Amazing Radio Returns To DAB – Interview With Founder Paul Campbell

A year ago, the day after amazing Radio stopped broadcasting on the DAB network, we wrote an article entitled “Keep Radio Amazing, on DAB”.  We detailed why the service amazing Radio provide in the promotion and championing of new music is incredibly important.  We won’t reiterate our feelings but if you feel so inclined you can read the article in full,  HERE.  That was then and this is now, and so on the day amazing Radio returns to DAB we can bring you an exclusive interview with amazing Radio founder Paul Campbell, in which he discusses the stations return to DAB, their plans to expand into the USA, and the stations mission to provide ethical and innovative support for musicians whilst continuing to promote the very best in new music.

Paul Campbell :

“A year ago today, when it became obvious that we were not going to be able to continue to broadcast on DAB, our Exec team all came and sat round the table in my office. It was a horrible moment. I’ve worked in radio since I was a student, and launching amazing Radio on DAB was one of the happiest events of my professional life – especially when it was immediately followed by lots of complete strangers emailing in to say how much they loved it. So on that awful day a year ago we all sat there, feeling deflated, and I said “oh well, I suppose now we’ll find out if anyone was listening“.  We were not a member of RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research), it’s very expensive, so although we knew people liked the station, we didn’t really have a clear sense of how many exactly were listening.

We all took a big deep breath and, at five past three on that Monday I tweeted “We’re very sorry, but due to contractual issues we are coming off the radio at midnight tonight”.  Forty minutes later, completely out of the blue, the guy who started the Save 6Music campaign posted a tweet saying “here we go again – Save Amazing Radio”.  I didn’t know him, but it turned out that as well as being a 6Music fan he loved what we do too. Then it started; a quite incredible 72 hours in which we found out that people sure as hell were listening, and cared very much about what we were doing.  We got masses of emails, Facebook messages, tweets, and texts of support.  A petition was set up that gathered thousands of signatures in just a few hours. We were trending nationally on Twitter.  Someone designed a logo saying ‘Amazing Radio – Keep the Faith’ and emailed it to us.  People started writing to their MPs, to Ofcom and to Arqiva who own the transmitters, urging them to put us back on the air. We had expressions of support from BBC DJ’s, from the guy who runs 6Music, from Indie labels, band management, and 100’s of bands all saying that they liked what we were doing – and perhaps more crucially, saying that what we do is important for the music industry and that it really does need to keep going.

That same week CNET, the leading American media/tech news site, published an incredibly supportive article about Amazing (headline ‘poised to lead the next British music invasion’) and suddenly I was being followed on Twitter by Steve Case, the legendary co-founder of AOL, who sent a fantastically supportive message. The same week, a bunch of other incredible people, including one of the most famous and most respected record label bosses of all time, got in touch, saying they like what we do.  It’s continued since then – we have some other names to reveal very soon, people who are globally famous, who are now involved in amazing.

It was all triggered by that awful day a year ago. The strength and intensity of the reaction was astonishing. It was an incredibly emotional time for all of us at amazing. We went from depression to shock, to surprise, to elation, to gratitude. We do our thing because we believe in it, and we think it needs doing, so the depth of feeling and passion that suddenly emerged was incredible.  It encouraged us to dust ourselves down – and keep going.

Looking back now, a year on, coming off the radio was in a weird way very good for our mission. It confirmed that the public believed in us, and ironically more people found out about us when we actually came off air.  How do I know that?  Well the web traffic and  uploads to increased immediately.  Today, we have three times the numbers of tracks we had a year ago.  To put that in perspective, it took five years to get to the total we had a year ago, and that number tripled in the following 12 months.  So it’s been awesome in one sense, as well as being incredibly frustrating not to be on the air this past year. It has really hurt knowing that there is such a supportive audience for what we are doing, which we could not serve. We don’t make any money out of broadcasting – it’s just a cost to us – but I was brought up at the BBC and I believe in public service broadcasting to the core of my being.  That’s why we are coming back to DAB now – because of the public demand for it.

But it has been a busy year.  During the time we’ve been off air we’ve not been sitting moping in the corner. We’ve expanded, not contracted. We have kept signing new DJs (we will have other announcements to make very soon), improved the online listening experience, re-built our mobile Apps which will also re-launch this week … and carried on playing new music on Amazing Radio before anybody else. Bands like Alt J, who have been part of the amazing playlist since 2010. The mission has not changed in any way. It’s just been going on in a slightly different place. Maybe the headline should have read ‘amazing Radio is dead, long live amazing Radio!’

