Category: media

Listening to music in three parts

Part 1 Listening to digital music

I have this theory. In fact I have lots of theories. But for the rest of this paragraph I will restrain myself to blessing you with just one. My theory is that we are all moving to digital music before we are ready for it.

I mean listening to it on an iphone/ipad thing, sure fine. We’re all doing that ok. But in the house? or in the car? How do you listen to it there?

I quite often hear people talk about how they put their CDs in the loft, or never buy real CDs anymore. Yeah, why bother with that crazy shit?! And the news which reminded me of this today was that Amazon will allow you to download (and keep in the Cloud) any physical album you buy.

Now, when I do buy music (which is less now, as the rules of being a grown state you buy less music), when I do buy music, I do still tend to buy a CD. Even though the first thing I will do is rip it.

Why? Because, for some odd, unexplainable, stupid, economic-defying reason it is still cheaper, to pay for something to be designed, made, put together, boxed up, shipped to a warehouse, stored, picked from the warehouse, shipped to a Store, unboxed and put on a shelf, have people decide on how it will look in that store, and have people on hand to offer advice, someone to take payment, pay expensive rent on said store, and factor in shrinkage, THAN PUTTING A BLOODY 5MB FILE ONLINE TO DOWNLOAD.

This is crazy.

I said CDs are often cheaper than MP3s, as a quick test by looking on Amazon for Madonna (YOU SEE I AM DOWN WITH THE KIDS). Of the nine albums shown: five are cheaper on CD, three are only available on CD and one, just ONE, is cheaper by downloading MP3s. iTunes seems little better.

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My buying process goes something like this: like a song on Spotify. Decide to buy it (especially as I don’t subscribe and can often only listen 5 times). Decide that I like more than 4 or so songs from the album, at which point, at 99p per song it is only a little more to buy the whole album. Check the album on Amazon both to download and buy, often the physical album is cheaper and that’s what I’ll buy.

I will then have it on my computer and iPhone (at a bit rate of my choosing – I am a geek) plus have a backup physical copy – which comes in a nice presentation box with photos – that I can also use in the Hi-Fi, lend to a friend and play in a car. Those extras there are pretty handy, and worth getting the CD even if it is a little more than the download only version. Plus, PLUS they can’t do a Amazon-Kindle-look-at-us-while-we-delete-an-ebook-from-your-kindle-which-you-previously-purchased. Not with my physical copy they can’t.

But, even with these physical things sitting very very close to my as I type this, I still play mostly via my laptop. The thing is, they do skip, and worse, I have to stand up and walk a whole meter and find a cd, and put it in the player, and then after a while it will get to the song I don’t care for much and have to get up again and press skip. I know! And then 15 mins into the album my attention span will be all used up and I’ll want to instantly change to a completely different song which probably isn’t on any CD I own, let alone the one I’m playing. Is there no end to the grind?

That’s not to say CDs don’t have advantages. For one they are better quality (no compression, dedicated hardware) when they are not skipping, and also they continue to play even when my laptop does the pretty rainbow circle for a mouse pointer. Which happens every two minutes and lasts 110 seconds each time for me. Sometimes I avoid switching windows or opening a new tab because I like the song I’m listening to and don’t want it to cut out.

But let us get back to the question, if you, the general public  (yes, that was quite patronising) are abandoning the CD for digital music, then what are you doing.

There seem to be three options: use earphones, use a cable into your existing Hi-Fi, use a Hifi or specialist device with an iPhone dock.

Now, if you fancy ‘pumping some tunes’ (once again I demonstrate just how with it I am) in to your living room then headphones are no good. But do we really all rely on little cables connecting our laptop headphone socket with our HiFi external input socket? Or has everyone dumped their HiFi and just use their iPhone (and, yes for you in the corner, also Android devices, bless)  in some specialist dock? (the latter of course will give much better quality, a digital signal basically going to the Hifi’s DAC – digital analog converter darling – and then on to the Hifi’s amp)

Or do we all now party in our living rooms by the sound of an internal laptop speaker? Good news for the neighbors. Less so for crazy parties.

