Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 20: RAJAR - What Goes Up... May Come Down

7 Feb 2015 at 20:06

What goes up, must come down. That doesn’t apply just to Christmas decorations and share prices, but to radio audiences too. Every quarter we get listening figures courtesy of RAJAR. They instill fear into every radio presenter and producer, because those are the measure that we are judged by. For any radio station programmer, it’s like getting A Level results four times a year. You can survive the odd sticky one, but if a pattern develops you inevitably start fearing for your job. I’ve been at LBC for four and a half years now and that empty stomach feeling on RAJAR day never quite goes away.

I’ve always been told that you should never get too carried away by a single brilliant RAJAR card, just as you should never get depressed by a bad one. Easy to say, less easy to abide by. I remember when I was doing the evening show the audience plummeted by 100,000 in one quarter. Everyone said it was a rogue card, but you never quite believe it yourself. Sure enough, on the next it bounced back, but I would be lying if I said I hadn’t feared the worst after that one.

What you have to look for is the trend and if you are starting a new show, you should never worry too much if the RAJAR in your first year is a bit all over the place. The audience has to get used to you. So when I see that Radio 5 Live’s audience is down by 7-10% in this quarter am I surprised? No I’m not. It’s not a reflection on their new presenting team, it’s a reflection that their three main daytime shows have changed all at the same time. Radio audiences often don’t react well to change and people take time to get used to new voices. It was unfortunate that Victoria Derbyshire, Shelagh Fogarty and Richard Bacon all decided not to renew their contracts at the same time (and it was THEIR decision, no one else’s, despite how the BBC disgracefully portrayed it at the time). And on top of that, my broadcasting hero, the legend that is Peter Allen, decided also that he wanted a change in routine and was moved from Drive to the mid morning slot, albeit only three days a week. I don’t care what the station is, you’re never going to card a good RAJAR with that degree of change. It’s only after three or four cards that 5 Live controller Jonathan Wall will be able to judge how his changes have panned out.

The Drivetime audience is a hugely competitive audience, not just on speech stations but music too. And each show is very different. So is each timeslot. I’m on between 4 & 8pm. Between 5 and 6 I have Eddie Mair on PM on Radio 4. On 5 Live between 4 and 7 we have Tony Livesey & Anna Foster. On BBC London between 5 and 7 it’s Eddie Nestor. On Radio 2 in the same slot it’s Simon Mayo. Each show is very different in format and content, so the listener has a wide choice of options. If they don’t like something on one channel, it’s easy for them to switch, so the key way to keep your audience is to provide some ‘stickability’ – don’t give the audience a reason to turn over. I like to think we do that on my show by keeping it pacy and demonstrating to the audience that we know what they want at that time of day.

I’ve been presenting Drive for nearly two years now. It’s probably the most enjoyable and rewarding job I’ve ever had. It’s a very different ballgame to presenting the evening show, which I did for two and a half years. There’s less time, for a start – more news and travel to fit in – even though the show is an hour longer. It’s far pacier. There’s more news. You absolutely have to cover the biggest stories of the day. There’s a lot of breaking news in that time slot. For instance, I’ve had to cover the Woolwich terror murder, the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner, the shooting down of the Malaysian airplane over Ukraine and much else besides. We do lots of news hits, but it’s our phoneins that provide the ‘stickability’. We always try to challenge ourselves and our listeners. We did that this week in two 6pm phoneins on depression and down syndrome. Both are difficult subjects to handle in a drivetime slot, as time is limited. But I doubt anyone who was listening at the start of the hour switched over – that was little to do with me as a presenter, it was all to do with the quality of the calls and the astonishing stories they had to tell.

It’s also partly about providing a bit of light and shade during the four hours. Inevitably, the news can be somewhat depressing, and many of the subject we have to cover (we are, after all a newstalk station) aren’t very happy clappy. So as a presenter I do try to lighten things up, have a bit of a joke, try to be self deprecating and entertain, as well as doing all the serious stuff. We did a great hour, for instance, on Friday, on present buying, inspired by the Myleene Klass story. I think everyone had a smile on their faces after that.

