Radio is dying. I’ve now heard that too many times. Each time a new technology arrives it sounds the death knell for radio. Newsreel, film, television, the internet were all championed to end radio. But it survived and it continues as a relevant medium. The reason for its survival was always two reasons. First, radio is immediate. Second, radio is intimate.
Immediacy allowed radio to always report the news ahead of the newsreels being processed and shown in theatres. It was even quicker than television at getting a story out – still is to a large extent. Radio, combined with a great program director could also play music well ahead of its time and well ahead of any other medium – perhaps the greatest example of that was John Peel.
Radio’s intimacy meant that you were not treated as a mere part of the crowd. The broadcaster was speaking directly to you. To illustrate, on television you hear “Good morning everybody” and phrases like “let me show all your viewers out there”.
Those phrases and language reflected the mass market nature and ideals of television but alienated the viewer who was relegated to spectator and not participant. Radio was always (until recently when television personalities crossed over to high profile broadcasting gigs) using phrases like “Good morning, how are you?” and “if you listen to what he is talking about…” Radio never excluded the listener.
But the troubles for radio as a viable medium have been brewing for some time now. Ad revenues which are critical to radios survival are down. Music is now available instantly through avenues other than radio. Listeners are generally drifting away from the medium as formats fragment and perhaps radio too becomes less relevant.
Radio is also more difficult to access eg we carry music players not radios. If only FM radios or DAB radios could somehow shoe-horn into our phones, or somehow, data charges to listen over the internet were so cheap as to be irrelevant.
The challenge of advertising still remains. Radio is now one of the most difficult media to use to effectively target advertising to beyond a general demographic. It is part of the reason why radio fragments into smaller niches – it helps target ads to the right demographic.
That’s a problem that needs solving. Targeting ads to radio – whether via RDS (somehow!) or file-casting on DAB. If radio signals could read our phone data (just as browsers and Google do) and target ads accordingly it could be the uptick it needs to ensure its continued survival.
Surely, it’s adapting radio technology that’s been around for some time now. I remember being on-air in one part of Australia and firing a signal from the studio to a satellite that played local ads in 10 other networked stations.
One other threat to radio is the social medium of Twitter. It is instant and intimate. I find out more news, first, through Twitter these days than I do radio. Twitter can’t yet provide that news or music or programming generally in a structured format. That may not be a problem yet, but as I wrote here, with information overload the need of the program director to sort, sift and provide the content to us has never ever been more important.
The lack of a programmer is the problem with a lot of social media. A great programmer with great programming will build and attract an audience.
Radios survival, relevance and growth as a medium relies on solving ad targeting across all forms of output, ensuring radio can be accessed through every possible device from every possible signal output and ensuring that great program directors continue to structure great programs throughout radios many day parts.
Thanks to @nevali and @andybee and @_andy_tea for the input on this piece.