It’s been an interesting year for radio.
The majority of it sadly on the uncertain side, with schedule changes at 5 Live seeing
the removal of all presenters who aren’t within reach of Manchester,
overnights being scaled back on BBC Radio 2 meaning less of Lester,
and the Radio Academy effectively putting itself on life support.
But there have been shining diamonds on the dial and beyond at various times throughout ’14 so in the absence of the “Not Sony Awards”, I thought my end of year blog about the wireless would be ideal to celebrate the shows
that I and hopefully many other radio peeps see fit to be lauded.
Unlike the Sony’s however, it won’t be too long an affair, and I have brought one or two prizes back including the Podcast award, criminally left out of last year’s Radio Academy gongs.
Though let’s face it, we all know who’s going to win that one, and it’s not going to take
me twelve weeks and not find a clear answer…
Let’s commence with the melodics;
Best Music Programme: Iggy Pop – (BBC 6 Music) March ’14-
On hearing Jarvis Cocker was taking another sabbatical from the airwaves, many
were conscious as to who would be the one wearing his headphones during his absence.
Or at least hoping that it wouldn’t be Terry Hall.
Thankfully, following a successful one off at Xmas the year before, Iggy Pop was invited back to showcase his eclectic array of song choices each week interlinked by a different theme and his amusing anecdotes in between the tunes.
Quite simply, Iggy has a voice that makes me smile the second I hear it, and
the smile was stretched out further when finding out that he would be hosting
this year’s John Peel Lecture at the Radio Festival in Salford.
And amazingly it’s had me thinking that I don’t want Jarvis Cocker to return, though that
said, the Sheffield singer has been keeping himself busy with another series of the superb “Wireless Nights” and a fantastic Archive on 4 documentary about the schools radio series “Singing Together“.
Overall, Iggy’s a rare breed of presenter in the present day that has you hanging on his word.
Best Music Documentary: The Art Of The Loop (Folded Wing for BBC Radio 4)
1st March ’14
A good music documentary broadcast on a station predominantly speech-lead
will always be exciting.
But this, introduced by music producer Matthew Herbert went further,
looking deep into an art-form perhaps overlooked by the ordinary ear
yet predominant in recording for over 30 years.
In fact the documentary’s purpose was to find out whether the process of looping could
be accepted as an art form and in the end told a story through sound, not just getting loopy with musical instruments, but with any sound at all including farmyard animals, and even the voice of a Radio 4 announcer.
What impressed me the most was how in half an hour, the programme explored what is in practice a very visual artform and made it not just work through audio, but also bring it to a wide audience, even enticing those who wouldn’t normally listen to a Radio 4 documentary.
That’s one of my biggest frustrations with radio documentaries that this one manages
to avoid; making the doc for themselves with no acknowledgement that someone
might actually be listening.
An ideal learning resource too, for anyone taking an academic course
in music producing.
Best Factual Documentary: British Inside (BBC Radio 1) 31st March ’14
When BBC Radio 1 announced changes to their night time line up this year
I was relieved that the Stories strand was staying as they’ve been on form again
from the amusing (The Perfect Football Single), to the inspiring (10 Teens Who Changed The World).
But my favourite from ’14 was a challenging piece of radio, looking into immigration
detention centres. The only catch was that they weren’t actually able to get inside
one, so they managed to tell the story really well through the detainees themselves,
innovative use of sound design, and the well-paced narration by Nick Bright
who actually made the effort to visit the locations themselves, as opposed to taking the
ever frustrating paid-to-read-a-script approach.
Whilst it looked at the positives of time spent inside such as music classes,
and visiting days, the documentary did not attempt to sugarcoat the situation
with a happy ending, revealing that in spite of the positive results of
the prison’s music programme, most of the detainees eventually
do get sent back to their home territories, away from their children living in the UK.
Not many radio documentaries have the power to leave one thinking days
after airing, and “British Inside” as a whole gave something very powerful
Best Social Media: Pint-Sized World Cup (Somethin’ Else for BBC 5 Live) June-July ’14
Social media is vital in present day radio.
It can either provide additional content of an already great show,
or it can discourage anyone from wanting to listen altogether.
