Archive for the ‘Eurovision’ Category

On Publishing Five Hundred Podcasts

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

Last Friday saw one of the moments where numbers conspired to mean something. Over on ESC Insight, I posted the five hundredth episode of my Eurovision Song Contest podcast. There was nothing particularly special about the contents, it was a regular episode of ‘ESC Insight News’, covering the last two weeks of news in the world of the Song Contest.

The only concessions to the episode number was a sad party twizzler sound effect at the end of the show, and the subtle use of a Fiat 500 as the key image in the post and shared social images.

And while it is podcast #500 on the RSS feed of ESC Insight, I’ve done more Eurovision podcasts and audio that have been sent down other channels – the podcasts and radio shows for the SBS Eurovision pop-up radio station, the work with Radio Six International, the syndicated radio preview shows each year, and even the commentary work I’ve done have all been part of the audio adventure. These shows are not in the core 500, but they all arose because I podcast about something I love and became one of the ‘go to voices’ in the space.

This is the point where inspirational posts would suggest some grand lessons over the last six years of ESC Insight. I’m not sure there are any, beyond find a passion, keep the quality as high as possible, always ask if you can do more, and say yes to every opportunity you get.

The ESC Insight podcast has taken me on some amazing journeys, from a midnight flight into Yerevan to armed guards blocking my path into Azeri press centres; from commentary booths around the world to talking to TV and Radio executives across Europe and beyond; to be welcomed by a community and to create a new community, it has delivered all that and more.

As for what comes next, I’d highlight podcast #499. This is part of a series called ‘Eurovision Castaways’, where host Ellie Chalkley interviews members of the Song Contest community about their favourite records and finds out more about them. That episode arrived in my podcast player with no input at all from me.

I may have started the Eurovision podcast many years ago, I may still contribute, but the podcast is now something much bigger than just myself, a microphone, and some passion.

Now that personal passion is the shared passion of tens of thousands.

Reprinting the delights of singing for your Superbowl

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

Popbitch looked at the most dangerous moment in the American music calendar this week… singing the National Anthem at the Superbowl. With Superbowl 50 taking place this weekend in Santa Clara (…I can read a map and it’s miles away from San Francisco) the moment is coming around once more, and Lady Gaga has picked up the poison-filled chalice:

Lady Gaga has performed for millions of people all around the planet, but never all at once. This Sunday’s Super Bowl will be one of the biggest audiences she has ever played for – and even a huge star like Gaga will no doubt be feeling the pressure.

So in order to help her out, we’ve done a bit of research on her behalf. We’ve looked back into the history of Super Bowl performances over the last 25 years to see how The Star Spangled Banner has been attempted, and if there is anything she can learn from those artists who have gone before her.

Sure, it’s a reprint with a light edit from a few years ago, but then what’s changed since Sam wrote ‘Why the Eurovision Song Contest and the Superbowl Are Practically Family‘ for ESC Insight (except now it’s posted on Medium’s ESC channel…)


The Book Of Eurovision Souls

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

The new Iron Maiden album, ‘The Book Of Souls‘ has been released, and my copy just arrived. Most of me cannot wait to devour the 92 minute long album, but part of me runs through the checklist; released after September 1st, check; a maximum of six performers on stage, check; any tracks under three minutes…


The BBC’s delightfully decisive and subversive entry to Eurovision 2015

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

I have many thoughts on the UK entry, and could talk a lot about it (I have a website for that) but I’m going to boil it down to this. The BBC’s Guy Freeman realised what ‘Contest’ means. Only the result on the night matters. Not chart success, not YouTube views, not fan opinion or if it works down the Euroclub. It’s a Contest, and finding a way to score is the only mark that counts.

Freeman (who heads the BBC’s delegation) could have played it safe, found a nice middle of the road song, dug up a manic pixie dream girl singer from BBC Introducing, went through the motions, and probably managed 10-15th place.

Instead Freeman has got ballsy. It’s a contra-strategy song, It literally is all or nothing. “Still In Love WIth You” will either fly high and smash into the Top Ten with a cinematic presentation mixing emotional distance, parallax moves, cross fades, and Charlestons… or it becomes a hot mess of poor camera angles, no visual story telling, and static performers in front of generic audience sweeping shots.

Everyone expected Freeman to zig (as did I). Instead he’s zagged, trusting his team to put on the show of a lifetime, trusting that something different and mould-breaking has more chance in a flanking manoeuvre than a direct assault against the likes of Sweden, Italy, and Estonia,, and building up the momentum of publicity and recognition. He’s treated it not as a ‘how to get a number one song’ but ‘how to win a competition’, The BBC has little musical resources, the industry won’t supply him any heavy guns, so he goes guerrilla in his musical war against the other 39 countries.

Loving the strategy. Loving the risk taking. Loving the courage.

Eurovision songs reach the Top 40, Radio One holds its nose and has to play them. Win!

