Interview: Radio futurologist James Cridland

In a new regular feature, we pose 10 questions to people in the radio spotlight.

This week, we speak to James Cridland, who talks about how a hash tag probably won't actually save BBC 6 Music, and how he'd like to get behind the microphone again.

[b]You’ve recently returned from a round-the-world tour of radio stations. Apart from being a potential anorak’s dream, what did you set out to discover?[/b]

Well, the radio industry is really very different to the TV industry. I checked – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has broadcast in over 100 countries, with lots of different local versions. Yet the Johnny Vaughan breakfast show on Capital FM, or the Chris Moyles show on BBC Radio 1, just go out on their own radio stations. There's not the international view for radio that there is for TV.

I wanted to discover whether radio's different, and whether people were doing clever stuff overseas that we'd not thought of yet in the UK. They are.

I'm pleased to also mention that I didn't get any radio station stickers and that one radio studio looks much like another.

[b]Your job title says “radio futurologist”… what is that?[/b]

I've no real idea; I just needed something to put on the business card. I don't even know if the f-word exists.

But for many years now, I've looked at the area where radio and new platforms collide: from radio station websites to new radio platforms. I look at the editorial and commercial impacts of these areas, and what it means to the future of radio.

[b]Congratulations on the new job with Audioboo. What will you be doing with/for them?[/b]

Audioboo is an interesting technology: potentially allowing listeners (and radio station employees) to submit broadcast-quality audio with the same ease of sending a text message. I'll be working with Audioboo to add a relevant feature-set for broadcasters.

[b]As a keen user of social media, do you think the current Save 6Music campaigns will help the station’s survival? [/b]

Probably the reverse. The '#savebbc6music' campaign won't save the station; it would look very poor on the management of the BBC if they reverse a presumably carefully thought-out decision based on a few thousand 140-character messages, in part from people who've never listened to 6music in their life. However, where it may have an effect is with the politicians: it would appear that Ed Vaizey, the Conservative culture spokesman has professed a conversion to the station, partially because of the Twitter and Facebook campaign. (Whether politicians should be taking notice of the rabid outpourings of the Twitterati is another question, and not for me to answer).

That being said, this social media campaign will damage the BBC's reputation within the UK, as thousands of people previously unaware of the radio station are told, repeatedly, why the BBC are apparently doing the wrong thing by closing it down. The BBC's continued existence is based, to a large degree, on public goodwill: continued campaigns against it, particularly from your 'friends' online, will damage the Corporation irrevocably.

The BBC will need to engage with the social media space, in a way I don't currently see it doing, to enable it to correctly make its point of view. I'm not sure this is in the Corporation's DNA: I was once rather soundly told off for replying, directly, to a listener who had a query about the BBC iPlayer: and told rather sternly that I should never engage in any conversation with listeners online. (I positively encourage it, by the way.)

[b]Many people will know you from leading Virgin Radio’s (digital media) team, followed by a stint at the BBC. How different were the two organizations? [/b]

The original Virgin Radio in London was a station with around 80 people working there. The BBC had 23,000. The BBC's internal structure (TV, Radio, Online), and the division of those areas into smaller teams, leads to a level of mixed goals, politics and in-fighting that I was wholly unprepared for.

The other thing is more subtle. Virgin was full of people who were wonderfully skilled in doing many different things. In my team we were working out how to effectively support games consoles, monitoring a newsletter's effectiveness, building a new online game and filming a music session. On the other hand, the BBC is full of people who are specialists – specialists in blogs, or Twitter, or podcasting, or analytics. This makes the BBC both an exhilarating place to work, and frustrating for the all-rounder.

I've no regrets about joining the BBC, and it's a marvel that it appears to operate so smoothly from the outside. It was a character-forming few years.

[b]Could the BBC be a more efficient place then?[/b]

Of course you can make efficiencies in any large organisation; though you need to weigh these up against keeping great staff. Some of the newspaper campaigns against the BBC would have the staff wearing sackcloth and working by candlelight if it makes the organisation more 'efficient'; but efficiency also comes from great people who are motivated to produce great work. That motivation is difficult if much of your time is spent brokering different warring factions within a large organisation.

[b]You started out as a DJ on The Pulse of West Yorkshire and Hallam FM. Do you ever miss being a DJ, and has the experience of being a presenter been useful in your other roles?[/b]

I do miss being a presenter, and I'd love to get behind the microphone again. It's a wonderful feeling being so close to the audience. I think that seven years of being a presenter has given me an understanding of the medium that is unusual in my industry.

There are many people in the digital media area of radio who have never 'done' any radio, and I think they miss the point of the thing sometimes. Indeed, in the UK there's not a single CEO of a major radio company who's ever been behind the microphone as a presenter or programme maker. As a former radio presenter, I think I have a connection to programme-makers and presenters that they respect.
So if you went back on air, what kind of show would you want to present?

I'm probably still good for a music-intensive show: just enough to add a little personality and life to a non-stop music channel. I'm a technically competent broadcaster, but would be a disaster if you tried giving me a programme with a large speech element.

[b]As well as blogging about radio, you also blog about beer… which would you rather have an unlimited supply of on a desert island? [/b]

Radio, of course. Beer is a wonderful, multi-faceted, thing – but if I had to choose between radio and beer, I'm afraid radio would win any time. But if I can smuggle a few bottles of IPA in as well, that would be good.

[b]Finally, which programmes or services do you really enjoy listening to when you’re not working? [/b]

Speech radio is magnificent. In any given day, I'll listen to LBC 97.3, BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 Live. I'll try to catch some of the genius of Geoff Lloyd on Absolute Radio now and again, and Jon Holmes on BBC 6 music. I'll catch up with podcasts like MediaTalk from The Guardian, WNYC's On The Media, and the Radio Academy's RadioTalk.

When it comes to music, I use a lot to listen to an interesting musical mix, and I'm a paying subscriber to Spotify rather than buying CDs any more. In the car, it's Heart, BBC 6 music, or sometimes Absolute Classic Rock.

You can read James’s blogs at [link=][/link] and [link=][/link]

This feature was originally published in eRADIO – the regular radio e-newsletter. Subscribe [link=]here[/link].

Posted on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010 at 12:42 am by RadioToday UK

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