I heard an old hippie joke on the radio recently. Hippie 1 says to Hippie 2: ‘hey man, turn the radio on’. Hippie 2 replies: ‘Radio, I love you’.
It was a nostalgic moment that reminded me how significant but undervalued radio is in our media spectrum today.
Over the years, pundits have written of the humble radio service. They said TV would kill it. (Queen’s 1984 song Radio Gaga was about that). It didn’t. They said the internet would certainly polish it off. Far from it, the two media are natural cousins.
Also known as net radio, web radio, e-radio, webcasting or streaming radio, it’s quite simply an audio service transmitted over the internet. Music streaming has given a major lease of life to the whole business.
Not everyone can watch pictures on TV or laptop screens all the time. Indeed, the partially sighted and blind can only ever listen to radio. Every flavour of music streaming, live performances, discussions, comedy, information broadcasts, sports, news and weather, drama plays … all are well established on radio, and therefore equally established on internet radio.
We already know many people do things like check emails or texts while watching TV, as multi-tasking takes hold. Far more listen to the radio while doing other things – in the mornings while getting up, in their cars to and from work, in the evenings while relaxing/painting & decorating or going to bed.
Most internet radio stations are connected to terrestrial channels with an existing audience, but increasingly internet-only radio stations are fully independent. They can be accessed from anywhere on earth, though some restrict coverage because of licensing music and advertising-focus issues.
Expatriates often tune to British stations, either through homesickness or to keep in touch with family and friends left behind. Radio Stations UK offers easy access to a selection of some of ‘the best internet radio stations including live broadcasts online’, under the catchphrase: ‘Listen while you surf!’
The web is awash with articles and blogs about what people see as radio’s future. One such, The World of Radio quotes Donna Harper, radio historian and author with four decades experience in the medium. ‘If radio is going to survive, which I believe it will and can, it’s got to get back to being live, local and getting involved in the community…Radio works best when it talks to me like it’s my friend’.
She thinks it’s detrimental when large companies buy up small stations, as local qualities start vanishing. That’s exactly what has happened over the years in the UK and USA as ‘rationalisation’ and ‘centralisation’ of services have gone on apace in the industry. One broadcaster syndicated across many stations leads to ‘re-syndicating, re-voicetracking and the whole live and local quality that made radio what it is, is gone’.
Jim Kerr of Triton Digital Media wrote on VentureBeat in January last year, that the radio industry enjoyed revenues enough to continue but not to invest in the digital transition. He felt that there were five points at which ‘traditional methodologies and digital extensions converge most effectively’.
Gathering and organising listener data: gathering, identifying and communicating with radio listeners at a 1-1 level will be all media’s future.
Local advertisers start to demand digital accountability: radio will have to work with their digital assets, to target audience for benefit of local advertisers. User level ad targeting redefines value of streaming: ads based not just on demographics, but actual interests and behaviour.
The digital agencies will finally notice radio: a boon for radio as revenue erodes from traditional agencies and moves to digital, in continued growth of streaming, local digital deals/coupons.
Radio embraces location-based mobile services: radio utilising digital platforms to reach into stores is a golden opportunity.
In Britain before 1964, there was the old BBC and Radio Luxemburg in the evenings. Not much for the youth. Then along came Irishman Ronan O’Rahilly who set up a commercial radio station on the US station model, but on a boat outside territorial waters in the North Sea.
Radio Caroline was a huge hit! Suddenly, kids could get their pop fixes 24/7, with ads for things they were interested in. The station paid no royalties to musicians but launched the careers of many artists and their DJs became household names.
Copy stations followed, some on other old ships, like Radio London; some on disused defence towers in the Thames estuary. They were so popular that the then Labour government decided they were a threat to shipping signals, and passed a law that closed them down and made it an offence to supply or listen to them.
In 1967, the airwaves fell silent, with most DJs coming ashore to take jobs in the brand new BBC Radio 1. Only Caroline continued, worked by a handful of true radio pirates, and then Radio Northsea International. The Government sent out jamming signals to make listening impossible.
The 1970 General Election saw kids who missed their free radio campaigning for the Conservatives who’d promised to legalise commercial radio. They won, and so a land-based independent radio industry was born. Hospital radio and retail radio followed.
Pirate stations still spring up today, often from tower blocks playing cutting edge music. They are usually tracked and closed quickly. Anybody can apply for a license to broadcast and apply for some test sessions.
The past tells us about the present, where we have a mature industry on the threshold of great innovation which gives it a bright future.