Author Archives: Jonathan Cresswell

37 Things To Do The Internet Well

For this year’s Student Radio Conference, we are asked at Aiir to run a session about the online side of radio. It was myself and my colleague Gav doing the talk, and helpfully I came up with a ridiculous title that was too long to fit in the programme.

The talk made a bit of stir with our viral ‘Is Justin Bieber on Capital’ site unveiled at the end, so here’s a bit of the background to what the point of it actually was (as well as having a laugh).

It was also about having a laugh, to be honest.


37 things to do the internet well that will make you react in some way (look here’s a gif of a cat)

Alright, so it’s the conference equivalent of clickbait as we didn’t really have 37 things, but the idea was to share a collection of interesting, helpful and surprising ideas across the radio and industry about how to take advantage of the web.

We had to rattle through for time, so here’s a slightly-longer-than-I-expected write-up of some of my notes, reference links and silly pictures.

Making a useful website

People tend to know what a radio site looks like – slightly to the point of cliche. It’s how the new series of Alan Partridge can parody that perfectly with its opening titles…


Alright, in practice this one is mostly accurate as it’s a carbon-copy of Bauer’s local sites (you’ll spot Cash for Kids in in there!), but the point stands. There’s room for more creativity, but also a lot of things are consistent as they work.

But you should plan your goals – for Absolute, it’s driving listening across their stations (a bit more about how they did this), for others, it’s advertising, listener information, or being a resource for local info.

We looked at anonymised data from a few different styles of station to see what’s performing well. Some of the things picked out:

  • In most cases, live listening is as big as the homepage. For specialist music stations – the player can be bigger. Get that experience right.
  • The basics matter – presenters, schedules, song information still do well.
  • It depends what you invest your time in – some stations are seeing great traffic from local news content. Some stories have been so popular they outperform the homepage. Not all stories are that big, but the rest consistently deliver and that traffic adds up.
  • Most on air promotion is just the homepage address. Can people actually find what you mention?

You shouldn’t just let analytics drive what you do – you should be data-informed, not data-led. In many cases, if something’s not performing well, it might just be as you’ve not promoted it well.

But if things aren’t working, consider if it’s worth doing – The Times are moving away from reporting breaking news online in favour of fixed-time editions. Whether editions will work long term is another matter, but with so much competition in that space it’s a decision with some sense behind it.


Personality in design


When we redesigned the Jack FM website, we wanted something that properly reflected the station – that it’s local, it’s music policy, and that it’s got a sense of humour. Those three elements are combined to create a large ‘hero’ section which sums it all up.

From there, we had a bit of fun with the text – rather than ‘Get from iTunes’, it says ‘Download (Legally)’. When you’re choosing your local station, it’s light hearted, as well as functional.

Oh, and there’s a large button on the sidebar marked ‘Jack Off’. Go on, go and click it.

It’s important not to take this too far though. On a previous version of the site, the layout was a bit more all over the place, with cartoony font for titles – which didn’t serve the serious content well.


Mobile apps

The ‘ideal future’ people often talk about for radio in apps is personalisation – but the real goal with that has to be simplicity.

That’s what Global have done well with the My Capital XTRA app. Swipe a song away, it’ll bring in another in a mix of pre-recorded, links and station sound. It’s a slick and clever experience.

That’s nice and all, but if you’re a student station, how can you do something sort of like that but on the cheap? Well, in Switzerland, an experimental ‘MusicBan’ site lets users vote if they love or hate artists. If they don’t like an artist when it plays, the stream is replaced with a YouTube artist. Once the song’s done, you’re back on the live audio. Here’s a video from Next Radio explaining it:

And for a different sort of personalisation, check out radio.likemee. You build up a custom day of different streams for different times, but the icing on the cake is personalised wakeups, with ‘Good morning, Jonathan’ from the DJ, followed by the local weather.



While we’re talking about doing things on the cheap – how about video? If you’re looking to do studio videos like Radio 1 or Radio X, don’t think you need to have clever live vision mixing. If there’s something of note happening, set up a couple of static cameras (or phones, but keep motion to a minimum), get the audio from the studio and sync it all up.


At Siren, I produced a series of videos for the No Adults Allowed show, as well as for my own show, Connected. With a couple of inexpensive HD cameras and a laptop for editing, we were able to get some decently edited videos  online within half an hour of the features going out live on air.

Video also performs very well on social media – but it’s often muted initially. That’s why Channel 4 News’ videos on Twitter are so good – there’s clear subtitles to draw you in, for both the storytelling and interviewees.

And from one Channel 4 to another, the radio station in Dubai does some interesting experiments on Instagram. Here’s a short ‘three stories’ update video. There’s a lot going on, but could you experiment with this in a simpler form?

