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The Radio Presenter: Bob Osborne

The Radio Presenter: Bob Osborne
B.D. Lenz By

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In terms of the music you are submitting, innovate don't copy! Keep it new and exciting. Confound expectations. Push the boundaries. I am always keen to hear forms of music that I have not heard before —Bob Osborne
In this edition of Chats with Cats I interviewed a radio presenter. In an earlier column I had spoken to a traditional jazz DJ (Sheila Anderson of WBGO) but, in this digital age, I thought it would also be good to get the perspective of someone who's utilizing the new broadcasting mediums. Internet radio and podcasts have opened up new doors and presenters like Bob Osborne have found a freedom in this new territory.

About Bob Osborne

Bob Osborne is based in Salford, Greater Manchester in the UK. He is a music writer, DJ, and record label owner with interests in a wide range of musical genres but with a particular fondness for jazz. His "World of Jazz" show can be heard weekly on taintradio and features on the All About Jazz website. His alternative music show "Aural Delights" can also be heard on taintradio as well as River Gibbs FM and Sin Radio. All shows are also available on Mixcloud. His Different Noises blog has recently been launched and aims to highlight some of the music featured on the radio shows.

All About Jazz: How did you become a radio presenter and why jazz specifically?

Bob Osborne: I was coming to the end of my career in local government around ten years ago and was looking for something to do after I retired. Around six months before leaving work I was invited to do an interview about my day job on the local community radio station in Salford. As part of the interview process I had to choose six songs to include in between the interview segments. The Radio Station manager was listening to the show as it was broadcast live and he liked my musical selections. After the interview concluded he asked me if I would be interested in doing a radio programme. I thought why not give it a go and after around two months of training I started producing a one hour weekly show about local music. I had found something to fill my time after retirement!

As a lifelong jazz listener, and after I became comfortable about the quality of shows I was producing, I suggested to the Station Manager that I could do a second show, specifically jazz, as there were no other shows on the station that covered that genre of music. He agreed and I started a new show called "World of Jazz." I abandoned the original local music show and concentrated on the jazz show as that was the type of music I was most interested in and invested in.

Following a change in the management at the station, and with another DJ leaving, I was asked to restart the local music show, this got me heavily involved with the music community in the city and also in the wider Manchester area. I made a whole new network of contacts and I dabbled in some band management and gig promotion for a few years.

AAJ: You also own a record label, German Shepherd Records, could you tell us about it?

BO: In 2014 after some initial work managing a local band, myself and the lead singer in that band were frustrated in trying to get their recorded output onto a record label. There is a very large music scene across the Manchester conurbation and there are a lot of musicians vying for the attention of record labels. There also seemed to be an awful lot of bureaucracy associated with working with a label which was off-putting

I did a lot of research into how we might do it ourselves and found that with the minimum of outlay we could actually manage to release music without having to rely on an established label. We agreed to do some initial releases via Bandcamp and then explored which would be the best aggregators to get the music into the wider digital world. After a couple of false starts we settled on a main distributor and started putting music out.

We agreed from the start that we would not operate like a traditional label and aim to keep it "not for profit" and also aim to focus on grass roots music i.e. those who would not get onto one of the more established labels. We are predominantly a digital label but we do provide options for artists to source their own CDs or Vinyl and we market it for them. It is very much a "cottage industry."

The label has grown considerably in the last few years and we have around fifty artists on the roster. Whilst the original plan was to just deal with music from Manchester/Salford we started to build a network of artists from a wider catchment area, mainly through contacts I made through radio work. We now have material released by musicians from Leeds, Newcastle, Cambridge, North Wales, as well as from overseas in Germany, Italy and Australia.

There are no specific jazz artists on the label although there is a great deal of avant-garde/left field music with a wide variety of styles, some of it being very unique indeed. We like to challenge conventions and steer away from what might be perceived as "hip." Our strap-line is "different noises for your ears"

AAJ: You left commercial radio to broadcast in the digital world. Why is that and how do they compare?

