Steve Wright, physical buttons in cars, and threads that bind

Above: Brisbane, in early morning. You can see my house from here!

I feel bad about not always sending this newsletter regularly enough. My “day job” these days is a daily newsletter about podcasting, and I’m increasingly having to be careful about burnout. I hope you’re good with this newsletter coming out at random intervals, and forgive me for periods of silence.

Also, thank you to Emma Gibbs, who is a new regular personal supporter. If I’ve guessed correctly, she’s Executive Producer for ABC Kids Audio, which is doing clever things with smart speakers.


What to say about Steve Wright MBE, who has died, that nobody else has? As Chris Moyles said in an emotional and genuine bit on Radio X, he was a “quirky man”. We’ve all heard of him admirably flying to New York for the weekend to listen to the radio; but I’m also sure you’ve heard some of the numerous stories of how he often treated staff and colleagues in a less than kind way; and therefore I don’t know how I feel, quite, about the plaudits being laid on him.

That being as it may, my favourite story that encapsulates him was when Radio 2 was changing from cart machines to playout. Steve had resisted a digital studio for a long time, but when it finally came, someone came to ask him where the masters were for his jingles, so they could be transferred onto the playout system. “The carts are over there,” he said. “Yes, I know, Steve, but we want to use the masters so they’re the best quality.” “Use the carts. Otherwise they won’t sound like the carts.” He had a point.

One thing about Steve Wright that quite a few people didn’t appreciate was that little of his show was actually live. All the “bits” were recorded ahead of time, and edited down, polished, to make it as good as possible on-air. Steve understood about the power of live radio and what it could do; but also understood that there are good things about pre-producing and polishing. It’s something I’ve talked about a lot over the last few years: that our job is to make great audio that works everywhere - not just to make great live radio that some hapless intern has to edit together to make a “best-of” podcast. When more people are now consuming on-demand audio than live, the primacy of live must be questioned. Steve did that naturally. Loved the show, Steve.


The BBC has a new Chair, Dr Samir Shah. In his email to all employees, he writes:

“We must also simply be a home. In a world where there are forces fracturing society, we should be a sanctuary for empathy and understanding. We are a thread that binds the fabric of society, a place where people from all walks of life, with every kind of view, can find something to enjoy.”

I found this quite powerful. Unlike public broadcasters in other parts of the world, the BBC has got to a place where it serves almost everyone (and reaches 9 in 10 UK adults every week, including almost 8 in 10 16-34s). You can’t say that about NPR, or the CBC. The ABC in Australia has, it seems, a yawning gap between 25 and 55, where there’s little for you as a listener or a viewer. But the BBC really has something for the young, the 30-something, the elderly, the nations, the regions. However hamfisted it is at doing it, and however bad its atrocious HR procedures are, it is still a thing that any government wishing to retain a national identity, a feeling of being part of a country, should be treating very carefully indeed.


An interesting story from Europe: vehicle manufacturers should bring back physical buttons. Regulators are concerned about drivers losing concentration on the road while they navigate through touchscreen displays.

While the radio isn’t part of the concern, perhaps it should be. In a hire car in the UK over Christmas, the radio controls were so complicated, I’d have to pull over to work out how to change channel. It’s notable that my elderly Prius has two sets of physical controls for the radio, allowing you to switch stations, the volume, or the source, from buttons on the steering wheel and on the car dash as well.

Particularly, a disappearing radio - hidden behind swathes of menu - isn’t really going to help people find the thing.


I’m looking forward to the first part of my conference season, starting next week. Lots of dates and things below - it would be good to see you. My email is james@crid.land (or, yes, you can just hit reply).

I also have a real, proper blog at https://james.cridland.net/blog should you be interested in the slightly random things I post there.

Want to supercharge your radio show? Here’s a £1 week-long trial of Show Prep - from a world class radio consultant and the best show-prep writer in the UK. Great for UK stations, or for English-language stations everywhere, too. (ad)

Coming up…

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