Love radio. Love music. A childhood listening to Big L, RNI, Veronica & 208.
My career in radio started when I created Radio 4H, writing scripts for my primary school classmates to read and record into the school tape recorder.
By secondary school, I was answering the phone line for listeners to London weekend AM pirate radio stations (Radio Concord, Swinging Radio England, London Weekend Radio etc) and was soon creating ident jingles and presenting programmes for them that mixed pop, soul, reggae and African music.
My first paid job in radio was acting as Head of Music for Newcastle’s Metro Radio where I introduced a then ‘revolutionary’ playlist system that rotated a very limited number of current hits and popular oldies, much to the horror of the presenters who until then had chosen their own songs. Metro Radio had been losing listeners but suddenly recorded the fastest growing audience of any UK commercial station (according to analyses of JICRAR data published by the IBA regulator). I was made redundant. The majority of UK commercial stations subsequently copied my playlist system.
After stints at Voice of Peace (Israel), community cable station Radio Thamesmead and London’s Capital Radio, I was invited to join London weekend black music pirate station KISS 94 which had a huge underground following but was invisible to the wider world. I initiated marketing to mainstream media, campaigned for the government to offer new London radio licences and co-ordinated its second licence application. All three projects proved successful. As Programme Director, I launched the new commercial KISS 100 FM and attracted one million listeners within its first six months, the most successful UK station launch of the 1990s. I had also introduced EMAP (now Bauer) and the station became its first active radio investment. I was made redundant, then was libelled by my former boss in a national newspaper. Several UK stations (notably Galaxy Radio and BBC 1Xtra) subsequently copied the format I had created and poached some of the 50 staff I had hired, trained and mentored.
I was invited to join US public corporation Metromedia International Inc led by America’s then richest man John Kluge. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it acquired newly privatised radio stations in Russia, Hungary, Latvia, Czech Republic and Germany which it wanted to transform into profitable businesses. I joined at the start of this venture and spent four years as full-time consultant in these countries creating and implementing turnaround strategies. The resultant stations were so successful that the corporation President asked me to formally fill the role of Vice President that I had been performing without a title. I travelled to its New York office to sign the contract and there … I was made redundant.
Rupert Murdoch had been awarded several of India’s first commercial FM local radio licences and I was hired as senior consultant to develop a launch strategy for the initial stations. After executing $1m of market research, testing thousands of songs, determining a suitable format and a target audience, setting up the Windows Selector playout system and training staff, Radio City quickly became the country’s biggest commercial radio network. I had been hired initially for six months but worked a year in India.
I was in a dead-end job at newly created media regulator Ofcom when the BBC called and asked if I could go to Cambodia immediately for two months. It had signed contracts to train staff in radio production at two stations in Phnom Penh but then discovered that its expat Head of Radio there had no experience making radio programmes. I arrived and worked a six-day week for six months training teams at two stations whilst the BBC‘s Head of Radio twiddled his thumbs. My local teams successfully launched Cambodia’s first live phone-in youth show, I returned home but was disappointed not to be offered further BBC work after having bailed them out at short notice, apparently because I had had no time to write a report during my 70-hour/week work schedule there. The Head of Radio in Cambodia was later promoted to Head of Project.
Former Guardian Media Group plc Radio CEO John Myers asked me to help with a landmark report on the future regulation of commercial radio he had been commissioned to write for the UK government’s Digital Britain legislation. I was offered a £10,000 fee to provide research support but ended up working five months full-time researching and ghost-writing the whole report, plus John’s keynote speech to the Radio Festival that year. As a direct result, radio broadcasting laws were updated and deregulated significantly. John (who had earned £6.3m that year and was subsequently prosecuted for tax evasion by HMRC) had promised me better paid work on further radio reports such as the one he was subsequently commissioned to write for the BBC. We met months later in a cafe opposite Broadcasting House to discuss this next project, where John told me … I would not be involved. But he did want to know about my blog and my book … and then launched his own blog and book. No further work with him materialised.
Love radio. Love music. But the radio business is rife with ego-driven, power-mad idiots who can only thrive by stealing your ideas, taking your credit and denying opportunities to anyone they consider smarter than them. The radio airwaves may be filled with ‘hot air’, but so too are too many of the people working in radio. I love radio, I love radio people but, sadly, not many of the people who manage it!