My point, which so far I have failed to make in any articulate way, is that we all seem to be running around going ‘remember those CDs? how quaint! we’re all digital now, yeah, we’ve given all our CDs to Oxfam, yar, darling pass the hummus’, at the same time, we’re not really ready to do so. Cars either just have a CD player, or need to come with a 5 year old child attached to them to explain how you transfer your music from your ‘digital cloud’ on to a stick your car can play. And even if you can do that with your computer, how do you do it with your iPad where files are so twentieth century, god who needs them any more, and who wants a nasty looking USB port to ruin the smooth lines that Steve himself created? How do you get files from a device with no files and no USB port to your car?

And Spotify, how can it take over / destroy / save the music industry if there’s no easy way to get the music to sound ok. I’ve often amazed when people say they just use Spotify now. How do you play it? Oh we just play it out of the laptop speakers. Really? Is this progress? It feels like the McDonalds of progress, instant choice but not a great step for quality.

Me? My HiFi is on the other side of the room to my laptop and I use Apple’s Airport to stream music wirelessly. It’s not an ideal solution, expensive to buy an airport express just for this, requires a special third-party app to stream Spotify and anything else other than iTunes, but does work.

The whole point of laptops is that they are portable, so I’m surprised there aren’t more common technologies to cheaply take the sound your laptop is making and streaming it with no wires to your HiFi. I would have thought that would be a common requirement and yet it seems to be only me looking for it.

Part 2 Why isn’t the music industry doing better with Spotify

We’re told on a regular basis that the music industry is doomed. Mainly due to evil pirates. And the Internet. And Spotify.

We’re also told that Spotify gives the artist a very poor deal, and a number of charts have done the rounds online over the years comparing the money an artist will typically receive from CDs, online, singles, radio play and Spotify, with the sat being a tiny fraction of the rest.

Finally, we know that Spotify itself isn’t rolling in huge profits.

Something seems to be wrong. Because to me, it seems like people are spending money like they never used to, meanwhile, costs are being cut out. With more money in the industry, and fewer people wanting a cut, this should mean good times. So why doesn’t it?

First my logic. I don’t have any numbers. But my instinct is that most people (MOST) don’t buy a new CD each month. What would be the average for an adult, a couple of year? We’ll make it 4 to be generous. Let’s say £10 a CD, that’s £40 per adult a year.

Now it so happens that a Spotify Premium account a month costs about the same as a CD, £10. So for a year that’s £120. So for a typical person, with a Spotify account, they’ve gone from putting £40 a year in to the music industry right up to £120 a year, triple what they used to pay.

Now of course, many people with a Spotify account will be music lovers who, pre-spotify, would buy more CDs than my plucked out the air 4, but I know many people with Spotify Premium who I wouldn’t put in to that grouping.

And higher up in this ramblings I pointed out just how many extra costs the traditional CD has compared with a digital download. That £40 included a cut for the security guard in HMV, and the person who does the Health and Safety training for stores in the south west. And don’t forget the guys in the warehouse, or the one who sources the packaging, or the girl who designed the art layout inside the sleeve.

But that £120? Well yes Spotify get a cut, but the rest goes to the record label itself (i.e. the music industry), and hopefully, a portion of that will go on to the actual artist. So more money is coming in, and more of it is going to the core of the industry.

There are partial answers, but they don’t explain it all. The music industry complains because that’s what it always does (and I get a feeling that they still live in an excess of a previous era).

Spotify is playing a long-term game, expanding both the number of countries and users, and will hopefully become sustainable. And the numbers we have for artists are patchy and mostly from those who have shared (confidential) numbers, and mostly indie outfits. Of course the truth is it is a long tail. And indies are the tail. Lady Gaga is probably played more than all of them put together and can also negotiate a higher play fee, combined probably means she does quite well out of it. The humble CD did equalise things a little: the price of a CD album did not differ too much between major acts and indie bands, so if you bought lady gaga and an indie band you would probably pay roughly the same amount. I’ve also a hunch that Gaga fans will probably play the same song many times, whereas someone who prefers small indie bands is more likely to have a wider range of acts they listen to, which with Spotify’s pay for plays means that they have a small audience listening to their music, plus that audience will listen to it less per person.

And of course the Spotify model is more long-term for the artist as well. With CDs you get a surge in spending, as people buy the CD, they then may listen to it for decades but you earn nothing more directly from this. However with Spotify they could go on earning for years, without doing any extra work. So while it may look to like CDs, downloads, etc are better earners, we will have to see how they compare over a longer time period.

