Why I care about the future of the UK Radio Academy

Why I care about the future of the UK Radio Academy

Before I start this post, the usual disclaimer. These are my views and not those of any charities, committees or employers I have links with. I have no special inside information on this topic. This is written from the heart and in a hurry, so more information may emerge over the next few days to provide reassurance.

I’m writing this in shock, as it has been announced that the Radio Academy Awards (aka Sonys) and Radio Festival are to be no more, and that the Radio Academy office and staff will cease to be in place by the end of the year.

It looks like the charity will remain, but we don’t know in what future form.

We still don’t know any of the reasons behind this decision, although I hope more details will emerge over the next few days.

Radio Academy

The UK Radio Academy is a charity with a trading arm that brings together all the UK radio groups (both commercial and public sector) in a neutral space so they can discuss the future of the industry, run trainings and celebrate the medium of radio as a whole.

It’s one of the reasons I am so proud of the UK industry. It is rare for all the ‘competing’ companies in a country to come together for the common good, and the Radio Academy has provided that space in the UK for as long as I have been involved in radio.

The announcement today leaves me very, very concerned. Not just for the Radio Academy itself, but also for the industry in the UK and the shape of its future.

It is really special to have a central hub to share ideas and best practice. I have been involved with this around the edges by being on the TechCon committee and helping to run a Masterclass day.

I have also benefited enormously from the Radio Academy events in London (my local branch). The Academy made me feel part of the wider industry for the first time. Through its meetings and events, I have made true friends from across a range of different radio companies, specialisms and disciplines. My life is better for it.

Celebrating radio

We all know that working day-to-day in radio can be less than glamorous, despite what our non-industry friends may think. Radio is suffering from a bit of self-doubt at the moment. And yet it is a medium that can change lives, in the right hands.

We all need a bit of inspiration, and the Academy’s trading arm provided two focal points for this: the Academy awards and the Radio Festival.

The Academy awards (known to most people as the Sonys, even though they aren’t the sponsors any more) are the holy grail of awards for anyone in the UK industry. Every producer and presenter wants one. Getting a nomination is a huge deal. Shortlisting means extra profiling for your station and winning is a career highlight.

The awards ceremony is glitzy – unusual for radio. This glitz gets it press attention and raises the profile of our industry as a whole. And it makes everyone who attends feel good.

Similarly, the Radio Festival is another ‘big’ event. It’s a time to be reminded that, when we work together, radio can have a massive impact. It’s a place to share our love of radio and learn from each other’s good ideas.

The Festival – another event that gets huge amounts of media coverage and is a dream to attend for many young producers – has also been axed.

Office staff

Underpinning all these great events is a small office team, who support the work of the volunteers on the different committees and groups. Having been on the TechCon committee, I can vouch at first hand for how hard this team works. Running a big event without organisational back up would be really difficult.

And yet, this evening I learned that this backbone of the Academy received their redundancy notices and, along with the physical office, will not be part of the Academy by this time next month.

What is going on?

These announcements have come seemingly out of the blue, with even a Patron not being aware of the changes planned.

There is scant detail on what the plans are, and why the decisions have been made.

All that we are left with is speculation. Is there a financial difficulty? The most recent charity accounts (2013) seem to show a reasonable surplus.

Sony stopping sponsorship of the Academy Awards may have made running the event difficult, but the membership has not had an indication that there is a cashflow issue.

Is there a plan at the top level to wind the Academy up? If so, why not share it?

The 2012 company accounts also mention a strategic review that was being implemented – it’s now only 2014 – why is it not still running?

(I have only had a quick dig around and can’t locate the Radio Academy Trading Ltd accounts – the company and charity information seems to be bundled together in the links above.)

A plea to the powers that be

We, the membership, have been left in a vacuum. I am deeply worried about the Radio Academy’s future.

Please let us know what is going on with the central membership body that keeps us all together.

If there is a problem – let us help to solve it.

I am personally happy to help out in whatever way I can, and I know from the conversations I’ve had with people this evening that many other people feel the same way.

To reiterate, I have no idea what is going on behind the scenes and can only hope that the current Trustees and management team have all the details that they need and an overall plan that makes sense.

However, until it is shared, I shall remain worried for the future of an organisation that shapes the industry I care about very much.

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