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November 2019
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Making radio a must watch

For a long time TV has know a lot about the power of emotional connection. There have been whole shows built around it, putting everyday people front and centre and sharing their stories. Daytime TV is full of this kind of stuff. From Jeremy Kyle to DIY SOS, people who need help or just a thank you have been made the starts. But, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on radio. Until now…

This is from the great Kyle and Jackie O in Sydney. These guys are big stars there, and were poached from their old station a few years back with much noise. They’ve been constantly pushing the show forward since then. There are cameras in the studio, and they film a lot. They have big guests, big personalities and lots of attitude.

There are several things I like about this piece. Firstly, this a driveway piece of radio. The kind of story that demands your attention. From the story itself to the way Jackie tells it, it’s attention grabbing. We then get the woman on-air and the narrative comes to an emotional and well planned climax. This takes skill and planning, so well done to the team for pulling that off. By taking on ideas that have worked on TV the station are really taking the game to the other places that compete for our time and our attention. This is good for radio. It’s should be an obvious thing to do, especially as radio is such an emotional medium.

The other thing about this is the visualisation. This is something that is new in radio, and whilst not everyone agree – it is part of the our future. This is a great example of it done well and where it adds value. Here is something the audience will want to see and share – it’s been shared over 260,000 times on Facebook already. The act of going online to view is itself an act of connection. Connection that suggests a great sense of engagement with the brand. Engaged listeners are loyal. It’s also a great introduction to the brand for anyone who wasn’t already aware or listening. Visualisation is a complex thing. Some videos are cheap and throwaway, and that’s fine because they are there as a tease or a hook. This is more nuanced. It’s the denouement of a radio story. It’s a big feature and something where you don’t want bad camera work, or bad editing to get in the way. By sneaking a camera into the car, and then getting the sound editing right this is something that looks and sounds good. Again, not an easy task but one that really smells of quality, and that’s important.

Increasingly this is what radio stations will need to do. Hire great personalities, and let them be themselves on-air. Invest in great ideas. Build reasons for the audience to listen, and these might be emotional. And finally, remember the visual elements. Build on them and invest in them. That doesn’t mean you do radio differently, but you reconsider what a radio station institutionally.

Future radio’s will not care

The topic of what radio is, and what it will be in the future has popped up a few times in my Twitter feed recently. It seems that there’s mixed views on what that future is. At a recent conference in Asia Commercial Radio Australia CEO Joan Warner told an audience that radio’s future was as hybrid. This echoes many opinion formers such as James Cridland and Adam Bowie. This is a scenario where a radio is still a radio, but can do other things; like connecting to the internet to download shows or connect listeners directly to the studio.

GMC Car Radio

Of course, this is all really exciting. The problem that radio faces is that our eyes are being taken off the ball by cool iPhones and in-car systems that offer streaming music services. This misses the really benefit of radio as a distribution platform. Radio is free to all at point of use, and it doesn’t matter if 10 people, or 10,000 people are listening the costs of distributing that content remains the same. Move the same station online and things get more experience, for the radio stations, for the audience and for the mobile networks who distribute it. Imagine the problems if the internet was all we had? Would you be happy at not being able to listen to radio on the way to work because the kid in the next car is watching cat videos and sucking up all the data? OK, I know that’s not really how it works but data is infinite and to replace radio with mobile internet you need a lot of data, and who pays for that? We do, and that’s a bad place for radio to be.

Whilst the radio set above does do need neat things for HD radio, it also buries AM/FM behind other useful, but competing apps. The face of radio is changing, it’s becoming more visual and more social. The internet lets the audience into the studio and into the archive and that is part of the future

Big Weekend (C) BBC

Events like the BBC Radio 1 Big weekend run across radio, TV and the internet with opportunities to watch and engage socially. The fact this doesn’t feel like the radio of the past isn’t important. If that was the case all newsreaders would still dress for dinner. As radio people we push, reflect and change our medium to fit the environment. Radio has always evolved. Content producers have done well to keep with us this change, management and owners less so. The big shift will happen when manufacturers get this too. Recent moves suggest that the first real battleground will be the car.