BO: After four years at the Salford station I became frustrated by the lack of flexibility and format of the commercial station set-up. Having to meet specific deadlines for broadcast slots and curtail shows to allow room for commercials made creating coherent playlists difficult. In addition the station had a number of management problems at the time which meant it was timely to leave and in any event I needed to get to a place where I was in sole control of what I was doing.

Properly presenting jazz music in a one hour slot is basically impossible. I needed to find a medium that would allow me to stretch the boundaries of the show format. Also I wanted the opportunity to play more "difficult" music that would not go down well with a traditional community station listeners. I had received a number of complaints that what I was playing was too "modern" and I was not properly honouring the traditions of jazz.

I left the station and moved into podcasting using the Mixcloud platform to present my shows. I initially became a nominated jazz lead for Mixcloud and built up a large fan base which has now reached a respectable 5,666 followers. I moved to a two hour format for the show.

I was subsequently invited to submit my shows to the Athens based online station Sin Radio in 2015. I joined Manchester based Analogue Trash Radio in 2017 with the World of Jazz show. In 2018 my new Aural Delights (non jazz) show also moved to Analogue Trash Radio. Around that time I was invited to include my shows in All About Jazz. Analogue Trash Radio ceased broadcasting in June 2019 and I then joined American station taintradio from July 2019 following a recommendation from Michael Ricci. In January 2020 I joined River Gibbs FM as part of their Sunday Overflow service, presenting a stripped down hour long version of the Aural Delights Show.

Online stations are far more flexible in terms of programming and content. The autonomy and independence allowed by stations like taint and River Gibbs means there are no rules and playlists around what I include in my shows. I can play Joe McPhee alongside Carla Bley with no raised eyebrows! Also I am my own boss which is something I always wanted to achieve on retirement. Digital is also easier to access across a number of platforms and there seem to less opportunities for things to go wrong around broadcasts. In the past for example I have heavily promoted shows online only for them not to be broadcast due to a system failure at the station, or the tech people forgetting to upload the show to the playout cart.

AAJ: With so many musicians able to record independently now is it more difficult to find great music amongst all the clutter?

BO: It's actually easier now to track down new and interesting music. Bandcamp particularly is an excellent way of finding new artists. The internet has opened things up hugely, rather than having to browse through the shelves at the local record shop, or rely on physical magazines, I can sit at home, research, and find new music easily.

I tend to follow specific groups of musicians and look at their discographies and associations and see who has played with who. Other than that I rely on promoters, record companies, and musicians to keep me apprised of new music. I get anything between two hundred to five hundred music submissions a week, from all genres, from promotion companies and direct from musicians. A great deal of time is taken up listening to new music, I would estimate that around forty percent of any week is spent researching and listening to new music submissions and releases. I've asked promo people to stop sending CDs to me as apart from the amount of room they take up it is far easier to grab an MP3 or WAV and work from the lap-top. I'd say about seventy five percent of what I get sent is deleted. It sounds a bit harsh but I apply the "thirty second test." If the music hasn't grabbed my attention within that time frame then it goes into the delete folder. Generally, though, jazz submissions tend mostly to be featured and make the cut, it's the non-jazz material which gets a harder time!

I'd say I have fairly catholic tastes, especially with jazz, so I tend to like a broad range of artists. There are some obvious areas where I will not venture, specifically cool jazz, MOR, and attempts to shoe-horn jazz into other genres. The key deciding factors in selecting material are generally quality of performance, reputation, and most importantly innovation.

AAJ: What kinds of things can an artist do to increase the chances of their music being played on the radio?

BO: Here are a few practical points about how music is sent to a radio broadcaster. Keep your promo sheet short. One side of A4 is fine. With loads of e-mails to wade through in any one week a concise promo, that might be used as a script for the show, is always preferable. Make sure to include details of musicians, production, where it was recorded, and record label info.

Include e-mail contact details for musicians and the record label. Preparation for a two hour show can take anywhere between three and four hours in terms of gathering information, writing scripts, and deciding playlist order. The more readily accessible information is about a release the better.

