A tale of two Radio 3s

BBC Radio 3 has a new web site, although the casual viewer might not notice much of a difference. However, the most important changes are behind the scenes, and both the visible and invisible changes will apparently make finding information about Radio 3’s programmes easier — especially if you can’t remember what you heard several days ago, but now desparately want to find out.

The BBC has excelled at distributing its traditional content digitally, and if you like even a fraction of its output and spend time sitting in front of a computer, then you’re bound to approve of the Beeb’s online initiatives.

Screenshot of a recent page from CBC Radio 3

A recent page from CBC Radio 3

However, if you want to see what “new media” can really do, you need to tune in to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio 3. But be warned — the only similarlity is the name. CBC Radio 3 is not classical in any sense. It’s not even really radio as we know it. It’s an online, new-media magazine, featuring contemporary photography, photojournalism, interviews, poetry, videos and lots of recordings from Canada’s independent popular music scene, including live concert recordings. [Note – You need a broadband connection to the Internet to really appreciate CBC Radio 3.]

During the current 36-day general election campaign, for example, Radio 3 has been publishing the personal agendas of 36 ordinary (i.e. unknown) Canadians on video. Given that politics is a subject about which few “ordinary” people feel passionate these days (excluding, of course, the notable issue of the Iraq war), it was interesting to see and hear this selection of personal opinions on Canada’s priorities as a nation.

In January The Globe and Mail published an interesting article (see Indie music and beyond) on CBC Radio 3 that included the following quote from its Executive Director, Robert Ouimet:

“The question I get a lot is: ‘Surely you want them to go to the website and then get them to radio. Isn’t that the goal?’ Well, yeah, if they do that, that’s great. But that’s not the imperative. The goal is to introduce them to the stuff that the CBC makes and if they get it on-line and never go to the radio, that’s totally okay.”

The CBC used the web to attract a new, youthful audience that had long ago abandoned the network, and it believes that new media can be an end in itself. It’s not simply a case of using the web to support the rest of the network’s programming. Apart from the music, CBC Radio 3’s output is unavailable anywhere else.

The BBC on the other hand seems to view the web firstly as a temporary archive and then secondly as a source of complementary information in support of its broadcasts. BBC Online is not really intended to be your final destination. Everything it produces is either rooted in a conventional BBC broadcast of some kind, or intended to inform you of one.

To be fair, I don’t think the Internet presented the BBC with as much of an opportunity as it did the CBC. Young people in Britain never abandoned the BBC the way a generation of Canadian kids fled from the CBC. The CBC never had the equivalent of BBC Radios 1, 2, 5 or television programmes such as Top of the Pops, so the Internet provided it with a far greater opportunity to expand the range of its output and the demographics of its audience.

Nevertheless, it would be nice to see both organisations borrowing from each other’s online strategy. Canadians could make good use of an archive, such as that provided by the BBC’s Listen Again service, and the BBC should really commit to the web as an end in itself if wants to continue playing a leading role in the creative life of the UK.

Frasier has left the building

Seattle skyline with pulsating red light on top of  the Space Needle.…for the last time unfortunately.

It’s truly the end of an era. The last episodes of Frasier will be broadcast in the UK this evening. Of course, the good news is that repeats have already started. Channel 4 is showing old episodes every weekday morning this week, and long may it continue.

Watching this show throughout the last decade has been an awful lot of fun, and the idea of writing for it was once one of my dream jobs. Why has it been so good? I’ll let the writers speak for themselves:

Frasier to Eddie (the dog), who won’t stop staring at him:

“What is so fascinating about me? What is it? In your eyes, does my head look like a large piece of kibble? Am I some kind of doggy enigma? What is it?”

Eddie continues to stare.

“Think about it. Get back to me.”

Television led astray

In April 1960 Alistair Cooke told the Chattanooga Times:

Television is a gorgeous girl led astray early in life by a travelling salesman. She is taken round the country as a come-on for his detergent.