As an aside what I don’t get however is why the adverts on Spotify often seem quite poor, as if they struggle to sell the advert slots. To me this is advertising gold, audio adverts are harder to ignore than magazine, online or even tv ads. Spotify users are likely to be young, tech savvy, probably not too badly off (they have broadband and a computer) and these sound like the sort of things which advertisers like. What’s more adverts can be tailored based on listening tastes. They should be able to target much more accurately than for TV or radio, and hitting the right audience is always the key thing.

Get back to the point and wrap up this bit Chris. So my point is, Spotify, based on my non-fact-based guesswork, looks like it is getting people to spend more money on music than they would previously while reducing the number of people who need a cut of that money. So why is the music industry in ruins, Spotify in loss, and artists complaining of a poor deal.

Part 3 Bloody Hell HMV

A couple of hours ago it was announced that HMV, the last major Music retailer in the UK, is going into Administration. This was shocking in that it was and wasn’t shocking.

It wasn’t shocking because anyone who reads the news will have read a slow drip feed of bad news for HMV, and this Christmas didn’t bring good results.

But it was shocking because it was both the last major music chain (they also did films and games but I wasn’t really interested in those) and the one I’ve visited most in my life. It was also the one I visited when growing up.

Someone tweeted earlier that they’re glad HMV sold Waterstones (the UK last major national bookstore) so not to bring them down with it. I don’t feel the same. I wish I did. I wish I could say I was the bookish type, always lost in a book when growing up, always reading new things. The truth is I didn’t read much, and I don’t know. And the only bookshop I remember in Northampton, where I grew up, was WH Smiths (later on Waterstones, and The Works, did open up a store, and in those days WH Smiths wasn’t too bad, and not the mess of a store it is today). So, I feel bad – and somehow a lesser person – for saying it, but if it was Waterstones announcing closure today I wouldn’t feel the same sense of nostalgia and sentimentality as I do today. I imagine for many towns it will be a choice between WH Smith and the supermarkets which is depressing.

Luckily I have quite a few music shops near me, most sell CDs I’ve never heard of, and nearly all only exist for a few years before they close and new stores open up to replace them. Resident music makes an exception by both being open 8 years (aka ‘forever’ in terms of Brighton’s shops) and even sells some music I have heard of.

Finally, I never quite understand why companies go into Administration in this way. When times are getting tough, why not sell those stores that generate the biggest loses, make the whole company smaller and then focus on rebuilding a much smaller company. It seems to me that Comet, Jessops and HMV all kept nearly all their stores open right up to Administration, and in HMV’s case, they often had large stores, right in the busiest (aka most expensive) part of the shopping centre. Why not move to smaller sized units, and, while not moving to the edge of town, look into units which were a little less ‘premium’.

I’ve been surprised by a number of the recent closures. Comet may not have been great, but it’s where you often went for a fridge or electrical good. And while people may be splashing out less at the moment, white goods are not something that has really taken off in terms of online shopping. And Habitat, a store that overpriced everything and yet always seemed busy. I always thought overpriced+busy=win. But clearly not.

And HMV, yes it had a LOT of competition from Amazon and the supermarkets, but it was the last high street music seller of note, especially with Virgin Megastores gone, if you wanted a CD, or film while in town that is where you went, so I find it surprising they couldn’t find a way to make that work, even if it meant reducing the stores.

The three parts of this are all about how we listen to music, or how we are buying it, which are both connected. We are listening to it online, even if I suspect we are not doing it correctly (according to me, who obviously makes the calls on these judgements), we are subscribing and streaming not download or buying, which to me should bring in more money to the industry, and mean it goes to those we actually play, and it looks like we are losing the last real way to buy a physical album on the high street.

The weird thing about technology progress is that no one plans it through, or has any control of the direction. Each little development and change leads to a knock on effect to our lifestyles and way of living, sometimes we know this will have bad knock on effects but there is little we can do. For roughly the last hundred years (maybe a little less) we purchased music from a store, on a circle shaped thing (mostly), and certainly for the last few decades the most popular concept was the ‘album’ of 10 or so songs released together, with a name and some artwork. Like most publishing industries, we are clinging on to as much of this infrastructure even though the online environment makes it pointless, but for how much longer?

iplayer diary and a tool i was never going to use again

A lot of online services have tried to introduce social elements in to their product. This is normally annoying, but in the case of the BBC’s iplayer I found it interesting and useful.

