Ask “what is radio”, and you can probably break radio people into three distinct types based on their answer:
- “If it ain’t on an AM transmitter, it ain’t proper radio”
- “It’s all radio, even Spotify or Pandora”
- “Proper radio is something that has a human connection and a shared experience”
I’m in the last category. I believe there is a big difference between ‘Pandora Radio’ – an algorithmic jukebox that nobody else is hearing – and what comes out of a speaker when listening to a radio station.
In reality though, most people are in the mid category. Anything that gives listeners some audio-based entertainment is, to most, known as “radio” – no matter whether I feel it is proper radio or not.
I’ve little time, however, for those who continue to try to argue about a definition of radio based on owning a transmitter. To me, they’re the equivalent of Ed Klein, the producer of this fine advert from 1915, desperately trying to convince people that they want a horse, not a motor car.
It’s with this in mind that I peruse the latest piece of research from the UK’s media regulator, Ofcom. The UK has a relatively unusual media regulator that undertakes quite a large amount of research every year; and their 2015 Digital Radio report is worth a read. It shows that radio’s more multiplatform than its ever been.
Analogue radio is down (by 6%); digital radio – online, DAB, through the TV – is up (by 4%). The number of “don’t know how I’m listening” is also up, as you can tell, by 2%. In total, analogue listening is down, again, yet total radio listening is static. New digital platforms are are ensuring radio’s future.
But the data also shows we have a long way to go. More than one in ten adults with an internet-connected computer don’t think they can use it to get radio. Radio set sales are slowing down. And here’s a fascinating figure: over four in ten people say they don’t use a radio set at home. This is in spite of at-home listening being the largest part of radio listening in the UK.
So if you’re running a radio station, I wonder whether you’re Ed Klein: trying to convince people that the old distribution of analogue radio is the best way; or whether you’re a little more future-facing than that. There’s never been more to prepare for.
James Cridland is a radio futurologist who concentrates on the impact of new technology on the business of radio.
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