Last summer I attempted to consolidate some of these thoughts in a conference paper, all being well that will be published later this year but in the meantime here are the slides

The path to digital is not straight

Yesterday the Culture Secretary, Ed Vaisey, made his long-awaited statement on the proposed Digital Switchover date (or switch-off) for Radio… the upshot of which was, there isn’t one. This is what most us expected him to say. The idea that turning off analogue radio any time soon is absurd and has been a worry for many for a long time.

The problem is that radio isn’t television. Consumers (we like to call them listeners) behave differently. Many commentators have pointed to the fact that over the past few years sales of DAB radios have slowed; even though coverage is up and the amount of digital listening is also up. Although, some would it’s all a bit rubbish and we should abandon DAB now.  It could argued that the lack of clarity about our digital future is to blame here; as without a definitive end date for analogue for radio, then why bother buying DAB? There might be some truth here, the real change with TV was when when we knew when our screens would start going blank. This is where the real difference between TV and Radio is clear. We tend to own more radio’s than TV’s and we probably don’t change them as often. Upgrading to a bigger screen or adding IPTV to the lounge has real benefit and the inner-geek in us all makes us want it. Radio on the other hand tends to be something we live with, until it breaks. Then we buy a new one.

My guess is that sales have levelled as the initial rush of interest has peaked and we’re now into the phase where radio’s are being bought not as an additional sets to listen to DAB but as replacements to broken or tatty sets. So, should we take this is a sign that interest has also peaked? Probably not. OK, so I am radio geek. I have DAB radios in most rooms of the house and on my desk at work. The only place I don’t have it right now is the car – and that’s only because I need a new kit for my Pure Highway. The statement this week addresses this, with plans to send DAB information out with every DVLA tax reminder. This coupled with the announcement from Halfords that won’t be selling analogue only radio’s from 2015 will add some movement to the one place that was clearly a problem for DAB. However, this alone is not the solution.

There are two other big problems when it comes to switchover. The first is choice. This week the Minister told us that Ofcom will once again issue a 2nd National Digital Multiplex; which might go some way in dealing with one of the problems of DAB. Whilst the likes of Absolute Radio and Bauer have understood that Digital offers them opportunities to build out brands, much of what we can hear on DAB is already available on FM. Choice is limited and – to be honest – my kitchen radio spends more time tuned to internet radio than it does to DAB. I love Absolute 80’s, I appreciate 6Music and think that the BBC World Service is amazing and I’m glad they’re all on DAB, but it can feel like the incentives offered in DTV were better. Content will be a key to the future and we have to hope that D” offers choice, rather than re-workings of current brands or the relay of another London FM station.

The BIG problem though is what happens when there is no path to digital. This is the case for lots of the smaller stations, such as those owned by UKRD. In November they joined forces with others to warn that switch-off was not an option. For their stations, the current arrangements for digital transmission means they would be covering areas much bigger than need to and at costs in excess of their ability to pay. This is an even bigger issue for Community Radio, where budgets are even tighter. The minister promised some action here, including funding to examine future options.

The key thing, though, is that he did not set and end date for analogue. If anything, he reaffirmed that notion that the future will be a mixed economy of analogue AND digital. So, bad news for those who wanted DAB to turned off (sorry guys). Interestingly, he also slipped in a suggestion that there may be some further change ahead for Community Radio to make their lives even easier.

Despite the flurry of small announcements and whatever stability his words have generated, we are no further on. We know that AM and FM will around for some time to come. We know we will get more DAB and that the government will continue to support it. What we don’t know is if the likes of the BBC and Global will slowly move their brands onto DAB only, leaving FM to the small independents and community stations; like the chains leaving the high street to move into the shiny new shopping centre on the edge of town, leaving behind boarded up windows and charity shops.