Planet Rock or Team Rock Radio- Enough Old Rockers For Both?

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Listening to rock music on the radio is about to get interesting in the UK. Particularly for those born and raised on the genre who respect the new music but still hark back to sweaty nights in the Odeon or Playhouse doused in patchouli oil, denim, leather and wearing their bodyweight in patches bought mail order from ads in Sounds newspaper.

Why the fuss? Well rock music has always been there, but not there. Scheduled at the fringes of the schedule I have fond teenage memories of the Friday night Tommy Vance show on Radio 1, my weekly essential listening. Those who listened were in a private club. Wearing a small but discreet metal badge worshipping our favourite groups we talked about the music at school, swapped UFO albums and moaned about gig tickets costing £4.50. It was easy.
It led to a life long love of rock. My first gig was Rainbow on the Down to Earth Tour at Ingliston in Edinburgh in 1980 fronted by the train crash in waiting Graham Bonnet with a very bored Ritchie Blackmore by his side (but far enough away not to have to talk). Oh yes, and Cozy was on drums. Four of us travelled there in a small Mini. All spotty and stinking of cheap after shave. It changed all our lives.

Fast forward and where are we now? Changing demographics mean rock fans from the late Seventies and early Eighties are now in their late forties (I’m 49 next month) and big business to advertisers. This is our moment. We also want to hear music we like.

Sure, I subscribe to Spotify so can create my own playlist every day of the week but after a while you know which track is coming next. There are no surprises. But do I want surprises?

Planet Rock, now owned by Bauer, has had the DAB dial to itself for so long its hard to remember life before it. Lavished with awards its cornered the market in classic rock. It does what it says on the tin. Rarely do you hear a song you don’t know. It’s comforting. Safe.
Now the gobby young upstart Team Rock Radio is about to go live this weekend. It will be different. There will be no ads for a start. Is that good? More on that in a moment.

Judging by the test transmissions (I have DAB in car and house) they are clearly going for a younger demographic as around one in six tracks is of a more metal/thrash genre. Noisy, loud, relentless. Hard to listen to. Veteran Nicky Horne, bought up from yes, Planet Rock, promises lots of new music as well.

Rock music is a broad church. While Planet Rock will stick with classic rock the new lot clearly want to offer more than that to bring in younger listeners. So can a diet of new and old rock, no ads and a fresh attitude work?

I’m not sure. Like any radio station you need listeners. There’s no point doing it for the love of it. You won’t last a year.

The reason why Planet Rock has lasted so long in our house is that despite my wife’s occasional moaning about ‘that shouty music’ it’ll only be a few minutes before less urgent songs from The Eagles, Queen, Free or Rainbow calm her down. It’s a classic mix of leather and lace which doubles the listenership in this house. Now multiply that across the nation. It adds up. Appeal to women and you’ve got a winner.

I’m not convinced Team Rock Radio will do that if they persist with the ‘one in six thrash’ policy. They may not have ads but every six songs a huge number of curious rock enthusiasts, and mostly females, will have an excuse to switch over or away and return to what they know best.

I’m sure they have done their research. They have wise radio heads overseeing the station and funding it. But rock is not pop. The audience is deeply knowledgeable and are notoriously picky about new music. Planet Rock may be predictable but that in a way is its strength. Team Rock Radio, by introducing thrash to the daytime mainstream may be spreading themselves too thin. And those tracks will be Team Rock’s ad breaks….so unlistenable that many will use them as chances to switch over to Planet Rock and others. And they may not return.

The School Front Office- A Human Firewall To Creativity

I’ve been working with primary schools across the UK for around four years as a private sector company- bringing my travelling tv studio roadshow into schools so kids can get the chance to be a TV reporter, film and present their own school bulletin in front of a virtual studio set. It’s unique, great fun, ties in with the digital curriculum, gives children and harassed teachers a day off the hamster wheel and there are tangible learning outcomes. I get paid, everyone’s happy. So far so good.

However in recent months I’ve discovered an unsettling trend which needs to be explored. It’s quite simple. Ask any company trying to engage with a school to get work and they will come up against a formidable adversary. No it’s not the Head (how naive) but  a far more powerful figure- it is the ‘general office’. They come under many titles- receptionist, part-time helper, ‘the switchboard’, Betty (who’s older than the lagging around the school boiler and has seen of five head teachers) but this collective plays an important gatekeeping role which I am increasingly convinced stifles decision-making and creativity at higher levels.

Four years ago I could telephone a school, ask for a teacher and at the next break they would often get back to me. I always appreciated this. Go into any staff room and you will meet a largely female group of teaching staff, assistants and others all gossiping about parents and the children while scoffing seemingly unlimited cakes and boxes of sweets and sipping awful coffee out of a cracked pink mug with their name on. They can download and upload unbelievable  amounts of data with each other  in a short space of time before- with a heavy sigh and dreaming of half term- heading back into the classroom.

