NME: From magazine to website to radio station

Since NME Radio launched last month, NME news editor Paul Stokes has spent more time than usual inside the elevators of IPC’s Blue Fin Building, as he descends into the bowels of the new building four times a day to deliver live music news bulletins.

There’s none of the formal style of BBC news. When Stokes (pictured below) arrives in the studio he pulls out a clump of Post-it notes from his back pocket and chats with the DJ about the day’s big stories on nme.com.

At this early stage of NME Radio’s development, Stokes is the most heavily involved of the NME journalists – new music editor Alex Miller presents a weekly show and some others are, or will be, involved in weekly round-table discussions on-air.

Although Stokes says the break up of his daily routine was hard to get used to at first, and he isn’t quite sure what will happen when he has a day off, he says he found adding an extra platform was less difficult than he thought.

‘In terms of the content and style of delivery, it works with what I’m doing now,’he explains. ‘A lot of it is news stories I will have edited online and I’m just going down and talking about them, so if I’ve done my job properly it’s fine.”

Coordinated approach

Stokes got involved in the NME Radio planning at an early stage, initially to voice his concerns that bands might end up being over-interviewed. ‘We didn’t want to get into a position such as when News 24 started and people were complaining the BBC had interviewed them six times,’he says. ‘I was very keen to be up front even if I wasn’t going to be involved on-air, so I could make sure there was some kind of process that could coordinate both sets of news.”

In charge of all NME Radio’s music news, Stokes uses the stories as teasers to nudge the listener to the website for more detail and visuals.

As content sharing between the radio station and other platforms is still evolving, there are weekly content coordination meetings. NME editor Conor McNicholas, NME Radio managing director Sammy Jacob, NME deputy editor Krissi Murison, and website editor David Moynihan meet to discuss how to keep a consistent editorial message on all formats while retaining a unique approach for each platform without over-spreading content.

‘When Kaiser Chiefs are playing at Elland Road and we want to cover that and put an issue out, and get as many page impressions as we can from photos of the event on the Monday… at what point do you hold back, and at what point do you talk it to death on NME Radio before people go ‘I’ve had enough’?’asks McNicholas. ‘I don’t know the answers, but it’s stuff that we already have to deal with daily for the magazine and the website, so we just have to stay alert.”

To introduce variation, the radio station has specialist shows on topics that don’t have their own section in the magazine, such as electronica. And if there is a new band the team want to champion, the message is to put it out across all the platforms to maintain consistency. The station is available online and via Sky and Virgin TV services.

McNicholas admits it sounds ‘wanky”, but says his role is now to manage communication systems. ‘You can’t have everything working together all the time, otherwise everyone is trying to focus on everything and it’s not doable, but things naturally pair up,’he says. ‘For example, the website and magazine go hand in hand, as do live events and NME’s mobile platform.”

An obvious advantage for a music magazine having a radio station is the possibility of broadcasting live concerts. As NME Radio is late in joining the game, the more established stations have already paired up with the big festivals – the BBC owns the rights to Glastonbury, for example.

This year the station was only days old when Glastonbury was on, so NME Radio’s coverage involved Stokes phoning the DJs with updates and mini reviews. Glastonbury might be a tough one for the station to penetrate, but McNicholas has high hopes for the radio station’s coverage of live events in the future. A primary target is one-off events, such as when Muse played the first live concert in the new Wembley Stadium last year.

‘I want to make sure NME Radio has the exclusive rights and will be delivering a big build up and aftermath,’says McNicholas.

Managing director Sammy Jacob is ambitiously ‘tying up deals with everyone’at the moment, McNicholas adds.

The founder of commercial radio station Xfm and the self-proclaimed ‘founder of indie alternative radio”, Jacob is the man who first put Ricky Gervais on-air – and used his connection with the comedian to secure a one-off special with the star during NME Radio’s test transmission period.

Jacob is delighted with what’s available to him at NME: ‘To have these resources is a dream,’he says. ‘Each platform has its own sensitivity, and I wasn’t sure how well they could integrate, but this is brilliant.

‘The fact we have these people running up and down the stairs… I don’t even have to think about it,’he says, as new music editor Alex Miller scuttles past to deliver his weekly show.

Jacob’s office is set up in the bunker-basement of IPC, opposite the two new studios and live studio that’s already accommodated Dirty Pretty Things and The Rascals.

Jacob agrees with McNicholas that the relationship is a learning process for both sides, but he says it is an exciting one as NME is the first music magazine and station to have such a close working relationship.

Keeping up with the enemy

NME is not the first magazine-branded station to involve the print journalists: Bauer’s Heat Radio, launched in September 2007, runs a similar operation to NME, working as a converged magazine and radio operation with a studio embedded in the magazine office.

From the music sector, Q editor-in-chief Paul Rees hosts a show on Q Radio, and Mojo Radio uses Mojo staff as experts. Kerrang! Radio shares resources with the weekly rock magazine, although the station is based in Birmingham and the magazine in London.

Jacob says he’s aiming for listener figures in the ballpark of Q Radio’s 282,000 weekly audience, and is cautious about overloading the airspace with ’30-second generic bullshit adverts’that might ‘dilute the quality’of NME Radio.

‘More and more, [NME] staff are getting involved and we’re discovering new talent. Paul Stokes is just a natural, Alex Miller has an unbelievable voice and there are others who have great potential,’says Jacob.

Catching Miller after he finishes his show, he explains, in a smooth voice made for radio, that he’s really enjoying his weekly half-hour show. Miller’s show is currently the only magazine feature that has transferred on-air, but there are plans for more adaptations. A phone-in version of NME’s backpage feature ’12 steps – proof that everything is connected’is being developed, and editor McNicholas is keen to get reviews editor Hamish McBain involved possibly in a retro show of classic albums. ‘NME people tend to be quite outgoing generally and like the sound of their own voice and think that they’re right about everything. They’re natural radio-presenter material,’he says.

‘I want listeners to understand there is a bunch of real people behind the magazine putting it together. NME radio has the chance to make stars of everybody.’

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