School Radio…what on earth for?

Online radio audiences have doubled in four years in the States…that’s 40 million people weekly. And of course, that doesn’t take into account the traditional FM/AM audience.

Not so easy to get accurate online figures for the UK, but there’s no doubt at all that radio is enjoying a buoyant time; 90 per cent of people in the UK aged 15 and over listen to the radio. And despite the yawn-inducing claims over recent years that radio is ‘so yesterday’ the audience is in fact climbing once more.

Almost a third of the UK population have listened online and the best part of eight million download podcasts – that’s according to the organisation that measures UK radio listening habits.

17% of Americans ages 12 or over listened to online radio in the past week, or about 42 million people, according to the latest in a series of studies conducted by Arbitron and Edison Research.

On a weekly basis, online radio in the US reaches 20% of 25-to-54 year-olds; up from 15% in 2008. Monthly online listeners are up to 69 million, or roughly 27% of the U.S. population. However, nearly half of the population, or 125 million, have never listened to online radio.

Lots of figures and lots of percentages but through the mists a clear path emerges.

The appetite for radio has not diminished; that’s a simple fact. The platform used to consume it may well have. So even looking at the US figures it is clear that online radio is growing sharply with a huge untapped market still out there. While the UK is further behind, it is still growing all the time.

So what are schools waiting for? That’s the point. Here is a perfect opportunity for schools to hit a huge range of buttons and all at the same time, so why aren’t they? Every Child Matters, personalization, global village, extended communities, student voice, increased IT skills, creative writing, citizenship, on and on goes the list.

Is it because there are still teachers that don’t get it – as in the integration of new technologies into schools – and so don’t want to, or is it simply because there aren’t enough hours in a day to do the flashy stuff? Well, I suspect the answer is a bit – or a great deal – of both.

School radio via the internet done well can be massive in terms of impact. School radio on FM via RSLs is again a hugely successful way of connecting with a local community. I’ve been involved in both on many occasions and the physical impact on students, never mind the quality or impact of what they produce, can be an extraordinary thing to witness.

The student that normally would rather do anything than sit in a classroom that now hangs around school and won’t go home. The disengaged student that is branded a nuisance in polite conversation that produces hour after hour of radio that attracts emails and texts into the hundreds.

It’s all feasible and it’s realistic. The trick over the years that I have learned is that Content is Key. Babbling away will always be just that. But quality content aimed at the target audience is the critical element. And No, that does not mean radio that the teacher likes, it means radio that the audience likes, appreciates, recognises as it’s own and is prepared to interact with.

I can’t stress enough how important content, and therefore the production element is, to making great school radio. So many times have I had (or heard about) schools buying radio kit and not having a clue what to do next. Most people wouldn’t buy a car and then realise they needed driving lessons. It’s not an after thought, it’s part of the process.

This is my plea – or pleas – for today. First; consider school radio. There is an audience way beyond your classroom and the impact you will have is lasting and extraordinary. Second; don’t go on air in any form until the content is sorted. What are you going to say when the mic is on? Who is going to say what and who is the target audience?

More another day. As a former radio professional I must say I am hugely satisfied to see my previous industry deconstructed in such a way that the No Entry signs have now been taken down and anyone – within reason, can take part.

If you want to know more – just ask.

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Creating audio resources, Sounds Like a Good Idea! Just published.

My new book just published

Maybe this is the reason why I seem to have had so little time to write my posts of late – apart from the day job, the main thrust of focus has been on the above. Sixty two thousand words later and we have Sounds Like a Good Idea. Much of what I want to say here is expanded upon within this funky cover.

The book looks in detail at how audio can transform lessons of just about any kind – from maths, to geography, to history, to sports studies and of course media and English projects. It also explains how to use these new (and pretty simple skills in the first cases)  in both secondary and primary schools (elementary).  But basicaly it is a How To book and it’s there for the teacher aor trainer with no skills what so ever.

After 20 years bashing out radio for the BBC (before I began teaching and training) I pretty much got the hang of audio recording and mixing, so I felt able a year or so ago to approach a publisher with a view to writing down what I knew in a simple form – advising people not just how to achieve results, but on what sort of equipment to buy and crucially what NOT to buy.