3 things everyone is talking about today! #Dubai #UAE #abudhabi #mydubai #inabudhabi

A video posted by 104.8 Channel 4 (@channel4dubai) on

And speaking of Channel 4 – they’re one of my favourite stations to look at what they’re doing, just from a cultural view. Not many stations actually *give away gold* – or create a dedicated website for where in the UAE you can ride your hoverboard.

That’s great social stuff but radio tends to be audio so how does that work, hmmm

Good point! Yes – audio doesn’t tend to go viral as often, but it’s not impossible. A few stations are doing interesting things in short-form audio, and this includes BBC Radio 5Live. Their In Short brand contains clips from programmes across the station, and it’s doing pretty well. In October 2015, they had four million clip plays.

In America, WNYC have what they call ‘Audiograms’. They’re technically videos, but it makes it clear they’re audio – and are only short clips. It’s worth reading a bit more about the thinking behind them – but here’s an example.

And without fancy graphics? Sure, here’s a piece from BBC Radio Bristol. Obnoxious introduction graphics aside, this is 1.3 million plays* for a brilliant piece of audio – and the actual video? It’s just a screen recording of the audio editing software.

This little girl from Nailsea will make your heart melt. Emma, who's three, handled this 999 call when her pregnant mum fell down the stairs. Now South Western Ambulance Service will present her with a bravery certificate.

Posted by BBC Radio Bristol on Tuesday, December 22, 2015

*it’s Facebook video plays so god knows what that means in the real world with their stats.

Cool, so how do I go viral then without being a little girl making a 999 call?

I’ve had my fair share of viral projects – ones that had a life of one day and ones that are still going after five years. There’s no set formula, but you need to think how something actually gets shared.

You need to engage people at three stages: why they click the link in the first place – how they experience the content – and how you get them to share it. There’s a great diagram on this blog post, which goes in to a lot of different reasons why things take off.

A big part of why people actually share content is due to emotions. Strong, positive ones help. It’s that reaction, that emotion, is what people actually want to share with others – causing a reaction. That’s seen in Buzzfeed and email lists and puppy videos.

Think how high that barrier is for something to be good enough (particularly funny enough to share). Go through your social feeds right now – there’ll be so much good content there, but you’re not sharing them all.

There’s a real tribal reason behind sharing too – it helps people express elements of themselves that they want to, their empathy, and that they belong. This can be scaled down to within a bigger community.

It’s partly why minion memes are big – they’re effectively a blank canvas. They’re pointless. But they help people express their existing views, and their blandness is why there’s so many of them as Minions don’t actually stand for anything… except to follow the most despicable people in all humanity.

Other aspects can help your content – from being topical, light elements of competition, collaboration or just sheer quality. But think from a user’s point of view – why would they share it? They don’t just retweet every breaking news thing.

But you also just can’t control things sometimes. I made Break Your Own News, the breaking news generator after an office joke. It plodded along fairly well for a year or so, but then after hitting the right communities, who effectively seeded it to the rest of the web, it outdid its lifetime traffic in just one day.

breaking-news (2)

Not everything hits. You can get the right tone, content, but it just doesn’t always land. It won’t always trickle back to the rest of site – aim at an audience that matters, and be realistic about what success means for you and what forms that takes. Raw numbers aren’t everything and can be misleading.

Well this all sounds jolly exciting but what should I, an internet-and-radio-interested person do now?

Lovely! Well I’d argue you should create something, however small. Make notes of ideas, and silly sketches. Keep a hold of them. I tend to start on paper before going digital – my notebooks are full of dropped ideas. You should try things and hack things – find small problems, see if you can understand and solve them.

Or just have a bit of fun.

Look at what areas of a station there are – there’s marketing, content discovery, that content itself and the listening experience, amongst others.

So to hopefully inspire students into having a bit of fun, Gav and I went to the pub to come up with a relatively simple site – and knock it together in a few hours.

Ideas in my notebook included ‘like Tinder but for picking a radio show’ and other ideas that will likely go no further.

Earlier that day we spotted an interesting story that when Capital plays Justin Bieber, this will be shown on live billboards in London. It’s a clever idea, which got us thinking… well, how often is that going to be? It’s got to be a fair bit otherwise the campaign wouldn’t work. Plus, he’s got what, three songs in high rotation on Capital…?

So we thought we’d try this, and made Clever stuff by Gav, HTML by yours truly. The idea, go to the site and we’ll tell you if he’s on – and on average how many minutes you have to wait until he is next.

(Well, I’m glad they took it in good humour!)

Now, much of my day job isn’t making silly joke websites, but if you’re interested in the web site of radio and would like to pick our brains about anything, we’d love to chat. Hopefully the talk has shown it’s a really creative area and got a few ideas flowing.

