Damon Kalvari, former producer on the Gareth Cliff Show, responds to our story on PowerFM’s Thabo Mbeki live event via a Facebook post in which we asked, “Is this the future of radio”. We thought his comment was worth republishing in full.
OPINION: Is this the future of radio? That’s a very loaded question. But, my short answer to that is “No”. Features like the Power FM Thabo Mbeki interview can only take you so far. It’s great publicity, but it’s momentary; it’s not a sustainable element that keeps on burning, keeping you connected to the listeners, and growing an audience.
I don’t think anybody knows the exact future of radio, but it can’t be public auditorium interviews televised for social media. For want of a better already used word, it’s not sustainable. But the mere continuing speculation on this “future of radio” is at least an indication that there’s a general consensus that radio is not staying the same as it is now.
For radio to survive, it needs to change. But what are those changes? Taking a few steps backwards, why do the industry players feel that radio has to/ is changing? Are advertisers slowly but surely spending less money, not getting their return on investment, like they used to?
To look at the future of radio, we need only look at what’s happening in the radio market in the USA. Huge radio conglomerates like Clear Channel and Viacom that own half the radio stations in America, have reported financial losses since 2008. People are downloading their own music, listening to their own podcasts. People don’t have to sit through commercials, they go straight to what they want.
I think the future of radio is podcast platforms like CliffCentral. You listen when you want to, without any commercial interruptions. I’m even part of a podcast platform called Niche Radio. It’s all small, and new, but it’s the future. I don’t think it means the end of traditional radio stations like Power FM etc either, they just need to restructure, and change their whole way of satisfying their advertisers.
Those days of somebody sitting in their car, listening to a four minute ad break are over. The whole advertising industry has to wake up, they cannot justify radio commercials running the way they are. There are just too many other options for listeners.
I have noticed some radio shows taking a paid-for sponsored concept and incorporating it into their general programming content. I think that is the way to go, but it requires real talent and radio savvy to implement successfully. So far from what I’ve listened to, it’s failing badly. It’s inauthentic and irrelevant, because it requires real talent and radio savvy, something very lacking at the moment.
So what is a sustainable element that keeps on burning, keeping you connected to the listeners, and growing an audience? I think it’s about being authentic, having a close connection with the listener. But that kind of behaviour is punished in this industry. It’s become almost an equation, “If you never get into trouble in radio, you’re boring, and irrelevant, and you’ve got no listeners.” I just made that up, but some other experts have said something similar along those lines.
Do you remember 702’s John Robbie’s cutting Manto Tshabala Msimang off in the middle of a phone interview? I think it was Robbie’s greatest moment in radio. Then came the Pretoria Girls dreadlocks story, another great radio moment. Robbie was being authentic, it was good radio.
These polite non-opinionated talk show hosts will never grow an audience.
At the end of the day, radio is personality-driven. Public auditorium interviews on social media, doing a show from somebody’s house etc, can only serve as momentary publicity stunts. Those thousands of people that viewed you on social media, do not directly equate to new listeners, or sustained listeners. You need to be engaging, relevant, entertaining, informative, and you can’t shove commercials into listeners ears.