The problem was I was about the only person who did.

A brief recap, when the current design was launched, it had an extra (smaller) column on the homepage. Along with Featured and Most Popular was a column called Friends Recommend or something like that. They made some sensible design choices, rather than having another site where you needed to maintain a ‘friends’ list, you could simply point it to twitter and co and it would do the rest. The problem was that in turned out that at any time it would have maybe three programs to recommend, each of which just one of my friends would have recommended, and that was about it. It was therefore showing ‘anything my friends recommend’ – due to lack of take up – rather than ‘the most recommend programs by my friends’ which would probably be more useful and avoid the slightly narrow topics that came through (oh look Formula 1 and Dr Who).

There were other reasons why it probably didn’t take off. First each program on iplayer had options to favourite, plus recommend, plus share using the usual social suspects. Too many options. I enjoyed something, so I favourite or recommend it? More, to recommend, and see recommendations from you friends you had to be logged in, when to watch or listen did not require to do so – so most didn’t. Quietly the feature disappeared.

But why was I interested in it?

At any given moment iplayer is treasure trove of content. Especially in radio. It’s much easier for good TV to rise to the top, partly because there is less of it, and partly because good TV tends to be expensive. Any sort of semi decent good drama will be prime time viewing and probably on the featured section of iplayer. I’m not shocking anyone by saying Daytime output can be ignored, you’re really looking at a few hours of prime time a night on three channels (well, four if you’re really nice and allow BBC Three to be counted, bless it).

But radio is different. You can make the most amazing radio with a script, voice and microphone. Interesting stuff is being pumped out at all times of the day on various stations.

Sometimes – not often – I’ll fall asleep with the radio on Radio 4. Because it’s not something I often do it makes me drift in and out of sleep, waking for a few minutes every so often, sometimes reaching a level of consciousness that knows what that sound is but can’t quite reach the levels of energy to turn it off. It creates very strange dreams – and snippets of conversations and monologues. The first time I did this, I wanted to listen again to some of the things that were coming back to me once I was awake. It took a while to find, the Radio 4 Schedule just said ‘World Service’ and the latter’s schedule was quite difficult to navigate, but I found the programs in question. Some were really interesting, one was an Arts magazine program with a World slant, and I actually bought a book they were discussing as a result.

All that interesting stuff, in just one nights broadcasting, on a channel I would never listen to, and programs I would never bump in to on iplayer. What if others could highlight these gems as they listen to them. What if I could highlight them to others.

I have a rule that I don’t put the TV on unless there is absolutely something I want to watch – and as I never look at the TV Guides, that is quite rare (though I can smell Family Guy on BBC Three a mile off). I have this rule because I am a Lazy Person. If the TV is on I will sit in front of it as if chained, moving for nothing, even if it was stuck on the test card (I scratch my knee, I have to scratch the other).

Because of this I listen to a lot of radio recordings in the evenings, when one program finishes I stop what I am doing (whether online, or – depressingly rarely – something in my flat that doesn’t require an internet connection, ummm, hang on, I’m going to think of an example… Like… like the washing up! you see, I’m not so boring) and need to find something else to listen to.

Once I’ve exhausted the ‘most popular’ list of things that take my interest I get a little stuck. The categories on the bottom right of the Radio iplayer page never really work for me (long lists, the fact they include stuff from all the regional stations doesn’t help). And browsing yesterdays schedule for each station is a bore. So after the ‘most popular’ list I head for the main radio station pages on the BBC website with the first stop being, of course, Radio 4.

You get six highlights on the Radio 4 homepage. For me, today is a bad day for the highlights. The first seems to be a running fiction series (no thanks), another talks about making chocolate mousse (which isn’t the same as eating them), and while I’m interested in things music related, mostly because I’m so ignorant of it – people talking about how a piece has changed them doesn’t really appeal (I’m guessing a couple met each other as a result of it, and someone from a ‘disadvantaged estate’ was destined for a life of crime until hearing it). What I need is Highlights, sure, but lots of them.

