I had a really nice time at the Student Radio Conference in Bath last week. I was ostensibly there to chair a panel on future radio stuff, the natterly titled (by me) “is radio’s digital future the same as student radio’s digital future”. Alongside me was Ofcom’s Will Jackson, GCap’s Nick Piggott and sky.com’s Ben Perreau and about 60 students turned up to hear us babble on about the future.
It was a great session, not just because of the excellent speakers, but because of a really great bunch of questions. I think student radio is the first part of the industry to really grapple with its broadcasting future. Historically they’re been stuck on increasingly crappy platforms, either full-time low-powered AM and/or two months a year on FM. However, their audience is one of the most fleet of foot and now with most halls of residence LAN’d up – they probably have the highest internet penetration of any radio station.
Indeed much of the talks centred on the need for student radio to really grapple with the internet and build sites and services that put the internet at the heart of what they do. Nick did a great speech on harnessing Web2.0 but touched on the paradox that commercial radio faces, that the internet is great up to a certain point, but the bigger your audience gets the more it becomes cost-effective to have a broadcast platform (at least in addition to the internet).
In my speech, unsurprisingly, I talked about DAB and acknowledging that while full-time broadcasting would probably be outside of a student station’s budget, that the new podcast-over-DAB-style technologies that are coming later this year would provide some good broadcast opportunities. Looking back though, I think I fell into the ‘thinking inside the box’ trap by dismissing full-time DAB broadcast as a potential opportunity.
During the conference I caught up with some people from Xpress Radio in Cardiff, who managed to negotiate to get their FM RSL simulcast on DAB across Cardiff and Newport. They sounded genuinely chuffed about the response they got from listeners and how it really moved the perception of their station forward. In fact pretty much most stations said they would like to be on DAB, but ruled it out instantly because of cost.
Speaking to another station later we were talking a bit more about DAB and costs and then came to the conclusion it was actually, potentially doable to bring a station full-time to DAB.
Let’s look at the numbers. I think capacity for a full-time 64kbit/s station could be had for around £35k in most areas. This work out at just under £3k a month. Now, based on my student radio experiences I don’t think £3k/month is totally unachievable to raise from advertising/sponsorship. Indeed, let’s think about targeting just one advertiser, perhaps a big local employer, who’s keen to target graduates. In Nottingham, for example, this might be someone like Experian.
Lets say that for £3k/month Experian got total station sponsorship at three mentions an hour “URN with Experian” , some changing ads that talk about the company, alongside some web banners and connected events. But as well as reaching the University of Nottingham students they would also be reaching lots of similarly aged people (but maybe not graduates) across the whole of Nottinghamshire tuning in on DAB. URN’s a good student station, a good listen and in area that doesn’t really have a local youth radio station. I think it would pick up quite an audience.
I think £35k (over a year) would turn out to be an incredibly cheap way for someone like Experian to reach a specific audience and in the process URN gets county-wide digital coverage.
Now, naturally, there are some issues to overcome. You need someone good to ‘sell’ the idea to advertisers and you need to work out the relationship between the advertiser and the programming of the radio station. Indeed I think it would mean the station would really have to work out how to protect itself from changing their programming to appeal to advertisers.
Some people might argue that student stations, especially with the high internet penetration don’t need to be on DAB. That actually the platforms they’ve got are fine for what they are. Maybe. I remember when I worked in student radio I was just pleased when people listened. Being on DAB (or any other platforms) would bring the station to more students and more interested people across the local area. In fact, I think it would be a great thing for radio diversity if the local student station was available across the local area on an easily tune-in-able way.
So, how about a challenge? I’ve got six multiplexes launching and I’ve got relationships with most of the other multiplex operators too. If there’s a student station who’s up for having a go and raising the money to get them on DAB, they’re more than welcome to come and spend some time with us at Folder and we’ll help them raise the money and get on a relevant local multiplex. Any takers?