The Death of Radio?

Posted on 29/10/2011

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Radio has always been a survivor. It survived the dawn of television, it meandered itself through the age of music recording techniques – cassettes, cartridges and compact discs; it is blending perfectly with the challenges of digitalization. Still everyone ponders, will it survive this new challenge that seems to be attacking it from a myriad of frontiers? Can radio outlast the novel, more domineering threats of the so-called new media?

The social networks have bludgeoned their dominance through with a relentless surge of revolutionary ethos on our global societies. Social media have manifested on what has become known as the Arab spring, bringing down age-old governments, traditions and institutions from Tunis to Damascus. It has gridlocked financial empires from Wall Street to Trafalgar, and it’s already knocking on doors from Banjul to Blantyre, bringing with it social change, revolution and a new world order. Without a doubt we are firmly hedged within the Facebook age; and never matter what age you are, if you don’t tweet, you’re definitely beat!

But there’s a disease that has propagated over the past dozen years, spreading more quickly as the Internet penetrates deeply into society. Many within our media industry presently suffer from it. It sometimes invades an entire sector – as it has with the radio industry, and advertising agencies wanting to impress upon clients that all the client needs is the old media brilliance agencies possess. This disease dulls the senses. More appropriately, it dulls common sense. Newspapers are probably farthest along the path of being infected, although multiple other businesses are suffering similar fates (travel agents are already feeling its symptoms and bookshops are not far behind). What is this disease? Complacency…simply put, being stuck within a comfort zone, blinded to what surrounds. The motto of the afflicted: “What I don’t understand can’t hurt me!”

With the growth in online radio stations and an explosion in Internet music discovery services, you may appreciate why there should be concern for anyone who makes their living in the radio industry. The competition envisaged is not just in terms of advertising revenue. It spreads further into artists’ involvement and, most importantly, in the time a listener has to listen. Remember that radio has always been a secondary medium – that is a medium that allows the listener the advantage of listening to radio while involved with another more primary assignment. As time goes by, with all these challenges put to consideration, will we still need radio?

I wonder how many people are troubled by the industry’s poor use of new media. Others might think that new media advances have little effect on what’s happening with local radio stations today. Here’s a checklist of some alternatives to traditional radio, many of which are challenging the continued existence of our much-loved channel:

Web/Internet Radio, Podcasting, The Social Networks, iTunes, Blogs, Mobile applications, Mp3’s and iPod’s. The list increases exponentially – Google Magnifier has launched. It’s a blog to accompany Google Music Beta. This giant company’s move into allowing consumers to listen to their music collection via Android devices (and through computers) is another challenge to radio. This new entry into music discovery/consumption adds to the growth in competitors of music radio. Musicians can find that using these services is much easier than pounding on the door of a radio station to try and get a little airplay.

These alternatives are drawing youth and, to a large degree, young adults away from turning on the local radio station in home, office and car. Whether you believe they pose a threat to local broadcast is something I have no control over. I can, though, tell you that they are real and building audiences filled with people who used to spend all their radio-time listening to their favourite station(s). If you can’t see what’s in front of you by now, you won’t be able to see how a continued morphing of listener’s options has the potential to damage the broadcast radio industry. It’s not that there hasn’t been enough warning. It’s ignoring the warnings that eventually will reduce, but not eliminate, broadcast radio.

Despite the burgeoning incursions however, radio listening figures remain exceptionally high for the time being, while other media (TV and print) are falling and failing left, right and centre. Radio is popular because, as explained earlier, it is an ambient media – you don’t have to pay attention. But the story isn’t entirely rosy – younger people are moving away from the medium. Why is that, and how do radio companies innovate to meet the Facebook generation? Think about what didn’t exist just five years ago: no Facebook, no YouTube, no Twitter, no Gidilounge.com. Many younger people are looking for something different and maybe something more interactive. Within the advertising industry, many view radio as some sort of boring old media that nobody cares about anymore, as radio advertising budgets shrink. So how does radio become hip? What does the industry need to do to enrich the radio experience? As many media owners have discovered, the advertising market is pretty fickle. Can digital iterations allow for better alternative revenue streams? Perhaps the solution lies in making an ambient media more interactive. We listen to radio in the background, so is interactive a complete red herring? Most modern broadcasters would argue not. Yet, there’s so little being done to exploit these new models of consumption.

One international agency ran an advertising campaign designed to see what media would send the most traffic to a client’s web site. It ran a three-month campaign on five radio stations and on a video network in six supermarkets covering approximately the same geographic area as the radio stations. The advertiser was a furniture store offering an on-line gift certificate whenever anyone visited the web site and put in a key word unique to each media. The objectives were to: Determine if people respond to these media, how well the various radio stations and the video network performed, the cost per response from each media and to get people to subscribe to their e-news letter. The stations used were a Pop Music Station, an Adult Contemporary (AC) Station, a Country Station, a Talk Station and a Soft Rock/Easy Listening Station. On the first day, the Country and Soft Rock stations each sent one person to the site. On the second day the Pop Music station sent 37 unique visitors, the AC sent four, the Country sent two more, the Soft Rock sent one more and the Talk station sent one more, and the video network sent one visitor. The sudden appearance of 37 visitors from one station in a matter of hours attracted attention. On investigation it was discovered that the Pop station’s morning personality did indeed tweet to his 133 followers at the time, to go to the client’s site and put in the key word for his station. And when they checked Facebook they also found the same personality sent the same message to his approximately 1,300 Facebook followers at the time, but this time included a direct link to the client’s site. Further insight on Google’s source tracking revealed that of the 37 visitors, 11 came directly from Facebook and three came directly from people at the station. It was interesting that the Soft Rock Station and the Talk Station which are sister stations to the Pop station only sent a total of three visitors the entire three months. By that research strategy, it was learnt that the Internet has the ability to get a quick response at no financial cost. But before we all get excited about this knowledge, consider how many hours it takes to get 1,300 friends on Facebook, and 133 followers on Twitter. Then, once you get the friends and followers, what does it take to get the credibility or popularity to get them to respond? While it appears the Internet outperformed radio, radio can take credit for the large following and credibility of the Pop station personality.

The challenge before the managers of the traditional electronic media is to work with/collaborate/utilize social media within the framework of improved performance, not fight or distance their organisations. Social networking and radio can work hand-in-hand: The modern media manager must think in terms of the numerous ways that social networks can enhance the listener base and profitability of the station by employing regular usage and daily air mention of Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, even Linkedin and YouTube videos, as well as encourage the usage of blogs and podcasts by its air personalities to encourage interactivity between station and audience in these changing times. As a handful of Lagos area stations are already showing, it can be used to benefit the station. The only thing one needs to fear is fear itself.

God’s guidance.

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