After that I need to make more effort hunting for things worth a listen. And I need to pace myself. Too much hard listening on one night will leave me with nothing to listen to the next. Like Drug barons the world over, Radio 4 has learnt the art of limiting out supply to its addicts. Bastard.

Where was I? Discovering stuff. Yes. And the thing is there is good stuff where you least think it – even Radio 2. Bloody Radio 2! (Henning Wehn, probably the funniest comedian in the UK, and Michael Grade’s documentary on Television since you ask). Radio 3 has debates, I’ve mentioned the World Service, and 6 Music obviously has a lot worth listening to.

It did occur to me this was an itch I was trying to scratch – and perhaps I could make my millions by developing the universal solution (obscure UK radio documentaries surely have the same mass-market appeal as Facebook). And while the BBC have done much with APIs, supporting developers and Linked Data, I couldn’t see any obvious way to build a third-party site to cater to my (and the millions) needs with what was available.

I might need to follow in Bob Monkhouse’s footsteps. Buy the Radio Times each week and going through the listings each week with a highlighter (note to self, must purchase highlighter).

But what about the other side of the coin, sharing the things I have listened to? There’s nothing really charitable about this aim. This is good honest preachiness – I’ve decided you should listen to something and YOU’RE JUST GOING TO OBEDIENTLY LISTEN TO IT. You will like what I like.

This is easier. The iplayer has sharing tools to post to various social network sites. I use Twitter and Reddit (and have a Facebook account so I can’t stalk people, don’t we all). So what if I could use one of the other services offered as a way of recording and sharing what I liked.

Long story short (though if you have reached this far you will have realised it’s more long story thankfully a little less long) – I went with delicious. You may have heard of it.

Delicious was my bookmarking tool of choice for years until the famous Yahoo! ‘Sunsetting’ slide leaked out – even though it did not state the site was closing – and it provided (as it should – but many don’t) easy export options, I didn’t like the idea of my bookmarks being on a service whose future was questionable. Besides, a recent change to their system seemed to require me to constantly re-enter my password no matter what I tried. When would these first world problems stop haunting me?

So I moved to – in the knowledge that there is no safer place to store my bookmarks than a one-man operation – the one-man spending much of his time promoting and baiting his competitors and mocking his users. Using pinboard felt good – in as much as a service that remembers links for you can ever make you feel good, and as it had imported everything from Delicious. I haven’t ever needed to log in to the latter until last week.

So it goes something like this. If I listen (or watch) anything I feel noteworthy I now use the Delicious share option on iplayer. I use the Delicious note field to add (get this) notes, and text I want to share. I wanted this to be frictionless as possible and originally wanted to not use tags, but then decided that to spare those who follow me on twitter I would use the tag ‘t‘ for those i wanted to share. Next I use twitterfeed (now owned by bitly, which pleases me as I could never work out how they would find a business model) and pass it the RSS feed the t tag on delicious, and tell it to tweet what ever comes in.

And so Delicious – a site I thought I would never use again, is now (until I get bored with the idea) my iplayer diary, and via twiterfeed, a way of telling the world (where world = my followers) what they should be listening to.

The first tweet to come out of this was for Masters of Money: Marx written and presented by Stephanie Flanders – which yes is a TV show (a prime time one at that) flying in the face of most of this article. Interestingly it got a few replies and retweets and a favourite – all down to the brilliance of my tweeting I’m sure, and nothing to do with the program being an incredible smart, interesting and well made.

So for as long as I remember to do this, I will have a record of what I have watched, and with careful consideration of the annoyance-threshold of my followers, a way to share what I have been listening to and watching.

Monday 8th October

I wrote the above on Saturday. I didn’t quite finish it all, and kept on meaning to get around to hitting ‘publish’. Then on Monday: BBC launches iPlayer Radio to promote audio content. The literally minutes I had spent typing this were now wasted – to think I could have spent that time staring at new DMs on twitter saying “have you seen what they are saying in this video….” (No I haven’t, I’m totally clicking on the link later). This post is out of date before it is even published. BBC Iplayer has changed, the new version seems to be merged with what was the main BBC Radio page.