We also do regular political phone-ins, and in a sense I think they are a big part of what has driven LBC’s profile in the last eighteen months or so. Nick Ferrari does them with Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, as well as a few public officials like Sir Michael Wilshaw and Sir Bernard Hogan Howe. I’ve developed my own phone-in stable. Unlike Call Clegg we don’t do them weekly with any politician – ours are monthly, which enables us to have a wider range of politicians taking part. We have Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, Chuka Umunna, Jeremy Hunt, Eric Pickles and now Michael Gove. We also do a quaterly phonein with Ian McCafferty, a member of the Bank of England Montary Policy Committee, which is hugely popular, believe it or not! We’ve also done one with Ed Miliband, which went incredibly well and got massive positive feedback from loads of people who said they saw him in a very different light afterwards. That was back in July. I hope he’ll do another one or two before the election, but we’ll see.

When I started on Drive the show had registered an audience of around 300,000 listeners in London in the previous quarter. That was one of those one-off RAJAR cards which didn’t reflect the real level of listeners. Over the previous three years it had had an audience of between 330k to 450k. James Whale had done a great job with the programme. His profile and fame attracted a new band of listeners to a timeslot which had been traditionally difficult for LBC. When I was offered the slot in March 2013, I remember saying to James Rea, LBC’s Managing Editor, that my ambition was to grow the audience to half a million and get a 5% audience share (at the time it was 2.9%) in London.

Well, I and my team are delighted to have achieved one of those aims. The figures released on Wednesday show we now have a London audience of 513,000 between 4 and 7. I haven’t got the 7-8 figures yet, but so that 513k figure will actually be much higher. (UPDATE: I’m now told the 4-8 figure is 546k). It also doesn’t include the national audience, which, judging from the level of calls we get from outside London, is growing very well indeed. For the third quarter in a row we have also achieved a 4% audience share. So a little way to go on the 5% target, but it shows how competitive the London market is. For the first time (I think), Drive is also beating 5 Live in London. We’ve put on 154,000 listeners quarter on quarter and 118,000 year on year. I’m also told this is the highest audience this timeslot has ever got in 40 years of LBC. And that’s where we must be cautious and not be too euphoric. No one will be more delighted than me if we continue with this level of audience, but we all know that this could be one of those upper end one-offs. As I said at the start of this article, what goes up, must come down. But in Radioland, you’re only as good as your last RAJAR, so forgive me and my team if we rejoice while we can!

The coming three months, as we head towards the election, are going to be massive for everyone in speech radio and LBC in particular as we ensure that we not only lead Britain’s conversation, but also set the agenda. Things are going to be even more competitive. I and my production team (Matt Harris, Jagruti Dave and Axel Kacoutie) are going to relish the challenge on Iain Dale at Drive. And enjoy it too. I hope. :)

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Iain has a Testy Encounter with a Member of the Fire Brigades Union

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ConHome Diary: Feeling Sorry For Ed Balls (No, Really)

6 Feb 2015 at 14:29

I suspect I am alone here, but I did feel a twinge of sympathy for Ed Balls this week after forgetting the surname of a man he had just spent the evening with at a Labour fundraising dinner, and who runs Labour’s Small Business Advisory Group. I couldn’t believe it became such a huge story in the media. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? I was interviewing someone the other day and I went to thank them at the end of the interview, but my mind drew a complete blank. Luckily I had a screen in front of me with their name on. But the serious point here is that we have such an unforgiving media nowadays and that it isn’t willing to cut politicians any slack for even the slightest apparent gaffe. Ed Balls laughed it off, but if I know him, he will have been distraught at the coverage his moment of forgetfulness generated. You could say that it was typical of a Labour politician to treat business with such contempt and it shows how much importance they place on business, but in Ed Balls’ case, it’s just not true. Unlike some of his colleagues, he actually understands how business operates and isn’t anti-business in any shape or form. Pity he can’t persuade some of his more zealous colleagues. Eh, Mr Miliband?
*
After Lord Ashcroft’s poll in Scotland I think I might have to go back to my Scottish constituency predictions and revise them. His stats were incredible and confirmed what all the other polls have been showing for some time, that Labour is disintegrating and the SNP is on the march. Even Wee Dougie is predicted to lose his seat, along with his LibDem namesake Danny. Quite astonishing. Of course, what this means is that it’s almost impossible for Labour to gain a majority in May and makes the chances of the Tories remaining the largest party all that more likely. Labour is now adopting the strategy of telling people to vote SNP and get Cameron. It has the merit of being true, but I doubt it will cut through among all their ex working class supporters who have deserted them in droves since September last year. Jim Murphy must wonder what on earth he has let himself in for.
*

