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Technology that endures - radio!

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 10 March 2020, 9:30 am

Of all the media in all the world, radio is my favourite. It's the most intimate, the most ephemeral (or least it was before podcasts), and the most enduring. It's also the most underrated - with predictions of its demise not (yet) coming true.

Radio futurologist James Cridland (actual job title, although he did point out at the beginning of his talk that he prints his own business cards), took his audience through a whirlwind history of radio at a breakfast event held by the Marketing Association today.

Now, this was sponsored by The Radio Bureau (who also sprang for a great breakfast), and the intention was to get those in the audience to spend with its clients, on behalf of their clients. But taking that into account, 'The Future of Radio in the Modern Media Mix', was a fascinating exploration of how great technology that enables humans to connect with each other doesn't die - it evolves.

From the enormous wireless sets at the beginning of the 20th century, to the car radios and portable sets introduced in the 1950s, to smartphones that blast out radio on demand today. Cridland says that nine out ten people listen to radio every week - in multiple ways, and often just before they leave the car to go into the supermarket (OK, so that sentence probably paid for my breakfast).

As a Brit who lives in Brisbane, Cridland had a whole bunch of stats from Australia, UK and the US to back up his argument - but I guess we can assume that the same applies in NZ. Let's take one piece of research from across the Tasman - in terms of audio share, 65% of Australian listening time is to live radio (AM/FM, DAB & IP), 16% to streaming services (eg Spotify), 8% to podcasts, 7% to owned files and 4% to other files.

And here are some UK stats which show that "different devices have different behaviour" -  on a smart speaker (eg Google Assistant or Alexa) 67% of listening time is to live radio (the rest is streaming music), on a computer 41% (the rest are own tracks, podcasts and streaming music), and on a smartphone just 16% (at 47% streaming music gets the lion share).

As technology has evolved so too has radio content. Cridland points out that it began with stations playing a range of programmes to appeal to everyone and, as it has become more ubiquitous, commercial stations are increasingly targeting niche audiences, like Polish truckdrivers on European motorways.

Cridland also noted that the tools to make radio are easy and cheap - for example Descript, which edits audio transcripts like a word processor. So that those who create radio don't need to be in a station anymore, they can broadcast from their homes. But it still requires a talented broadcaster to get cut-through. Cridland ended his presentation by discussing BBC Radio One stunt where people volunteered to take a pasty from Cornwall to Aberdeen after a listener phoned in and said they'd never tried one. It's the kind of thing that I find personally annoying and professionally impressive.

Finally, Cridland was a funny presenter but the best laugh came from the clip he showed of Paul McCartney when he talked about radio in a 60 minutes interview. Check it out here


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