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George Lamb – Saviour of Digital Radio?

Applause by svenwerk @ flickr

George Lamb is the mid-morning presenter on 6 Music, one of the BBC’s Digital radio stations. 6 Music has a tendency to take itself, and its music, rather seriously. It was apparently born from (or heavily influenced by) the ashes of BBC Radio London when that station reinvented itself as a more news & current affairs station called BBC LDN. Indeed, the previous occupant of the 10am – 1pm slot on 6 Music, Gideon Coe, was a luminary of BBC Radio London and somewhat of a music guru. 6 Music is under the wing of Lesley Douglas, who’s main job is looking after BBC Radio 2.

George’s arrival certainly shook up 6 Music, and generated plenty of heated debate by the music loving listeners to the station. He’s suffered criticism like few other presenters have, and he’s borne it well. His show is best described as unique, and somewhat less reverential about music than some of the other 6 Music presenters.

So why is George Lamb potentially “the Saviour of Digital Radio”?

In many ways, for the same reason that Chris Moyles can claim to be “the saviour of Radio 1”. George invokes serious passion in people; love him or hate him, everyone has an opinion on him, and his fame spreads way beyond the 520,000 people who listen to 6 Music each week. Just this week, I grabbed an Arena magazine (for a surprisingly long flight to Sweden – who’d have thought it was nearly 3 hours from Bristol?), and there was an article entitled “Black Sheep” all about George. People are talking about George Lamb, and the radio station he’s on.

George Lamb is the best marketing 6 Music has got. And in turn, it’s the best marketing Digital Radio has had in years.

A lot of earlier marketing about Digital Radio was pretty functional. “Buy a radio and get more channels“. Unsurprisingly, the mention of individual stations was very vague, because nobody wanted to promote a competitor’s station. Audience levels across the board were small, and it was virtually impossible to buy a radio, so nobody wanted to invest in station specific marketing.

But now Digital Radio is maturing, it does make sense to start marketing stations, and what a great way to promote a station by employing brilliant new talent, and talent that invokes passionate discussion – good and bad. (Given a choice, I would much rather manage a difficult but brilliant presenter who invokes polarising feelings in his/her listeners, than someone easy, bland and unassuming).

6 Music aren’t the only station investing in presenters as marketing. Planet Rock (560,000 listeners per week) has had stars like Alice Cooper, Rick Wakeman and Gary Moore on its presenter lineup.

The cleverest way to continue to grow Digital Radio listening is to make it the home of great new talent.

For the next stage of Digital Radio’s growth, I don’t believe we need to spend millions of pounds on “above the line” marketing like billboards or bus-sides or TV. Word-of-mouth about great talent spreads through the Internet, through Facebook and Bebo and onwards, particularly if it is a bit niche and a bit hard to get hold of. And given the relatively low revenue levels on Digital Radio, this risk involved with trying out new people is way lower than it is on analogue.

Commercial Radio, for once, has a level(ish) playing field; as many people can listen to Commercial Digital radio (through DigitalOne, or the considerable coverage offered by the network of local digital multiplexes) as can hear the BBC. If Commercial Radio can start stations that can house great talent, and work the PR and the exposure right, then it stands to gain as much as the BBC. It just needs to get comfortable with the idea of working bigger in an industry that previously considered “big” to be Capital FM. (A previous home to Chris Moyles, along with a string of local commercial radio stations incidentally). That doesn’t overcome the massive funding difference between the BBC and Commercial Radio, and the BBC’s ability to offer radio presenters routes into TV, but Digital Radio has narrowed the gap.

The appointment of Tim Davie (who has a marketing background) to replace Jenny Abramsky as Director of BBC Audio and Music, could be the catalyst for the BBC to do more to promote its digital radio services. The BBC Trust noted in its recent annual report that awareness of BBC Digital Radio services (at 41%) is perceived to be low, and that surely is a cue for the corporation to start working harder and smarter at promoting the services it spends quite of lot of money making.

Lesley Douglas said at the Radio Festival that it was time to stop talking about the technology of Digital Radio and start talking about content, and by George, Mr Lamb is content to talk about.