Now its different. Very different. Try and get past the front office. Go on. Try. The chances of speaking to a teach are virtually nil. The standard response is ‘can you send an email’ before you have even had a chance to exchange pleasantries. How about the ICT coordinator’s email address? No chance. “Send it to the school address and I’ll pass it on” says Betty.

Except in my experience, and having spoken to countless ICT coordinators and deputy head teachers, they simply don’t. I meet teachers all the time at events and functions and when I explain what I do they tell me they’d love to have it at their school. I tell them I’ve sent three emails because that’s all I can do. They have never been forwarded.  Interestingly the reaction is the same. The front office. “Oh she’s a tough old bird- you’ve got no chance”.

Now multiply that across the country. These human firewalls are, for whatever reason, not allowing the genuine decision makers- with the children’s interest at heart- to even consider what companies like mine can offer schools in the digital age.   The kids are missing out and it is so frustrating.  I believe many are largely ignorant of the internet age and all its possibilities.  Some general office staff I have spoken to do not even know the school’s email address and are even on occasions reluctant to hand over such ‘sensitive’ data as that address once they have found it. Its ludicrous. What scares me is that frequently these digitally weak staff, while being well-meaning, are not forwarding ICT related emails because they don’t understand what it is and if they don’t then how can the kids possibly be able to do it? ‘Delete’ button pressed and the chances of a great day for the kids learning how to make TV is consigned to the trash folder. They are making key education decisions and they have no right to.

This is not true of all schools of course. Some are genuinely interested and you know you are on to a winner when they utter the magic line ‘”oh the kids would love that, here’s the ICT coordinators email address”. And once contact has been made on the other side of this human firewall then future contact can be established by by-passing the front office.

My message is a simple one. When an organisation- large or small- calls offering their services then channel that inquiry to someone who can make a sensible, considered decision based on the educational impact of whatever that company is offering. We are not all hawkers flogging tat. We are professionals trying to make a difference. So give us a chance.

1000 Facebook Friends….And Still Lonely

This week I decided to reboot and revert to my default setting. I reclaimed my life.

Why? Well it’s easy to blame the explosion of social media in all its myriad forms. So I will.

I knew the part of my life controlled by electricity and wi-fi had taken a depressing turn for the worse when I found myself on facebook  leafing through the fourth birthday photos of a child posted by one of my ‘friends’. Nothing unusual in that. Lots of happy smiling faces, a big birthday cake;  harassed parents clockwatching; toddlers being flung off a trampoline;  flaccid bouncy castle; alcoholic party entertainer …you know the drill. It was when I clicked on image 187 that I heard a voice.

It was shouting “sad loser”.

And it was right. I had never met any of the children, or the parents, or the entertainer for that matter. In fact I had no recollection of ever accepting the mother of the child  as a friend in the first place.    

How strange. But it’s not is it?  Most if not all of you reading this will be on facebook and like me you’ll have ‘friends’ who are actually anything but.

Do you know how much time we spend looking through other people’s crappy lives? Add up the five minutes here, the 10 minutes there and it will stagger you. And I mean really stagger you. Think about it. Is that what social media is about? Really?

The reaction to this road to Damascus revelation was swift and brutal. With a precision any surgeon would be proud of I took an electronic scalpel to my friends list and reduced it from 200+ to a hard-core of 35. Let’s face it, most ‘friends ‘ are people you never actually want to meet, never have met and would happily cross a street to avoid. And as for inviting them round to the house, not on your nelly.

I found this an amazingly liberating experience. You should try it. My morning Facebook session is now contained within a couple of minutes rather than the 45 minutes it used to absorb.

And yet, I know some people are upset. They know they have been discarded. They wonder if it’s something they have done. Believe me, it’s not personal. It’s social media. It’s all make believe. It’s a second life. It’s all in the ether. It’s largely inconsequential. It means everything and yet nothing at the same time.

I have a very good friend who I used to work with who spends an extraordinary amount of time on facebook. (Incidentally he is among my inner circle of 35). He has over 1200 friends who he considers to be exactly that. He lives in a remote community and has a happy and active life. And yet last week he posted how deadlines were piling up and how there were never enough hours in the day. It struck me that if he spent less time on social media then he might hit those deadlines.

But it is of course horses for courses. Facebook friends allow you to eavesdrop on their lives and enter their worlds.  But ask yourself …do you have all these friends because you are incredibly popular (and let’s face it not particularly fussy) or are their fascinating lives replacing the voids in your own? Ultimately the whole business is entirely voluntary. 

For the moment I, for the first time in an age, have better things to do. Like running a business, maintaining the vegetable patch, trying to read more books, moaning, playing cricket and being a good and available husband and father. In other words being me.

