Writing in the Radio Times this week the controller of BBC Radio 1 restated his views on the future of radio. he notes that:
We are living with the HD generation – that’s the heads-down generation, who spend all their time looking at a small screen. And here are some scary facts for those of us who listened with Mother, or under the duvet to John Peel: today, one in three children has an iPad, while one in seven has a radio; and compared to ten years ago, radio has lost more than 50 per cent of 10- to 14-year-old listeners.
The challenge here is that the radio under the duvet has been replaced by an iPad or an iPhone. Not only that radio has competition. It must not only share the media day with TV, but also YouTube, social media and streaming platforms like Spotify. There are a number of challenges here. Firstly, to gain attention radio (stations) need to be in the place as the media they want to compete with. That’s simple enough, as apps like radioplayer make listening to radio on a phone really easy, but actually it needs to go further than that. Even before he was in charge of Radio 1 Cooper made the point that radio had to work out what it would look like on a screen, and whilst this experience has improved there’s a long way to go.
Take a look at this new studio at Capital FM. Like their neighbours elsewhere in Leicester Square Global have built a studio that puts video at the heart of what they do. This is not about saying ‘radio is dead, let’s make tv’ but about reconsidering what it is that radio stations do. Do they just turn out radio shows and go home? or do they build branded content that can be pushed out to social media. This might be about cool YouTube videos, silly Vine’s, Facebook Live or videos that can be shared.
James O’Brien’s devastating attack on The Sun newspaper over their hypocrisy on the recent racist attacks.
As well as looking ahead to the other things that radio can do, we must also look over our shoulder at the rush that’s coming up behind us. Next week I’ll be talking at a (academic) conference about Beats 1, a radio station created by a tech company to drive attention to their product – rather than build audiences that can be sold to advertisers or is part of a public service remit. This seems like an endorsement that rather than radio being nullified in the digital age there is perhaps more demand, and also opportunities to innovate. Beats 1 does not sound like Capital FM, and podcasts (mostly) do not sound like LBC.
Of course, for all this to turn the decline in audiences around requires innovation and some tough decisions. There will be winners and losers, but these are exciting times for radio; as Ben Cooper concludes
Young audiences are key to the future of the broadcasting industry and if we don’t adapt, we will die. What happens at Radio 1 today will happen for the rest of the BBC tomorrow. So there is a job to be done to ensure that the teenagers of tomorrow are under their duvets listening, watching and sharing the BBC on their phones and iPads.
If you’re in radio now it’s likely you’ll also be talking and thinking about what you do online. We don’t live in a bubble and listeners will be active in social spaces and so should radio. Now, of course the rules around what makes radio great still apply. It’s still about making radio that works as radio and makes people want to listen but what about your online content?
It’s something every station must wrestle with, as the mantra seems to be ‘use social media’…. but it’s one thing to be online, it’s quite another to do it an a way that works. So, what works? Well, if I knew do you think I’d still be doing this? Until I figure it out I’ll offer a few thoughts.
Thought One: What works is what works for you.
Every station and every listener is different, so what works for one station wouldn’t work for another. There’s no point BBC Radio 4 using Snapchat, but it works for BBC Radio 1. Their audience is there, as it’s one of their go to apps. The problem for Radio 1 is keeping up, as these apps will change as will the things they can do in them. For Radio 1 social media is about being social with the listeners. It’s about letting the listeners hang out with them at all the cool parties and concerts. It’s about sharing and letting the listeners share your stuff. It’s being the cool kid that everyone wants to know, you just happen to be a radio station.
So, in this video above BBC Radio 4 are thinking about their listener. If you follow them on social media you’ll see that they curate their content; you get clips of shows, teasers, little insights and short videos you can watch over a cup of tea. It’s not shouting at you for comments, ideas, selfies or shares. It’s simple, discrete and intelligent, just like the radio station.
Thought: If social media is the answer, what is the question?
This is a tough one. Social media might be the answer to lots of what of station wants to do. It might want to tell listeners about a new show, or a competition. It might want the listener to feel more connected, or to have a conversation. What it shouldn’t do is look for likes to get more than the next guy. Social Media should be doing something for you / your show / the station. Is it about telling people who aren’t listening to listen? is it about getting content? Or is it about reminding people who do listen how great you are, so when they next turn the radio it’s to your brand? It’s this front of mind stuff that I’d suggest is a key driver for a lot of social media, because online you are always online and in touch with your listeners.
