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It’s Radio, Stupid!

My Old Bush

This old Bush valve radio still works – it has a ‘lovely tone’.

It was a gift from John Cavanagh who presented ‘Earshot’ on

BBC Radio Five/ Scotland (while I produced) over 20 years ago.

Two things caught my eye in the last 24 hours that have started me worrying if people that make radio are in danger of losing sight of the medium’s hundred year heritage.

Yesterday Bauer announced a series of new promotions as their radio business moves towards regional management. They’re a truly multiplatform business operating across a wide range of media, with print, online, TV and radio all contributing to the bottom line. The thing that worried me is at first a no-brainer, but overnight I’ve had second thoughts.

The new managers would previously have been called Programme Directors – they’re now called ‘Content Directors’. I get it: they make much more than just radio – they’re responsible for material across a wide variety of platforms. The change in job title reflects the companies aspirations as a 21st Century publisher.

BBC radio made the switch years ago. In Scotland Content Assistants work with Content Producers to create programmes and ancillary content. Again this reflects the extension of the old bi-media approach, when radio and TV teams started working together, with the addition of online and other initiatives.

I wonder though if TV would do the same. Jeff Stelling is a TV presenter, synonymous with Sky TV’s Saturday Football coverage. This despite the fact that their coverage appears on a multitude of devices and in many formats.

Or newspapers. David Dinsmore of The Sun seems to be a newspaper editor – not a content editor. Even though the Sun operates right across the media with print, audio, video and a premium online offering.

In fact the whole business still seems confused. This morning the great Robin Galloway tweeted:

“Sharleen from Texas chatting on the show right now. The Robin Galloway Breakfast Show available on multiple platforms across Scotland.”

What are ‘multiple platforms’?

We know as practitioners that it’s a multiplatform world where radio dovetails with video, social media and online. But do the listeners?

I have a feeling that the 90% of Britons who listen-in don’t consume content in a multiplatform environment. I think they listen to the radio.

A wise old sales director once told me that you don’t sell the sausages – you sell the sizzle. By extension, the last thing you want to do is complicate the issue by letting them know what’s actually in the sausage.

The same is in danger of happening to the medium I love – which I reckon happens to be the medium best placed to benefit from digital developments.

We’ve had a century or so to tell our ‘listeners-in’ that they are consuming ‘radio’, even though it’s just the name of the transmission technology. . The word is used all over the world in dozens of languages. To end users that one word is instantly recognisable as a kind of content. Radio.

Yet the people that make the stuff seem desperate to cast off the word as if all the other ‘platforms’ are somehow cooler and sexier. Many former colleagues started in radio and went off to TV and print. Interestingly they describe their industries by the traditional name – despite working in a ‘multi platform’ world.

Radio has changed before, from AM to FM; short wave to internet. But it remains largely the same thing. One broadcaster, speaking to hundreds of people individually at the same time.

The industry’s ability to add video to the mix, support its audio with written content on the web and even mount outside events doesn’t detract from the thing that gives it the sizzle. It would be mad for it to abandon a word that’s existed 20 years more than ‘television’ in the public mind.

The amount of positive brand value that’s been built up over the years, when the device we use to consume has the same name as the medium is worth millions. Even the new entrants who don’t really make radio in any sense I recognise like to use the word.

The consumers know what radio is and isn’t thanks to it’s heritage. And the consumers know, without prompting that producers don’t make sausage-filling content.

They know that the magical thing we produce is… ‘Radio’.


a subbed and no doubt improved version of this article can be found at the lovelyallmediascotland.com website.

Author: johnco

Born in 1963, been involved in radio since 1977.

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