INTERVIEW: Radio's Colin Murray on digital music, football streaming with BT Infinity and his love of Super Mario

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Colin Murray, radio DJ, sports pundit on the airwaves and TV and generally-all-round-nice-bloke has partnered up with BT to help them promote their growing BT Infinity super-fast broadband network. He’s created an online guide on how to get the most out of the service, including tips on getting the best from gaming, sports and music on the web. You can view them all by visiting www.btlife.bt.com/infinityhowto.

Colin was kind enough to sit down for the best part of an hour with Tech Digest, and we talked about everything from iTunes to illegal football streams, Super Mario to what best to do with an elephant carcass on a desert island. Read on for a lengthy-but-very interesting chat indeed!

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Colin, can you explain to Tech Digest’s readers what you’ve been doing with the BT team?

I’ve been working with them to launch the superfast BT Infinity broadband. It’s a 40Mb connection with 10Mbps download speeds compared to the half a Mb we’re used to with standard broadband. BT came to me to talk about sport, music and gaming; I think they expected sport to be the big thing but found out that I’m more about the music and gaming when online! Because I use two or three web-connected gadgets at once like my iPad and Sonos audio gear it turned out I was the perfect person to work with.

So you’re a bit of a gadget-head then?

Yeah, but not an extreme one that doesn’t have relations with any women! But one enough to be quite savvy with it; I know when a first generation gadget is a good first generation gadget, like the iPad, and likewise when not to buy the iPad 2. That’s a ridiculous upgrade! I recently had to transfer a web domain though and that went above my head; I had to re-align something and I couldn’t do it so I had to get my mate from a website company to do it.

I’m part of that first generation of tech-savvy kids (I’m 34 now). So I had the first wave of proper computer games consoles you could have in your house, the Commodore, the Spectrum. Then I had one of the first dial-up internet connections. I can’t even remember how fast that was. It was absolutely nothing was it?

The first one I had was a 56K dial-up, but it sounds like you’re going back before that again then?

Yeah, thanks very much for reminding me I go back further! But yeah, you’re right. 12K? I remember it being 12K I think. But then as it upgrades you go “Wow, that’s it now, I don’t need to go any faster”, but then you look at something like Infinity and it blows you away. It’ll be interesting to see in four years whether or not even this will have to get faster.

The thing is it’s all about the engine that powers your technology, and it’s getting to the stage now where it’s all advancing so quickly that a product like the superfast broadband needs to have to completely catch up with it. Like here you can have four HD videos streaming at once and (in my experience) they hardly have to re-buffer; you can just watch and watch and watch. I’m a big baseball fan and I watch a lot of it online, but with standard broadband it always has to re-buffer. I get to enjoy the games live, but at times you can miss really important moments, whereas with Infinity I could watch four games at the same time.

You’ve had a lengthy career in radio, which is what most people would recognise you from I suppose?

Yeah, I’m doing alright! Been in the job 11 or 12 years.

How do you feel the rise of the internet has affected radio broadcasting?

Print journalism and broadcast journalism are very different things, and even within broadcast journalism TV and radio again are very different. I think you’ll never really break the connection that you’re only ever broadcasting to one person with radio, and people will always seek that out. Technology sits alongside people’s passion for music and passion for conversation; it doesn’t replace it, it never replaces it. Sometimes you hear people saying we’re going to get to the stage that we’ll never even have to talk to each other any more and that’s absolute nonsense, you know? Technology can change how we discover music for the better, and for the worse; it can change how we garner our music. Do we buy it? Do we steal it? And I don’t think even the record companies have quite got their heads around those issues yet.

But in direct reference to radio, the internet will never replace it, it’ll just expand it and change how we access it. Traditional radio stations might be worried about the loyalty people have with the station brand. I know with Sonos I can listen to any radio station in the world, but a good show is a good show and my favourite presenters are my favourite presenters, and no technology is going to change that. I just might end up consuming more radio and having more favourite presenters, and I think that’s great for the industry, not bad.

With the likes of BT Infinity making streaming stuff really consistent, are apps like Spotify a rival to radio?

I think a good presenter will listen to every new record he gets and play the best of that, communicating that with his audience, and he’ll do that with maybe a massive 1 million people, or 10 million people, or 10 thousand people, or 5 thousand people. I don’t think you can replace that. It all depends on being able to get what you need with the technology that’s available. Do I buy less music because of the internet? I buy more music. For example, playing Grand Theft Auto online, of all things, gave me jazz music. I was never interested in jazz music until I was driving down the road in the game and I heard Chet Baker’s Let’s Get Lost. I’ve now spent thousands of pounds on jazz music in the last two years; I’ve travelled to North America just to see Dave Brubeck live. I wouldn’t have even known who he was three years ago.