Photo: Applause by svenwerk @ flickr

[UPDATE 23-Jul-2007]

My post about a controversial person seems to have generated quite a lot of controversy, judging by the comments (and this is the most commented post so far).

I just wanted to clarify two things about the original post:

  • I am neither a fan nor not a fan of George Lamb. I’ve not heard enough of his show to make a judgement, and I rarely listen to 6 Music. I wasn’t intending to pass comment on George’s talent or lack of it. The reason I picked George was because I’d just read a big article (in a popular mainstream culture magazine) about him, and the digital radio station he worked on, and that’s a big deal for those of us who are tracking the development of digital radio globally. It’s a significant point in time to be able to say that digital radio stations have to got a point where the personalities on those stations can garner coverage and exposure for what they do on their radio shows. I hope more digital radio stations can use that to their advantage, and to the advantage of the medium as a whole.
  • When I talk about preferring to manage difficult but talented personalities, I’m not referring to anyone in particular. I’m going back to when I used to be a programme controller (of both analogue and digital stations) and was working alongside, and for, other successful radio programmers. Managing a great talent who polarises opinion is very hard work, and can be immensely frustrating, but you have to believe that it’s the right thing to do. Managing personalities is very hard. By contrast, managing unassuming, safe, competent radio presenters is pretty simple, but it doesn’t make radio that makes people laugh, cry, amused, amazed or enraged. And if it’s not doing that, what’s the point?

So please forgive me for inadvertently straying onto the battlefield, and consider me limping off, tending my wounds. But I’m still glad that it’s a digital radio station that’s creating such controversy.

20 replies on “George Lamb – Saviour of Digital Radio?”

Everything you say makes sense, but I think you are reinventing the wheel a bit – commercial radio has already started doing this. It launched a great new national station, which had lots of coverage in the press amongst its target audience, with pestigious and “name” presenters bringing new people to digital radio (anecdotal evidence: my parents, in their 70s, bought a new DAB radio on the strength of it), as well as drawing people from the BBCc to commmercial radio (anecdotal evidence: my sister-in-law, who bought a DAB radio but only listened to Radio 1 on it until this station launched, when she started listening every day to it.

And when Jamie Cullum, Courtney Pine, and the rest of them were shelved, they’ve got straight back to the BBC.

“He’s suffered criticism like few other presenters have, and he’s borne it well. His show is best described as unique, and somewhat less reverential about music than some of the other 6 Music presenters.”

Anytime I’ve tuned in (which is increasingly seldom – I used to listen to 6 Music all day every day – GL has driven me away, and the rest of the daytime lineup isn’t compelling enough to bring me back after he’s finished) his show seems shambolic (the interview with Stephin Merritt), derivative (klaxons? 80’s kids TV show samples? 5-year old internet memes?), pathetic (the sycophantic posse, the pleading with dedicees to tell George how much they like him) and often offensive (class discrimination, making fun of the earthquake in china, encouraging listeners to shoplift, tracks by homophobic dancehall artists…).

As for being less reverential about music – that’s one way of putting it. Another way would be to say he knows nothing about it, and doesn’t care about it – he just like the sound of his own voice. The 6 Music remit requires that presenters be authoratitive about and interested in music – he is patently neither. Is he the saviour of digital radio because he is an example of its homogenisation?

6 Music’s listening figures are disappointing taking into account the growth of DAB, and they haven’t released figures for GL’s show. However, if the performance of his podcast is anything to go by, they can’t be particularly impresive.

The only point you make here is the well-worn adage “All publicity is good publicity”. I disagree that this is an absolute truth, I disagree that any BBC station needs to chase the listener figures in such a cynical manner, and I definitely object to jumping from this to talking about “great new talent”. Er… you were talking about George Lamb weren’t you? I’m sorry but you’re going to have to address his blatant lack of professionalism and complete opposition to the station’s remit before you try to use him as a poster boy for the new digital radio revolution.

