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5 May 2014

Interview: Amazing Radio’s Founder Paul Campbell

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Amazing Radio was brought to our attention by the likes of Jim Gellatly who has his own show on the station and also A Badge of Frienship who help spread the word about them. We have also discovered their great work through many of the bands that we have played on our podcasts.

Halina caught up recently for a chat with amazing founder Paul Campbell for an in depth interview about Amazing Radio and why the public really should be checking this station out.

Who are the team behind Amazing Radio and what inspired you to start it?

I’ve always loved radio, ever since I worked in hospital radio as a student, working my way up through tea boy and technical operator in local radio in the holidays to becoming a BBC staff producer doing posh things on Radio 4 by the time i was 23. And I’ve been a musician since I was nine (I still play professionally), so I know what it’s like to stick a demo in a cassette and hope someone in a far-off fancy building will open it, listen to it, and play it on the air. So starting Amazing Radio seemed a fab way to hep musicians, while getting back to my first love of radio.

The team behind it is – well, it’s awesome. We have a mix of young, talented and passionate people (many of them recent graduates) – people chosen because they know their music, and they’re absolutely passionate about it; and older types with incredible experience who, er, know their music and are absolutely passionate about it. In fact this week we announced that Trevor Dann, who currently presents a show for us and has been working quietly in the background as a consultant for most of this year, is becoming Managing Director of Amazing Broadcast, the bit of Amazing Media that runs Amazing Radio. Trevor was only John Peel’s producer, Series Producer of Old Grey Whistle Test and Top of the Pops and Head of Music at Radio 1; he only got a BAFTA for producing Live Aid; he only wrote the best book about Nick Drake. It’s a fantastic privilege to have someone like Trevor on board, leading the team with the same enthusiasm he had when I first met him in 1978. So what with folks with that kind of experience and younger staff with awesome commitment, this is a fun place to work.

How did you manage to get yourselves so established with a DAB channel and how long has this been running for?

I had the idea to launch the DAB channel about two years before we managed to do it. I wanted to give artists on amazingtunes.com the opportunity to get their music on the ‘real radio’ – there’s nothing like the first time you hear a track you made being played on the radio. It couldn’t be ‘just’ online radio, you had to be able to switch the radio on in the kitchen so your grannie could hear it. The only way to do that, nationally, was on DAB. It was important to be national; this music deserves the widest possible airing. Eventually the stars aligned and we worked out how to pay for it, and off we went, on June 1st 2009. Since then, the reaction to Amazing Radio has been unbelievable – people love it, they like the variety of tracks, they like that they can control the playlist, they like the absence of adverts. It’s a new approach to radio, which people ‘get’.

How do you select the musicians you are going to play?

The people decide. All our music is on amazingtunes.com. The clever algorithm which sits at the back of that website remembers what everyone does – every time a song is rated, tagged, played, recommended, downloaded and purchased. That activity then generates the playlist for the radio station. I thought it was important make sure the listeners could decide what goes on, not some geezer in a suit. Why should someone middle-aged bloke decide what’s good? You should. So you can.

One of your terms is regarding PRS. You advise that musicians cannot be members if they are to be played. Why is this and have you found this problematic?

We did this at first because PRS’s terms and conditions were unfair. When we launched, they had a licence for online usage which meant we’d have to give a fixed percentage of all income from the site to them – whether or not it derived from PRS artists. That would have meant we were taking money out of the pockets of non-PRS artists to give to PRS. It was ethically wrong. Thankfully they’ve now changed the terms, and we’ve (literally today) signed the new licence, which makes much more sense.

We’re really pleased about this; we recognise that PRS has an incredibly important role to play in generating income for artists, which chimes exactly with amazing’s own mission to help creative people make money from their talent. In fact I wrote to the CEO of PRS the week we launched Amazing Radio asking if we could find a way to work together that would help PRS artists get exposure on Amazing Radio, without being unfair to non-PRS artists. We’re delighted we finally got there.

Do you have different shows to focus on different styles of music and what have been your most popular shows?

We didn’t do any of that kind of stuff at first. We just payed every genre of music, all mixed up, all day long. Then we asked people to tell us what they wanted us to add or to change, and as time has gone on, we’ve responded to their feedback.

So we now have a variety of specialist shows, ranging from Amazing Beats with Mark Ryan on a Friday night, to the Amazing Folk Roots show with Frankie Ward on a Wednesday at 6pm, repeated on Sunday after The Amazing Chart at 7pm. We’re planning more. Those shows are very popular, as are Audition with Charlie Ashcroft (which showcases recent uploads), It’s Amazing with Trevor Dann (which gets music luminaries to share the experience and critique songs – Feargal Sharkey was on this week, for example) and of course the Chart show on a Sunday night. But obviously the most popular show of all is the one Scottish music industry legend Jim Gellatly does for us :-)

Do you find that people like to stick to what they know and are somewhat hesitant of listening, if so, how do you overcome this?

When we launched, a few people (usually those who work in conventional commercial radio) said ‘this will never work. Their playlist is too broad and nobody will want to listen to nothing but new music’. They were wrong.

What we’ve found is that people love the broad playlist and they adore finding new music 24 x 7. They’re bored rigid with all those other radio stations which play about ten songs, round and round, all day long until you want to commit suicide, interspersed with inane babble from DJs who think they’re interesting because they give time checks and talk about what they did at the weekend. We’re totally different; and people totally get it. Also, they have incredibly open minds about what they’ll listen to. The general approach was summarised by an email we got shortly after launch from a woman who said ‘i know I won’t like everything I’ll hear on Amazing Radio – but I might like the next song. And if I don’t like it, I can always change it’. It’s been great to know that people listening to Amazing Radio will hear new and unexpected things – and they’re receptive to all of it.

Who have been some of your favourite artists since the radio station began?

I’m sorry, I won’t say. I never have, and I never shall. I’m a 51 year-old drummer: who cares what my taste in music is? It’s not relevant. The curse of old-fashioned boring broadcasting is when people like me think they’re hip and groovy and their opinion is in some way valid, so they ram their judgement of what’s good down everyone’s neck. What I like doesn’t matter: what you like does.

What does the future hold for Amazing Radio?

Well it’s getting more exciting by the day. On Amazing Radio, we’ll keep trying to play fresh new music, listening hard to what the listeners tell us and responding as fast as we can, building the station so more and more people get to find it. Meanwhile we’re planning other things – there’ll be an amazing record label very soon, signing some of the most popular artists and releasing records and everything; we have plans for a second radio station; we’re going to add video; and we’re in the middle of doing some deals internationally which will bring amazing to Latin America, the Far East and the States. And soon.

It’s been fun so far; it’s about to get truly amazing.

Amazing Radio is available on DAB digital radio across the UK & worldwide at www.amazingradio.co.uk

Halina Rifai

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