Let's Call it Radio - Before It's Too Late
Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Fiddling around with some Apple devices, the words hit me in the face once again like a wet fish: 'Apple Radio'. And when I ask Alexa for a radio station, she just sometimes pretends to mishear and serves me an Amazon stream. And Spotify's OOH ads give more than a nod to our heritage.
Others are entering our world at last – at the very time we seem to be treating the word 'radio' like a relative we’ve fallen out with.
Most folk I trust tell me that traditional ‘broadcast’ will be the best way of disseminating audio to lots of folk at the same time for many years yet. Anyone who suggests otherwise hasn’t quite got a handle of what would happen if everyone listened to Greg James on-line on Monday morning. 5G will help, but that has a carrier bag of caveats.
Rajar indicates a significant 13.5m people listen to radio online - accounting for about 127m listening hours. It’s growing quickly, but it still lags broadcast by some significant margin.
DAB – attracting over 390m hours of listening - has been a great technology to take us through the three or four decades from the days of limited FM carriage to wherever we are heading – and DAB+ offers more scope still. As far as tech goes, DAB is serving a real purpose over a decent life-span. I dread to think what the state of UK radio business would have been today had we not been able to offer the panoply of stations DAB has enabled.
However, we have entered an era of mixed ecology in which online listening carriage to our radio stations will play an ever-greater part – alongside broadcast - and who has an issue with that. Radio has got pretty used to operating in tandem.
As online consumption grows, however, radio’s key barrier to entry falls, and all manner of folk can deliver programmes – linear and otherwise. Many bright sexy corporate newcomers will be calling their offerings ‘radio’ – at the very moment we start to call our offerings something wishy-washy for reasons which escape me. Presumably, we fear being hemmed into a Victorian definition of ‘radio’ which won’t allow for non-linear content or radio programmes or programming that hasn’t been pumped out of a single huge mast on a misty hill. Poppycock.
Other players have no compunction about applying a liberal definition to ‘radio’. Yet, at the very stage ‘radio’ evolves to become more flexible than ever, delivering non-linear offerings and an array of on-demand content –with more people than ever involved in its creation – we start to change its name.
‘Radio’ is not a problem brand. The love for the medium is tangible. It has brand equity to die for. That’s why our others are stealing it.
Yes, 15-24s do not regard ‘radio’ in the same way as their elders who smile wistfully about the relationship they had with their tranny in a teenage bedroom, bringing a rare shred of excitement to a sleepy seventies suburb. But over three quarters of those in that demo listen every week - hardly a paltry showing.
My young friends in the pub talk with enthusiasm about podcasts they are listening to. This miraculous enthusiasm has not suddenly emerged just because it's not called radio. It is because they have found, for the first time, speech content that interests them which is available when they fancy it.
Are we suggesting that a quality half-hour of audio material which attracts thousands of attentive downloads can’t be called radio just because it’s not been transmitted? And yet if it’s broadcast in the middle of the night on FM to one man and a dog, it is suddenly radio. And if a human being curates a great - and genuine - online-only radio station, it's not really radio, it's just pretending?
Does a good podcaster do much different from a good broadcaster? Podcasters have simply created the equivalent of their own ultra-targeted radio station or programme. They have the benefit of intimacy; knowing exactly who is listening - and why - and can thus relax and indulge that specific listener at length. But the importance of listener focus and creating entertaining and/or informing content remain.
The podcasting portmanteau, invented in the days when the iPod ruled., has served its purpose. Is it too late to lay the word to rest? As for ‘sounds’ or ‘audio’ – give me a break. I shall resist joining in the BBC Sounds debate, save to say I agree with the 'embracing all' vision - but that it might be a whole lot better for all concerned if it were still called RADIO. The best radio there has ever been. Radio has more in common with all the audio on its periphery - than all that periphery audio has to dogs barking and cows mooing – which is also ‘audio’ and 'sounds'.
Future audio consumption will include a significant proportion of online distribution – and non-linear consumption. Radio has been been through AM, cable, FM, DAB without any worries; but now we are creating the biggest radio supermarket in the world, some seem insistent on calling it something else. I shall await the silly headline about the ‘death of radio’, leaning purely on the stat that more people are time-shifting the Archers.
We shall be sharing the same listener ears and the same advertiser pounds with everyone else in the audio space. If radio is to earn the place it has long deserved in our media world, this new scale is invaluable. At this most exciting time in our world, it is time to put our arms around our near cousins and welcome them to the fold.
Lets. Call. It. Radio.
Radio Secrets is a comprehensive guide to contemporary presentation and production techniques in all formats, from writing to delivery, across radio and podcasting.
Read this book and gain insights into:
- Tight contemporary music presentation
- Generating engaging talk content
- Developing authenticity and likeability
- Handling double-acts, callers and contests
- Understanding the audience and keeping them listening
Whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned performer, Radio Secrets is essential reading.