Your real friends are probably not on facebook. You (gasp) actually speak to them most days rather than hide behind an electronic curtain. Think about it.

Don’t look on me as a pedant. I went to University last year and gained an MA in multimedia journalism with the vast majority of my studies specialising in social media. I can’t do without it. I am obsessed with Twitter…in a good way. It has replaced Ceefax as the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I check before nodding off. However those who I follow are motley and transient, and as I get bored easily,  I have clean outs regularly. No-one dies.

I guess we are searching for a balance. For me the balance went way too far the wrong way and now I have righted it. I now have control of my life again. And if I have to jettison a few ‘friends’ along the way so be it.

Well, must go. It’s my youngest son’s  birthday this summer and I need to find a children’s entertainer. Hang on, I saw a great one on Facebook last week….now where was it…ah….bugger….

Pimp My Sperm (Using Collage As A Method)

There are many things I have done on a kitchen table fortified by cheap white wine but as this is a family blog I am reluctant (for once) to go into detail. One of the less thrilling practices is helping the offspring do their homework, particularly tasks which involve potentially ‘start the car we’re off to casualty’ instruments of doom such as superglue, scissors, toxic marker pens or anything small or tempting enough to lodge in an orifice. As long as it’s not anything to do with arithmetic, history, cloud formations or wildlife in the Tundra it’s a painless interlude between the second and third glass and has the added benefit of clashing with  The One Show. 

As I recall homework was never particularly thrilling. Along with eating sprouts; lighting farts; blasting hair spray onto an open fire (Wowza-I never did like my eyebrows anyway) and juggling with eggs,  homework was a rite of passage for any child with some modicum of ability and parents who vaguely cared.     

Last night my 11 year old came home and announced that, without as much as a titter, that he had to make a sperm cell collage and did we have any suggestions? I am convinced that for a moment my dear wife looked at me, then at an empty coffee mug and whispered ‘over to you Andrew’ but thankfully she kept her counsel. We both laughed. Well you do don’t you? But the child was serious and would not deviate from the task in hand…even though the latest Celtic- Rangers brawl was unfolding on SKY and I could hear the crunching tackles and racist barbs from the next room.

So we all headed for the ‘drawer’- the one with everything you need yet don’t need- for inspiration. Bingo. Some old ear buds and string. And those funny little comedy eyeballs with moving parts. What fun!

I had to go onto Google to remind myself what an actual sperm looked like. (A little tip- have a very broad mind when you delve deep into Google Images). I actually couldn’t remember if they had eyes……(did you? No, thought not.)

Armed with a couple of images we knocked up the collage in half an hour or so, and we were all quietly satisfied with the end result. Yes we did include eyes…..and here it is in all its glory.

Homework safely stored inside the backpack we retired to muse about this intriguing sexual twist to ‘prep’. Later, with the kids safely dispatched to bed, we decided that at no stage in our education – whether aged 6 or 16 and at all points in-between, would there have been the remotest chance of  such homework being given to us in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties. As I recall even discussing the sex life of plants brought our science teacher out in a sweat and he had to lean on the blackboard and open windows to recover.  For naive students, even a grainy overhead projector image of a dangling stamen entering the ovary of a flower resulted in hysterics.

So why sperm at 11? Too young? We knew it was on its way… so to speak. Last month the school sent parents a letter warning  them that sex education was on the agenda. Did this happen when I was a lad? No idea to be honest. But it feels OK that both our kids are aware of all the ins and outs of the subject….and it’s led to some remarkably frank discussions about well, y’know…..(blushes). Must go and open a window, it’s getting warm in here….

New Horizons

And so with a mix of anticipation, wind and excitement, I plunge headfirst into 2011.  How on earth can last year be topped?  Scoring a century; graduating with an MA; being diagnosed diabetic; losing all my main crop to blight; being responsible for the Glover household getting in most national newspapers…..it had the lot.  

So here are my resolutions* which I have pinned up on the noticeboard and intend to honour until the end of January at least.

I promise to keep buying newspapers.

I will not pay a subscription for a newspaper’s web content

I will continue to resist Apple’s quest for world domination

I will not buy one of Gregg’s delicious sausage rolls every time I walk past one of their shops

I will be civil to call centre staff in Delhi

I will try to keep drinking green tea even though it is revolting

I will be a good husband and father

Oh yes, and I will do my best to keep the family out of the tabloids.

Think that’s covered all bases.

 *subject to revision, often at short notice.

Run for the hills- Tesco have opened

And so, almost with stealth like cunning - if that’s possible when building a huge structure- and immaculate half term timing, Tesco have finally infiltrated the ring of steel around Bishop Auckland. The new store opened today, beating Sainsbury’s by a couple of days. Well you just knew they’d be first didn’t you.

