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David Bowie and your archives

His death highlights the importance of keeping your archived audio safe

By James Cridland
Posted 13 January 2016, 7.00am est

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You probably haven’t noticed - nobody’s mentioned it or anything - but David Bowie died earlier this week.

Radio stations scrabbled to cover the news - and I’m grateful to UK Radioplayer’s Michael Hill for posting this rather marvellous video of what UK radio looked like at just after 8.00am on the morning of the announcement. It’s a testament to both radio’s capability to react, and also the staggering benefit of a central searchable database.

Many radio stations played lots of David Bowie, of course. But in this era of Spotify and Google Play, if you want to listen to any Bowie, it’s just a click away. There’s not much that’s special about magically being able to play a bunch of Bowie songs, not any more.

There is, however, something special about hearing the man speak. Laying your hands on a prized interview. That’s something that Spotify can’t do.

There’s really something special in reminding your listeners that yes, David Bowie has been into this very radio station. And here’s a clip of him, in this studio, only a few years ago. Here’s our connection.

The image at the top of this article is Ben Jones, a radio presenter who was, it appears, the last person to interview Bowie in the UK. He was working at Virgin Radio at the time, in its former incarnation in the UK, which has now changed to Absolute.

Absolute has published the interview in full online; and Ben’s obviously kept the photograph (and has spoken to Forbes about his experience). I’m sure Absolute re-ran some of the audio. Why wouldn’t you?

But if there’s anything that aptly highlights the transmitter mindset, it’s the failure of most radio stations to keep adequate archives. Why bother if all you do is feed a transmitter? Stations, and brands, come and go: and regularly tape reels and CDs are thrown in a skip rather than being properly archived. And by “properly archived”, I mean being made searchable so you can do clever things with your own content.

For example, I bet Absolute also ran some audio from Coldplay, explaining how they’d been rejected by Bowie in an interview for Absolute’s breakfast show. Could you have done that at your station? What are you doing to archive your audio? Who is in charge of it in your station? Where is it going? How quickly could you grab that audio and get it to air if you needed to?

Dare I say it - what happens when Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney decide to move on to a bigger gig in the sky? Are you prepared? Because a Beatles triple-play won’t cut it.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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