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In terms of digital music downloads, is it still a balance for you? Are you still going down the record shop?

Oh absolutely; maybe this is an exception, not enough people do this to be fair, but I still know when I need to buy vinyl records, and know when it’s OK to download something aswell. I also do a radio show where I pick the music as I go along, and I use two iPods and an iPad for that; I rarely tap into my vinyl because that’s sacred. Never take them out DJ-ing either. People say I’m a philistine for using CDs, but I’m not going to bring my vinyl to a student union, you know?

Let me put it this way; when you were first able to download music, it would take how long to download one track? 8 minutes, 9 minutes, 10 minutes? With Infinity I can download an entire album in 4 minutes. Note even 4 minutes in some cases, given the new Radiohead album is only bloody eight tracks long!

So do you see a return to people buying an entire album and listening to it in one go, as opposed to the recent trend in the digital sphere of just the odd track here and there on shuffle?

I hope so. It is a convenience thing; the faster you can do it, the more chance that sort of thing wont be lost. I think some of the beauty of an album in terms of the ordering of album tracks has been lost a bit. But if you can grab an entire album this quickly perhaps that sort of magic wont be gone forever.

These things always start on the periphery. Take VHS; that was going nowhere till the adult entertainment industry got involved and that’s a fact. With music the first things that worked were things like Hype Machine, and I still use that a hell of a lot. You’d go on there for a particular version of a track or a new download. Now people are downloading mainstream music from mainstream sites. Still way too many people stealing and not paying for it though. Again, music being streamed legally is causing me to buy more music. If technology gets better we might see it levelling out with more people buying music again. It’s getting there.

So you wouldn’t agree with Jon Bon Jovi then, who recently said Apple’s Steve Jobs had killed the music industry?

I would not agree with anybody who changed their name from Jon Bongiovi, to Jon Bon Jovi! I’ve never got that! My question to him is “Why did you drop the ‘I’ in ‘Giovi’?” Why was that so important?! Look; there’s absolutely no doubt that bands are making less money, but the industry itself needs to adapt better. Bands like The Futureheads have done much better by going it alone on their own labels and doing it themselves. I’m sorry if the music industry is not making millions and millions of pounds, but they also have an obligation to realise that, in the short term, if you spend £500,000 in Britain alone to market a band that aren’t good enough it’s going to flop whether the internet is there or not. It’s a shame to see so many record stores go down the drain though and that’s the big thing. Even when doing this with BT I keep pushing how important it is to support your local independent record store. Independent Record Day is only two weeks away; I’ll support it and you should too. I don’t agree with Bon Jovi; the music industry is still there. Do I think bands are making less money because people are stealing music? Yes. Who’s your favourite band for example?

At the moment I’m listening to British Sea Power a lot.

It’s a terrible question to ask, but British Sea Power are a really good example; made good music for quite a while, got an album Mercury Prize shortlisted, sold more records, got to play the mainstage at Leeds Festival. That’s a progression of a band who didn’t have £500,000 thrown at their first album, just trying to recoup enough money back off it. Would British Sea Power have got beyond one album had they been signed in 2011? I’m not sure they would have. I’m not sure a band like Muse, who are massive now, would have got past their first album as that’s hardly a classic and wasn’t commercially successful at the beginning. I think you’ve just got to remember that if you don’t buy music by the bands you idolise, they’re going to be living on a council estate for the rest of their lives, and we don’t want that for our heroes.

You’re a big sports fan and football fan too with Liverpool your club of choice. What are your favourite football sites and why?

I think when it’s your country’s main sport, as it is with football and rugby for me, I don’t have much need to go very far online as every single news show covers it. It’s much more important when it comes to sports that aren’t so big here, then you feel like you’re getting the very best coverage online, especially with live streaming. For me it’s baseball. So online I download Sports Illustrated every week. I watch games online too which is a bit of a nightmare with normal broadband as it has to buffer all the time and you miss all the action. For that ESPN is amazing so probably of every sport site I’d go with that one. Also because they’ve got my fantasy team on there!

Do you get involved with the community side of things? Forums, Twitter and the like?