Winning the Social Media prize this year are Somethin’ Else for their
daily audio and visual highlight packages taking key moments
and pundit quotes from this year’s World Cup in Brazil.
The tournament may have been ever-present, but in an age where the average listener
has fewer hours in the day, and may not want to follow the tournament
through every game in full, these five minute packages captured the essence, excitement, and most entertaining of all the frustrations of the tournament.
Proving overall that radio is always the more entertaining medium when it comes
to covering sporting events, and whilst the “Not Sony” awards may be done with,
the achievements of this social media outing didn’t go unnoticed,
picking up a Radio Production Award last month in the Multi-Platform category.
More of the same at the 2016 Olympics?
Best Podcast: Serial (This American Life/WBEZ Chicago)
It was too easy. But very much deserved.
A series that many have described as “the comeback podcast” when
they were never really absent, yet Sarah Koenig’s 12 part series not only
changed the way people think about podcasts, but also challenged conventional
methods of investigative reporting for broadcast.
The interchanging length of each episode has also been lauded, and yet
it has not discouraged BBC Radio 4 Extra from broadcasting each episode
nightly throughout December, gaining wider appreciation from listeners.
From a personal perspective, there were times during an episode that I got distracted
but there would always be an element in there that would draw my attention
back to the plot itself.
Most revealing of all, the use of actual audio from the courtroom
filled with raised tensions.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone who hasn’t yet heard, but my thoughts towards it
could be summed up perfectly in this amusing parody from Funny Or Die.
They’ll definitely be a second season.
Best Interview: Stephanie Hirst – The Stephen Nolan Show (BBC 5 Live) 11th October ’14
In June, the long-serving host of Hirsty’s Daily Dose on Capital FM Yorkshire made a sudden departure from the airwaves after a reign of 11 years and a recent “Not Sony” Award nomination.
No reason was given for Simon Hirst’s departure, but the love for one of radio’s biggest fans stayed present, and even more so when in October an interview with Stephen Nolan
revealed that maybe there was more to it, than just a change of career direction.
In this heart-rendering interview, Hirsty revealed that he was undergoing gender transition and changing his name to Stephanie, explaining about all the
barriers in broadcasting that had prevented her from doing so earlier,
and the frustration that lead to making the decision to go ahead with it
at the cost of a daily breakfast show gig.
The interview took place two days before this year’s Radio Festival and on arrival
many of the attendees had nothing but good things to say about it, even making
jokes about the issue in hand which even Stephanie herself wouldn’t have frowned on.
Especially when you take into account the raucous reception for Stephanie
on her first public appearance towards the end of the festival.
To be in that room when she walked on to that reception is a moment I shall treasure,
and an inspiration to anyone who wants to get further in radio that if you can show
an overall love for the medium as a whole, you’ll be loved back.
And if any radio PC’s or station editors are reading this,
Put Stephanie back on the air immediately!
Honourable Mentions this year include BBC Radio 4’s “Podcasting The First Ten Years”
with Helen and Olly, Idris Elba’s “Journey Dot Africa” for BBC Radio 2,
Gilles Peterson and Jonathan Overend’s “Just Like Hearing Brazil” for BBC 5 Live
and 6 Music during the World Cup, Annie Mac, and B-Traits on BBC Radio 1,
Jamie Cullum’s entertaining and warm “Piano Pilgrimage” for BBC Radio 4,
and Eddie Mair on PM for, well just remaining consistent
and an essential listen as a whole.
Last of all, a prize that fits more into the tradition of the “Not Sonys” as there’s three
winners. Though no anecdotes this time as the audio itself more or less does the talking.
The Funniest Bit of Radio in 2014
Bronze: James O’Brien (LBC) “What Do UKIP Stand For?” 10th October ’14
Silver: Simon Mayo (BBC Radio 2) Sofie Grabol’s Slip Of The Tounge, 19th August ’14
Gold: Iain Lee (BBC Three Counties Radio) “Do You Drive Geoff?” 28th May ’14
Overall if radio is to carry on evolving and entertaining in 2015, never mind “More Music”
it has to provide more than just music.