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Radio’s Digital future better not get fumbled

So many of the radio people I bump into just now are looking at their stations’ digital operations and asking lots of questions.

Over the years I’ve seen and heard some excellent practice and some that has failed to hit the spot.

I blogged some time ago about using social media to be… erm… ‘social’ with your listeners. I’ve seen some programme makers with mindsets rooted in the 90s that won’t allow even minor criticisms of their product to appear on Facebook or Twitter. There was the chance for the person at the controls to engage with the audience and find out more. Of course there’s a chance that it can all get out of hand with a troll – then removing/ blocking may become an option.

Many stations just use social media as another way of publishing listings. This is a waste of time – there are already lots of other ways to find out what’s going on. Indeed, listeners who follow/ subscribe probably have a fair idea what you’re doing – so why treat them as if they’re a little slow?  Given that the users will read the content on a connected device, why not pass on images or a link to an audio highlight. Rather than treating it as a free Radio Times, how about using this stream to add value to content? Radio Five Live are beginning to do this really well, using twitter as both a back-channel for the audience to interact and as a place for listeners to get quick highlights delivered soon after broadcast. Not one of the commercial breakfast shows I follow turns this content around and tweets it. With Audioboo now more strongly integrated into twitter this looks – and sounds – excellent.

Another senior radio person was wondering aloud if technologies like BBC iPlayer render some pod cats redundant. Of course not!! People who listen to podcasts are core listeners who have devices set to pull down their programmes to listen to at another time. It’s effectively a ‘push’ technology, where the broadcaster has a direct feed to that listener. America’s NPR do an excellent job of posting web-exclusive content to listeners of ‘RadioLab’ and others, effectively rewarding listeners for their attention. Would I go to a website, search for and stream content? It’s probably a click too many before I leave for work in the morning. Effectively, by giving consumers responsibility for getting the content, the risk that it won’t be heard increases.

I wonder if radio stations could do a better job of pushing out different content – especially local broadcasters. Those interviews that last 4 minutes just to get a 15″ cut would be great to push to subscribers. Similarly main sports bulletins would work for many. Be creative. Use knowledge of the listeners and the way they live their lives to push them the content that adds to the station’s output. Local stations already have the assets – this is a way to get more out of them for almost no effort!

The most enlightened operators are looking at other ways to add to their content. Visualisation is playing an ever-larger role and I live for the day when it becomes normal for a smartphone or tablet feed to have the option of pictures or additional streams with access to FREE VIP content.

In a world where Spotify and others are about to be joined by iTunes radio the last thing the radio industry needs to do is give up more ground to the pretenders and use the web to deepen the relationship the stations and their programmes have with the listeners. Most people wouldn’t leave a station that super-serves them for a stream of music with gaps.

It’s not about the platform, neither is it about what it’s called. Radio is about compelling content.

Compete by making it more compelling and demonstrating that simple truth every time, everywhere.


Author: johnco

Born in 1963, been involved in radio since 1977.

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