Launching a pop-up digital radio station: 4 lessons we learnt.

Eli Ezeugoh
News UK Technology
Published in
5 min readJun 8, 2021

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It’s a chilly day in April and even though there had been musings in the past few days about it we’ve just been officially tasked with bringing to life a pop-up radio station in the guise of Virgin Radio Pride UK. We were on the march towards shipping brand new mobile apps and a website for our Virgin Radio UK stations. Hard as it might prove to be, however, this new voice in our chorus of radio stations had to be heeded.

This is a medley of anecdotes about how we were able to launch a new pop-up digital radio station across our app and web products and some of the lessons we learnt doing so.

It starts with vision, and the clarity of vision

At the start there was, like the sight seen looking through a dusty pane of glass, a blurry vision of what would become Virgin Radio Pride UK and we went through a few conversations each one providing added clarity.

Could we launch it across all our products? When would we need to launch it? Would it be ad-driven? What would the experience be like in each product? There were loads of questions. Because the devil is in the detail, Matt our Director of Product got to work in earnest on a shared document where these and myriad more questions and answers ping back and forth till we had a clear understanding.

This useful practice of crystallising the vision in the form of a questionnaire that our business colleagues filled in ensured a collaborative approach but also allowed the product team to form a clear idea of what the product experience could be. They finally had to hold it up alongside what bandwidth and time constraints allowed the team to deliver. A crystal clear vision of the product emerged from this rationalisation exercise and allowed the team to get to work delivering it.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

The launch date for Virgin Radio UK Pride fell in at a funny time for our web team, our full focus was on building a new website for our Virgin Radio UK stations and we were a little behind. We had to cater for adding Pride to the legacy site, whilst also working into our plans for the new site.

Understandably, we were reluctant to put too much effort on the legacy site, which we knew was going to be “throwaway” in a couple of months, therefore we set about working out a simple and inclusive solution to support this great project. Ultimately, we landed on creating a new, standalone player and linking to it from a “featured” article on the site — no ads, no frills, just smooth music.

On the new site, which will launch in the next few months, it was a slightly different challenge, because we knew that supporting pop-up stations would likely be something that happened again in the future. As a result, we carved out a solution to bring Pride into the main station selector carousel, meaning that listeners could easily find it alongside the other permanent Virgin stations. In addition, we tweaked our categorisation approach and navigation structure to cater for all the great Pride-related content coming out over the next few months.

Ultimately then, our Pride digital pop-up station will straddle both Virgin Radio UK websites during its existence and both will give it the support and exposure this great movement deserves.

Humanity is more important than money

This lesson’s title is lifted from a similarly titled Ted Ideas post in 2018 by Andrew Yang a businessman and 2020 US Democratic Presidential candidate who is now running to become New York Mayor. It rings very true for the whole idea behind pride month and what News UK is seeking to achieve by launching this pop-up station.

The decision to launch the station for example was never wholly a commercial or financial one. It couldn’t have been. There were high stakes tasks our teams were grappling with — some of them missions for the year but it made sense to do our best to deliver on the goal of lending our voices to the inclusive principles of Pride month. News UK as a collective has also been on a mission to drive forward its diversity and inclusion missions and an initiative like the pop-up station couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s no surprise that humanity and the opportunity to contribute towards bettering it was the main consideration that won out in the end.

True to the human form there were some vulnerable moments during our march to the finish line. None more poignant than when Serhiy, one of our key engineers based in Ukraine, had to endure an unplanned power outage that threatened to fray communications and timelines. It was nerve-wracking but what a joy it was to watch the team keep its cool and work around the critical path until power was restored.

Laughter is a form of internal jogging

Banter is ingrained in the psyche of the team. We have internal communication channels dedicated to just random fun. It has become a highly effective way of de-escalating situations especially in this pseudonormal of remote communications foisted upon us by the pandemic.

One of those comedy gold moments in the lead up to the pop-up station launch begins when Nina, a Business Analyst on our mobile product team, has to break the news of another image asset change beyond anyone’s control to the team — branding can be stressful! How else do you deliver such poignant news on Slack without the usual giphy onslaught? Well, if you’re Nina, you sign off your message with:

Suffice it to say that the perfectly poised water gun emoji disarmed what might have been a slightly charged moment. There are many instances of carefully placed humour and banter like this and they have kept us focused but relaxed. We already knew this but a little reminder never hurt anyone.

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Eli Ezeugoh
News UK Technology

I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.