You can contact me on Twitter or send an email – jonathan at

Oh and if I’m rubbish at replying just nag me a bit.

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Eurovision x Robot Wars score card 2015


euro2015As we all know, there’s only one way to truly decide a winner of something. It’s by ranking competitors on style, damage, aggression and control. That’s right, Robot Wars style.

For several years now, this has been the only way to watch Eurovision. Previously, I’ve produced score cards and an interactive website along with Alex, who first suggested this approach to the show.

It’s pretty simple. Each act, rate it out of 10 for Style, Damage, Aggression and Control. Not sure if those apply? Of course they do! For damage, think of it as damage done to other competitors. For control, overall control of their vocals and performance – is it looking or sounding messy?

…or take those categories however you like.

Then just tot up the scores and see who deserves your votes! Or, would if you actually bothered to vote.

It’s genuinely a lot of fun, particularly if you’ve got a party going on and getting people to decide on your group’s scores.

So we’re going low-tech this year, and if you want, print off your Eurovision/Robot Wars score card before the show tonight. If you play along – send me a tweet, @jonathanex.

Download the Eurovision x Robot Wars 2015 score card.

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Your guide to General Election comedy

Have you noticed there’s a General Election on? Oh, a bit bored of it already? Makes sense. Maybe you could instead laugh at it, that might reduce the pain. Well how handy then that this so happens to be an incomplete guide to election-based comedy on TV and Radio.

It’s like the Radio Times but if you were only interested in political satire. A very niche version of the Radio Times.


Have I Got News For You
Fridays, 9pm
Watch on iPlayer

Come on, you don’t need an explanation for this. If you’re a fan of an awkward atmosphere, watch episode 2 for Hislop and Prescott’s tense exchanges.


Jack Dee’s Election Helpdesk
Mondays, 10pm
Watch on iPlayer
Based on the format of one of his live shows, a panel of comedians try to ‘help’ people with their election quandaries.

Charlie Brooker’s Election Wipe
Date TBC
60 minute pre-election special of Weekly Wipe, promising to “bring some much-needed confusion to the national debate”. With Philomena Cunk, Barry Shitpeas and Morgana Robinson. Hopefully we’ll get a few moments of wonder from the campaign…

Rory Bremner’s Election Report
Date TBC
30 minute post-election special. Probably similar to his recent Coalition Report programme.

BBC Radio 4

The Vote Now Show
Wednesday, Friday, 11pm
Listen on iPlayer Radio
The Now Show team are on twice a week with late night specials – first episode was on Friday. Highlights include Jon Holmes trying to find out who will win the election with help (or lack of) from pollsters, analysers, psychics and a cat.

Dead Ringers
Friday, 6:30pm
Listen on iPlayer Radio
Usual impression based silliness and prank calls. There’s two episodes to listen to now, with David Cameron being interviewed the political heavyweight that is Sooty. The Nigel Farage and Natalie Bennett impressions are particularly good.

BBC iPlayer

Frankie Boyle’s Election Autopsy
17th May, iPlayer
Remember after the independence referendum, Frankie Boyle had a special on iPlayer where he basically got a bit angry about it all? Last time it was a mix of comedy and actual debate over issues, and it’s the same form for this.


Wednesdays, 9pm
Watch on ITV Player
Topical sketch comedy stuff. You know when ITV attempts topical comedy, everyone goes ‘It could be the new Spitting Image’ but it turns out that’s kind of hard to live up to. Anyway, impressions plus puppetry plus weird CG mouths. Your milage may vary.

Channel 4

The Last Leg
Thursdays, 9pm
New series starts this week with three election specials. Unfortunately the first episode has Piers Morgan as a guest, but likely to be made up for with Paxman on week two. It looks like it’s culminating with an election night special.

They did a fantastic Nick Clegg interview and are clued up on what’s going on – personally it’s one of the best UK satire shows around right now.

Ballot Monkeys
Tuesdays, 10pm
New series from duo behind the fantastic Drop the Dead Donkey. It’s set on the election battle buses, with the tagline ‘Political comedy so topical it hasn’t been written yet’.


The Vote
Election Night, 9pm
Not strictly a comedy but it’s worth a mention. Play from the writer of Coalition, which will be shown on the stage for two weeks before it’s performed live on election night. Based around what happens at polling stations.

Absolute Radio

The Alternative Vote
Fridays, 7pm
Listen to the podcast
Matt Forde hosts a panel show where comedians put forward their manifestos for the country.

Also on Absolute Radio, Geoff Lloyd has been doing some entertaining interviews with the big politicians – and while it’s the Miliband one that hit the headlines, watch the first 15 seconds of the William Hague interview.