Now, when things change on the internet strange things happen to people, especially when it’s the BBC Homepage (OMG the direct link to 16th century weather formations over Essex have been removed from the homepage, do those overpaid autocratic plebish so-called experts have a clue how much they have destroyed it for EVERYONE) or Facebook (OMG my profile page now has two columns rather than one – does no one understand the pain). Yet for once I feel like getting my green pen and joining in.

I mean on the plus side it gives Radio its own space (but some will note was pretty much a space for radio) and makes listening online to live and recorded items an integral part.

However – green pen time! – where are my Featured and Most Listened to? While by definition highlighting what the editors decide to promote, or what others are listening to, is hardly finding that rare nugget that no one else has found, it was a great way of bumping in to things that you would not normally – well – bump in to.

In fact the nearest thing looks to the highlights on each stations homepage, similar to those I describe above on the Radio 4 homepage, back in the good ol’ days of early October 2012. Ironically – or intentionally – this highlights and strengthens the original stations that produce the content – on iplayer they were just shows, it was easy to listen to something and have no idea what station it came from (except Radio 4 Extra / Radio 7 – which oddly always adds four or five minutes of recording to the start and end of each programme).

We do have categories, like before, but these always seem to have a little too much noise to signal. For example Factual (the place to go to for things like the chat/music/comedy/not-many-facts Loose Ends, The Bottom Line and Midweek) is currently dominated by “Everything you need to know about Cumbria’s day.”, “All of Oxfordshire’s news, sport and essential information in one place.” and “Digon o sgwrsio, cyngor, cerddoriaeth a chwerthin yn fyw o stiwdio Caerfyrddin yng nghwmni Iola Wyn.” (ok, there was the odd national broadcast in there, the odd one, I didn’t have to point this out. This is how honest I am). Of course, all of these are just lovely I’m sure, but I don’t want to wash up to them. and I can’t be bothered to scroll through page after page looking for the odd thing I want.

My final observation is that it seems to focus on the current. I’m sure this is deliberate, but, for example, iplayer will default to showing yesterdays schedule, which is useful when you just want to listen to things already available. I’m guessing the search feature of the Radio page is going be quite a key feature – and they do allude to it in the introduction text – as a way of finding regulars (it could really do with auto-complete).

BBC Three

In 2003 I got a freeview box. I got good reception. I could see the transmitter from my window.

BBC One or Two had being running ‘BBC Three takeover’ sessions, with several BBC Three programmes in a row. They were good. It’s not fashionable to say that nowadays.

In its early days it was innovative, cutting edge, risk taking and alternative.

One of the programmes I saw on the BBC Three take over shows was Dreamspaces, which simply explored modern buildings and architecture. It didn’t pad out the show with music montages, and the presenters gave facts, rather than the normal approach taking by shows of making the presenter be ‘fun but stupid’ and ask an ‘expert’ lots of basic questions. (more…)

Nick Clegg’s Fault. Beware the REAL Nasty.

Tonight is the second party leaders debate. As most in the UK know, Nick Clegg came out of the last one well, using a underhand tactic of using intelligence and good sense to answer the questions. #iagreewithnick immediately became a twitter trending topic.

The upshot of this is that the Lib Dems now have the slight chance that they will come a respectable third in the forthcoming election, instead of just a distant third. Obviously this is a matter of national emergency.

Luckily we have the great British press here to give an impartial view from the side. Especially so close to a general election. They speak the voice of the people. And act as the fourth pillar of democracy.

So on this important day, as the leaders take to the TV studio once again, with the sure knowledge the leaders of the two main parties are well primed in to stop this ‘Nick thing’, the papers are taking a reflective approach…


We start with the Express. They tackle the emergency by having the lead story, and the two main News stories dedicated to the serious issue at hand.


The Sun too decides the Nick of Doom is worth the lead story. They also manage to fit in the time of the debate, a welcome bit of advertising for which ever TV channel is doing it tonight (some company called Sky maybe, they’ll love the free advertising from these editorially independent chaps!).


The Telegraph goes for a modest ‘only the lead story’ approach. No. hang on, what’s that on the bottom right there, I see Andrew Gilligan, everyone’s favourite Liberal-left columnist does some important research. And who could have foreseen the timing!


