The future of radio is in the community

Peter Saxon asks for directions

The European Broadcast Union’s (ABU) Ezra Eeman recently wrote about the Great Unbundling of Radio
He says, “If Radio 1.0 is live, linear terrestrial radio with all its magic: connecting people, ideas and music in a schedule that guides listeners across the day then Radio 2.0 can be considered the moment when users got control through interactivity and on-demand content. Very much anything that happened after the invention of the iPod.”
Radio’s unbundling before our ears a great chunks of its content have been taken over by other platforms. Spotify, and similar streaming services, for example, have eaten away at radio’s credentials as the music medium. Podcasts, even while adding value to radio, have become a whole new subsection of the “audio” spectrum in the way that SUVs have taken a sizeable chunk of the car market. And now, even newer offerings like Clubhouse are making a splash in what was once thought to be the exclusive domain of talk radio. 
Over the past 25 years, no established business or business model has been inoculated against change.
We’ve already witnessed the unbundling of television. Appointment programming has been relegated to history. If the video recorder turned the first sod, Foxtel’s IQ box brought in teams of labourers with shovels only to see Netflix, Stan and Prime bring in the heavy machinery to make movies and TV series all but redundant on linear TV.
Both FTA and Foxtel operate on expensive platforms that are government licensed, which till recently, rendered them immune to competition. Suddenly, they found themselves facing aggressive competitors that simply hooked up to the existing infrastructure and are able sell their wares cheaply without set up costs or lock-in contracts.
To compete with the newcomers, the incumbents quickly hooked up to the internet with their own on-demand content but have lost the majority of audiences for movies, pre-recorded TV drama and similar series. Instead, they’ve been forced to pivot to mostly live or live-ish content such as sport, news and reality TV – anything that’s perishable, best consumed whilst fresh.
What then of radio? What must it do to stay relevant going forward? Who better to ask than radio futurologist, James Cridland?

“I look at this through the filter of the definition of what radio is. A lot of people have a definition of radio that starts with an FM or an AM transmitter. Or a DAB+ transmitter. And I’m not sure that that is what the definition of radio is. But if we continue to believe that radio is just FM or AM, then we will die. 
“My definition of radio is a human connection with a shared experience. And the reason why that is important is that that should enable us to understand what the benefit is in terms of radio, what our unique selling point is. 
25 years ago, when I was doing Afternoon Drive, our unique selling point used to be, doing traffic reports, playing new music, telling people what was going on with the big stars and stuff like that. 
“Now you have a look at what we’ve got access to. New music is available for anybody on Spotify. So, there’s no point in that. Traffic news is available to anybody in a much better format by using something like Wayz or Google Maps – there’s really no point to that in terms of radio. So, we come back to the fundamental focus of radio being a shared experience with a human connection. 
“When you have a look at what happened in lock down in Melbourne last year, what you saw very clearly on the GfK numbers was that people turned to spoken word radio. People turned to human beings talking to you. The music intensive radio stations all fell back while the speech stations all had a good and powerful increases. And that was very different when you looked at, for example, Brisbane which didn’t have a lock down, there was no change there in terms of how audiences moved. 
“So, it’s very clear that audiences like that human connection and that shared experience. 
“If I was programming a radio station – and thank heavens, I’m not. But if I was – that’s the thing that I would focus on: making sure that people know that they are part of a community,
says James Cridland” 

Peter Saxon


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