You seem to have the mechanics of the promotional qualities of a presenter like George Lamb for a minor station like 6music fathomed, but I think you’ve seriously misread the quality of Lamb by representing him as a ‘difficult but brilliant presenter’. Unfortunately, he’s neither of these things. Through any number of cock-ups, dead air minutes, flustered and inept interviews, stolen catchphrases and items, he shows that it’s not what you know but who you know in the industry that ensures your promotion to a significant slot on a once-great radio station and your viral promotion on all mediums of 6music. And yet despite this huge promotion of Lamb as an iconic figure of the product, 6music’s share of the market has not improved above booming radio sales and their effect on listener figures, nor has it led to a decrease in the gap between the (now closing-down) competing commercial stations like Planet Rock and 6music. Overall Lamb’s effect on the perception of 6music can only have been negative; just look at George Lamb’s Wikipedia entry. This is not a ‘shock-jock’ in the making, just the rise of another bland face like Alex Zane or Alexa Chung; pretty, yes; pleasant, yes; a little edgy, maybe; talented, no. As such, he has no place on 6music, which once prided itself on quality music, intelligent DJing and John Peel style passion and knowledge of the medium.

If you need any further persuading regarding Lamb’s ‘talent’ as read against his negative effect on the station, just look at the listening figures for his podcast. Out of all 6music shows his was ranked lowest, garnering a similar listenership to Panorama in Portuguese.

The post about George Lamb implies the controversy, such as it is, is only about his equivalency to marmite (and that is a very tired comparism)and personal likes/dislikes. To be honest, it mebbe was at first. But not now. Bandwagon is spot on about George’s appointment and subsequent ‘success’ being down rather to his contacts than his talent. This is the isue that continues to drive those of us in the anti-Lamb camp on. We complain officiallly and unofficially to a station with a public remit (and right to reply) then we have our justifiable worries and concerns ignored, and then furthermore we are literally booted off feedback boards. THAT is the issue with this George Lamb brouhaha, the freedom of speech in public institutions. And where are his show specific listener figures attesting to his new found popularity? The blogger read Arena that raved about Lamb. I read Viz and they think he’s a useless tw*t.

So, in short, you, the mainstream media and every Lamb apologist has missed the point by a highland mile. The fact that the man is a completely talentless waste of space who goes directly against everything 6music is supposed to stand for is only PART of our problem. Over and above that we’re all just really pissed off we’re not allowed to say so without censure.

Re. the podcast. Firstly, how you can call the perfomance of the podcast “not particularly impressive” when it stands in the top 100 on the iTunes chart, and secondly, the podcast has little if nothing to do with the argument. I adore the show but never download the podcast – to me, and to a lot of other people, the GL Show is an “event”. I make sure I’m there at 10am sharp every day and I feel satisfied with my dose when it’s done at 1pm. The podcast doesn’t capture the true feel of the show.

I think Mr Piggott’s post captures the main point that the Lamb haters are missing – the GL Show is exciting, sure it’s controversial, it probably doesn’t really fit the 6Music remit as closely as other shows on the station, but it’s exciting, innovative radio that captures attention – while I am also a big fan of Gideon Coe, he just doesn’t excite, and he sounds far better in his current evening slot.

As for the argument that it’s just boring, childish rubbish for people with an IQ lower than their shoe size, well, that’s just opinion, and it’s more often than not the opinion of people who see themselves on a pedestal above people who are able to have a laugh and enjoy themselves. There are plenty of alternative places a) in the 6 Music Schedule and b) on Digital Radio and c) across the internet where the Lamb haters can get their fix of music nobody else likes, but DAB needs something that’s going to make it viable, and George Lamb will hopefully be the start of a trend that makes it so.

Your arguments for George Lamb are as lazy and generic as his show. 6 Music isn’t a play ground for new ‘talent’ to be tested out, it’s a public service station with a remit to produce quality programming.

Yes George has produced lots of column inches, the vast majority negative because he’s plain rubbish. Not just subjectively, but in ‘sub hospital radio doesn’t know what he’s doing’ kind of way.

Your insight into quality broadcasting seems stop at ‘the show with 11 listeners must be better than the one with 10’…you’re pushing for a job with Lesley Douglas aren’t you?