Dave’s Election Night Special
Election night, 10pm
No, really. Dave are doing a special. 90 minute film with exclusive access to Al Murray’s FUKP campaign.

Sky Atlantic

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
This is more an honorable mention than anything. As ever, they’ll cover whatever they want to on this show – but there’s already been a small segment on the UK elections. I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes up on a few more occasions. Plus, you should probably be watching it anyway.

If there’s anything missing, let me know and I’ll add it – @jonathanex

If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably enjoy Break Your Own News – the Breaking News generator…

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One week on: Radiodays Europe

Saturday, 6am. I’ve already broken a belt, spilled a hot chocolate and a security officer at the airport thought I was a woman. By anyone’s standards, this is a “good start” to a day.

Thankfully, the gorgeous views over the Alps were more than enough to wake me up on the way to Milan for Radiodays Europe.


It’s apparently the biggest radio conference in the world – filled with people from broadcasters and organisations across the world that matter the most. And me, looking like a 12 year-old who snuck in while nobody was looking.
Continue reading

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Some rambling thoughts about BBC Three

So the word is that BBC Three is about to go online-only as part of cost-cutting at the BBC. It’s a channel I’ve uh, notably mocked, but think matters.

And the future is “online only”. But that’s fine, they’ll still exist on iPlayer! Except one of their most popular shows (Family Guy) because they don’t have online rights. But the real cut will be to the content. To make any meaningful savings they’ll have to violently attack the programming budget – which they’re aiming to save £60 million by. How losing the majority of the budget for content will allow the station to just move online as if nothing happened is nonsense, so you’re effectively killing it apart from a few occasional online-only shows.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing how it’s announced, because regardless of what they’re doing, how will it look? Will it just look like they don’t care about young people and the old guard are killing it to save poncy arts and dramas? Turns out yes, as Tony Hall said half of the money is to pay for BBC One drama. Well played to keep the youth audience on side.

The online strategy is interesting, but obviously it’s not so simple. There’s so many issues of access and how will people find content.

There’s been good experiments in online first content from BBC Three, recently Bad Education. It was highly successful, but it already had an audience – how will they ensure discovery of new, experimental, difficult or different programmes? That’s if they can access them at all – TV viewing online is “the future” but things aren’t as advanced as often thought… and digital TV is so important for young audiences, as 1xtra’s listening figures show.

Depending on how they do this, it could be too soon. Or leading the curve.

But I think the “debate” has been framed slightly wrong so far. The way it’s been seen the last few months is “BBC 3 vs 4 – which one dies?!” – and if you’re going to make a big cut (as Tony Hall has seemingly decided), then REALLY think big.

I think that a way they could make this work is if the BBC, while doing this BBC Three fiddling, seriously repositions all the other channels. Not just “we’ll do more comedy on 2”, they need to rethink exactly what all of them are about – and make changes.

Maybe it’s still doing big things on BBC One but think about some of the sheer crap on there and restart. Maybe make BBC Two a bit less twee and more edgy at times, more comedy. Move some BBC Two stuff between BBC One and BBC Four. You can’t just make little moves – to keep actually serving those audiences and making things like that, the purpose of ALL the channels needs to be rethought a bit.

Right now, it’s hard to believe the idea that some BBC Three shows will survive on other channels as being a meaningful step towards that – it’s just a little bit of fiddling. It doesn’t look like it’s anything but a sacrifice. Saying you’ll repeat the documentaries on BBC One and Two is also missing the point, why shouldn’t those services be encouraged to create such content in the first place themselves too?

But besides, no-one will really miss 100 Snobbiest Tiny Mistakes Being Sarcastically Listed. So maybe some slimming down isn’t such a bad idea… as long as they slim down the other things that need it too.

If it happens at all.

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Gadgets, games and all things geek

I produce a weekly radio show on Siren FM that’s a celebration of gadgets, games and all things geek. It’s called Connected, you can find out more about it here, but broadly it’s a mix of the latest news, interviews, original features, a bit of the serious and the silly, alongside a soundtrack consisting of music we love from games and music we just love anyway.

We’re currently planning for starting year two on the show, so we thought we’d just open things up.

If you’re an indie developer wanting to show off your game, if you’re in PR and have something relevant or if you just want to throw our way – the email is So tip offs, news stories, press releases, whatever really… we’d love to hear it. And particularly if you’ve got anything geeky and musical, game soundtracks and more, we’re always looking for new stuff to play.

It’s a bit of an experiment, there’s no guarantee we’ll pick up or use anything from it but we’ll be looking at it and if there’s something good we may just run with it.

So yes. Pitch! Throw! That would be nice. Thank you!

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