In my day job I speak to A LOT of people who would like to launch a radio station. We broadcast stations on our multiplexes and we sometimes provide consultancy advice to new startups. Probably over the last twenty years, I must have talked to 500 people who were keen to get a station on air.
Olivia, who used to work with us, and would often get to the phone before me, started to have an almost mystical ability to tell whether a group were going to make it, by chatting to them for 20 seconds before putting them through.
So if you don’t have Olivia’s supernatural insight, what’s the key to being able to launch a radio station?
One of the things that I enjoy doing the most is helping to nurture the British Podcast Awards. We’ve just had our fourth ceremony and it was the biggest yet, even though this year it had to be virtual.
The UK podcast sector is pretty diverse, from established radio operators like the BBC, to print publishers like The Times, from indie audio companies to individuals as well as some of the biggest technology companies in the world. Our job is try and create something that reflects them all and provides a meeting place for the sector. We are, as we often say, a big tent.
A flurry of activity on social media last week, as Spotify’s Wrapped told users about their most listened to music and podcasts. Many then shared it across the internet. What’s great about this is that it surfaces different, personalised recommendations.
It’s a notable piece of activity because, in general, podcast discoverability remains pretty limited.
All content businesses have seen huge changes over the last ten years. Much of this is driven by a combination of the advertising market and changing consumer behaviour. Radio and audio is no different.
In the radio market, for thirty-odd years, the revenue has been split between local and national advertising. If you’re a station in Weymouth, you’ll have your own sales team who will make calls and knock on doors to tell potential customers the benefits of advertising on your station. Aware that national advertisers will also want to advertise on your station, but knowing they don’t really have the ability to negotiate deals with over 100 radio stations, you delegate some space on your station to a national sales house.
I don’t think I’ve met a person, of any age, who isn’t up for a spirited chat about songs on the radio.
Radio’s pretty pervasive in the UK. 89% of the population listen to at least five minutes a week and even 82% of 15-24s tune in at some point. Music makes up a large proportion of what’s played, so it’s no surprise everyone has an opinion.
So what’s the best way to pick songs for the radio?
Serial came into being as a spin-off from syndicated radio show, and popular podcast, This American Life (TAL). That show was created by Ira Glass with WBEZ, a public radio station in 1995. In 2015, Ira took full control of TAL after agreeing to share some ongoing profits from it, and Serial.
Serial’s radio connections are sometimes forgotten. The first episode of the show ran on TAL (to its 2.2m radio listeners) as well as its podcast. It acted as a sampler and teaser that encouraged people to log on and listen in October 2014. Serial’s appearance, and radio promotion, alongside the default installation of the iTunes Podcast app in 2012 all together really kick-started mainstream podcasting.
Apple have launched their own daily news podcast – Apple News Today. Their description:
Join Shumita Basu and Duarte Geraldino every weekday morning as they guide you through some of the most fascinating stories in the news — and how the world’s best journalists are covering them.
Apple, like many internet mega co’s, get all confused when they get into content. The clunky transition from arguing that they’re just a platform – helping others to be successful – to content publisher, means they have to contort themselves by suggesting that this too is a platform to push to other journalism. “Hey we’re just surfacing other people’s great work”, whilst at the same time adding a new well-marketed competitor, putting even more pressure on regular journalistic endeavours.
It’s been a busy old time with one of my side projects, the British Podcast Awards. We had our big ceremony on Saturday – the culmination of around 9 months work. Of course, our plan – The Roundhouse had booked and paid for – wasn’t meant to be, so we did a very fun livestream instead.
In the middle of April we had a chat with our production company, Create, suggesting that we’d like to do a stream that includes all the nominees on-screen and handing out the awards live on winners’s doorsteps. It wasn’t bad for a less than three months turn-around in a pandemic!
So here are some things that popped into my head, which are hopefully interesting for anyone doing events or organising a big project.
To us Europeans, the flexibility of broadcast radio formats in the US is quite different to our very regulated environment. Here, on FM it’s very difficult to change your station’s format between rock and urban, whilst in America the ‘format flip’ is something that’s always been an option.
Is your Country station under-performing? Don’t worry! Tomorrow it could be Smooth Jazz!
Of course in the digital world – both online, but also DAB (our broadcast digital radio) – it is a little easier to pivot and change direction. And in 2020 all media, regulated or not, needs to be more fleet of foot to better represent the changing world and new business opportunities.
In the US, last week, the largest radio operator – iHeartMedia (previously ClearChannel) blew up 15 broadcast radio station formats (in Atlanta, Augusta, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, GA, Detroit, Greenville, Macon, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Norfolk, Riverside, San Francisco and Seattle) to launch a new mostly-national speech service – BIN – the Black Information Network.
30 years ago, a launch of a radio station was a big thing. Guaranteed coverage in the local newspaper (balloons, wide grinning faces) and the regional TV would turn up to film the board room champagne toast, a DJ doing the opening link, and then raising an eyebrow and light questioning of the economics.
Today, of course, a new media launch is a regular affair – hard to generate noise and awareness, let alone encourage sampling.