New colours

I’ve been thinking about reviewing the design of this site, but a new colour scheme will have to do for the moment. So, it’s green and purple to herald tomorrow’s arrival of summer and Wimbledon.

Hell’s Kitchen

For a reality TV show Hell’s Kitchen (aka adayinhell.com) has been pretty interesting, but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t the cooking, nor the cut-throat competition, and certainly not the foul language, that made it compelling television. No, it was Chef Gordon Ramsay’s management skills that really made it worth watching.

This programme, which came to an end on Sunday, centred around 10 virtually unknown “celebrities” (with one exception, a former Conservative cabinet minister) competing for the public’s popular vote in order to remain in the kitchen of Britain’s best and most profane chef, Gordon Ramsay. Most of the contestants’ culinary skills were basic to say the least, but Ramsay spent the two weeks on air teaching them how to work as a team in order to prepare a very limited menu to his exacting, professional standards. Every evening the fruits of their labour were served to a restaurant full of famous and not-so-famous celebrities, although quite a few of the celebs left hungry on more than one occasion.

By the time it was finished it was obvious why Ramasy’s restaurants work so well. The man isn’t just an excellent cook; he’s also a natural leader. His vision for the enterprise was well defined; he communicated it clearly and continuously to his staff; and he provided them with both positive and (infamously) negative feedback about their performance pretty much all the time. Never mind an annual review; those celebrities were bombarded with useful information during every working hour of every day. It was really interesting to see such powerful textbook management skills deployed so effectively.

Much has been made of Ramsay’s profane language and the severe reprimands he gives his staff. However his management style has a lot in common with the traditional training techniques of the military. First you make sure everyone knows who is in charge through intimidation and fear; then you retrain to the required standards by providing constant feedback; and finally you rebuild confidence by recognizing good performance. Teamwork is developed by forcing the recruits to depend on one another in order to achieve their objective.

It’s textbook stuff, and clearly works very well in a kitchen; and according to The Daily Telegraph (see Chef’s recipe has a dash of method in its madness) I’m not the only person who thinks Ramsay’s true genius comes from his management skills.

It’s the way that you do it

Yet another example appears in this weekend’s FT to suggest that “it ‘aint what you do, but the way that you do it” that counts. Except this time the context is political (see Tales show a president need not be smart).

Writing about the similarities in three recent books on George W. Bush’s administration, Peter Spiegel wondered:

How is it, then, that senior aides are ignored on their areas of expertise? Much of this dysfunction, it emerges, is due to the old Washington adage “process is policy” – in other words, how decisions are made profoundly effects [sic] which decisions are made. In this administration, the “how” is at the core of the dysfunction.

I wonder if they’re any fans of Jimmie Lunceford at the White House?

Mel Lastman Square

The BBC has just broadcast a radio play that contains an embarrassing Canadian error.

In Harry and Gloria by Katie Hims, Harry is a Canadian soldier awaiting the D-Day landings. He writes a letter to his English lover, Gloria, when the time comes to end their affair. In the meantime Gloria fantasizes about walking arm in arm through the streets of Toronto, including Fourth Avenue and Mel Lastman Square.

Mel Lastman with very red eyes

He doesn’t look that old, does he?

Well I don’t know if Toronto contains a Fourth Avenue, but I’m quite certain Mel Lastman Square didn’t exist in 1944. Mel Lastman was only 11 years old that year, and no one could have mistaken suburban North York for downtown Toronto at that time anyway.

The English equivalent would be referring to a square in Milton Keynes named after London’s mayor Ken Livingstone! Looks like BBC Drama needs to improve its fact checking.

Paper and the square root of 2

Did you know that in the ISO paper size system, the height-to-width ratio of all pages is the square root of two (1.4142 : 1)? I had no idea, but it explains a lot; particularly why folding a sheet of A4 in half produces two sheets of A5, etc. Believe it or not, such a convenient format was not established arbitrarily, but has in fact a mathematical basis.

Markus Kuhn has an interesting site that tells you everything you were wondering about international standard paper sizes.

Two sheets of A4 make one sheet of A3