Reading Louise Casey’s report on child sexual abuse in Rotherham isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s hard to know where to start analysing what went wrong there, but one thing is for sure, it is yet another example of councillors failing to hold their officers to account. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, though. There are very few councillors who are in any way qualified to oversee child protection, or indeed many other things. That’s not to say there aren’t many qualified and competent councillors, but there are too many who no one would think of putting in charge of a whelk stall, let alone a Childrens’ Services Department of a local authority. I have no hesitation in admitting that if I were put in that position I’d be totally out of my depth. There are also still too many people who think it’s wrong to point out that 98% of the perpetrators of these vile acts were from a Pakistani muslim background. I am sure that virtually every other Pakistani muslim will be as horrified by that fact as the rest of us are, but we can’t ignore that uncomfortable fact. The trouble is, no one seems able to explain it, either. But let’s also point out that in virtually all the cases of historic child sex abuse we are talking about white, middle class and upper class males as the perpetrators too.
And let’s not beat around the bush. If this sort of thing has been uncovered in places like Rotherham, Luton, Oldham and Rochdale, you can bet your bottom dollar that it is going on in many other towns across the country too. This is surely only the tip of the iceberg.
*
So, a Survation constituency poll in Sheffield Hallam predicts that Nick Clegg is on course to lose his seat to Labour. This ought to be of great concern to the Conservative Party, bearing in mind it was a Tory seat not that long ago. Anyone remember Irvine Patnick? Surely it ought to be the Conservatives challenging here, not Labour? It’s a sign that the Conservative Party’s problems in our big industrial cities are still there and haven’t been addressed properly.
*

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Sir Martin Gilbert, one of the best historians of his generation. The great thing about being a historian is that you live on through your books. People will be reading his magnificent books on the Second World War and Winston Churchill in two hundred years’ time. I’m not sure that many people will still be reading my collection of Bill Clinton jokes then…


I’ve just published by seat by seat predictions as an eBook, which you can order for just £1.59. It was a commenter on this column (yes, I do read the comments!) who gave me the idea. You can download it from Amazon or Politicos via THIS LINK ].

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LBC 97.3 Phone in on Children with Downs Syndrome

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General Election Predictions: Seat By Seat - Now Published As An eBook

3 Feb 2015 at 18:20

Several people suggested I should release my seat by seat predictions as an eBook, so that’s exactly what I have done. I also included various lists of seats – you know how I like a list :). It’s 432 pages long.

Anyway, you can order it for only £1.59

Buy the eBook from Politicos.co.uk

Buy the eBook from Amazon

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LBC 97.3: Tom Swarbrick with an Amusing Take on Obama's Inauguration

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CAMPAIGN ADS: Israel: The Bibi Sitter

3 Feb 2015 at 08:59

I’d love to see a British political party adopt this style of ad. Strangely I can see Nick Clegg doing it, but maybe not Cameron or Miliband.

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Video: Iain Dale North Norfolk Campaign Video on Health Issues

Created by Salsa Shark

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Books

Media Monkey Business, Rory Bremner and the Political Book Awards

2 Feb 2015 at 21:27

I am still scratching my head over a complete bizarre diary story in The Guardian’s Media Monkey column, concerning Rory Bremner’s hosting of last week’s Political Book Awards. Here it is.

To the Paddy Power Political Book awards 2015 at London’s Imax cinema, where the winners included Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson, Andrew Marr revealed his next book (presumably another novel because his first one was, er, so remarkable) will be “extremely rude about Labour” when collecting a lifetime award, and the host Rory Bremner took no prisoners as he laid into Cameron, Miliband, Farage, Brown, Obama and Clinton. Was it wise, though, to also target the publisher and broadcaster Iain Dale, mocking his LBC gig as on the margins of radio? Dale founded the awards (with the prize money provided by Lord Ashcroft) and remains the eminence grise behind them, so the impressionist’s chances of a rebooking may have instantly slumped.

The truth is that Rory Bremner did nothing of the sort. I have asked six or seven people who were there and there was no mocking of my radio show, and frankly even if there had been, I’d like to think that my shoulders would have been broad enough to take it.

And just for the record, today I rebooked Rory Bremner for next year’s event. I doubt that will rate a mention in the Media Monkey column though.