Australian radio is way ahead of the curve here, followed closely by the states. The websites of stations like Nova are content rich and look like news sites. On social media they rival Buzzfeed for clickbaiting, not with what the breakfast show did but with stories that the audience want to read and look at. The social media story is not about them, it’s about the stuff the audience want. It’s content and they are the aggregator. Obviously, this then raises an issue of opinions. Shows like Kyle and Jackie O on KIIS in Sydney will share a story and comment on it; offering their sympathy for someone who’s died, or saying how shocked they are that x or y has happened. This does mean the station behaves online like one of your friends. This is great right? Radio should be a friend, but this is where judgement comes in; sharing what makes sense and having opinions that the listener will agree with.
Thought 3. The most important thing about having a social/digital media plan, is having one
It might sound cliched, but actually having a policy is start. Have a voice in mind, knowing what it is you’re trying to say when make online content. Has it got a focus? Does each piece have a point? If you make a video for YouTube, is it worth watching and have you invested time in it? Have you got a plan for how regular your Facebook posts are going to be? Do you track behaviour? As I said Radio 4 tried a few different things, but now seem to have a plan together. Radio 2 have also been developing their plan, which now seems to involve highly focussed pop-up stations that forefront elements of their output. Facebook is still, but mainly at breakfast.
But what’s growing is YouTube. The above is an experimental move using a 360 camera, so you might need to go into YouTube to watch this properly. It also works brilliantly on a mobile. It’s not radio in the conventional way of thinking about it, but it is what radio stations now do. It’s about starting conversations, or showing listeners what the station does. It’s about making a statement, which in the case of this says “who else could do this, apart from us? So, maybe you should listen more?”
Thought 4: If you’re going to do it, do it well.
Now, there’s a lot you could do online. Some of it is really disposable; it pops up in your timeline, you look at it and move on. It’s probably not worth sharing, but then it’s probably not meant to be. However, with some investment in time listeners might be inclined to share, comment and engage.
Take a look at the above video from Heart North West. You can see the time and effort it took, and even though things did not go to plan they turned it into something that really marries well with the brand values. It’s also really sharable. It’s funny, it’s cute and it’s relatable for the audience. But it took time and effort. That’s important, because if we’re thinking that radio stations now make ‘content’ rather than just radio, then the effort put into the other forms of content should be the same as you’d spend on the radio. Obviously, different stations will have different views about the role of this content; it might be about getting the brand out there, it might be about signposting your on-air content, or reminding your listeners how great you are (keeping the P1’s as P1’s) or it might just be content that you want to people to consume – this may or may not be revenue generating. This does mean hiring people who know what to do. For anyone looking to get into radio right now, my top tip would to learn how to edit video. This is not because radio will become TV, but because radio stations will become content producers and they will need people who can work on the web.
A few things have prompted me to write something about work experience and the one thing you need to get into the media: Passion. One thing I’ve noticed over the years about successful people in the media is that they all love what they do. Maybe you’ve noticed how people who work in radio have been lamenting the fact that Kenny Everett died 21 years ago this week. The fantastic Stephanie Hirst posted this, commenting how Everett influenced her
The thing is, Everett was BRILLIANT. A radio genius, but many of us would never have heard him on the radio during our lifetimes since for the latter part of his career he was only on-air in London. So, why do I mention it? Because it’s about passion. Presenters like Steph dig around and find tapes and collect them. She’s also a well known collector of jingles and a prime example of being passionate. People who work in radio love radio. They probably listen to (and care about) more radio than most people. They’ll know geeky facts about stations and who is doing what show where. Kenny was one of those people; he lived and breathed and despite a foray into TV it was radio he kept coming back to because he had passion.
The same could be said about TV. People who work in TV, love TV. They watch it avidly and have opinions. If there’s a big show starting they’ll be watching and probably tweeting about it. The media is an industry that loves passion. Why else would someone start a radio station about radio?
