How does South African radio hold up against the rest of the world? If I was a schoolteacher, I’d give it a C. It’s not bad; it has some moments of brilliance, but there are often times when I look at it and think: ‘Come on, you’re better than this!’
Comparing where I work now with where I have previously worked, it comes down to this: Radio stations in the United Kingdom listen. They fine tune their approach to their audience, have an intimate understanding of their audience, and they know which songs rate highest among their target audience. It sounds simple enough, so why aren’t South African radio stations doing the same?
The radio experience
I’ve worked in radio for almost five years, with the majority of that time spent at East Coast Radio, part of Kagiso Media. Now based in the UK, I joined Smooth Radio, part of Global Media. Global Media is Europe’s largest commercial radio company, with radio assets including Capital, Heart, LBC, Classic FM, Radio X, Gold and Smooth. Its radio stations reach 34 million listeners across the UK – the same number of listeners public broadcaster, the BBC, reaches too.
Interestingly, each of Global Media’s radio stations sound completely different from one another, each responding to the unique needs of unique audiences, serving – you guessed it – a unique niche. That’s the primary differentiation that I’ve noticed since landing in the UK. South African radio stations try to simultaneously serve multiple audiences, instead of aiming to serve a single core market. A cursory glance at South African radio stations’ weekend show guide will highlight this quite clearly.
The rainbow nation
Within a deeply diverse, multicultural nation, South African audiences can feel difficult to serve. The answer, for me, is simple: super serve your one target market, and stop trying to please everyone. Everyone is different when it comes to their music and radio likes and dislikes. Let’s serve them differently. There are, beyond the broad strokes, however, some solid attempts being made at serving niche audiences within the country.
Picking apart the playlist
In the UK, I’ve noted a distinct difference between playlists and presenters, as selected for each radio station. Rather than trying to cram all the big hits and all the great content in for a broad audience, radio stations carefully select their playlists and presenters to directly serve the target audience they’re looking to attract.
While they may be my former employer, I have noticed a significant move towards tackling this angle at East Coast Radio. Attempts to serve a more diverse audience don’t always pay off, so it was heartening to see that this KwaZulu-Natal radio station decided to branch out.
Launching East Coast Gold as an online radio station that serves music more likely to attract older listeners, Kagiso Media have started to differentiate their daytime radio audiences, and create new platforms for listening pleasure. I would not be surprised to see other radio stations within the Kagiso fold take similar measures in the near future.
Pivoting the radio strategy
That’s why I’ve compiled these brief tips on how programme managers, strategists, and radio group heads can look towards pivoting their strategies to serve niche audiences. I’d recommend:
- Research your playlist: Slim it down, and select the music that listeners you want to attract to your radio station enjoy.
- Play more music: Of course, if you’re a talk radio station, this won’t apply. Ultimately, however, the majority of listeners tune in to enjoy music. Let’s give that to them! I’d estimate that a breakfast or afternoon drive show should play between 7 to 8 songs per hour, with everyone else outside this to play between 12 – 14 songs an hour. No one is turning the radio on at 11.39 am on a Monday to hear how fabulous your presenter’s life is – they’d prefer to listen to their favourite song.
- Don’t neglect your weekends: Weekend shows provide the perfect opportunity to attract new listeners, as this is when your potential audience might try a new or different radio station. This is your time to shine.
- Slice up your content: Controversial content, hard-hitting stories, and in-depth interviews belong in your breakfast and drive time shows. The weekend is not where these belong. You should not be turning the radio on, on a Sunday and hearing an interview with a suicide survivor. It’s interesting content, but doesn’t belong in an airtime spot where music will win listeners.
- Look alive: Your morning breakfast show must have up-to-the-minute content relevant to the day ahead.
- Love your producers: Producers are the lifeblood of your every radio show. Let them become immersed in producing the best radio show for that slot. Producers must live their product, to make that product excellent.
- Sweat the small stuff: Set standards, and stick to them. High quality production, curbing on-air slip-ups, and avoiding dead air are some of the baseline requirements. If less than excellence makes it on air, find out why and fix it.
- Don’t let business people make radio decisions: Let radio-people make radio decisions; you hired a programme manager – let them programme.
In radio, you need to be consistent, and South African radio is far from consistent. It’s too greedy for today, when it should be planning for tomorrow. Stop being broad, be specific.
Simon Carter is currently the breakfast producer at Smooth Radio, the UK’s third biggest commercial radio station, which is a part of Global, Europe’s largest radio company. Before joining Smooth, Carter was the executive producer of the award-winning East Coast Breakfast at East Coast Radio in Durban. Twitter: @simonislive Instagram: @simonislive LinkedIn: Simon James Carter
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