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The future of radio (part I)

Wits Radio Academy, under Prof Franz Kruger, recently held its third Joburg Radio Days conference, looking at the future of radio. This is my contribution: the current state and future challenges of an old medium, adapted into three parts.
The themes of the conference were:
  • The current state and future challenges of an old medium: can it adapt or will it die?
  • How best can radio stations make use of the opportunities of online and social media?
  • Examples of great new programming concepts: live music events; investigative journalism: reality radio etc
  • Recipes for success in music programming, breakfast shows and others
  • South African online radio stations
  • Online audience trends in the US and SA
  • Can digital radio broadcasting succeed in SA?
  • Zimbabwe broadcasting reform
  • Radio, language, ethnicity: a toxic mix?
  • Community radio's search for sustainability with independence
  • The three new commercial licences in SA
  • Community radio in Nepal
I was honoured to have been invited to speak as radio has taken up most of my working life and has given me much pleasure and heartache - but they are all unique memories, either way. I miss what I did for so many years. Radio isn't like accounting... retiring from accountancy means you don't do it anymore and couldn't care less about new inventions that make adding up sums easier or quicker. But with radio, you keep listening (and criticising) because it is there.

Debate is not new

The debate on the future of radio is not new at all. TV, tapes, cassettes, CDs, DMX, MTV - to name some - have spelt certain doom before. But I think we all agree there has never been a bigger challenge than the web. In all its forms, the internet is totally in our faces, day and night.

That is the true intimidation; its ease of use, accessibility and availability. It also gives you many options at one time.

I've always had a particular love for programming and the final mix. Early on I realised that no matter how active I was in the business, I was a listener. It was on that basis that I felt the need to learn about listener habits, likes and dislikes and their psychological reactions to radio.

What a radio listener desires is not only about taste, favourite music or topic. Knowledgeable presentation should be that of a companion in conversation, with a tone of natural dialogue and exchange. I felt I never needed to be intimated by celebs, veterans or consultants who boasted the real 'know-how'. I am still a listener.

Deeper look

In having a deeper look at the environment for the conference, I thought I'd put forward my thoughts about the current situation, what I observe and what I hear. I hope it has given food for thought, along with the inputs of my colleagues and the many other dedicated radio people who were gathered at the Joburg Radio Days.

Looking at SA radio in particular from my pensioner's seat in the stands, I am now watching the game and what I see are set plays that are overused; presentation that is clichéd; tactics that are anticipated; strategies that are tangled; music that is predictable and the coach's bench empty. I don't have any smart answers but I'm sure days like these will guide us.

Maybe we should agree on what we mean by RADIO.


I have looked up the definitions, the descriptions, similes and the action of radio:

Energy, communication, wireless, tuner, broadcasting, receiver, communicate.
  • Communicate - to convey information; make known; impart; to have an interchange of ideas; to be connected with one another;
  • Articulate - 'endowed with the power of speech'
  • Direct - 'to indicate the intended recipient; to conduct a performance'
  • Propagate- 'to make widely known; publicise; to extend to a larger number; spread'
  • Spread - 'disperse'
  • Locomote - 'to move from one place to another'
  • Disseminated - 'circularise; distribute; disperse; broadcast; propagate'
  • Transmission - 'communication; infecting; contagion; sending; gears'
  • Cast - 'sow'
  • Broadcast - 'message; air; send; beam; transmit; distribute; disseminate; publicise'
  • Narrowcast - 'involves aiming media messages at specific segments of the public defined by values, preferences, or demographic attributes. Also called niche marketing or target marketing'
  • Regurgitate - 'bring it all up again'

  • "RADIO" - the collective - the radio we all love. The industry, the history, the enjoyment, the engagement, the satisfaction and pleasure. SW, MW, FM, the wireless, the trannie, the hi-fi. The music, the dialogue, tête-à-tête, the natter, the conversation. The magic and mystique. This one is not in the dictionary.

What is it that we are facing?

I ask this question because, just generally, I do not know.

Who or what do we see as encroaching on our turf?

Are we talking about a competitor that, when they are on the internet exclusively, can be such a threat to the Past Seven Days (P7D) listenership of a station with a terrestrial footprint, as well as an internet streaming radio station? Surely not? After all, a traditional station has free a marketing platform in the ether; as a bonus, one that customers pay handsomely for.

