Friday, 5 July 2013

Life begins at 40

I was deeply honoured this week to be inducted as one of the 40 most influential people to have worked in or supported commercial radio over its first 40 years, in a "Roll of Honour" ceremony conducted as part of this year's Arqiva awards.

As most of us nominees had grey hair or no hair (women excluded!) we quickly nicknamed ourselves the "40 over 40" as a pastiche of the Radio Academy's "30 under 30".

Ashley Tabor, who made the 40, would be the only member of our gang who didn't qualify by age of course, being a mere slip of a lad in his early 30s. He deserves his place though, as someone who has really shaken up the industry over the past 6 years.

The 40 were intended to be selected to "tell the story" of commercial radio, and by and large I think the selectors did a great job. From those present at commercial radio's birth, such as Founding Capital Chairman Richard Attenborough and launch MD John Whitney, Jimmy Gordon of Clyde and Terry Smith of Radio City, through to some of the top presenters we have been blessed with, such as Les Ross, Chris Tarrant, Chris Evans, Neil Fox, Alan Robson, Jonathan Pearce and Christian O'Connell. Then there were latter day CEOs such as Ralph Bernard and David Mansfield. It was nice to see folk from the smaller stations, such as Ian Anderson from SIBC in the Shetland Isles, getting recognised, alongside Michael Betton from the Lincs group, and Avtar Lit from Sunrise. And what list of the most influential would be complete without the founder of the RAB Douglas McArthur, John Myers or Parky. The full list is here.

Fewer women made the list than most of us would feel happy with - but that I suspect is more the fault of 40 years of poor hiring choices than any failure on the part of the selectors. Those that did make it were top drawer though - from Gillian Reynolds, ex Radio City and now doyenne of radio critics, through research guru Deanna Hallett, Linda Smith, one of the best commercial ambassadors the industry has ever had, and of course Dee Ford, Bauer's current boss.

There's a nice video here, showing the timeline.

If the list was meant to tell a story, I was pleased that my career managed to tick so many of the important boxes. Although I'm too young to have missed the start of the industry (!), I did join only 7 years in, in 1980, and I look back on my career as having played a part of a number of the most critical phases

  • The growing power of the big players in the 1980s. The big local stations, Capital, brmb, Piccadilly, Clyde etc became very powerful media forces during that time, despite having to be "all things to all people" thereby giving folk like me a chance to learn our trade across the waterfront of radio - specialist music presentation as well as mainstream DJing, interviewing, handling phone-ins, news preparation, documentary making. You name it, we did it in those days.

  • Splitting frequencies. I was privileged to lead the launch of two, Xtra in Birmingham and Coventry, and then  the original Magic 828 in Leeds. Great days, and it was truly exciting to be launching new radio stations, and we were all clearly learning as we went along, as many of us made some pretty horrendous decisions along the way!.

  • Regionals. Probably the pivotal moment for me was leading the team who launched Heart in the West Midlands in 1994. A bunch of reprobates as I recall. Chrysalis was a new entrant to radio, and very much helped along by the rise of the regionals, along with other new players such as Border Radio and then GMG. The regionals represented the point at which commercial radio truly became competitive.

  • London. launching Heart 106.2 in 1995 was a defining moment for everyone involved in Chrysalis - and then relaunching LBC on FM in 2002 was another big step for the company, and it was great that it involved fellow nominee Nick Ferrari. Commercial Radio has been a dominant presence in the capital since the mid 1990s, and it's great to have played a part in that.

  • DAB. Chrysalis was the lead player in the MXR multiplex consortium, which bid for and won a number of the key regional multiplexes which helped so much to support and grow the platform during the last decade.

And I'm pleased to still be working in the industry some 33 years after first walking into the brmb building on Aston Road North back in 1980. And I'm very proud too that my career has been spent entirely within the commercial sector, and entirely within local radio. The vast majority of it has centred on the Midlands, and  in particular my adopted home town of Birmingham. It was great to see Les Ross up there getting his recognition alongside me - we are the Little and Large of Birmingham Radio!

The "Roll of Honour" was a great idea. I hope we all take the next 12 months to celebrate all that is good about commercial radio in any number of ways. As an industry focussed on the needs of its audience, I suspect we won't be doing too much "front of mic" shouting about our successes and the people who inspired them, as I doubt our audiences are that interested - but amongst ourselves we should be proud of what we've achieved, against sometimes pretty overwhelming obstacles.

Thank you if you've been a part of my radio journey over the past 33 years - It's been fun hasn't it, and I couldn't have done it without the support, help and guidance of so many talented people working alongside me!

Shaking the hands of many of the people I admire so much in professional life up on that stage on Wednesday was a truly humbling moment for me. I count many of them amongst my closest friends, and I was thrilled for them, and truly honoured to be counted amongst their number.

I think in that picture I'm telling Nick Ferrari off about something he did on that day's show. Old habits die hard!

Here's to the next 40.

Image courtesy Hayley Madden

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