Radio Blog

Archives for November 2011

1Xtra Live: The 1Xtra family goes on tour

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Rob Spring | 12:55 UK time, Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Manchester headliner Wretch 32

1Xtra Live is a stand-out event in the 1Xtra Calendar. A free event for more than 12,000 young music fans, in four cities. It's an opportunity for the station to get out on the road and showcase what 1Xtra is all about. It's also a chance for us to get out and meet our existing audience and enable them to interact with the station they love, this is a great way of bringing the network to the audience.

In the past 1Xtra Live has been single distinctive shows and since 2008 we've taken it to Coventry, Sheffield & London. This year the decision was taken to expand this into a tour, allowing 1Xtra to really highlight the breadth of 1Xtra, showcasing Xtra RnB, Xtra Hip Hop, Xtra Drum and Bass and Xtra Dub Step and bringing unique content both to audience at the live shows and for those listening or watching at home.

The tour kicked off in Manchester and headliner Wretch 32 blew our amazing 1Xtra crowd away. We're moved to Birmingham with dubstep duo, Nero, then to Bristol with Chase and Status and culminating with a finale in London's Brixton Academy with Kelly Rowland and Jessie J.

In addition to the main show, each day Tim Westwood is broadcasting his 4pm-7pm 1xtra show live from a student union in each city. We're also showing our commitment to discovering new UK talent with our "Time to Shine" section at each event. In each city a local act gets 4 minutes on stage on front of the crowd and those listening or watching from home in a potentially career-changing moment.

Obviously doing four shows in four different cities back to back with one team brings its own challenges in terms of production, as each venue has its own capabilities and restrictions. A key consideration in the planning of the tour has been the look and feel of each live show as we wanted some form of continuity to tie the four events together. This has been achieved by working closely with the visualisation team and the marketing team through key lighting, video elements and set pieces.

A huge challenge has been to try to deliver the slick and glossy look that we have developed in previous years at bigger venues, and transfer this into smaller venues so that the event feels like more than just a live music gig. We really want to make it stand out. We've been working really closely with the artists and their creative teams to enhance their performances with pyro effects, dancers and some really exciting collaborations with special guests.

What's been great with this project is the cumulative group approach across the 1Xtra family, in the extensive planning and pulling together of this tour. 1Xtra now reaches just under a million people, and each year we do this event, the awareness of the station just keeps on growing - I really hope we continue that tradition this year. And who knows....maybe through us getting out and meeting more young music fans and introducing them to the station, we'll soon be reaching over a million listeners...

1Xtra Live 2011 will be simulcast on both BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio 1 as well streamed live online and broadcast live on Red Button.

Rob Spring is executive producer, Live Events BBC Radio 1 & 1Xtra

The Band Behind Bars on BBC Radio 2

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Heather Davies Heather Davies | 12:20 UK time, Thursday, 24 November 2011


Rosie Wainwright from the RPO joins the prison musicians onstage for their final performance

Walking into a prison for the first time is a nerve-wracking and intimidating experience. As each heavy door slams behind you, the sense of claustrophobia increases - even in open spaces there's netting overhead, and the barbed wire is clear to see.

In September 2011, I experienced that moment first hand, as I followed a group of inmates at the Mount Prison Hemel Hempstead who were taking part in a rehabilitative music programme with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

My image of prison before that moment had been created from film and TV programmes. Part Prisoner Cell Block H, part Porridge, part Miami Mega-Jail, I was expecting a dark Victorian warren with scarred inmates and embittered staff. What I encountered changed my perspective (and my life) completely.

Built in the 1980s The Mount's red-brick walkways and green open spaces made it feel more like a conference centre than a prison. Perfectly groomed flowerbeds fringe the path through the central quadrangle, and we were surprised to see ducks nesting in bushes. The prison buildings themselves felt (and smelled) like my old school - lino on the floor and that thick wipe-clean paint on the walls.

The project was to be based in one of The Mount's old workshops, where at one point prisoners had been employed to smash CDs, but which now was a large echoey open space with the feeling of a school gym.

Walking into that room for the first time I didn't know what to expect or who I would encounter. We'd been assured that all the participants had been screened in advance, but we hadn't been told who these men were or what they'd done.

I shouldn't have worried though. Within seconds, a friendly face had shaken my hand and offered a cup of tea. I was introduced around and at first had a job distinguishing between the project leaders and the inmates themselves. In some ways, the thing that surprised me most was how normal everyone was - nothing like the TV-fuelled image of an inmate I'd had before.

Over the 5 week period it was inspiring to watch the inmates overcome their own personal hurdles - one guy who had never picked up an instrument before and only spoke to us in mumbles, by the end of the project had learnt a bit of bass guitar, drums and knew a couple of tunes on the marimba. It was amazing to watch his confidence grow.

