Insight’s Jo Ward was invited to Broadcasting House by CEO James Neish to hear about the new plans that will be rolled out from 6th March and to go behind the scenes to sit-in on a test for a new visualised radio programme.
Having left Gibraltar in 2016 to pursue a career in the UK, working for the BBC and helping to set up Times Radio amongst other jobs, James Neish returned to the Rock in October last year to start his role as CEO of Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC). Having been appointed back in June, James says that he had started reviewing what needed to be done that summer so that so he could hit the ground running with the changes that will take place in March.
“One of the first things I did was a public survey, both face-to-face in Main Street and then online, with about 600 respondents,” he states. What came out of the survey was really encouraging, with 80% rating GBC as highly important to the community. 97% said that they consume GBC news in some form and the 8.30 pm GBC news programme continues to be a firm favourite in households. “The survey also showed a huge rise in how people consume on social media and on radio, but more than anything what we took away from this was how valued GBC is to the community and how much people want it,” says James. “I also held one-to-one meetings with all members of staff to help shape the plans for the future.”
James comments that these changes were part of the vision that he presented to the Board when applying for the job, but that they are also heavily influenced by the feedback from listeners and viewers, and from the staff. “Having the vision is the easy part – it is how you deliver it – and one of the things that we have to be very careful about and which we are eager to get right is how to sustain anything that we change.”
“Broadcasting is not an exact science, so we will try some things – and some will work and some might not work and then we will change them in 3 or 6 months’ time.” The way we consume news is constantly changing and at a time when there is so much access to information, the role of a public service broadcaster has never been more important. “There is so much noise out there and somebody has to filter through all that noise and sometimes access to information is very difficult to find, and it is important as a responsible broadcaster for us to filter through all that and give you the unfiltered version of news so that the public can make up their own minds.”
At his first staff meeting, James spelt out his vision for GBC using the word LOCAL as an acronym: L for local, O for originality, C for community, A for audiences and L for live.
“You will notice that we have more of a live element in news, trying to capture it as it happens,” he explains. “One of the big changes that we are implementing from March is a massive revamp of our lunchtime news hour which at the moment has Gibraltar Today as a working title.” The idea is that it will be a live programme with interviews which sets the agenda earlier in the day than GBC News at 8.30 pm. “This lunchtime edition is going to be on radio and also visualised for television, and it’s really exciting and a big step away from a traditional radio programme,” James tells me. Jonathan Scott will produce and present the new programme, with Ros Astengo taking over GBC’s weekly current affairs programme Viewpoint.
James explains that from 6th March all the TV schedule changes. “The new schedule will allow for about two and a half hours of extra local content a week – that is 10 hours of local content a month.” One of the things that came out of the survey was that people were not happy with the number of TV repeats. “We are being led by the data, so that is something that we are addressing and all programmes will go down to just one repeat, and we will ensure that before and after the 8.30 pm News, there will never be a repeat, except for one slot on the Fridays.”
The changing face of news consumption means that people want to know about breaking stories as soon as they happen. “We will be starting hourly summaries on radio between 7 am and 6 pm and between 9 am and 2 pm at weekends which will be a massive Newsroom led initiative,” James says. “The idea is that we will also have sixty second flash summaries, with the three top stories of the day, but by sitting just before the World Service they also give us the opportunity to extend that bulletin in ‘Breaking News’ scenarios.”
To celebrate its 60th Anniversary as Gibraltar’s national broadcaster, GBC is delving into the archives to broadcast content from the past on Friday evenings in a programme titled GBC Rewind, featuring snippets of news and music performances. “We have spent a lot of money digitising the archives and we want to share it with viewers and listeners.”
With all the extra content and new programming, there comes a lot of technicalities. James talks about the brand changes. “The studio is getting a bit of a revamp and a fresher look. That is phase one and then depending on listener and audience feedback we will continue to develop what has gone down well and whatever doesn’t work will go.”
Something that James wants to achieve with the proposed changes is for the corporation to be seen as one GBC. “We have eighty staff here but they are divided, for internal purposes, so for example we have television, radio, newsroom, engineering and admin departments and I am keen for us to work as one GBC.”
James leads me up to the TV Production Team area. Although having started as a production trainee back in 1996 at GBC, James has never worked in the new GBC building. “Until only last week I still got lost in the corridors,” he laughs. The large room is busy and full of staff members working at computers. James introduces me to Guy who is putting content from TV programmes onto the socials. “Instead of doing a promo for the programme, we now pull what we think was a good quote and put that online and we get a lot more engagement,” Guy says, adding that some of the videos have done extremely well with more than 10,000 views, with people now discovering programmes that they may not have known of before. As we speak the social media counter on Guy’s windowsill clicks over showing Likes in real time. “It’s exciting and really makes us feel part of what is going on.” James’ long-term plan would be to try and expand with a Digital department. “It’s a big task, but one that needs to be undertaken.
We move across to the team that creates the content for producers and visual assistants. “Kyle is our designer extraordinaire,” James says. “We mostly use our handbook to reference when we start to design or make changes seasonally for our brand, so we refer back to the thinking and conceptualisation that we have put a lot of effort into before, why we chose what colours and shapes – everything has a meaning behind it,” Kyle elucidates. “The same way that we use green screen in the studios, we can use green screen within graphics, and here we are exploring some concepts for podcasts on radio and TV and also trying to build a brand around Jonathan Scott’s new programme.”
James introduces me to Wes, the Continuity and Online Producer. “The person who I drive insane with all the technicalities,” James comments, explaining that although local is very important, they also commission programmes and that Wes looks after all the imports. Wes tells me that even until five years ago they used to receive things on tape but that everything is now transferred digitally. “The other part of what I do is to make sure that all the content is prepared for transmission and then I oversee the transmission and keep things ticking.”
James tells me about yet another change coming along from 6th March. “We are going to have a live weather TV presenter, a meteorologist, commissioned from the UK – with a segment especially made for us in association with the Met Office in Gibraltar. Wes has been coordinating with our provider on the technicalities, working out how those files are going to reach us and to make sure that it is here and ready to broadcast on time.”
Time to head back down to the basement area where the radio studios are situated to meet Jonathan Scott and Principal Engineer at GBC John Balestrino. Jonathan’s new programme will be broadcast from here but as it will also be live on television, things such as lighting, camera positions and microphone angles have to be decided upon. The idea is to have a stream of guests coming in, so the studio will accommodate a co-host as well as Jonathan and a main guest. I’m given the opportunity to sit in the guest chair to see how it will look on camera and I ask Johnathan how he feels about the new show. “It is exciting,” he replies. “I used to do radio, and I love radio, and I am looking forward to the connection that you get with the audience because it feels much more immediate than television and enables you to make an individual connection with people.”
“The crux of the show is to develop the news of the day sooner, between 1 and 2 pm,” James states. “So if a news story breaks, the audience don’t have to wait until the evening to get more on it.”
Our last stop on my tour was up to the Master Control Room, where Programme Controller Kristle sits in front of a bank of screens showing everything that is on air. “We are here to test putting our visualised radio programme on air,” Wes says. “During the daytime we have what we call the day loop – where we run promos with Radio Gibraltar sound over the top – so the idea for this room is to get from the day loop to the new radio programme which is going to come up via the camera feeds, and thanks to the engineering team we have managed to get that through and tested a few weeks back.” Kristle demonstrates by switching to screens showing the two radio studios downstairs.
As the end of my tour at GBC comes to an end, the conversation turns to what Jonathan should wear on air – a suit, shirt and tie or a jumper? He laughs as he says: “you can bet the first thing that people comment on is whether I dress appropriately or whether I need a haircut!”