Send a download link to the material which is easily accessible. MP3s or WAVs are fine but make sure they are properly labelled and tagged. Definitely don't send OGG or FLAC as they take up too much space. Do not send Spotify or YouTube links only and expect airplay. I need the MP3. If you want something broadcast close to your release date get the music sent in at least two weeks before the target date so there is plenty of time to listen to it and build a show around it. Many pre-record DJs need to submit their shows to their stations around ten days before broadcast time so there is always the need to build in time before that deadline.

In respect of contacting broadcasters, don't send repeat e-mails. If you have not had a reply within a few days, nothing is more annoying than repeat messages cluttering up the in-box. Make sure your promo company, if you use one, is accurately representing your release with all the relevant information in the package. On more than one occasion I have had incorrect information from a promo company only to be complained to by the artist about accuracy.

In terms of the music you are submitting, innovate don't copy! Keep it new and exciting. Confound expectations. Push the boundaries. I am always keen to hear forms of music that I have not heard before.

Be mindful of what can be practically accommodated in a two hour show. Don't expect a forty five minute piece to be played. Think of the time constraints of the programmer. If you are desperate for something to be heard, and if possible, provide a representative radio edit.

AAJ: What formats do you play and do you have a preference? What are the pros and cons of CD vs. vinyl vs. digital in what you do?

BO: As mentioned I predominantly use digital. With a record label to run I am always battling for the time needed to research, programme and record the radio shows so the ability to move files around and not have to rely on ripping or recording from physical media is preferred. Because I work from the lap-top and pre-record shows and do not have access to studio gear, digital recording is, of necessity, the best medium for me.

I'm not a big fan of vinyl and am a little dumbfounded by the current revival, I appreciate that might be seen as heretical but it's not the easiest of media to use when time is limited. I was, and am still I guess, a big fan of the CD, and used that medium when I was based at the radio station, but it is becoming increasingly a digital world. In limited circumstances I will purchase a CD from an artist I am particularly fond of but mostly I purchase music digitally these days from Bandcamp, which has become a great source for new and interesting jazz. I keep a couple of external hard drives spare for backup of all my collection, this makes accessing and filing of releases a lot easier and takes up a lot less space than physical media.

AAJ: How much of your playlist is based on what you think your audience wants to hear and how much is your own personal tastes?

BO: I don't tend to think about the audience when putting the shows together. I feel you can start second guessing yourself when you start thinking about who is listening. After fifty years of listening to jazz I think I have a fairly good grasp of what is good and bad. Playlists tend to be generated as follows: what new material has been sent in that is good; a tribute to musician who has recently passed away; a particular theme that needs exploring; or a specific musician to focus on. Does it all hang together as a listening experience? I guess you can only do this after you have been doing shows for a while, it comes with practice, as I'm just about to do my three hundred eightieth "World of Jazz." I hope I've gotten to a stage where I can do this without really thinking about it too much. The important thing to do is not to make it too overt, it needs to be organic.

AAJ: Do you have a specific demographic or is it pretty varied?

BO: I don't know specifically. Of those listeners I have communicated with I find they have fairly broad musical tastes, not unlike my own, and are not just jazz listeners. As far as I can tell there are a range of different age groups from say mid twenties through to over sixties, both male and female, from all around the world. It would be interesting to analyse the Mixcloud followers to see how they breakdown demographically.

AAJ: What's your prognosis for the future of jazz?

BO: With the increasing accessibility of music via the internet I think the prognosis is good. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are increasingly important means of widening the global jazz community, improving contact, sharing music and building relationships. I'm struck by the ease of access to growing jazz communities in a wider range of countries which is a nice fit with the name of my show. I've been impressed with the Italian and Canadian music I have heard recently for example.

Like any other scene there is a need to filter out the music which is generally populist and get below the surface of what the mainstream media define as "jazz." I increasingly find that the more interesting music is that which doesn't get into the "best of" lists or on the cover of the trade magazines. I've always felt it is important to champion those musicians who are sat in that twilight zone between fame and obscurity, those who deserve a little more attention that they are getting.

There's always more that can be done, for example, whilst Manchester has the Band on the Wall or Matt and Phreds and an annual jazz festival, it has not got the range and variety of London. It would be great to see something like Cafe Oto or Vortex to offer more choices in the improvised/avant-garde area of the music.

Listen to World of Jazz at All About Jazz

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