It seems confusing at times. In the US, iHeartRadio, where you can make your own playlist or listen to a live station, claims it has 10 million registered users. Its parent Clear Channel has over 800 radio stations promoting its app, while Spotify is at 10 million, with no radio ad support at all. Pandora is big, too, and it looks like the safe haven of car radio is about to end when it will be on the dashboards of all new Fords, Chevys, Toyotas, BMWs, Hondas, Hyundais, Buicks and more.

Expensive to download?

Or will it? Isn't that amount of data downloading expensive?

There are quite a few podiums now for anyone with a laptop to have a say, play their choice - or yours - of music, specialise in anything they wish and make themselves heard. The niching of radio has followed the niching of information itself. I currently have about 15 radio apps with about 100 stations; I know there are plenty more but how many do I need?

I have a choice of talk stations but, by and large, they are not talking about anything local. Most others are just a fat music collection in a particular genre. What is the difference between a streaming radio station and these easy-to-get non-stop music channels?

Fact is, with new technology, even my phone, pen, wristband, necklace, spectacles or ashtray can become a radio receiver if Silicon Valley or the Far East decide to make it so. Is it realistic that things can remain the same for radio? Not really.

I hope to discover a lot more from people who specialise and are far more up to date than I am.

What is streaming radio?

  • Sound
  • Entertainment
  • Media
  • Niched
  • New
  • Inexpensive
  • Available
  • Commercial
  • Uncensored
  • Direct
  • Listener-driven?
  • Young entrepreneurs?
  • Out-of-work radio people?
Is it company? Is it trusted? Is it a pal? Can you shake hands with it?

I need to learn if and how I can.


We know that everyone who has to fund their efforts will need to build listenership, participation and loyalty; basic supply and demand will dictate mass, whether focused tightly, niched or not. Once there is proof of a valuable audience, revenue starts. Advertisers want bang for their buck, remember... ;o)


To compete with a conventional station, the ingredient mix has to be at least equal to the standard already on offer, doesn't it?

I know very little about set up or operational cost in internet radio. Normal high overheads that traditional radio bears are surely out of reach. Particularly in a lengthy recession, to start from scratch and provide riveting content that keeps you listening and interacting on the net, can't be an easy task.

In staff costs, isn't it the contrary for an existing station? Careful resource planning should see existing station staff, by and large, doing more multitasking.

"Start your own online radio station! Only $6.95/month 24Kbps or $32.95/month 128Kbps" - www.voscom.com


Can't live without it.

A question we ask ourselves every time a newcomer enters the media fray. How big is the pie?

What is the difference in sales pitches for a net approach? What tools does an internet station use that traditional doesn't?


No-one in the radio business has ever been happy with SAARF's RAMS figures. Shout about it when it's up and question validity when it is down. Either way, the fact that there is always a 3-5% margin of error proves that it's not an exact science.

However, streaming is supposed to be an exact science. What exactly are the various profile figures like for streaming stations? There has been some heated debate recently.

  • What role is the research industry playing and how accessible is it?
  • Is SAARF doing/innovating enough?
  • Who else is monitoring and how credible is the research?
  • Do we assume that in P7D, Average Day and Quarter Hour listenership, a web user is included as any normal FM listening respondent? Could they be counted twice?
  • How do we get a better global picture for media owner and customer?

The industry should try and paint a broader environmental portrayal, if for nothing else for on-air presentation on the different platforms.

Radio listenership trends

The 'big one' for radio bragging is normally P7D with the hope that Ave Day supports it in loyalty. Although there have been ups and downs in SA over six or so years, things haven't changed significantly despite some big new entries such as Capricorn FM and Gagasi, which seemed to gain millions without dramatically effecting existing stations.

It's fair to say that SAARF would use its familiar phrase that "everything is generally stable".

Time spent listening (TSL)

With a glut of consumer options available, listeners are still enjoying their stations but one would expect a natural drop in time made available to listen to radio.

click to enlarge
The loyalty factor for radio has been on a slow decline for years now, with weekly loyalty down by over an hour year on year, although daily TSL is "pretty stable". But has it reached crisis levels in short-to-medium profile terms? Is it more alarming than we should have naturally expected?

In part II of this series, I will mention positioning (or the lack of need); audience targeting; marketing; music; talk; live internet radio; existing FM stations with web streaming; listener-driven radio; social media and the cloud.

For more:

About Anthony Duke

Anthony Duke co-founded Capital Radio in 1979, managed 5FM, Good Hope FM and did strategies for all SABC Radio stations as manager of radio training at the corporation. Today he is retired but still consults. Email him at az.oc.liamadov@ekudynohtna and connect on LinkedIn.
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Martin Myers
am impt read and well presented
Posted on 22 Aug 2012 14:53



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