So, this leads me onto work experience. In a session at last months SRA conference in Cardiff the very wise Tom Johns made some excellent points on how to make a mess of work experience. You can read that here
In the session he makes sensible points about getting off your phone, asking questions, making great tea and doing your research. This should be a given. Know what it is you are doing and who it is you are working with. I’d also suggest having an idea of who’s job you want and getting to know them… not to steal their job, but to find out more how to get the job you want. This is where passion comes in. If you know about the brand and are genuinely interested in the medium you want to work in that can really help. Remember this is a competitive industry. It’s not like going to help out in a solicitors office or a builders yard. People who work in the media are passionate folk, so if you share their passion then you’ll make an impression. In this regard media is a bit like sport, in the most footballers love football. Which might explain why so many of them end up on TV being paid to talk about it; they have a passion for the game which has seen them through wet winter afternoons playing non-league for bus fare.
Getting on in the media is a fairly simple sum, that is partly down to luck but also about also down the things you do that create that luck. A former American president reputedly said “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have” and whilst he probably didn’t say that the logic remains. If you sit and wait for a job offer it’s probably not going to come, but if you do things like work experience and make that experience one that works for you, then your odds of being lucky have just gone up. Also by making an effort and getting yourself out there, making work and getting your hands dirty. In the video above one of my former students shows just that. He made the most of the opportunities offered, worked hard and showed that he had passion for what he did. That might mean listening to everything under the sun, but might also mean being prepared to work hard for no pay because you love it.
This leads me onto my last point and that is about grabbing these opportunities. At the University of Sunderland we’re consistently sharing opportunities with our students and experience shows that the students who grab these with both hands are the ones who succeed. Going to conferences like the SRA, MIPTV, Edinburgh TV festival are great ways of meeting people and learning about the industry, they also show that you are committed to your career path. Getting up at 4am to work for free or catching the megabus to attend a conference might be hard work or limit your social life but they are key to getting a job in the media. This is about showing your passion and commitment. I suggest to students that it’s about building up their armoury of tools: Having a related degree from a course the employer trusts is a good start but it’s by no means the only thing you need. If there’s student media at your university you need to have spent some time there, even if it’s rubbish. If it is rubbish, get involved and make it great. If there isn’t any student media, then start it (which is what I did). Then make the most of the opportunities that come your way. This might be work experience, masterclasses or the chance to go to conferences and get drunk with people from the industry. In the video above the brilliant Alistair Stewart sums it up, urging students to prove their passion by getting involved and showing not your aspiration to get into the media but also your burning desire.
Here are my tips:
Learn about the industry you want to work in; read all you can (including textbooks) and listen to watch as much as you can. Also check out industry news via places like Media Guardian, Broadcast, Radio Today and things like the excellent Media Podcast (above)
Grab the opportunities that come your way and make the most of them. Some of the experiences may be horrible, they might even not be exactly what you want but if they are a step closer then take them as they extend your CV it makes it look like you’re dedicated. You can always be fussy later.
Get to know the products of the places you want to be. Know what they make and who the boss is. If you desperately want to work on X Factor or at Radio X then do your research. In this regard Twitter is brilliant. You can find producers, managers and owners here. They probably won’t offer you a job as soon as you follow them, but you will find out what they are doing and by adding them to complimentary tweets about their shows you could start a conversation.
Care about your career and the industry. Remember you’re not working in a bank and (generally) the money in media isn’t good, but people do it because they love it. If you’re doing this because you can’t think what else to do, or because you quite liked it at GCSE then maybe rethink your future. Your skills are massively transferable and could easily find a home in PR, Marketing, retail or recruitment.
Lose the attitude. People will remember how you behave, so be happy making tea, or filing or handing out flyers in the rain. If you showing willing to do that then better stuff can follow. Remember, that cat video your mate just sent you can wait.. unless it’s show prep then show the producer.
Finally, remember passion. Get to love your medium. Enjoy it and enjoy talking about it.
If you have any tips to add, do add them below or tweet me @richardberryuk
There was a time when this is how we saw radio studios. it was a webcam bolted to the wall that might update every few minutes, or if we were lucky it was a live stream. It was rarely in-sync with the audio but that wasn’t the point we could SEE RADIO HAPPENING… and that was exciting, or at least was for radio geeks. Maybe not so much for everyone else. A lot has happened since then and these visual practices are an ever large part of what radio does and we’ve got a lot better at it. It’s not a bolt-on for geeks. It’s not something done to show what toys we have. It’s part of the landscape.
In a great recent post on Medium the BBC’s Dave Lee shares some great examples of this new trend, especially on how it can fix the TV interview. Dave says:
TV is 80% logistics, 10% shouting, 9% journalism, 1% popping on a bit of make-up. The necessary evils of the least forgiving medium.
