Radio plays an essential role in the lives of its consumers. It’s the friend who is always there, knowing exactly which songs to play. The information it delivers helps get listeners and their families to work and school safely every morning. It has relatable, fun presenters who engage and entertain them. It can turn a blue Monday into a fun-filled joyous occasion.
Radio can leverage communities for good through powerful CSI initiatives that resonate with audiences and businesses. It has the power to do good in its community and make meaningful differences to individuals’ lives. But when radio brands get it right and start reaching more people on platforms other than on their FM product, the true impact of great radio can be seen.
The cliché posits that radio is the original social media, but when you look at the influence of radio brands that use social media meaningfully, you understand just how important the two are to each other – allowing a greater reach and louder voice for radio to reach its audience.
Expanding the core of radio
Great presenters develop celebrity followings because they can connect with the audience where the audience plays. If radio is to continue playing a big role in its listeners lives, it needs to keep evolving, both in terms of its core product, but also in terms of expanding on that core: Simply being a linear FM radio station with a website and social media accounts that get updated once in a blue moon is not enough for today’s savvy, connected consumer.
Radio needs to research. Truly understanding your audience versus a programming manager’s ‘gut feel’ is critical in understanding what belongs and what doesn’t belong on air, online, and on social media today. Radio exists because it has a growing audience. When that audience wanes, we see radio stations go into business rescue – and the majority of the time that is because they have not moved with the times.
I say this with respect, but radio 30 years ago was simply broadcast at a group of people, who for the most part had to take what they got.
There was no meaningful way of knowing if anything you did was or wasn’t working. The odd complaint to the hotline or five faxes sent to the studio was hardly a clear indication of whether the station was broadcasting what the audience wanted. Two RAMS diaries a year meant that you had no clear idea of whether what you were doing was working or not, and when you did, you had to wait six months for it. The point is that the radio listener today is more important than ever before – and they have a much louder voice.
If you consider life today, you will notice a few things:
- The world is more connected than ever, with people having voices they want to use
- Despite all these connections, people are lonelier than ever before. They seldom make phone calls – WhatsApps are better. Checking in with their family and friends on Instagram – rather than popping in to see them
- No one waits for anything. Instant gratification is overtaking life today. Shops offer same-day delivery services. Smartphone apps eradicate the wait for a date, a ride or a table at a trendy restaurant. Online movies and shows stream within seconds. I want to talk to the presenter, NOW!
Because of these changes in our connected, instantly-gratified lives, radio needs to be agile and always in touch. Gone are the days where a presenter can carry on about something and have no idea whether it’s working or not. Listeners can, and will, tell you what they think. They also don’t have the time for radio like they used to. They want the content in short snackable segments that add meaning to their lives in an instant.
One of the reasons why radio has been so resilient in the decline of traditional media is because there is a real person on the other side of the speaker, not a bot or a call centre agent in India.
Radio was built and will survive on its ability to connect in a meaningful, relevant manner, adding value to people’s lives. But doing what we did 20 to 30 years ago is simply not enough. Programmers should obsess about creating better ways of connecting with their audiences. Be it through formal or informal engagements, the learning and the understanding should never stop.
If you consider the lack of meaningful connections in people’s lives today, having a friend in a radio presenter is a true comfort for people always on their phones or rushing from one meeting to the next. The moment a radio station stops listening and meaningfully connecting, it may as well shut its doors or just put the playlist on shuffle. Streams cannot connect with a person, they cannot share joy or pain. They cannot have empathy when the traffic is at a standstill. And they do not care about your opinion. Radio must remain radio in order to survive and thrive.
Something which radio has not been great at historically is on-demand content. We are seeing the rise of on-demand audio around the world and in South Africa. While there is only a small glimpse of this locally due to our ongoing challenges around data accessibility and cost, it’s still an untapped space.
The podcast industry in the US is now a multi-billion-dollar business. For radio to offer what listeners want when they want it, the basics should be immediately available on station apps and websites: the latest news and traffic reports, interviews, great show moments, and important announcements. When there is a breaking local news story, news pages on station websites and Twitter feeds should be updating developments live with earlier stories available as a podcast, blog, video or photo gallery.
When stations get this right, the magic of great radio truly comes alive. The digital space allows radio to expand and broaden it’s offering.
Super-serving niches in your audience is now easier than ever and is not something radio should consider, but something it must do.
At East Coast Radio we recently launched the first digital radio station catering specifically to over-50s who love music from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. We didn’t just create a stream with music on shuffle because that is not what radio is. We purpose built a digital station that lives on our website and app. We designed the playlist like you would a traditional radio station’s, making it far superior to a digital stream of random music. We appointed the best presenters, for this audience, in the country and we broadcast updated news and traffic across the day.
This under-served market has become a lot more tech savvy in the last few years and we want to create a natural home for listeners feeling that our FM station is becoming too young for them. The truth for loyal listeners is that their favourite radio station doesn’t get old with them, so providing a new space to keep them in your ecosystem is key.
Another easy, but often overlooked tactic is to allow your listeners to become the stars of your station. User Generated Content is a buzzword on YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr or even Facebook, but radio only occasionally leverages this as well as online media does. People want to be famous and providing their stories with a platform is a simple, relevant and effective way to use your listeners, especially if the content has or is about to go viral.
Radio can then tell these stories like online media do but also can further personalise it to their audience through in-studio interviews and videos of the stars in the story. In order to achieve this, it is important for presenters to allow the guest to become the star of the show for a short while.
Easy for listeners to interact
The team at Jacaranda FM understand and execute this very well. I am often impressed by how their breakfast and drive shows pick up something and personalise it to their show, making the content even bigger or adding a new dimension or conclusion to it. Very few presenters ‘get’ this and are prepared to let the spotlight shine on someone else, so it seldom works well. Many presenters are guilty of telling the guest their own story, because they are not authentically curious about the guest’s story and want to hog the spotlight. Then you have ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers to these closed questions and the very point of having the guest in studio is missed.
Technology will take radio forward and allow for even more meaningful ways to connect the audience to the presenter. For starters, look at how well radio has adopted to voice notes, which I think is only the start. Radio needs to make it easy for listeners to interact, be it through calls, WhatsApps, video sharing, or text messages. Sharing of great content also needs to become easier. If that happens, your audience will become the promoters of your content.
At East Coast Radio we ran a live karaoke party on our breakfast show. We got our audience to sing along with the team to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and record themselves on their cell phones while doing so. They then needed to send the video to us via our WhatsApp line and we then stitched all the videos together and shared it on our website and social media.
It was a clear success, based on the number of videos submitted and the final product did well in terms of views. Yes, we used the technology available to us well, but right now and in the future, it is always going to be more important to ensure that the content connects with the audience as effectively as the technology does to their device.
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.
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