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Interview with Sir Nicholas Soames on Winston Churchill

25 minutes with Nick Soames talking about his grandfather

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Personal

My First Park Run (And How Greg Clark MP Kicked My Sorry White Ass)

31 Jan 2015 at 12:29

I’ve never done a park run before. And to be honest I wasn’t wholly looking forward to it. I wouldn’t know anyone, no doubt I’d be wearing totally inappropriate gear and I’d be very slow. I set myself a goal of doing it in under 45 minutes, but wasn’t wholly confident I’d do that.

I could hardly believe when I opened my front and found that it had started to snow. Perhaps they’d cancel it. No such luck, though. So off I drove, forgetting that my new car is wheel rear drive. It was a bit of a slippery-slidey drive to Dunorlan Park, just on the edge of Tunbridge Wells. I got there to find a couple of people parking up at the same time so I walked with one of them to the starting line, where there were around 60 people waiting to start. It turned out there were six other newbies. Just before the start I heard someone say hello to me and it was none other than our local MP Greg Clark, who was taking part for the sixth time. More of him later!

So off we went. It didn’t take long for me to trail most of the pack, but then again that came as no surprise. After all, there were only three others in the 50-54 age group and only five people over 54. Anyway, what I hadn’t bargained for is that around half of the distance was on the grass, or in this case the mud. And in parts it was very squelchy and incredibly difficult to run on. The 5km course through the park was divided into two identical laps. I have to admit it was a bit humiliating to be lapped by three runners just before I had completed the first lap, but I’ll get over it!

I started to feel my right leg at the beginning of the second lap. It felt as if it were about to detach itself from the rest of my body. Well, a slight exaggeration, but I was determined to carry on. I just couldn’t face not finishing no matter how long it took.

Several people said to me that the found these runs quite addictive. That was music to my ears. I have a bit of an addictive personality anyway so I hope to get to the point where I get withdrawal symptoms if I don’t go out for a run several times a week. I’ve been out each Saturday and Sunday for the last three weeks so I think i have made a reasonable start. Tomorrow I’m going to go for a run with my ten year old Goddaughter Zoe near Saffron Walden.

Anyway, I did finish, and although I have got some pretty disparaging twitter comments from people asking if I was hopping rather than running, I shall treasure this one from my friend Andrew Kennedy, who is the local Tory Party agent.

He should also be very proud of his local MP. Greg Clark clocked an amazing time of 23 minutes 6 seconds and came 8th. Total respect. Still, he didn’t quite lap me. That would have been the end :).

Next Sunday we’re in Norfolk. I’ve just seen that there is a park run at Blickling which is only a few miles from our house. So I guess that’s a decision then!

I do know that running 5km isn’t a big deal in the wider scheme of things. But today, it is a very big deal to me.

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LISTEN: 25 Minutes With Sir Nicholas Soames Talking About His Grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill

30 Jan 2015 at 22:12

Earlier this week I recorded a 25 minute interview with Sir Nicholas Soames. We spent the entire time talking about his grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill. I think you’ll rather enjoy it,

Listen HERE

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Katie Price

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ConHome Diary: Why I Wear Garish Ties on TV

30 Jan 2015 at 14:18

The Political Book Awards have been going for three years now. I started the event three years ago because I felt there was a real gap in the market for it. Political literature has always been seen as the black sheep of the literary family. Publishers tend to shy away from political books because they have bought into the myth that they don’t sell. What I have enjoyed most over the last three years is the fact that the judges really do go for quality, rather than just pick the book or author who is the most famous. In two of the first three years the main award has gone to relatively unknown authors. In 2012 Caroline Shenton won for her book ‘The Day the Parliament Burned Down’. This year it was the turn of Matthew Goodwin and Rob Ford for their book ‘Revolt on the Right’, a book which has charted the rise of UKIP. Both books could have been very offputting academic tomes, but both are far from that. Mary Beard, one of the judges, made the point that political academics are capable of writing books which aren’t as dry as dust and are accessible to those of us who aren’t festooned with PhDs in political science. Goodwin and Ford beat off very strong competition from Chris Bryant, Alan Johnson and Andrew Roberts, among others. It’s a cracking book, so if you haven’t read it yet, get it.
*
People keep commenting on the rather garish ties I wear on TV. To be honest, the only item of clothing I take genuine pleasure in buying is a tie. In my experience, most men just thrown on any old tie, without a thought about whether it matches the shirt or suit. I’ve lost count of the times I have seen a politician wear a stripy tie over a stripy shirt. Just no. In fact, I’d outlaw most stripy ties. David Davis is the worst culprit. For me there are only two brands of tie worth buying – Duchamp and Van Buck. Both are very colourful – the kind of tie Jon Snow wears on Channel 4 News. Van Buck ties have the distinct advantage of being around a third cheaper than their Duchamp equivalents which retail at about £70. I always wear a loud tie when doing political punditry or the Sky Newspaper review. It means that people pay attention to the tie rather than the utter bollocks I sometimes utter on these occasions. Maybe that’s why Jon Snow wears them too.
*