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From a programme-making perspective, the challenge for myself and my assistant producer Ashley was to capture those breath-taking moments of personal development with sensitivity, but whilst making sure we could actually hear their words above the echoing din of the room.

Some of the stories were really difficult to hear - and every inmate we spoke to had a difficult story to tell. When I sat listening back to the audio we'd recorded, I frequently found myself in tears. Their honesty was incredibly moving. But the one thing they all had in common was that music had changed their lives.

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Heather Davies is one of the Radio Academy's 30 Under 30 and also works on Sounds of the 20th Century for BBC Radio 2. Heather is @heatherrhian on Twitter.

Now for Growth

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Tim Davie Tim Davie | 12:30 UK time, Friday, 18 November 2011

Nellie Melba

Dame Nellie Melba, in Britain's first advertised public broadcast, gives a song recital from Marconi's works in Chelmsford.

Recently I was lucky enough to see a piece of radio history: the microphone into which Dame Nellie Melba, the formidable Australian soprano, sang a live recital on 15th June 1920.

She was in a makeshift studio in Marconi's Chelmsford factory and it was the first broadcast by a professional singer. Indeed, her dulcet tones were heard from Iran to Newfoundland. Looking at the primitive microphone, made from a telephone receiver and pieces of old cigar box , I was struck by the conflicting feelings that often characterise any examination of the radio's pioneering days.

One gets a sense that so much has changed, and so little. Of course, technology has moved beyond our imagination but the simple appeal of a human voice, transmitted live to a listener, remains undimmed.

Much has been written about the resilience of radio during a period when traditional media has been thrown into the realities of digital convergence.

The recent growth of listening has taken many by surprise as they thought that slow, inexorable decline was the only possible future. It is not overstating it to say that a few years ago the radio sector was suffering a crisis of confidence as it looked over the fence at its media neighbours and saw the explosive growth of internet services.

Also, the world began its obsession with new brighter, flashier screens: tablets, HDTVs, games consoles, smart phones and more. The industry became worried by its lack of scale and there were concerns that what radio had to offer may be dated or, at a minimum, viewed as dated. However, although the sector is not completely out of the woods (young listening and fragile commercial economics remain a challenge), the overall strength of radio is excellent with over 90% of people tuning in each week and growing listening hours.

In summary, it has proved that it can sustain itself in a world of infinite online choice and sharper, smarter screens. This is not only down to radio's innate strengths (e.g. mobile, live, personal) but also due to a number of other factors: the outstanding quality of programme makers who recognise that intelligent, human curation is actually of higher value in a confusing world; the strengthening of national commercial radio under new leadership; and the beginnings of serious digital innovation.

So radio has proved it can survive in a digital age but now can it hope for more? Could it actually convince itself and others that it can deliver continuing growth over the coming years?

It was a question that I posed at a recent session at the Radio Festival, our industry get-together in Manchester. Growth would attract more money into the commercial sector and drive listening as a whole, building new audiences and increasing money into programme making.

I have offered possible seed funding for ideas that could build radio as a whole and we are now assessing a number of ideas. As an example, on-demand or catch-up radio is still only less than 1% of all listening. We know that while much of our programming is best consumed live, we have attracted new listeners by driving people through the iPlayer or podcasts to find programmes after their first broadcast.

Certain programmes have achieved over 10% of their listening via catch-up and this is incremental. Imagine if we achieved that across radio. At the BBC, we are looking at a concept that we call the "audiopedia" which could dramatically increase our already successful archive of old programmes.

We have already had millions of people download episodes of programmes such as Desert Island Discs or In Our Time. Imagine if we could take this approach across much more of our output.

This is just one area to explore among many.

Perhaps you have other thoughts about how we can grow radio as a whole?

Tim Davie is Director of Audio & Music

An Archive for the Future

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Andrew Caspari Andrew Caspari | 19:05 UK time, Friday, 4 November 2011

Science Explorer

The Science Explorer from BBC Radio 4

The Radio Festival which was held this week in Salford is the annual event where the Radio Industry gathers both to celebrate what we do and to look at where the Radio world is heading. In his keynote speech the BBC Director General Mark Thompson explained our plans to make a huge archive of speech radio available as part of our online Radio product.

The scale of the task is almost infinite. Our ambition is similarly big. Users should be able to find the highest quality BBC audio on any subject or about any person or place in which they are interested. They may go there out of commitment to a particular programme they know and love or they may find the audio via a search engine or another part of the BBC Website and be introduced to the riches of BBC Radio that they may never have encountered before. So my job along with others is to set some priorities and keep the ball rolling.

