1 November 2007

"And now, some breaking news..."

The 24 hour news channels are such a tedious outlet of repetition. It is a quite cogent contradiction that these stations never end and yet are designed for people to dip in and out of for just a matter of minutes. Tune in, grab your news and get out again.

I find myself interested, however, in how often - on average - a fresh story joins a bulletin, whether it's a bit of tough foreign news which hits the head of the bulletin immediately, or some crackpot survey about undercooked bacon giving you scabies.

Unless someone paid me though, I doubt I could ever find this out, certainly not to any conclusive scientific level. I once fell asleep on my settee with BBC News 24 on the box - I'd tuned in for my aforementioned quick fix - and a whole three hours elapsed before I woke up and found myself watching the same bulletin with the same reader, same scripts, same running order, same old same old. Albeit only three hours old, but old nonetheless.

It must frustrate these highly-trained broadcasters - some of whom aren't just voices, but proper bonafide hacks with NCTJ training and an incisive line of questioning begging to emerge - that they have been restricted to doing this.

It must be worse for those who host the 24 sports news channels, and yes, I'm thinking of Sky Sports News here. The demands of this one television station means that they have to create the news rather than discover it, hence why needless, soundbite-strewn rubbish from bored, patient football managers and inarticulate players are heralded as news stories.

I know two of the Sky Sports News presenters from our career paths crossing in commercial radio. One of them was an award-winning, creative and dynamic DJ on a regional station. The other was sports editor on a heritage local station. So both were highly-skilled in their respective positions; now both, in the absence of live guests in the studio, are paid an undoubtedly healthy sum of money for "reading out loud" as Paul Merton always referred to it in his Deayton-baiting days. Again it's the same scripts, the same pointless text messages from unemployed or unemployable viewers ("Jonno the Tottenham fan says Jol should have stayed and the board are rubbish") and the same repetition and lack of versatility. These guys have great broadcasting careers behind them and ahead of them; they deserve better than this.

And what's this cobblers about "Breaking News"? Sky's 24 hour news and sports channels are especially guilty of this. They put up stories which aren't "breaking" at all, but just a one paragraph piece of digestible, detail-free stuff which cuts to to the chase with the bluntest of all cutting implements available. "Breaking News" is what you get when you are hearing about the infamous dead donkey at the end of the bulletin and suddenly word pops up from PA that someone famous, powerful and important has hopped the twig thanks to a coronary or a freak lighting storm.

The people presenting on these stations are fine professionals, but they - and those who tune in - deserve better.

Heathrow is it, Britney?

Working in corporate UK commercial radio brings with it a fantastic list of misconceptions and preconceptions which friends, family, industry and folk at large have about you and your job.

To wit, then:-

* MYTH: DJs choose all of their own songs.
The only DJs who choose their own songs are specialist jocks. Songs which fit into features have invariably to be okayed by the Head of Music and/or Programme Director. Otherwise, every song is meticulously researched or tested by hierarchy, as is the order they are played in and at some places I've worked, it was a sackable offence to tamper with the music.

* MYTH: DJs decide whether to play the adverts or not.
Instant dismissal was the punishment at one station I worked at if you were caught changing, deleting or just ignoring any ad without a phenomenally good reason - you could get away with it if the ad was mis-scheduled according to the log you were given, or was obviously out of date (something you wouldn't normally notice until and unless it had already gone out on air).

* MYTH: Each DJ carries a large crate full of CDs into the studio with them.
This hasn't happened at all in my professional career. Even hospital radio stations, which are registered charities, tend to have sophisticated computer playout systems with all their music (and ads, and jingles) on it. When I started out in my first professional radio job, the music was all on CD but the radio station's own library supplied it.

* MYTH: DJs earn an absolute fortune.
Standard jocks earn a standard salary. The top guys get a good wage; the large majority of commercial radio jocks are not paid what anyone would call highly, though most don't starve. Much depends on the financial situation of the radio group your radio station is owned by, and their general attitude to on-air talent. Most radio groups value their sales staff far more than their presentation staff as these are the folk who directly earn money for the station.

* MYTH: If a DJ does a four-hour show, then that means he/she works for just four hours a day.
This irritates me a lot. Preparation of material, timings, future on-air projects and technical stuff goes into every working day, and the higher-profile programmes often have debriefs in the office the moment they end. Then there's the off-air work with the audience, such as roadshows and client-based outside broadcasts, a lot of which are not during the jock's regular airtime.

* MYTH: DJs do the majority of their programmes with a hangover, irrespective of their timeslot.
Utter cack.

* MYTH: DJs have numerous pop stars and assorted famous folk in their social circle.
Most lower order DJs often don't even meet the pop stars they may occasionally interview, never mind become bosom buddies. If an American star is knocking about, then a radio group's less important stations will either interview him/her via ISDN from another studio or receive a pre-arranged set of answers to which questions are then inserted. The chances of becoming bessies are more than remote.

* MYTH: DJs keep thousands of pounds worth of records and accessories in their cars and are regularly ferrying pop stars to and from the airport.
Good one, this. It's part of the myth about us which insurance companies insist on maintaining in order to justify charging a fortune for premiums when the time to renew the car cover comes round. They reckon we're regularly ferrying Britney Spears to and from the airport or from the radio station to her luxury hotel, when as said above, the chances of getting her anywhere near your studio is remote, irrespective of who you are or where you work, or how much her career needs the promotion. As for the contents of my car, I have a sleeping bag, two branded warm hats for use at colder football matches and a spare wheel. See those premiums rocket!

* MYTH: DJs have an easy job.
Ok, pop into the studio and I'll leave the desk, microphone settings, contact details, show structure, playout system settings, editing of features, correspondence with telephone callers and backtiming entirely to you. Did you think it was just about saying "Hello, I'm Joe Bloggs and here's Pickettywitch"?

* MYTH: DJs are DJs.
Most of us prefer to be called a 'presenter', thanks. I'm a DJ when doing the club night though...

The majority of jocks in the UK - the guys who work for smaller commercial stations which are part of large corporate organisations - will recognise these myths and my debunks. I'm now out of the corporate side of things thanks to a new station which is entirely independent of any outside involvement or group-wide decision making, and it's like breathing clean, unpolluted air every single day...