Finally we have the Mail. Actually it looks quite tame for them. Just four articles, well, actually the FIRST four articles on their site, 222 comments and some video. They avoided any sort of emotionally charged piece by bringing up the Nazis and Hitler (but remember he wasn’t all bad).

But then I found a few more, in a novel idea of having more articles further down the page (who’d thought).



Lib Dems were the evil ones all along. Who Knew????

It’s like the fairground manager from Scooby-Doo all over again.



That man on the right looks dodgy (and by dodgy I mean Working Class, obviously). God, can you imagine if the whole of parliament was fiddling their expenses.


In fairness (members of the press, click here to help sort out your confusion), this is just about a Hung Parliament rather than how evil Nick is.


No wonder the public like him. He talks to them like they are idiots. Which of course they are!

So that’s six articles from the Mail, all published today, 22nd (except the blog post, posted yesterday).

It’s not just the press who are alerted to his evils. Twitter too has done its bit:

Finally. Serious bit… If you want decent news about the UK (or, for you crazy liberals, the rest of the world). Subscribe to The Economist, and also read the New York Times Europe section. Maybe we could have papers like that.

naughty boys and lots of sheep

I Don’t normally write about this sort of thing, but this is crazy.

Trying to ascertain the facts is almost impossible, even though supposed quality broadsheets have written huge amounts about it.

So what happened?

  • Russell Brand has an evening radio show on Radio 2.
  • This is pre-recorded (really? every week? this is the biggest scandal!)
  • Last week he had Jonathan Ross on the show (presumably to promote his book), though it has never been made clear whether he was co-presenting or a guest
  • Andrew Sachs – an actor who was in Faulty Towers – was due to be interviewed on the phone to promote a TV show.
  • Andrew is 78
  • Russell phones Andrew while chatting to Jonathan, there is much banter going on, both are known for it.
  • When they are put through to the answer phone the banter continues, references about Andrew’s granddaughter are made, including implying Russell has slept with her, though these are done in a somewhat joking fashion (Brand: “Andrew Sachs, I did not do nothing with Georgina – oh no I’ve revealed I know her name”)
  • The Granddaughter is currently touring in Satanic Sluts burlesque group.
  • Various reports (including the Times, which is less inaccurate than most of the press) said she had slept with Russell.
  • Reports keep on referring to them talking about Andrew Sachs killing himself on hearing the talk about his granddaughter, though the one edited transcript I have seen does not mention this at all.
  • After the show was recorded, the Times claims that a junior produce contacted Andrew Sachs to confirm it was ok to be played on air (which I understand is actually normal practice), though does not state if they actually got permission, i.e. what his response was. (from the times) Apparently a senior executive (or senior editor – to me there’s quite a difference between an executive or editor) vetted the recording before going out, presumably due to the new guidelines which mean senior staff (above the show’s producer) have to sign off controversial content.
  • After the show went out there were, apparently, two complaints.
  • Roughly a week later the Mail reports on it, and then 18,000 more complaints are made, one wonders how many have actually listened.

Since Tuesday this has been at the top of every major UK news site, including the websites of the ‘broadsheets’. Ultimately it is all about a few minutes of talk left on an answering machine.

Many news outlets are playing on the actor’s age – how dare they leave comments on the answering machine of an old man! Setting the scene as if they picked on him at random, and insult his innocent granddaughter too! They implied Russell had slept with his granddaughter, how dare they! I was already bored of hearing about all of this before I had heard that it was not a random call to a random old person, and something had happened between Brand and the granddaughter.

Some articles

Ineresting quote: “I have not seen or spoken to Georgina yet. She’s very upset at having put her family through this and she feels very guilty,” – hmmm, if two family members are wrapped up in a media storm, and one has continually spoken to various papers to say she is worried for her Granddad, it seems surprising she has not yet spoken to him at all. (also of note, that direct quote from a Times article ends with a comma, bit of hasty commenting there of their part, what did they decide to cut?)

He also says, from the same article: “Jonathan Ross has personally delivered a letter of apology and some flowers. He made no excuses and was very frank and open. He’s in a lot of trouble and I don’t want to pile any more on him.

Gordon Brown was silly to step in, it trivialises his position, especially if he hasn’t heard it. Of course Journalists will ask him during a press briefing, it’s up to him to say ‘I’m not going to comment on something I have not heard’.