Radio, on the other hand, is different. Radio studios are different and whilst they are becoming more visually aware they still present a different experience for the guest. They feel more friendly, maybe because radio people are friendly. Static systems in studios, like Virtual Director, sit in the background recording everything from cameras that cut automatically between microphone positions. The production staff don’t need to do anything until something happens that warrants posting on social media.
In this Boris is caught on the hop and camera catches it. This then gets quickly shared online and can easily be shared with partners like Sky News for TV. This is great for brand LBC. Other Global stations like Capital, Heart and Radio X are all working with visuals, in studios designed with cameras in mind. Like the new Radio 1/1 Xtra studios at NBH they are well lit and look good on camera. This is, of course, radio for social media. Audio is hard to share, but video is much easier and is now very much part of the fabric of both Facebook and Twitter. Video could be short and snappy and simply sit as Facebook fodder to drive listeners to the station. These teasers are becoming better and better and there’s a clear sense in work from both BBC 5 Live and LBC that this work is not only aiming to tell great transmedia stories but is also recognising the need to be more visual.
If you’ve not already seen it, the NPR interview with Barack Obama is a great example of what you can do within radio using pictures.
This is of course a RADIO interview. You probably wouldn’t shoot a TV interview like this and that’s the point. Visualised radio is about supplementing the radio experience – taking it into new spaces, engaging new audiences and offering visual materials which can be shared as social capital. Of course it means radio stations need new people, or radio people need new skills but that’s always been the case. Radio has always needed people to take it to new places and new audiences. I doubt that anyone would sit and watch a radio show, but let’s face it there are many shows on TV that replicate what radio is doing but with sets. Move the same show to radio and it can equally dynamic, challenging and cost less. I’m not suggesting that letting radio people make TV is the future, but that video is going to be more and more a part of what we do in radio. Done well it can be great and even get other radio stations talking about you…. like this from Radio 1.
The trick, of course, is doing it well. Make it worth the time and make something people want to see and share. I am sure there will be those amongst you who are now saying ‘Ah, but this isn’t radio is it’ and of course you are right. Well, partly. It is part of the practices of contemporary radio stations. It’s a communication tool and a way they engage audiences in new places. It remediates what has already been aired and drives audience towards new things. it’s all content and that’s our business now.
BBC Radio is finally joining the move to be digital first. If, like me, you have Sky TV you’ll have seen the trails for a few years now pushing the fact the channels make some of their programmes available online first. Audiences like control and this seems to be a good way to give it to them. Netflix lets audiences blitz their way through entire series of shows in one go, whilst broadcasters have traditionally made listeners and viewers wait a week for the next episode to roll around
The BBC’s Head of Speech Radio Multiplatform Andrew Caspari, writes about the rationale in his BBC Blog:
From now you can go online and hear a selection of our programmes before they have been on the radio. This means more listeners will be able to get the programmes they want as soon as they are aware of them and listen wherever and whenever they want irrespective of the radio schedule.
The BBC has long realised that investing in programmes that listeners can miss is not the way forward, especially when those listeners are paying a licence fee. The iPlayer and iPlayer app have made radio portable and totally on-demand, letting listeners catch-up wherever they are. This next step means listeners can move forward in time on selected shows. Online First is about putting listeners in charge and recognising that listeners might want to listen to that next episode now, or listen to a whole series in one go. For example, the daily WW1 drama ‘Home Front’ will make an entire week’s worth of programmes available on Monday morning from next week. So, a listener can break their link with the schedule and listen to 5 programmes in one sitting.
The way we listen to the radio is changing. Listeners are listening online and radio must compete for ears with on-demand audio like podcasts and this seems to be a reflection of this. Shows will roll out across speech formats on Radio 4, 5Live, 6Music and Radio 2 (full list). In 2014 Ofcom reported that 5.9% of digital radio listening was online or via an app. I can only see this as growing and the lessons learnt from the past suggest that broadcasters need to be ready with content when the listeners get there. Producers can’t sit still these days, they need to put content in front of listeners in the format they want and in timeframe that works for them. This means getting it online fast and leaving it there for as long as you can. Obviously, the BBC has a job to do working with rights holders but this will take time. It will be interesting to see how this goes.