Monday, May 19th, 2014

I’ve been quiet about my Eurovision activities on this blog over the last two or three weeks (on the assumption that you all know where to find me, or saw the Twitter action), but I want to highlight this little fact.

Four Eurovision songs reached the Top 40 yesterday, and 12 tracks made the Top 100.

The power of social media and the ability to instantly buy digital music online has once more been able to show that the music does have an impact. The old-school gatekeepers might not hand tracks like ‘Undo’ or ‘Calm After The Storm’ a physical release, but that is no longer a barrier to getting on the hit parade.

On reaching 250 Eurovision podcasts

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

This week I published my 250th podcast on The Eurovision Song Contest.

Given the show is a ‘weekly’ (with some notable exceptions during the year, such as the twice daily schedule in the few days before the Contest), 250 is as good a milestone as any to take note and remember where the podcast has taken me.

The first audio tracks I recorded for Eurovision were from Moscow and the 2009 Contest – those downloads were three ‘alternative ‘commentary’ track so you could watch the show along with me. It was during the run up to Norway in 2010 that the podcasts started ‘for real’ (mostly because they had their own RSS feed) to deliver news updates, analysis, and round-table discussions.

After the 2010 Contest burned through far too much bandwidth on this site, I realised that a dedicated home was needed and ESC Insight was born. Since then, the Eurovision Song Contest has been really good to me personally and professionally. I have friends all over Europe and beyond. I’ve learned many new skills, broadcast documentaries and music shows on terrestrial radio, appeared on the BBC World Service, countless local radio stations, and vox-pops from around the world. I found a practical use for my puppetry skills. I’ve even been an ‘official’ Eurovision Commentator at Junior Eurovision last November.

Most of all, I’ve made more people smile in the world through the coverage I’ve helped create.

But the podcast is where it started, and it’s the podcast that everything else spins out of. So I’m really pleased to reach two hundred and fifty of them. And I hope you have enjoyed listening and participating with me. Right now I’m in Helsinki, ready to take the audio/video kit out to the Barona Arena to watch Finnish television choose their singer for Eurovision 2014. I’ll tell you all about it next week on the podcast…

Who were the winners of Eurovision 2013?

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Just because you finish first does not mean you were the actual winner… even at The Eurovision Song Contest:

To decide who was this year’s biggest winner, you have to actually define what it means to ‘win Eurovision’. It’s not as simple as finishing in first place on the Saturday night. While ‘Only Teardrops‘ is going to stay in the Song Contest record books, after the National Final guest appearances with a playback tape, it’s unlikely we’ll hear again from Emmelie de Forest. While you can still hear ‘Euphoria‘ on the beaches of São Paulo, Denmark’s 2013 winner will be cut to shreds for the jingles during the 2014 Contest and then quietly filed alongside ‘Everybody‘.

Looking down the results table from Malmö, you can find many personal success stories: Margaret Berger returned to the public eye with her own choice of musical styles, Bonnie Tyler managed to chart an album for the first in a billion years, Anouk was anointed superhero status just by qualifying for the Saturday night, and Malta saw their best result in recent years (although Gianluca returned to his life as Dr. Bezzina). They are all wonderful stories, but none of them scream ‘winner’ to me.

We need to leave them behind and look deeper.

I’m still not sure just how tongue in cheek the article was, but I definitly had fun writing it. You can (hopefully) enjoy reading the full article over on ESC Insight.

Tonight’s the night I head into the history books of Eurovision commentary

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

Starting at 6pm tonight in the UK (7pm Central Europe, and 8pm local time in Ukraine) is the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2013. For once I won’t be in the Press Centre, or directly in front of the stage. Tonight, I’ll be with Luke Fisher in the Commentary Booth for the European Broadcasting Union.

The Eurovision Song Contests have had free and official streams for many years, but until now they have been the pictures and the stage audio only – the traditional commentators role has not been part of the EBU’s stream. That’s changed for this Song Contest. My good friend Luke Fisher (currently managing the website) will be taking the lead commentator role, while I’ll be on the analysis and statistics side of things. Anyone who’s heard me talk about presenting Eurovision as less of a variety show and more as a marquee sporting event will probably recognise this set up – Yes, I’m going to be the John Madden / Colour Commentator for Eurovision!

Providing the international commentary from the organisers does lead to a few interesting bullet points in the remit, but the one that will be most noticeable is to remain impartial and to not influence the Contest, something that Terry Wogan and Graham Norton never really worried about. So if you’re expecting snark, you might need to look elsewhere (can I suggest @ewan and @escinsight).

This also means the traditional ‘Hello Internet‘ is going to need to be an Easter Egg somewhere in the commentary, but I’ll just add that to some of the traditional calls that fans expect…

The Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2013 will be broadcast online at 1900 CET on Fans in Edinburgh and The Lothians can listen on 98.8 Castle FM.