To be honest I’d completely forgotten, or simply hadn’t noticed that two of the biggest names in Hallowe’en products (oh yes and food) have been racing each other to open first on sites so close you could stand on the roof of one and with a beautifully aimed throw, knock out the security guard standing outside the other with a frozen bap.  

Now take a step back  for a moment. What sort of madness is this? What has this run down town- dominated by pound shops and Greggs- done to deserve all this attention. Bishop Auckland already has two huge supermarkets- Asda and Morrisons. I do the shopping in this household and you can normally spin round both stores with the minimum of fuss, apart from all the mobility scooters cluttering up the chocolate and crisp aisles, and be home well in time for Countdown.

The answer is no-one seems to know. Mind you no-one’s really complaining. There’s jobs galore- if you like stacking tins of soup at four in the morning and being unpleasant to riff-raff.

So what impact has the arrival of the USS Tesco had on Asda- my personal store of choice? Frequent shoppers knew something was up two weeks ago when staff started smiling (a joke in case they are monitoring) and the entire Extra Special range (a cornucopia of fancy products regular Bishop Auckland shoppers could only previously dream of) was reduced by an eye-watering 25%. Now I’m not saying the tracksuited hordes started buying smoked salmon and a fine Sancerre, but change was in the air.

And the game was most definitely on this morning when I passed the time of day with operative Eileen at checkout 14. She raised the T word first. “I’m surprised we’re so busy this morning, Tescos opened today. Heard they opened their doors at midnight.” I confessed that as Tesco was generally an expensive alternative, the regular clientele wouldn’t budge. Price mattered in Bishop.

“Ah, but I bet loads have just gone for a look round.”

This struck me as unusual. I know what a supermarket looks like- aisles, food, lowpaid staff, checkouts, you get the drift. I thought perhaps it was time to re-evaluate my priotities in life if I decided on a whim to take the family to Tesco for a look round. Well I guess the kids are on holiday. And you can only go to the Vegas of the North- Darlington- so many times a month.

And then, to ensure my continuing devotion to Asda, she gave me £40. Well, that’s not strictly true, a book of vouchers valued at £40 (£4 off vodka! £1 off mince! – they know their customers priorities believe me). This is valid from the beginning of November which I suspect is after Sainsbury’s have opened and the pre-Christmas test of loyalty gets fully underway. I expect it to be messy. And so if it means they throw all sorts of inducements our way, bring it on.

And then I headed home. By Tesco. Well, it was rude not to.

Getting Wii-ly Fit

Last week I awoke, at 0510, to some rhythmic but ominous thumping noises coming from downstairs. I was instantly transported back to the Eighties and my old student digs in Edinburgh’s New Town where similar sounds could often be heard (for only a couple of minutes mind you ha ha) leaking through the floorboards from my handsome flatmate’s love parlour as yet another nurse succumbed to his droll Fife patter (translation: the usual shite). “Lucky bugger” I’d mutter, and roll over as the sun came up.

Back to reality, and the present. Where was my wife at this critical moment? I wanted her to go downstairs and chase the intruders (I’ve insured my face so obviously couldn’t go…..)  But she was nowhere to be seen.  So, protected by my fluffy M&S dressing gown and armed with a fully loaded Blackberry and the mini Dyson (which does look like a Flash Gordon ray gun) I set off to make a citizen’s arrest.

As I got nearer the living room the banging got louder and I could hear grunts. Perhaps my wife was snogging him to death. There are worse ways to go.

But of course there was no intruder. She was alone and she was playing with a vibrating piece of technology (pervs, you can log off now, it’s not what you think) which had been dusted down and plugged in after six months hibernation behind the DVD rack.

The Nintendo Wii Fit, so simple and yet so brilliant. With the dark chilly foggy mornings on the rise, and winter not only just around the corner but coming down the drive,  the summertime 0500 walk with a friend and the dogs has been replaced by a 45 minute workout on the Wii. Like so many aspects of fitness you get out what you put in, and boy oh boy she was going for it this morning. The iPod was on, she was ‘glowing’ (women don’t sweat apparently) as the on screen avatar tackled a challenging road circuit in bright sunshine with lots of cheery other runners joining in the fun.  The clock counted down and finally it was over. The machine worked out the timings, assessed her run against previous efforts and declared she was a ‘roaring fire’ or something equally daft lost in translation. She was delighted. (However I remember in the early days she returned to the bed chamber with a heavy heart having been called a ‘wilting disappointment’ or similar.  “Bloody machine’s broken” she pronounced. And that was it…..back in the box for three months.)

And so  my message to the circuit boards in the Wii Fit is a straightforward one. If you want to stay active, remain ‘front of house’ and not behind the DVD rack, then behave yourself and call my wife nice names. And if I ever do decide to stand on you, do not emit smoke and  remark ‘no coach parties porky’. Or else you’re up in the loft with the burger maker, bread machine,  fondue and other duff technology acquired on a whim. You have been warned.