So having completed my marathon 650 election predictions I feel I am going to have to back and revise some of them before too long. There are two new factors to compute. How will the rise in the Green vote, if it holds, affect the Labour and LibDem vote in marginal seats? And should I revise some of my forecasts in Con-Lab marginal like Harlow. The trend in the polls is clear to see and it doesn’t seem as though Labour has any ideas to counter it. Standing on the safe ground of ‘defending the NHS’ may be great for their existing voters, but it doesn’t win over many new ones. I know for a fact that opposition strategists are now even conceding a Tory overall majority is something they conceive is possible. I still think we are a very long way from that, but there are so many imponderables, you cannot rule anything out.
*
Talking of ruling anything out, one thing I do rule out is the SNP winning 53 of Scotland’s 59 seats. That’s what Sky News are predicting. And by doing so, surely they risk making complete dicks of themselves. I’ve predicted that they will go up from 6 to 18 seats, but even if their poll ratings continue at something near their present levels, I just can’t see them getting many more than that. Of course it’s Ed Miliband’s worst nightmare come true, even if the SNP only win that level of support. Labour need to be making gains in Scotland, not losing a quarter of half their seats. Even in Wales they’re only likely to make two gains, in Cardiff Central and Cardiff North, so to get anything near a total to form the largest party they are going to have to outperform themselves across England.
*

Rory Bremner makes a very welcome return to our TV screens next Tuesday night at 10pm on BBC2. I’ve spent a bit of time with him recently and I can tell you that he’s really developed his Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nigel Farage impressions. I don’t think he can do Nick Clegg though. Still, after May, I suppose there won’t be much point… Biting satire, there!
*
Yesterday I appeared on the Daily Politics for the third time in ten days. People will talk. I also recorded a short piece for This Week on why there aren’t many female political authors. A Labour MP had put down a PQ asking why the Parliamentary Bookshop didn’t stock more books by female political authors. Simple really. You can’t stock what there isn’t a supply of. Just as there aren’t enough women in elected politics, or the media, there aren’t enough women interested in writing worthy political tomes. But there are certainly enough women Labour MPs interested in wasting £250 of taxpayers’ money asking idiot questions about it. All the Labour MP had to do was pop into the Parliamentary Bookshop and ask to see the manager and ask the question herself. The manager of the Parliamentary Bookshop is, I should point out, a woman.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Conrad Black

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VIDEO: Rob Ford & I Discussing the Political Books of the Year on the Daily Politics

29 Jan 2015 at 21:37

So this was my third appearance on the Daily Politics in ten days. Doesn’t that merit keeping a Daily Politics mug?!

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Video: Iain talks about working on his Dad's farm

IOSH channel, October 2009

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Books

We're Looking For a New Office

28 Jan 2015 at 15:28

Biteback Publishing is looking for a new home. We’ve been at Westminster Tower by Lambeth Bridge for several years now but our lease runs out in the summer and we are looking to move to a new abode. We need space for 15 people and require a meeting room and kitchen. I reckon 1500-2250 sq feet would do us nicely. Needless to say that as a publishing company we are looking to get something as cheaply as possible, and we’d consider taking the fag end of a lease if we can’t find our dream office. Although our lease doesn’t run out until the end of August, we’d consider moving earlier depending on the rent free period on offer.

We’d ideally like to be within spitting distance of the Houses of Parliament, north or south bank, but would also consider Charing Cross, Soho, St James’s or Victoria. Beggars can’t be choosers.

So if you have space free or know of an office likely to become free, please do let me know!

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LBC 97.3: Iain finds Sajid Javid Unable to Answer a Question

Iain interviews Treasury Minister Sajid Javid

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