A Week in My Life: Dave Masterman, Head of Content at Audio Always
On Friday, BBC 5 Live launched a new national radio feature, the Elis James and John Robins show.
Dave Masterman is the Head of Content at Audio Always, the indie producing the new show for BBC Radio 5 Live. As you can imagine, he had a busy week building up to the launch of the new show on Friday.
Here, he tells us how his week went...
After announcing their departure from commercial indie digital station Radio X in March, comedians and decade-old best mates Elis James and John Robins have been tentatively preparing for a brand new challenge ever since.
They’re swapping the guitars and adverts for something a little more sparse as they launch a new speech-led show on BBC Radio 5 Live, Fridays from 1pm. This is exciting news for me as I, having launched their old show before leaving to work at Absolute Radio, now get the chance to once again produce one of the funniest programmes on radio.
And, with less than a week to go, plans are moving at pace. Monday sees me head down to London (I work out of Salford for independent production company Audio Always for most of the week, so it’s an early Pendolino for me) and meet the boys ahead of a very special recording for new digital platform BBC Sounds.
They’re talking listeners through a 20-track playlist and it’s up to me to find a studio in New Broadcasting House, set up the mics, get everyone comfortable, and hit record (unfortunately I couldn’t do anything about John picking a Meat Loaf track halfway through!). As the presenters are moving across to a show that relies entirely on talking, this is a rare opportunity for them to flex their musical muscle; something that is second nature to them after introducing the likes of Oasis and Florence since 2014.
I reluctantly parted ways with these two gentlemen over two years ago, so it’s a real joy to be back in the studio, guiding them through a one-hour record ahead of Friday’s launch. As a producer, it’s important to know your presenters and understand what works (and what doesn’t work) for them. Fortunately, I find Elis and John a dream to work with, hence why I wouldn’t let anyone else lead this brand new show when Audio Always won the commission, even if that does mean trekking down to London once or twice a week to facilitate the preparation and launch of what will be an incredibly exciting show for 5 Live and its audience.
After the BBC Sounds session, it was time to hole up in an NBH meeting room named ‘Dr Who’ (which, alas, was no bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside) and continue to fine-tune a programme that we’re all very keen on making sure sounds and feels different enough from their previous Radio X offering.
As we draw closer to launch day, I’m back at New Broadcasting House to oversee press proceedings to make sure as many people know about the new show as possible. This is par for the course for any burgeoning programme, as the BBC’s PR department are called into action to make sure Elis and John are seen and heard in all the right places. Today, it’s a trip to Build London where the chaps are interviewed in front of a live studio audience.
On this occasion, it seems the presenter knows as much about the show as he does about the inner political workings of North Korea. Still, this makes for a fun and chaotic chat that does its job in promoting 5 Live’s new show for the unpredictable offering that it’ll surely be. With just three days to go until show one, I also use this precious time with Elis and John to record some new jingles for the show, one of which is a ridiculously silly song about email that I’ve gently persuaded them to sing.
It’s a busy day for everyone, so I head home exhausted, yet buoyed by how well the planning is going ahead of Friday’s curtain-raiser. Before bed - brain still going like the clappers - I plot a ‘to-do’ list that I send to the show’s content producer. Happy that anything important is now out of my head and onto my phone, that’s Tuesday done.
Today is all about the socials. From their years on the radio, through their honest and open approach to subjects such as mental health and depression, Elis and John have built a fiercely loyal fanbase. Along with the new 5 Live listenership, it’s these people who I’ve had in mind when recording and scripting a new collection of teaser videos that will be put out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Today is about communicating with 5 Live’s digital department to make sure the right copy is going with the right video to help increase reach and engagement of these bespoke clips. I meet them in the morning to plot the best approach, discussing everything from the timings of the posts to the hashtags we should be using for the show in general (#elisandjohn is what we go for).
As the videos begin to appear online, it’s heartening to see just how many people can’t wait for the show to start. It’s now been two months since they were last on Radio X, and it’s clear to see they’ve been sorely missed. However, the odd negative comment from 5 Live’s dedicated listenership is a reminder that there is work to be done when it comes to converting the more traditional fans of the station.
Safe in the knowledge that this promotional campaign will do the job over the coming days, my attentions turn to the show’s all-important podcast. Whilst at X, Elis and John’s pod was the most listened to on the station (beating Chris Moyles along the way), and today is the day our 10-minute ‘teaser’ goes live.