There is more to this than digging out a number of rather dusty old programmes and add an archive nostalgia corner to our website. As my former colleague Sue MacGregor reminds us in the Daily Telegraph today there are some gems that we must try to surface. However to focus only on these is to miss a bigger opportunity. The archive of speech radio must be of wide contemporary interest and will be at the very heart of our online offer. We must also ensure relevant programmes and extracts can be found easily by existing and new radio audiences.

We have already started the work. Over 20 hours of each week's Radio 4 output is added to the archive. We are also going back from the current schedule to build collections of the most relevant, useful, educational speech radio content that will supplement our current programming or agenda. Listeners inspired by Jim Al-Khalili's Life Scientific on Tuesday mornings can explore many more of the themes by listening to hundreds of archive programmes gathered in Radio 4's Science Explorer. Later this year a further 500 editions of Desert Island Discs going back to 1987 will be available as streams or downloads.

Radio 3's archive enables us to build a comprehensive audio guide to the world of classical music. We began with the Proms this summer where concert information was linked to relevant editions of Composer of the Week or Discovering Music. The site attracted record numbers of users. Look out for more of the same in the Symphony project which has started this week.

Radio 4's programme brands remain a significant point of entry to our sites and our content for many users. They are still a rich seam for us to mine. For example, we have presented archive items from Woman's Hour since the very beginning of the Radio 4 website. We know there is huge potential in that programmes' archive of encounters with a vast number of the great women of the last 60 years.

Archive underpins much of the wider BBC's online ambition so the radio archive will also be reached by journeys across the whole of BBC online. The content will also be a key element of future public service partnerships. All this will make radio bigger and more relevant than ever in the digital world. Making that archive portable via downloads that can be consumed on all devices is an essential requirement.

We know we are onto something exciting here from the way our archives are appreciated now. On air Radio 4 Extra has more listeners than any other BBC Digital only network and online there are more than 2 million requests every month for audio on demand. That is the second highest amount after Radio 4 itself. Only a month has past since we made the entire In Our Time archive available as downloads or podcasts and over 1 million editions have been downloaded. There have been over 5 million downloads of editions of Desert Island Discs since we launched the archive 5 months ago. The Reith Lecture Archive which goes back to 1948 has had almost a million downloads. There is lots more detail to come and I will keep you up to date on our progress here and on the BBC Radio 4 blog.

Andrew Caspari is Head of Speech Radio and Classical Music, Interactive

The Songs My Son Loved on Radio 2

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Jill Misson Jill Misson | 17:28 UK time, Thursday, 3 November 2011

Margaret Evison with Jeremy Vine

Margaret Evison with Jeremy Vine

I never thought I would sit at my desk with tears rolling down my cheeks.

My colleagues are now used to the sight of me sobbing and it's one guaranteed way to get them to make you a cup of tea. It still surprised me though the first time I saw Jeremy Vine wiping a tear from under his glasses.

It was Jeremy who came up with the idea for this special series for Remembrance week. Each programme features an interview with the mother of a fallen soldier in which she tells the story of his life and his death and shares the songs he loved to listen to.

The soundtrack is an eclectic mix from rock to rap to rave. There's a football chant, a soaring school hymn, a party anthem and a beautiful piece of classical cello. The music takes the mothers back to a particular time or place and the memories that emerge paint a picture of the son she lost.

As an army wife, I knew it would be an emotional rollercoaster as the subject is very close to home. I know how it feels to wait and to worry. I also know the feeling of complete joy when my husband walks through the door after six months away.

The five mothers we met never had that homecoming hug. Two of them felt fortunate to be able to hold their son's hand as he lay seriously wounded in a hospital bed in Birmingham but for the others their reunion was at RAF Lyneham when his coffin was carried from the plane.

These are some of the intensely personal moments the mothers shared when we visited them around the country. We were welcomed into family homes in Abergavenny, Caversham, Sheffield and Dulwich and greeted warmly on a windy day out at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

Jeremy Vine says it has been an incredible privilege to spend time with the mothers:

"I have never in my entire career recorded interviews which have been so powerful and so moving. Sons who were only boys, who died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan as young as 19, are missed as much today by their family as the day they left them. I doubt we will ever hear these songs the same way again."

The music has already started to follow me round. It feels like every time I turn on the TV or turn up the radio, one of the songs is playing and my thoughts turn immediately to Richard, John, Mark, Cyrus or Liam.

I will think of their brave mothers when I start moaning about the magnolia paint and floral curtains in our next army quarter.

We are all fiercely proud of a man in uniform at the centre of our lives but mine is still here and I realise now more than ever how lucky that makes me.

Jill Misson is a producer of The Songs My Son Loved which is on Radio 2 at 1.30pm next week, 7th to 11th of November.

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