These posts so far have all been about radio projects, but radio is only one part of the story. I much prefer to use the word ‘audio’ rather than ‘radio’ because audio can be used to help with revision in maths for students struggling with number patterns. Equally it can be used to really help students that struggle with everyday communication skills.  At the other end of the scale – just watch those gifted and talented students fly when they realise what is possible and just what they can do.

Video is a great way of getting a message across but even with today’s kit, it can still be time-consuming when spread overweeks of lessons.  And that’s if the PC has fallen over again under the weight of that gigantic file. The beauty of audio is that is directly relates to the skills students use – the mp3 generation swapping sound files.   They can start and finish a project within an hour.  Write a script for a radio commercial for a young audience, record it, mix it with some suitable music and FX. Done. In an hour.  And they are usually surprised at how much it sounds like a real radio product.  Try doing that with video and you’ll find that you can’t; neither will it look like a real video product.  This may be the YouTube crowd used to passing on the incredibly amusing roller skating goat video they’ve found, but when it comes to making that video product themselves – perahps a music video – they have high standards, and that video project can have disappointment built in.

I’ve tried video many times with students and certainly will do again, but starting with audio is a fantastic way of building confidence with a few quick hits and developing some transferable slills along the way that can be related back to video projects later, if that’s what you want.

In my head, I’m planning to write up a couple of ideas from the book within these pages to give a taste of it over the next couple of weeks – that’s the plan at least.

Back to radio for a moment and I’ve just been involved in another radio project with a small group of students – all girls this time and volunteers I might add, in their mid-teens.  More on that later and a bit about how one school is using audio I’ve recorded for them to help the transition from primary (elementary) schools to secondary schools here in the UK.  There are some podcasts to go with those stories and I’ll write that soon.

The transition project is particularly interesting even though it’s at the earliest stage.  One piece is a short item (around 3 minutes) written by a 15 year girl, directed towards 10/11 year girls making that jump between schools.  It looks at body changes, relationships (boy troubles!) and changes within the family.  I’m more than happy to say that even after all my years of experience, there is no way I could have written anything so good or so convincing.  And I’ve told her that.  Mainly because I’m not a 15 year girl as you may have gathered, so writing with that degreee of accuracy and crispness is a matter of personal experience.

When it’s available as a blog to listen to, I’ll let you know.  It is fantastic!  I just need to take out the commercial music she originally used because it started life as a school project. Changing the music will alter the feel slightly, but it’s worth it to get the piece out there in the public domain.

Please contact me if you want to know more about the book (or anything else) either through this page or PM me directly on

There are numerous links to the book offerring introductory discounts, from a number of sites, but you could try…



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They’re doing that live? You’re kidding!

The look of fear in their faces has to be seen.

So there we were, all twenty of us – nineteen were under ten years old, and then there was me; age not disclosed.

These primary school (elementary) children were up and ready for some serious radio broadcasting.  Creative writing  obviously, but packaged as scripts, cues, running orders, jokes, poems, questioning, entertainment news and facts about their local areas.

And by the look on their faces they had everything under control.  They knew there were going to be ‘live’ with their own one-hour programme on a short term school radio station.  They knew what they wanted to put in their programme, so all that needed sorting were the timings.

It was then that the first smell of fear drifted into the room. 

The headteacher pointed out that we had some young musicians with us who were ready to record their playing for the programme.

You have brought your recording thingy with you, haven’t you?

Well, as I had no reason to, the answer was going to be no. ” They can do it live…”   The children smiled and simply got on with the rest of the planning while the headteacher’s faced dropped  and changed several shades over the following seconds.  While she had by now (just about) accepted the concept of her team broadcasting by at least speaking live, the thought of anything even more variable and complex adding to the mix was nearly too much.

To cut a long story short – it worked. 

But then it was always going to.  Not only did it work for that group but the two other primary school teams of under 10s also pulled it off, with considerable skill it must be said.  And that previous teacher wasn’t the only one with a doubt or two in their heads prior to the start.

The point to all this is simple enough.

So many children now, even very young ones, are totally at ease in these situations.  So for those teachers faced with a similar situation, the advice must be, don’t panic too much.  I’m saying ‘too much’ because we should always keep a lead on this to some extent, but equally we should also accept that what we may find utterly scary, can be just another day in the office to the children.

Live radio with a real audience was for these children, and for many others, the perfect way to express what they can really do. Creative writing at a genuinely accessible level.