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CMU Beef Of The Week #342: Bauer v Style

By | Published on Friday 10 February 2017

Bauer Media

Why do people still listen to the radio? Often, we’re told, it’s because they like the curation of music and the personalities of the radio presenters. And while streaming services might have curation pretty well nailed, none of them have really got on top of making you feel like the music’s being played to you by a friend.

Earlier this week, a new style guide was circulated by Bauer’s radio division aimed at ensuring listeners get the most possible enjoyment out of the shows on the company’s various local radio stations. Thought the real aim, it appeared, from the list, was to ensure that all presenters sound roughly the same and don’t do too much of that talking stuff.

“Always say ALL THE BIGGEST HITS – ALL DAY LONG at the top of the link”, it ordered. Apparently no one thought to say this out loud first, otherwise they would have realised that Bauer was about to offer 24 hour access to every single one of the largest breasts. “These links should be ten to fifteen seconds max and only focus on the song coming up – nothing else”.

So, not a lot of room for personality, but at least people will know what they’re going to be listening to in ten to fifteen seconds time.

Actually, it’s not fair to say there’s no room for personality. There are clear stipulations for this in the document. “Talk about your [track] log as though you’ve picked it yourself”, it says. “Play every song as though you’ve chosen it especially for the listener. LOVE the music. Every song we play is a winner – be proud of each one and share your passion. The audience will love you for it and listen longer”.

So, you see, there’s plenty of room for personality and passion, so long as it doesn’t deviate from the narrow guidelines laid out by management, and providing the DJ happens to be in love with every single song on the playlist. That said, the rules list also adds that each link going into an ad break must be “signed off by your Content Controller or Content Director prior to your show”.

It’s like something out of a movie, isn’t it? Don’t say no, I can think of three films off the top of my head where basically this exact story is a major plot point.

In ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’, it’s a corporate takeover of North Norfolk Digital and the ensuing programming changes implemented which lead to a siege at the station. In ‘Airheads’, the big twist comes when the DJ being held hostage by The Lone Rangers discovers that the station is being sold and revamped from rock to easy listening. And in ‘Private Parts’, Howard Stern is schooled by a tedious exec on the proper way to pronounce station name “WNBC”, part of a failed attempt to get him to toe the line, which ultimately ended with him being sacked in 1985.

See, that last one was in a movie and real life, which I think only establishes my point further. Although I think my point may now be that this Bauer palaver has a 66% chance of resulting in a hostage situation. Probably not. What’s actually occurred is that the style guide has been roundly mocked by other people in the radio industry – two of whom ended up publishing their own parodies of the document.

First off, Jack FM Oxfordshire posted its own guide, which instructs presenters to “say the word ‘Jack’ as often as possible” in their links. “Preferably every word. People will forget what they’re listening to within 2-3 seconds”.

“List every song in the log for the rest of the day”, it adds. “It may take a while, but listeners really appreciate knowing exactly what’s coming up”.

As well as publishing his own version of the guide, Iain Lee dedicated the first fifteen minutes of his TalkRadio show on Tuesday to lambasting it. “I just made myself unemployable by an entire radio network”, he said, according to Radio Today.

“Soulless. Absolutely soulless. Sucking the joy out of radio”, he added about the Bauer style guide rules. “When I listen to radio, I want to hear people talking with passion. You can’t be passionate when you’re sucking the soul out of radio. It’s awful”.

Danny Baker, also one not prone to mince his words, called the style guide “horse shit”, saying on Twitter that it had been “prepared by bloodless worms who never felt a song or real radio moment in their fucking lives”.

He also called the Bauer execs “anti-radio vampires” and “vapid cockroaches” for good measure.

Did Bauer accept this criticism though? No, Bauer did not.

“Whilst some quarters of the radio industry indulged itself in hyperbole yesterday, we were focused on making world-class content as a leading digital audio innovator”, said the company in a statement, ingratiating itself to no one. It added that it had “won more creative awards than any other commercial group last year”.

Talking down its critics, it went on: “We believe the industry has more productive things to focus on than this negative rhetoric, as commercial radio listening is at an all-time high”.

This was before yesterday’s RAJARs, which showed a wobbly last quarter for commercial radio, though to be fair some Bauer stations did do better than their rivals. But the radio industry’s real challenge is appealing to the younger demographic who are much more likely to tune into YouTube than the FM dial where, I’m pretty sure, no one is told to cut their personalities down to a fifteen second cliché.

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