I am a bit of a radio anorak (a term we use for people who are obsessed with radio). I love reading about it and listening to great content and how it connects with its audience. Things have changed dramatically for our industry over the last 20 years, most notably with how social media has evolved information and music discovery – something you used to look to your radio station for. Over the last 18 months, there have been several trends that have stood out for me and some that I think will define 2019 and the future.
Clear brand proposition and relatability
Unless your show or station is offering something that your target audience feels drawn to, you are dead in the water. Many stations get this fundamental element wrong and fail to achieve the kind of audience and revenue ambitions they have because the foundation of their station is not anchored in a clear understanding of what the listeners want. But how do you work out what they want?
Research. Independent credible research. I often hear about ‘gut-feel’ and ‘BRC RAM will tell us what we need to know’, which is rubbish. BRC RAM does not tell you what you need to do, it’s tells everyone else whether your strategy is sound or not. It’s essentially the report card of your efforts. You need to research your market, understand your station’s perception in the market, then optimally position it to attract the audience you want through appointing the right presenters in the right shows to speak to the audience in a manner that’s relatable and then you need to market the hell out of it. No one wants to be spoken at; people want to be spoken to.
The days of the big voice and with smooth one liner radio lingo are over. Empathy for your listener is key for everyone from the station GM, programming manager, producers and presenters. Winning stations, for example Gagasi FM in KZN, have a very clear brand proposition: Gagasi is an urban youth station, with a talented line up of presenters: Mzokoloko in the morning and Naves and Spechtacula in the afternoon are the ideal presenters who relate to and play in the same spaces as the Gagasi listeners, and their music product (urban, gqom, house) is in line with the tastes of their listeners. As such, it’s no surprise that they are the number one commercial station in South Africa. A massive compliment for one of my key competitors, I think!
Music is a critical component
Most music station programming managers don’t spend enough time on their music product. While many listeners are discovering new music through Shazam, YouTube or music streaming services, many listeners still look to radio for music discovery and as a soundtrack to their lives. Music on radio is a mix of science and art. The science bit is that radio has the ability to create playlists that are built on target audience research, where the art bit is that the research is interpreted by experts who can add the personal touch to what your music scheduler spits out and massage a track here and there to provide the perfect listening experience, delivering playlists that are familiar to your audience and that flow in a way that streaming services cannot do.
Additionally, radio has the advantage of time of day, creating playlists that are relevant to what your audience is doing at a specific time. If you lived in London in the UK, you would have a massive choice of music stations to listen to. But if you were in the adult market, a stand out station for me is Magic Radio. Their music offering is different to most other stations, which is a key driver of their differentiation, but when you pay attention to the care and detail in how each song is chosen and placed then you truly appreciate how important spending time on your music is, especially since it’s often around 70% of a music station’s product and is often left to a lonely music compiler in a locked office surrounded by CDs.
Need for meaningful two-way conversation and WhatsApp
Twenty years ago, you never knew if content on radio shows were a hit or a miss. Today, and I struggle to remember radio before WhatsApp, never mind SMS, you instantly know how your audience feels – because they tell you in real time. No more talking at the listener with your big booming voice, but rather stories that connect your audience to your station and its presenters. The need to have a voice in those stories is evident by the amount of participation that comes into a breakfast or drive show.
The term ‘listeners’ is likely outdated in many respects and the correct term for these people should be fans, raconteurs or the less sexy, conversationalists. Audiences are informed and want a seat at the table, not stand outside in the passage anymore. Good radio shows use social media in a smart way to test content too. By posting a story or talk topic on Facebook or Twitter ahead of your show, you can see if there is resonance with the audience. Great shows manage to move their audience between their social media, their FM product, their website and back again.
Creating a community
As human beings we want to feel like we are part of something bigger and through social media the ability to create communities and drive conversation has truly come to be. Radio can build communities around local issues, music, entertainment, presenters or events. WhatsApp groups dedicated to traffic issues or local activities in your neighbourhood exist and thrive. What gives radio the edge in this space is that through credible research, stations should have an idea of the psyche of their core audience and be able to build communities, both on and off air around these core interests.
These range from mass participation events to smaller bespoke get togethers. My favourite example of this is how Kaya FM has created a community for jazz lovers. Jazz music makes up a key segment within the Kaya FM music offering and they built this community through their #EmiratesPersuitOfJazz campaign. It involved music, competitions, travel, content, concerts, interviews and is an all-round experience that truly fills the soul of any jazz fan.
Show us what you are doing
Unless you can visualise the great content that your station or show does, you are at a disadvantage. If you look at the visual content that comes out of great radio shows, it’s not ‘visual radio’ where there are cameras streaming the what the presenter is doing in the studio, but rather well shot, well edited videos that drive the brand values of the presenters, the show and the station. Presenters who are well dressed, with their hair and make up done, lighting that is as good as any TV show’s and content that is compelling, delivered in a way that a social audience can consume are key.
Social audiences don’t want a 25-minute video – they need only the best bits and it needs to be concise. Simply put, only give them the bits that they can talk about. When AKA launched his new album last year he did many radio interviews and many of the stations he visited videoed the interviews. Anything featuring AKA would do well, and most stations got a couple of thousand views, but the interview that Bongani and Mags from East Coast Radio did got over 335 000 views. Why? Because the content was better than any of the other interviews, the way it was shot and edited was sleek and sexy and it wasn’t too long. The trick with great video content is less about hard and fast rules and more about the right feel. If it feels too long, it is.
The ability to facilitate and make sense of the world
Fake and biased news is everywhere and deciphering the truth is often challenging. Radio stations that unpack the world in a manner that shines a light on different perspectives for its audience is like a trustworthy friend in the know. Getting it right means you tell it in authentic way that resonates with your audience. Great stations understand that their core audience often has biases about the world they live in and unpack news and current affairs in a truthful unbiased manner, but with empathy for their audience.
Authenticity will make you great
Paul Kaye is the vice-president, product and talent at Rogers in Canada and wrote this as part of his 15 Truths For On Air Talent in 2019. This point resonated with me because as radio has evolved into this more personal medium when audiences are talking back, it is critical that on-air presenters are real. Audiences want honest opinions and views from presenters. They are looking for vulnerability, because when your presenters share their own flaws, it makes them relatable and allows for meaningful relationships to be fostered with your brand and your presenters.
If you look at the radio landscape in South Africa, some of the most authentic presenters today are women. While she is not on air currently, I always found Redi Thlabi to be just that. Her passionate pursuit of getting to the bottom of a story could only be driven from a place of authentic curiosity. Another presenter that is the same person on air, on social media or in person is Anele Mdoda. She never pretends to be something she is not and always sincerely conveys how she feels – so you never have to wonder. Thandolwethu is a presenter on East Coast Radio and never in my life have I met someone who literally puts everything on the table the way she does. There is nothing too taboo about her life that she won’t share or discuss with her audience, and she expects the same in return. This breaks down prejudice and helps foster real, and often much needed conversations.
Zane Derbyshire is currently the head of all things content at East Coast Radio. He loves working with creative teams, and is very results driven. Passionate about developing people in the media and content space in South Africa.