Hi Trent,

The ITunes charts are based on the number of new subscriptions (previous 24 hours I think) rather than total subscriptions, so new shows with few listeners can get quite high for a short while. If you look at the BBC listing you can see it’s real position in the food chain despite national advertising on numerous media channels.

My guess would be he’ll drop down the Itunes chart and creep up the BBC one to lower mid table obscurity.

I can only guess you’re a whipper snapper Trent, coz as somebody who lived through the god awful radio wasteland that was the 80’s, my first reaction to GL was ‘Oh no! not this crap again.’

Even Big Brother fans think he’s S**t, that alone speaks volumes about his so called “talent”

How can ANYONE think that George Lame is “innovative” when he’s using zoo techniques that even Chris Evans has abandoned? Steve Wright has been using zoo techniques for well over 20 years – how can Lamb’s similar approach be innovative? It’s not funny, it’s not interesting, and the only way it can be described as ‘edgy’ is in relation to the objects I sharpen at the thought of his utterly humourless, brain-dead cack pouring out aural poison.

Chris Moyles called HIMSELF the saviour of afternoon radio, no one else did. And he did that because he KNEW no one had ever heard of him. It was a publicity stunt dreamed up by himself to emphasise his anonymity. (He actually said “If you’d told me people would believe that, I’d have replied yeah, and my arse can play the trumpet.”) Even now, with his ratings measured in millions he would never claim that it was a fact, whereas Lame has occasioned no discernible rise in listening figures whatsoever. “Inflation adjusted” as it were, for the rise in DAB sales, it’s actually fallen since he came on air.

If I want that sort of humour, there’s Steve Wright, Chris Moyles, Russell Brand and more. If we want someone to just play us records – even stuff from the charts, for fork’s sake – we have an increasingly small pool of people to choose from.

And Lame absolutely isn’t one of them.

Trent – I’m sorry but you make some lazy points yourself, and you’re really setting up the ‘Lamb haters’ as a Straw Man.

Why do you think 6music fans believe they are on a ‘higher pedestal’? I don’t think that argument really has any bearing on the matter at all. You go on to say that they listen to music ‘nobody likes’ and that there are numerous outlets on DAB for these ‘musos’ to get their minority tastes satisfied. To the latter point, no there aren’t! Tell me one place you can go to between 10-1 on weekdays, outside of London, where you can hear alternative music? And alternative music, whatever that may be, is what 6music is about. Even George Lamb plays it, so your argument about the anti-Lambs having taste in music ‘nobody likes’ is proven even more invalid.

Further, your point about the iTunes chart is proven incorrect by ‘Ring of Fire’ above. Look at the BBC podcast charts – it’s the only verifiable figure we have about Lamb’s performance according to audience activities, as 6music will not provide breakdowns of individual show listenership.

As regards taste and attitude towards Lamb’s failings – yes, you’re right, that’s opinion. But put it this way, there are 6music followers and supporters who are compiling lists of ‘events’ and certain utterances from Lamb that have been utterly abhorrent, particularly in areas of minority sensitivity, for instance, nationality, disability, gender, race and class. This is not just controversial, it’s wrong. Take Howard Stern as a comparison – he’s sexist, but that’s his raison d’etre. It’s quite clear where he’s coming from; he’s a shock-jock and he’s overtly controversial. Lamb, on the other hand, is evasive and cocky, and in denial about his position regarding ‘the other’, whoever that may be. He’s on a station that isn’t supposed to be about personalities – it’s slogan says it’s the music that matters.

If we, the 6music audience, wanted controversy from the mouths of our presenters, then we’d listen to Chris Moyles or whoever. Which brings us back down to audience expectations and demographics again, points that Lesley Douglas has attempted to address by stating that George Lamb’s appointment is the result of an attempt to make the station more female-friendly. This is utter nonsense. I’m a man and I’ve been offended by some of the ridiculous and misogynistic spiel that Lamb comes out with. Part of his ‘lingo’ involves such things as ‘chirpsing’ ‘birds’; is this female-friendly? Yesterday’s (22nd July) show had Lamb discussing men and their attitude to their au pairs in highly questionable terms with the band in the hub, having a good old manly chortle about men running off with a younger model. In the face of complaints against this bluster, we’re given pacifying statements about Lamb’s ‘irreverent’ and ‘surreal’ humour. I think there are points when irony becomes ineffective against the content of what has been said in Lamb’s case. Is he being ironic when he terms something ‘straight estate’, or calls a person a ‘pikey’ (which he’s done more than once)? He’s constantly putting his foot in it, and has to apologise all the time on air for it. His show is also filled with massive silences, pauses, ‘erms’, mumbles, off-air/on-air confusion, which are all points where his complete inexperience and lack of compunction to do anything about it are brought to the fore.

