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Time’s Up – After much horse trading and secret deals the top eurocrats have agreed – probably – on who will become the next EU presidents. The changes are – at the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker is to be replaced by Ursula von der Leyen; at the European Council Donald Tusk is to be replaced by Charles Yves Jean Ghislaine Michel; at the European Parliament Antonio Tajani is now replaced by David Sassoli; at the Eurogroup Mario Centeno has been in post since 2018 and at the European Central Bank Mario Draghi is to be replaced by Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde.

Surely all those Grandads who believe in continued EU membership will know all about the excellent qualities of these fine presidents – but for the rest of us it’s more like … Who? or How did they get that job? Interestingly there was no news about the future role of Michel Barnier even though he was lined-up for a top job only a few weeks ago.

BBC Sinks Even Further – Despite clearly expecting plenty of negative feedback on the plan to means test TV licences the BBC has continued to fire more and more bullets at its own feet (snowflake warning; metaphorical language – no BBC staff or members of the public were physically or mentally harmed). The announcements of the salaries of both on-screen talent and senior BBC staff triggered plenty of reaction. And not much of it was in support.

Then the sheer pointless waste of sending the main evening news presenter to Lyon to interview the BBC sport presenter also in Lyon seemed to go over the heads of the executives responsible. Apart from the benefit of providing Clive Myrie with free tickets to the football match and a stay in Lyon on expenses the whole segment was just one more source of ammunition (another metaphorical). Given the situation the BBC might also have reconsidered the need to relocate morning weather forecasts to Wimbledon during the tennis – but it is likely that Carol is a tennis fan so would have resisted missing her days at courtside; with pay.

And as this posting was being prepared came the news that the BBC is facing a legal challenge over its impartiality and biased coverage. It’s hard to see how this can succeed – given the resources that the BBC can throw against it. But having threatened millions of pensioners with a loss of benefit every unjustified expense and biased report is going to be jumped on – by lots of critics.

BBC Sinks Even Further

This afternoon’s announcement that from 2020 UK residents over 75 will have to loose £154 from their pensions to pay for BBC excesses will not be greeted with much joy or support. Especially when the BBC clearly makes little attempt to produce quality content in the most cost-effective way.

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Even live sporting events have excessive numbers of pundits and reporters before, during and after every event. Some of these pundits taking away millions for just asking other pundits what they thought of the game. A game that the viewers had most likely just seen for themselves.

Meanwhile the BBC’s lead TV channel – BBC1 – is full of tired shows like Escape to the Country – which today has reached Season 17 Episode 37 for the second time – or daily quiz shows like Pointless; where today we have a repeat of Season 19 Episode 33!

To quote the BBC’s own blurb – The BBC is the world’s leading public service broadcaster. We’re impartial and independent, and every day we create distinctive, world-class programmes and content which inform, educate and entertain millions of people in the UK and around the world. And that means that UK tax payers – including pensioners – are funding television, radio and online on [in] more than 40 languages.

Coming so soon after that disastrous last place in the Eurovision Song Contest – where the BBC paid more that any other broadcaster to take part – the Beeb’s claim of world-class content has again been put into perspective. Australia’s public service broadcaster – SBS – has consistently produced better for less; much less. But then it does have to try harder – with no licence fee income to pay for programmes that are unappealing or expensive.

Now the BBC may not be any better if the channels presently paid for by the TV tax were switched to commercial funding. But the Corporation is, in effect, operating a business model that looses over £3,500 million per year – the amount it gets from taxation to make the books balance. Much of that loss is down to corporate obesity. Time for a corporate slimming plan …

News Selections

It’s summer – the schools are closed, families are on holiday, politics is off the boil, artists and critics are in Edinburgh and, this year, the top sports personalities and their followers are in Rio. All of this is reflected in the stories that made it through the selection process and into the mass media this week.

From today, for example, we have the BBC handling multiple, live Olympic sports streams from Rio (on a four hour time difference) while also covering the hundreds of events that make up the ever-growing Edinburgh Arts Festival. And it is hard to work out if the BBC sports reporter from the Look North studios is in Rio because there is a shortage of BBC staff available for Brazil – or because money is still no object for the corporation.