This really wasn’t a very unusual thing: a couple of well known presenters, known for their edgy and sex based banter acting like kids and leaving inappropriate messages. I’ve heard worse. The fact the whole media has pushed this to the top of the news agenda is amazing and disappointing, and anyone who acts on complaints from those who didn’t hear a particular broadcast but did read about it a week later, is making a bad judgement or simply weak.

It’s ironic that the Daily Mail, who are the most ardent that our TV Licence fee is being badly spent, should provoke 18,000 complaints, the processing of which (and dealing with the media uproar) will probably be one of the biggest waste of licence fee money I can think of. I’m always slightly confused why people are so aggressive about the licence fee, how its spent, and its supposed logical entitlement for us all to be the BBC’s owners, yet at the same time the same people are happy to pay far more to Sky and yet have no feeling of ownership or entitlement. Why do people not feel it is their right to demand the sacking of those at Sky when they do something we don’t like, yet we do of the BBC?

It seems that the press have almost chosen which facts to report and which to ignore, and yet they seem crucial in deciding if this is a storm in a teacup or a genuine issue. When were those complaints made? did Andrew Sachs give permission for it to go out? Had he complained about it, and had anything been done (or in process of) as a result?

My main fear is such storms in a teacup kill creativity. If every producer and comminisher lives in fear of this sort of thing, then any risky show will be axed or curtailed to keep within tight restrictions, then new and originally programs will suffer. It’s not about letting childish DJs be rude to an old man. It is about letting them be themselves without having to follow a pre-approved script, sometimes those who create original shows put a step in the wrong direction. That’s the nature of doing something different.

Will the controller of Radio2 take on someone like Brand of Ross again, or give them such freedom? Probably not (in the near future at least), instead ‘safe’ DJs. A sad thing.

UPDATE: Mark Lawson has a good comment piece which manages to cover much of what I was trying to say in a much more elegant manner.

Today’s new thing: LRB

Apparently the London Review of Books isn’t a London based magazine which reviews books. I say this not as a joke, oh you cultral ones. I really do think it is justified of me to presume a publication called London Review of Books is actually a review of sodding books. Apparently it is not. Apparently is has some interesting articles.

BBC Newswatch

BBC Newswatch was set up after the Hutton whitewash inquiry as a place to monitor and feedback on BBC News. It seems that recently it has had a bit of a slimming down, with many parts of the site being reduced to ‘nothing to see here‘ messages. However, by following just one link from the main homepage: ‘styleguide’ and you will notice the left hand menu still has a link to the archived ‘notes’ pages. Most BBC ‘downsized’ sites are simply frozen, I wonder why they didn’t do the same here. One rational explanation might be that it was generating a large amount of email from those who objected to the BBCs stance on various matters and terminology.


FIP is basically the world’s best radio station. Fact. It plays a random mix of decent new music, jazz, classical, more cool music, with no adverts, or DJs, or anything except a news bulletin at the totally logical time of 50 minutes past the hour.

Oh and the news bulletin is in French (language of inferior foreign types). But that maybe due to it being a French station. But we could pick it up in Brighton. We don’t want to get too technical about it but it had something to do with the sea being very flat between France and Brighton. or something.

It grew a large cult (is that possible?) status and I listened to it quite a bit for the 5 years I’ve been here.

Then one day i pressed the little button on my hifi to listen to its crazy little mix, and all I got was the sound of static. French technology huh, well what would you expect but unreliable broadcasting, they were probably on strike. probably blocking the ports as well.

But the static continued. I had no choice, I turned to my friend to find out what was going on.

I found other lost souls like here and here.

But most of all I found out FIP in Brighton wasn’t totally down to the sea being flat between here and there, and more to do with a nice chap broadcasting it from his flat for the last few years. Someone not nice (you know, Hitler, Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Diana, etc) told teacher, teacher shutdown the transmitter that made FIP come all the way across the big flat sea.

Now what are we meant to do, I’m just going to resort to CDs or listen to it online, or listen to radio 4. ahhh yes, nice radio 4. Can’t beat it. Oooh time for a nice cup of tea. (oh and some of those links back there describe it all far better than me and use the same oh-so-clever title)