The die-hard fans download, subscribe, comment, like and share straight away, taking it immediately to the top of the iTunes Charts! This is an encouraging start for a programme that hasn’t even launched yet, and it’s this level of engagement that we’ll be wanting to take with us into launch.
With one day to go, I head to New Broadcasting House early to undertake a crash course in all the systems that we’ll be using for the live show. Due to my commercial background, there’s a lot to take in when it comes to getting used to how things are done within the beeb, so I’ve given myself a full day to become acquainted with every single program.
For Elis and John, they need to trust that their producer knows exactly how everything works. If they gauge for one second that I don’t know what’s going on, that’ll have an impact on the show. This is why I’ve enlisted the help of a number of studio managers to help me throughout the day.
From the station’s playout system (how every bit of audio makes it to air) to the text console (how we’ll see the texts and tweets that are sent in), I slowly become familiar with how everything works. It’s a long day with a lot to take in, but happy with what I’ve learnt, I head to my central London hotel knowing that the show is in great shape ahead of tomorrow’s launch.
I make one final call to both Elis and John to make sure they have everything they need, and field any final questions. They’re both happy that the show plan is ready to go, with both presenters seeming confident with the weeks of prep that have gone into kicking off this new show.
At my hotel, I catch up with 5 Live’s Station Sound producer, making sure that every bit of pre-recorded audio is in place and ready to go. We’ve made a conscious decision to create a number of moments whereby the mics can come down and we can quickly chat about what’s happening next. Coming from a show where they would have these moments every four minutes with music and ads, these packages (ranging from comedic ‘fake ads’ to inserts from other comedians) will be so important for the two presenters, especially for show one.
Everything is in place, so I head to bed, hugely excited about launching a brand new programme with two very talented presenters on the BBC’s national radio platform.
I wake early, nervous energy building as the importance of the day dawns on me. As a team, we’ve all worked extremely hard to make sure everything goes to plan. In a way, from the viewpoint of a producer, the majority of the hard work has already been done, but there’s nothing like a brand new show to get the adrenaline going!
I arrive at NBH at 8am - a good five hours ahead of our 1pm launch (even by John’s high standards of arriving everywhere early, this is impressive). The boys arrive at 11am, relaxed and confident that a fun afternoon lies ahead. We all bundle into the studio at midday, knowing that an hour is more than enough time to get everyone settled. With 25 minutes to go, Adrian Chiles - presenter of the show that leads into ours - chats live to the boys down an ISDN line from his broadcast studio.
The conversation is fun, although there’s more than a hint that Chiles doesn’t quite know what to make of these two comedians, who are hardly your stereotypical 5 Live anchors. Still, it’s a nice introduction for Elis and John and relaxes them ahead of 1pm.
At this stage, it’s my job to make sure they’re both happy with the show’s running order, whilst reminding them that they need to treat this as a brand new programme, rather than a continuation of what they left behind at X. And before we know it, it’s 1pm, the news bulletin is coming to an end, and we’re about to usher in a brand new chapter for BBC Radio 5 Live (a chapter that is nothing like anything that has gone before it on this legendary station).
With anecdotes, features, callers and games coming thick and fast, the next two hours fly by. As expected - due to the very nature of the show - it’s fair to say the response is mixed. Praise comes from Elis and John’s loyal fans, whilst confusion and criticism comes flying in from those expecting to hear the Sports Panel with Ellie Oldroyd.
Fortunately, the lads have never known how to be anything other than honest and authentic whilst on air, and proceed to create some incredibly funny moments, reacting to the texts and tweets that flood the inbox. It’s this self-deprecating transparency that I love about these two brilliant broadcasters, as they ride the wave of listener reaction superbly (reading out a whole host of negative jibes in a way only they could).
3pm is here before I know it, and we debunk to a nearby meeting room to talk through how we thought it went. We’re all very happy with the content we offered up, and reassuringly both Elis and John are unfazed by the opinions of the naysayers (I suppose a few angry tweets doesn’t differ too much to the many hecklers they’ve probably had to deal with on stage for the past decade).
Thanks to the quick work of our content producer Jess, the podcast is released soon after the live broadcast, and soon enough, we’re once again sitting atop the iTunes Podcast Charts. This positioning is testament to the popularity of these two unique presenters, who - given time - will change the face of one of the BBC’s flagship stations.
Before heading back up north I walk to a nearby Soho pub with John and Elis. It’s been a big week for everyone, and although we’re all exhausted, the conversation quickly moves on to what we have planned for the ‘difficult second show’.