Not really, though funnily enough I’m probably a member of every best forum for every single Premier League club online, but I don’t post. I go on them for good honest information on what fans are thinking, be it abut a signing or a manager. With clubs like Manchester City it really helps, when you look at it from a monetary point of view; what they spent and where they are in the League. If you’re a Man City fan you know how long you’ve spent without even being in contention for the League. With the forums you get their genuine points of view. It’s brilliant from a professional stance.

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How about the more shady side of sports streaming, with the live Premier League matches that the likes of Sky can’t, or choose not to, broadcast?

I’ve never done it. It sounds wrong that I haven’t done it. There’s never been a sporting event that I’ve wanted to see that I haven’t been able to get easier some other way than looking for some obscure stream from abroad. The issue for me with watching sport online has been the speed of the download, not the availability. But maybe that’s a bit privileged of me to say that; I’m signed up to MLB.com and spending $30 a month to get that. People who don’t have the money probably do go to illegal sites.

Premier League match attendances haven’t been quite as high this year. Do you think football streaming sites factor into that?

It’s different in each league. I think research shows that for certain teams being on television or online doesn’t affect them at all. Other teams it really does affect it. I think it depends on the the area of each club, and that area’s micro-economy. It’s more of an issue with the price of the tickets rather than some middle-eastern website streaming them. If you’re spending £300 to take 6 people to a game of football that’s probably more of a reason why attendances will be down. Especially now that superfast broadband is only taking off now; you know the quality you’re going to get online at the moment so I can’t see it having a huge influence.

So you’re an online gamer too we hear?

Unfortunately I’m not very good though!

The age-old question then! Which do you prefer: FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer?

I’ve been a Pro Evolution boy all the way! Even when they’ve been terrible! You knew Pro Evolution was losing the plot when they skipped one to be on the same number as FIFA, that was such a sign of weakness! I still go back and play the earlier ones that you can’t take online too like Pro Evo 2 and 3. Online play is great though; being from Northern Ireland I only get to see my mates back home once every couple of months but can play with them online every week. I’m a huge Mario Kart fan too, even though I know it’s for kids!

There’s nothing wrong with Mario Kart!

I love it to death! Mario’s like the Beatles of gaming; you just have to like them. It might be unintuitive to say he’s the best character ever but it’s true! You have to live with that! I go completely into solitary confinement for some of my favourite games like Red Dead Redemption; I couldn’t imagine playing something like Red Dead online, why would you want to? I want to ride out on me own! I’m a very anti-social social person! It’s a world of difference with BT Infinity playing that sort of thing online though. I con only get 30 or 40% into a shoot-em up game though and then I have to let my nephew finish them! Always sports games though online; Pro Evo, NBA, even Tiger Woods.

New Tiger Woods game out this week. Will you be picking that up then?

I dunno, he’s kinda lost his sheen, Tiger recently. He was The Man before! The unlockable “Sunday Tiger” character doesn’t mean the same thing now. In the game he shoots a better round, but Sunday Tiger at the moment in real life swears and spits. Not very reflective of the real Sunday Tiger, eh?!

OK, to round things up then Colin; you’re stuck on a desert island. You can only save one of the following items; a football, a baseball set (complete with mitt, ball and glove), a radio or an Xbox 360. The last two items have a miraculous unlimited power supply. Which do you choose?

Does the Xbox have unlimited games?

Err…just your top three favourites!

Ahh, you’ve moved the goalposts now. Not the computer games, wouldn’t take that, there’d be no connection there. It’s gotta be radio first. That’d give you every bit of sport, every bit of music and every bit of news. That needs to be first, a clear first! Xbox would be a clear last, especially being a PlayStation boy! I’d take the football over the baseball stuff, because you’d lose the baseball. Can’t lose a football; I was on holiday recently and I can’t swim, so I was kicking the ball into the water and had the waves pushing it back, so that’d be quite a good game! Actually, it’d be the saddest thing in the world to be trapped on a desert island with an Xbox; you can build your own home, learn how to grow your own food, learn how to fish, and you’re just sat there hunched over a controller playing GTA! You’d make your own games, carving chess pieces out of a dead elephant and stuff!

Great! Thanks for your time Colin!

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About the Author

Gerald Lynch





Gerald LynchINTERVIEW: Radio's Colin Murray on digital music, football streaming with BT Infinity and his love of Super Mario
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    Lol “Mario is the Beatles of Gaming” he looks like John Lennon