And it’s got bigger. One other change is that amazing Radio has become ever more international in the past 12 months.  We have more people listening and uploading on a global basis, not just in the UK, we also have huge numbers in the USA, Germany, and Scandinavia for example, countries which all have exciting and vibrant musical scenes, so the word about what we’ve been doing has definitely been spreading.

Another irony in this whole affair is that, as a business, things have gone from strength to strength.  I’m not sure if you know how we mainly make money, but it works like this; many of the artists who upload to are not members of the PRS or any other copyright collection agency like BMI or ASCAP, because they are at a very early stage in their career.  So we have a subsidiary to amazing Radio called amazing Instore which supplies that music to shops and business premises. We segment the database to identify non-PRS or other collection agency artists, and we then license their music (with their permission, obviously) to shops.  That’s grown a lot.  A year ago we had 125 Amazing Instore clients; today we have 1,450.  It works out cheaper for the shops, and (because we have awesome technology to deliver the music) we know exactly how many times a song is played, so our royalty payments to the artists are bang on.  Someone worked out we pay 120 time the streaming fees of Spotify. It’s a completely different series of feeds compared with amazing Radio itself, since the style of music is chosen by the shops, and is not always the same cutting edge music as amazing Radio plays. Many shops want something more familiar, something that sounds a bit like Radio 2 or some other mainstream station – but the point is they get a closed circuit feed chosen specially for them, usually interspersed with adverts for the stuff that they sell. Lo and behold, they sell more products.  So they reduce their costs and increase their sales.  That’s quite a nice thing to sell. It’s good for the bands too, as they get their music played and are paid every time a song is streamed. And it’s good for us, as our share of the revenue pays for our entire operation.  This means we don’t have to have adverts on amazing Radio.  It makes me laugh, as an ex-BBC person, that we have a commercial radio station without commercials.  It’s a win/win/win.

Since coming off air we have also been exploring new ways to make money for all amazing musicians.  For example, we’ve done our first synchronisation deals for those who want to opt in, for films etc.  We have a distributor in China and are talking to people in other countries in the Far East. We will release the first amazing Radio compilation via digital download (more news on that very soon).  We’ve been doing a lot more gigs, from small pubs in London and Newcastle to the Royal Albert Hall.  (Yes, the first gig in the Elgar Room happened earlier this year, and more will be announced soon).  We will do our first gig in New York this summer. This is all aimed at expanding the number of ways people can hear the music, to promote and generate revenue for amazing musicians.

In the past year we have continually asked ourselves ‘in the digital age do you really need to be on the actual radio to make the concept of amazing Radio work?’  We have massively improved our online service, building our own streaming servers and introducing a timeshift function, so if you miss the start of a show and want to hear it anyway, or if you are in California and want to hear our breakfast show at breakfast time in LA, you can. We’ve also been improving mobile apps – the new version goes out this week – and this week we are also launching ‘genre streams’ online which are 24×7 streams of ambient, EDM, rock, the Amazing Chart and so on.  We’ll keep on building out those services to give musicians more promotion and listeners more opportunities to find fantastic new music. But one of the things that has became abundantly clear since we’ve been off air is that people really, really want us to be on the radio.  To be honest that kind of surprised me, as I thought maybe the iPod/iPhone generation might not be that fussed, but they are, people really want it back.  So that’s what we’re doing.  And it now won’t be a surprise to hear that our plan is to be on the radio in as many places as possible. This week, it’s London, and we go on air in Dublin in a couple of days.  We’ll keep trying to satisfy the national UK demand. And amazing Radio will be on the air in America pretty soon.

The long-term plan for amazing is to do a Spotify; start in Europe, then expand to the States.  I’ve spent a lot of time in America during the last year and there is unbelievable interest in our model over there.  We already have people working for us in Boston, New York, L.A., and Austin Texas.  Some of them are DJ’s, some are business development, and some are working with bands.  We have more brilliant people poised to join us over there soon, to spearhead amazing USA, with a major launch scheduled for later in 2013, including terrestrial radio there.  We will also have some very exciting and probably very unexpected things to announce soon.  Big stuff.  Stuff that will make people go ‘blimey, that’s a surprise’. It’s all part of our remit to help new and emerging musicians get discovered of course.

So that’s kind of the context to what’s been happening in the past year.  We certainly haven’t gone backwards; we have been paddling a lot under the surface.  There has been a broadcast pause, albeit a pause that has taught us a lot about the passion that’s out there for the station.  I think in years to come we’ll look back on 2012 not as a bump in the road but as a watershed moment.  Today, we’re sorry we couldn’t persuade Arqiva to let us back nationally on Digital One, but London and Dublin are a start, and we intend to keep serving new music lovers, in more places than ever, in the years to come.”

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