Trent, your post is similarly opinionated. You say Piggott’s article exposes what anti-Lamb people neglect, that Lamb’s show ‘is exciting, innovative radio that captures attention’. Exciting because it’s offensive to minorities, infuriatingly amateur? Innovative how? By its reliance on stolen catchphrases and jingles? By its 80s production values and style? Captures attention by the most brash and insensitive approach to broadcasting? To a number of complaints about a failed interview with Stephin Merritt, Lamb said ‘If you didn’t find that funny, then turn off and tune in again at 1pm’. I would challenge anyone to listen to that interview and find it funny. If even his fans don’t think it’s funny, then is he trying to tell people not to listen to him? If that’s the case, if he’s so sensitive about criticism, then he’s going to lose what little support he has and end up the butt of 6music’s jokes for a longer time than his fans would like.

We also haven’t even got on to mentioning the level of corruption involved in the fact that George Lamb joins two other ‘DJ’s (or should I say ‘presenters’?) who together form 9 solid hours of 6music weekday air-time monopolised by staff managed by John Noel Management, the svengali company that launched a thousand Big Brother clones into the backwaters of TV.

oh, and bandwagon, dear, don’t forget my point re:censorship of those trying their best to have their say….BTW I couldn’t agree with you more.

Also, Gideon Coe excites me far more than Lamb, but perhaps that’s because I’m one of the majority of women who put interesting, interested, funny, witty, clever and passionate men higher up the food chain than twittering pretty boys.

What’s interesting about george lamb is that his detractors are actually responsible for the continued press coverage because it gives Lamb’s agent and PR an ‘angle’. I’m no fan – don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% with Viz magazine on his imbecilic charmless and dated ‘presenting’- but John Noel must be loving the controversy because they can whip up column inches out of it. And for the record – despite what it says on the BBC website – he HAS NOT got a Gold Sony Award. It was the ‘rising star’ award, invented so that he could win something and thus create more of a story.

6Muisc is innovative in plcaes and completely distinctive. Muiscally you don’t get better than the Freak Zone or MarK Riley and for, yes, REAL innovative (and entertaining) use of radio look no further then Jon Holmes on Saturdays. Now he does stretch the medium to its limit…

Can I just say that most of the replies here are better written than the actual article, hence there isn’t anything else I can add that hasn’t already been said. Although I will say that we prefer to listen to Jo Whiley than George “rascist, sexist, ignorant, silver spooned” Lamb in our office, he’s that rubbish! I can only think you were asked to write this article, no one could genuinely enjoy his show.

Ye, yes – all very interesting Mr Piggott, but the fact is – he’s rubbish, isn’t he? And he’s rubbish in the wrong place – he doesn’t fit the 6 music remit.

And innovative? I presume you’re old enough to remember the shite that was 80’s R1? How did 6music end up trying to replicate that? It’s a tragedy, and a disgrace

I take the point that DAB should be all about the content – so what the hell happened to the promise of niche broadcasting – alternative broadcasting for every taste – and not just in the graveyard shifts? Lost in a race for the middle ground, it would seem. There’s an interesting discussion to be had there. Shame you didn’t pursue that one instead.

But then – nobody did their career in radio any harm by buttering up Lesley Douglas, did they? Especially with jobs being axed in their hundreds in the commercial sector.

If DAB is in its infancy and trying to attract audiences then I don’t agree that “any publicity is good publicity” as you seem to be certain of. Get with the times Mr Piggott, getting publicity is not that hard these days as your blog site and the millions of others out there prove so well. The world’s connected now and the real message just can’t help getting out there despite what the marketing departments would like to believe. In the brave new real world of instant comment and global word of mouth, getting positive publicity might be a better goal for a fledgling technology than just trying to whip up controversy for the sake of it.

