Why Five Live was right to drop its imaging this week

It’s been a fast-moving week of news from France, with many UK outlets sending reporters to the area for on-location coverage. Because I’ve mainly been in the car and I don’t have DAB in the current vehicle, I’ve mainly been getting my radio news from BBC Five Live, who in my opinion did a great job. I was also impressed to see Global’s Simon Conway in France too; he has blogged about his experiences here.

For much of the time, 5 Live dropped their imaging. While some imaging producers might think of this as an odd thing to do, I think it was the right decision, for a number of reasons…

1. In such a serious situation, jingles can talk about the wrong thing. They’re usually about us – our frequencies, our branding, our platforms – and at a time like this we should be getting straight to the reporting. You don’t need to flag that you’re a news station right now.

2. Often they’re the wrong mood. Dance-driven beds and stabs into hostage situations? No.

3. The lack of them adds something to the situation. Removing these reliable benchmarks of the clock helps to underline the gravity of the situation.

4. Finally, from a practical situation, you’re probably dealing with a large number of outside lines and non-studio presenters, possibly with schedule changes and a fast-changing situation. The last thing you need to be thinking about is who’s going to hit the junction on the news ramp, and who’s going to fill the donut afterwards. Do what you do best – report the news.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of “breaking news” imaging. It’s far more powerful to use no imaging. BBC Five Live returned to their imaging shortly after the police stormed the two hostage situations and brought them to an end. This was also a great decision – I was in a meeting while the sieges ended, and hearing the TOH imaging when I got back into my car was an immediate subliminal message that normality was returning.

If you’re rolling the news, don’t be afraid to break the imaging rules at times like this. You’re going to get your ticks, your respect and your extended hours because of the content you’re putting in, not because of the news jingle. From what I recall, we did this at Real Radio through the night of the terrible Clutha helicopter tragedy.

What if you’re a music station? If you’re keeping the hits rolling, keep the imaging in place. If the situation’s not serious enough to drop the playlist and the ads, then you’d sound silly dropping the imaging. If you’re going completely off-format though, keep things off-format.

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