DExpress_Heatwave1In politics time is ticking away since the surprise Brexit vote and it looks like August will pass without any meaningful progress. That could be a good sign that more planning is taking place. However it could also mean that we are simply seeing a political replay of the Battle of the Somme. With the opposing sides making no headway for month after month while both suffering massive losses. Others say this is just a phoney war – a lull before the real conflict where nothing much changes. Either way it seems that the destiny of the nation still hangs in the balance.

At least the Daily Express maintained a degree of normality by today publishing yet another one of its wildly-unscientific weather forecasts …

Look At Me

BBC_Selfie_121aIt’s been happening for years but now it seems have become the norm – as almost every reporter feels the need to put themselves between their subject and their audience.

For many TV stations – not just the BBC – the reporter’s aim seems to be give top priority to their words to camera even if it means blocking out the sounds and images of the intended subjects. In sports events this goes even further; as groups of pundits speak over the award ceremonies or chat live to camera while the actual sport continues out of shot. Here the really BBC excels – for example repeatedly showing recorded British successes while live events involving other nations continue off camera. If someone was allocated to talk over these presenters pieces to camera they would soon get the message.

These days reporters, news readers and presenters have become personalities in their own right. And many programme producers have got into a rut of established formats. So perpetuating an increasingly tired style of output. But wait! Things may change sooner than these stars of TV and radio think.

Some overseas channels already limit reporters and news readers to voice-over roles. Weather reports are handled the same way – and are prerecorded for showing repeatedly on news channels; instead of having live presenters stand into front of a blue-screen and repeat the same script.

Auto_cue_1But in the near future a broadcast-quality version of Siri or Cortana could easily read an auto-cue just as well as a human. Many newsroom cameras have already gone unmanned – and news readers could follow the former cameramen very soon.

But if a studio with a news reader was still felt necessary for some broadcasts then there are already some effective alternatives to those, increasing expensive, humans. Life-like robots are already being deployed in commerce – and ones programmed for multi-lingual speech could front TV broadcasts to regions with many different languages; for example Europe.

So how soon before that 1980’s presenter prediction Max Headroom becomes a TV reality? Too soon for some ..

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Replacement Windows – All of the Windows 8 devices at Grandad Towers have survived enough daily use under Windows 10 to start clearing out the backups of the old versions. Even the tiny Linx tablet came through OK despite a short stage in the upgrade process where the video was totally scrambled.

Greeks Without Gifts – The last of the Eurozone countries agreed to the latest Greek bailout loan late yesterday. So it looks like the 3,400 million of loan repayments that are due by Greece today can go ahead on time. But any scheme that involves borrowing more to pay back earlier loans is bound to fail unless there is either some right-off of the debts or a dramatic increase in government revenue.

DAB Radio Drags On and On – It is over two years since it became obvious that the push to switch to DAB radio would never reach its target market share in time and so trigger the switch-off of FM radio transmissions.

But the UK Government (where Ed Vaizey is still the Minister responsible) continues to be encouraged by the BBC / commercial operators to invest more on our obsolete DAB radio. A process that has been on going for five years or more in the form of the Digital Radio Action Plan. But more importantly was started with BBC trials in 1990 and launched publicly twenty years ago. Clearly technology has moved on – a lot – since then. Today the standard is DAB+ for radio transmissions with wi-fi / bluetooth / 4G being preferred for tablets and smartphones.

AMFM-DAB1_400Despite these years of DAB radio promotion the latest survey from RAJAR shows that the slow decline in AM/FM listening mirrors a similarly slow growth in DAB listening. Current trends indicate that DAB will not reach the 50% of listening mark until 2026. And Ed Vaizey has even resorted to asking UK manufacturers to stop producing FM radios to try to force the issue. A strategy that fails to address the fact that Mark 1 DAB radio, as implemented in the UK, is so technically inferior to the alternatives. And each year that goes by makes the UK’s official position that much more untenable and out-dated. Despite this the second national DAB channel (the D2 multiplex / ensemble) licence was awarded in March with the objective of being on-air in 2016.

BBC Still Spending On DAB

Today the Radio Festival opened at the Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays. And one of the first announcements was from the BBC’s Director of Distribution [Dr Alix Pryde] with the Corporation’s plan to add 162 new DAB radio transmitters to the UK network by the end of 2015. These transmitters will be added at a rate of more than three every two weeks up to Christmas 2015 – with Basingstoke being the first to launch sometime during December.