Hello, I’m Ewan Spence, and I’ll be the United Kingdom’s Eurovision Commentator later this month

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

This year’s Junior Eurovision Song Contest takes place at 6pm (UK time) November 30th at the National Place of Arts “Ukraina” in Kyiv, and for the first time since 2005 it will be broadcast in the UK. No Eurovision show airing in the UK would be complete without a commentary team, so I am very excited to tell you that I will be one of the UK’s Eurovision Commentators.

Joining me will be Luke Fisher, who many of you will have heard on our Alternative Commentaries over the last few years. I guess we won’t be doing an alternative commentary this year.

So, the broadcast. None of the UK broadcasters who are members of the EBU were ready to enter Junior Eurovision this year, which meant that the rights were available to EBU and non-EBU members. Naturally EBU members had first refusal, then other stations and channels could be considered. As I’m already working with Castle FM for the Edinburgh Nights chat show, so it was a small step to consider bringing Junior Eurovision back to the UK through local radio.

Discussions happened… (and let’s leave it at that) …and skipping to the end, Castle FM will be broadcasting Junior Eurovision live to Edinburgh and The Lothians on November 30th, with one team in the Leith studios and a remote team in Ukraine providing the audio.

This is going to be fun! Challenging and exciting, for sure, but fun!


Welcome to Eurovision Island, where everything is douze points

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in a MacGyvered hall, which is part of a refurbished shipyard, on an island just off the coast of Denmark, relativly near to Copenhagen

Honestly, the jokes write themselves. What will the Eurovision circus do when trapped on our own Charlie Brooker-esque Daily Mail Island?

Daily Mail Island, a reality TV show where several normal people are deposited on an island and not allowed access to any media other than the strongly right-wing and conservative Daily Mail newspaper, leading to them becoming progressively more irrational and brutal as the series progresses – for example, tying teenage lovers together with sacks on their heads and beating them, or sealing a teenager caught masturbating into a coffin filled with broken glass and dog faeces and throwing it over a cliff and their language devolving into rhetorical questions and sarcastic snorts

Why do writers who hate a topic get assigned that topic in the mainstream media?

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Toby Hadoke addresses some issues he has with the media’s coverage of television, actors, terminology, and ultimately about the lack of respect for the profession and the art:

Revelling in ignorance about the medium you write about seems bizarre – especially when such ignorance is used to recommend somebody but, with a little implicit criticism, keep them in their place at the same time (and to what end – apart from to make the journalist look clever?).

Looking clever feels terrific when you’re reviewing something, and it’s fantastic if you can enliven your prose with a witty barb or sparkly turn of phrase … but these things now seem to have replaced the real reasons someone should be writing about their specialist subject. And what reasons are those? Because they love it! Because they are entertained by entertainers, thrilled by popular culture – inspired to put pen to paper and to place bum on seat.

All of the above examples simply wouldn’t happen in other industries… You wouldn’t pay a food writer who described an aubergine as a “sort of rubbish sausage” so why is popular culture often chronicled and scrutinised by the ill-informed and condescending?

If I replace ‘cult TV’ in this article with ‘Eurovision’, this is exactly how I feel every May with the coverage that comes out of the UK’s media about the Song Contest. With so many smart writers who know their topic online, surely theres a solution to be found that rewards the writers, the publications, and the readers?

Die Grosse Entscheidungs Show will be in the same year as Eurovision, for once.

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Just like that, the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 inches ever closer. Switzerland confirm the format and the dates for their National Final (February 1st 2014, Kreuzlingen), and I grab the usual hotel through and get the flights lined up.

(…and if this had said ‘Football club gets draw announced for European game, I’ve bought tickets’, it would be socially acceptable).

Puppets on prime time? Yaay!

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

‘That Puppet Game Show’ will have various specialist rounds hosted by a different puppet who is an expert in that field.

I wonder if (a) they’ll have a Eurovision Song Contest round and (b) who they could get to host it. I might have a suggestion

It’s time to do some Eurovision Commentary

Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Looking for four experience Eurovision experts talking about the Contest live? Head over to ESC Insight and you can download the mobile app, or listen live through a (quick and dirty hack of a) web player. See you on the other side!

Download the Live Commentary iOS app for Eurovision

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

A big thank you to The Lab at O2 for all their help in the last few weeks as they developed ESC Commentary, an IOS app to support the Eurovision Song Contest communities at ESC Insight and EscXtra. What does it do?

You’ll get a live commentary from the team in the press room (and it’s not the same as our long running Alternative Commentary MP3, which you can find here).

During each Eurovision show you can hit the green thumbs up button, or the red thumbs down button, to share your view on the song, and the worm will show the combined thoughts of everyone using the app.

Its a free download from the Apple App Store. Head to to download the app for your iOS device. Or you can search for ‘ESC Commentary‘ in the store.

What are you waiting for?