I’m not advocating a bland tweedy DJ, or even one that has to be reverential about the output he or she is supposed to be giving us. But if you are going to have a funny, witty, shocking, edge of the line presenter, at least make sure its one with some real talent to achieve that goal. For that you need someone with a real spark, not just a mockney chancer with a shotgun marriage PR agency, selling the myth of talent,

Lamb is a poor excuse for a broadcasting professional in anyone’s books. Even the less than demanding consumers of Big Brother couldn’t stand him. He’s not clever, he’s ignorant in all senses of the word. He’s not witty, he’s inane, childish, arrogant and bigoted, an insult to the intelligence of even a Sun reader. He’s got nothing to offer the station he finds himself on, he obviously has no interest in music or anything other than promoting himself and his career. And even that would be fine if he was any good at ANY of it, but he simply isn’t! How many other DJ’s have been so roundly and comprehensively lambasted on all levels, EVER? If this was commercial radio he’s be long gone, but because he’s funded by an arcane institution with an axe to grind he stays and the audience leaves in droves. But who cares? Certainly not Lesley Douglas apparently, she’d rather bang on about musos and things being ‘blokey’ than actually listen to the demographic she’s supposed to be serving.

So I fail to see how taking apart a station that once had a loyal following and replacing its key ingredients with low rent, unimaginative, unchallenging rubbish like George Lamb is going to help DAB let alone save it, even if you accept that it ever needed saving. I also don’t see how sending out the message that 6Music is crap across most media platforms is going to inspire anything more in the casual listener than a quick dip into his programme and a personal note not to bother buying a DAB if that’s the sort of twaddle they are going to insult you with. They might be inspired to sign the petition to remove George Lamb, but I doubt they’ll ever return to the station while he’s still on it.

DAB was intended to allow more stations for niche content. That means you may have low audience figures for individual stations, and why not? That’s what we pay our licence fee for isn’t it? If the BBC want to populate the station with poor quality wannabe shock jocks gurning at us every morning, why not turn it over to the commercial sector and see how many advertisers want to be scheduled on a station hosting “the worst DJ in History”.

I see from your addendum that you claim not to be singing the praises of George but I have to say it seems that way to me. Perhaps the final paragraph goes some way to explain this position, being as it is so transparently a job application to the new guard at the BBC. I think I’ve read less toe curling CVs in my time. But then I’m not in the meed-ja.

Hi Nick – interesting article, hopefully I can give you a simple reason for the at-times OTT abuse.

You say that 6music has a tendency to take its music rather seriously, and yes, that’s the point. It’s like saying that Radio 4 is a bit talk-y, or that they have too much sport on 5 Live Extra. That’s why I, and people like me, love it.

It makes me sad when George’s show starts, because I know it’s 3 hours of my working day that are not going to be “closer to the music that matters” but more “an abrasive collection of airhorns, vaguely offensive humour and shouted 80’s slogans, and some music which is likely to be talked over.”

And really, that’s fine, I know a lot of people do like that kind of thing, I’m not saying he’s a bad presenter – just not to my taste. Imagine if for example Lamby was to take over Wogan’s breakfast slot, there’d be uproar, I imagine, because he’s just not suitable for that time or that station. And that’s how I feel about his 6music show.

Cheers.

Bruce

I’m with you on everything except “he’s not a bad presenter”. Although you might be right in one sense, bad doesn’t even begin to cover it.

You said; “Managing a great talent who polarises opinion is very hard work” which would imply that you take the position that George Lamb is a “great talent.” I’ve just no idea how you could have come to a conclusion. I could go and punch someone in the street and get publicity, but it’s not the good kind.

You said: “Given a choice, I would much rather manage a difficult but brilliant presenter who invokes polarising feelings in his/her listeners, than someone easy, bland and unassuming)”.

It’s not the only choice though is it? You can choose to manage someone who is knowledgeable, witty and not rude to guests.

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