LogoFM1Back in July the Goverment’s decision on the future of DAB radio was pushed back – and is also scheduled for December. So perhaps the BBC already knows the result or is trying make the DAB project too important to be stopped by the politicians. Then again the cost of 162 DAB transmitters may be just small change if the Minister does decide against it – and the transmitters are scrapped. Not a big BBC write-off considering how much TV tax is wasted in other ways.

But there is that nagging feeling that Grandad’s Pointless Award Winner for February will actually get the go ahead – if only because the Minister concerned does not really understand the issues involved. Then the key question for the average listener is – why buy a radio receiver that works only in the UK when worldwide radio is freely available on-line.

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Cyprus Gives In – Four months on from the announcement and officials have just agreed to a 47.5 percent haircut with international lenders on deposits exceeding €100,000 in the Bank of Cyprus. This will allow the bank to come out of administration but then it will face new problems as account holders look to move their money elsewhere. The bank is already closing branches and firing staff but worse could lie ahead.

DAB Radio Hangs On – The Goverment’s decision on the future of DAB radio has been pushed back until December – the latest possible date that still meets the 2013 target. Considering the volume of radios still being sold it seems highly unlikely that the DAB will reach the targets promised by its promoters. Even with all the Internet radio / Freeview / Freesat included volumes are still below target. Another compromise (fudge) coming up.

HS2 and Short Memories – An enormous range of benefits are promised if high speed trains run north of London. But few seem to recall that this has all been promised before. When the first high speed links were agreed part of the justification was the links north of London. And this got further than a promise with someone (the taxpayer I guess) funding new high speed trains to run to Leeds, York, etc. These trains were actually built and then tested on the East Coast Mainline. However there were always technical issues that stopped them going into service. And eventually the northern Eurostar plans were scrapped – along with the promised economic benefits. Soon some ex-Eurostar trains appeared on regular service with GNER on the London-Leeds services – issue free.InterCity125

In the real world the East Coast Mainline still has “slam-door” [Type 43 Inter-City 125] diesel trains in regular operation. Trains that pre-date the original electrification of the line in 1988. But at least there is some progress here. Hitachi Super Express trains are planned to be built at a new factory at Amazon Park, by Heighington railway station Newton Aycliffe, County Durham. Construction of the factory should now have started with train production beginning in 2015 and aiming to be in normal service on the Great Western Mainline by 2017 and the East Coast Mainline by 2018. Some £5,700 million has been committed to a construction programme involving over 800 carriages / power cars.

The biggest improvements for passengers would come about not through HS2 or even these Super Express trains – but through more carriages and the elimination of pinch points on the network; where fast services are blocked by stopping services running just ahead. This would need some longer platforms and more four track sections – but would benefit far more actual travellers than HS2. Current restrictions mean that the new trains are only planned to have nine or ten passenger carriages – whereas existing Eurostar trains already have eighteen.

Smart Meters – Over recent days British Gas has launched its advertising campaign to convince customers that their new smart meters are going to be a big consumer benefit. It will be interesting to see how many are convinced. But, given the numbers that claimed they did not know what they were doing when they bought useless insurance and investment products, British Gas may get plenty of takers. The lawyers will be lining this one up for the day when all the current mis-selling cases stop raking in the fees.

Parkinson’s Law in Action

Just over two weeks ago we put forward the opinion that the BBC management were running with “.. excessive admin expenditure” and had  “.. too many channels – both on radio and TV – to be serviced out the money that remains”. Hardly a unique opinion – but one that has been confirmed by yet another proven example.Man1

In the past few days the BBC top brass have declared that its Digital Media Initiative (DMI) is being abandoned. Scrapped for having few, if any, results to date despite syphoning off £98.4 million of our taxes since 2008. The manager responsible – the Chief Technology Officer – has been suspended, on full pay of course, pending an investigation. So that’s another BBC employee in the over £5,000 per week group not working. But still no serious attempt to thin-out the vast management overhead that soaks up most of the TV tax before it gets to the programme makers. A fine example of how bureaucracies expand over time – see Parkinson’s Law.

If you doubt the scale of the BBC’s over staffing problem just try googling “BBC head of marketing” and see how many different names and job titles come up.