The Decline of Broadcast radio

, posted: 3-Nov-2008 17:16

Auckland got a new radio station on Saturday, Big FM. I was interested to see how they will position themselves as unique, because in my humble opinion there is not much difference from one radio station to the next. My first impression was a cross between classic hits and classic rock, but I’ll have to let them grow for a while to find out what their identity actually is. The problem for me and for them is that I no longer listen to much radio.

In New Zealand we really struggle for variety. Pretty much everything is mainstream and the reason for that is that we have a small population, only a little over 3 million people over the age of 18 and a total of only 4 million. There is no venue for special interest music such as jazz, blues, country, world and alt on our airways. Cool Blue Radio was around fora while which had a mix of jazz, blues and country and no DJ’s, but this now only exists on the net, where it competes with every other radio station around.

Radio in some ways mirrors the ails of the recording industry. It does very little that is new and doesn’t even use much of today’s modern technology. Everything is mainstream, there are no thought leaders, visionaries or radicals any more. Back in the day we had pirate radio stations like Hauraki, Veronica and Radio North Sea which captured the rebel in us, played great music but also challenged the norms of society. The problem is that today everyone is PC, the challengers of the past are the conservatives of today.

There are lots of things that radio stations could do. Yes, some are showing webcams of the studio, most have streaming radio on the net and some go further with things like background or in depth coverage of news stories, but that is about as far as it goes.

In New Zealand there are less than a handful of radio stations that effectively use the RDS band. RDS is the text area on your radio, especially in your call that provides information such as the station identifier. In Auckland only Radio ZM uses this to tell you the artist and name of the song. Some stations like George FM have info about the DJ’s, a song or text in promotion, but that’s about it. I was dissapointed to see that the new Big FM doesn’t do anything more than the station identifier. There is so much that they could be doing to be more modern and in tune with the world.

A while ago I wrote about new technologies coming to your car including Satellite and HD Radio. Recent news is that there are (as usual) battles over which sort of satellite radio system to use and as to HD Radio, which is being test broadcast at the moment, and the concensus in the industry is that it will be a long time before these technologies become commonplace. I also wrote about the fact that record companies have been ripping us off for years and not giving us value for money which started as a post about Ringo Starr’s innovation with the Live 8 Flash Card.

A few weeks ago I was approached to do a radio diary. You know the survey diaries they use to show marketshare of the radio stations by demographics and total listeners. I couldn’t do it because these days I hardly ever listen to the radio. I listen to podcasts all the time. Some of them do come from radio stations, but not local ones. I listen to Digital Planet from the BBC, The Music Show from ABC National Radio in Australia, Radio Free Amsterdam and the list goes on. As well as feeling like I have a relationship with the DJ, they use new technology, they are almost advertising free. On my Ipod I see images, have links to artist information and other enhanced services to go with these programs as well as in some cases also video.

A key thing with podcasting is that I can listen to pretty much anything I want. Every kind of music is available for free. Many people don’t realise the range of podcasts that are available and think they have to buy music if they want to use iTunes, but the reality is that if you have an eclectic taste, or just feel like listening to a particular genre right now, that you can do it. In the past I would have the radio on all day when I was at home. Today I rarely even listen to my CD’s, even though I keep buying them:).

We have lots of great artists coming to New Zealand for concerts this summer and I am trying to work out which ones I will stretch my budget to see. In the past I would listen to their promotions on the radio. Now I can go to YouTube and listen to dozens of tracks from all of these artists, including lots of live show clips so I can see if they actually put on a show which is worth spending hundreds of dollars on.

Even if I don’t watch the video clips I can effectively listen to anything I like and I have struggled to come up with any songs or artists I can’t find on Youtube, including myself. If I want to explore a theme, like Christmas, or pretty much anything, or listen to artists similar to a band I like, I can go to Ilike and have my very own personalised radio show, where I can rate the songs I listen to and it becomes more and more the station that plays ecactly what I want to listen to. If you want to hear other artists that sound like me you can go to Ilike and key in Luigi Cappel and you will hear at least one of my songs and then other artists of a similar ilk.

So if you are program director for a radio station, what are you going to do to compete with the Internet? How are you going to get me back to listening to the radio, so that you can sell advertising and put bread on the table? I have to tell you, you are doing a pretty poor job right now, The way you do things right now might do ok for breakfast radio, maybe drivetime (with real time traffic) and talkback, but beyond that, you are competing with products that are far better targetted and if you don’tdo something about it, you may have to look for a new job. If we do get Satellite Radio sorted (and the shelves of retailers in the USA are littered with receivers) consumers are going to have an international choice. They can find the stations that they relate to and I suspect that the percentage of people listening to local radio will rapidly diminish unless you wake up now. Don’t be like the record companies, hide your head in the sand and wake up one day wondering what happened!

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Comment by PocketRadio, on 3-Nov-2008 18:52

The HD Radio farce is DOA!

Comment by Grant Thoms, on 4-Nov-2008 09:00

I used to work for commercial radio for many years (10+). I'm glad I no longer do. Commercial radio has lost its individuality now and commercial ad revenue seems more important than entertaining the listeners. I feel that people would also be more interested in hearing music than 4 breaks an hour of rambling from a DJ who thinks they are 'funny'. The last few independant radio groups got bought out and only a handful of privately owned commerical radio stations remain (dropping by the months).

I decided to run my own radio station (as many people do now on the internet).

Comment by macuser, on 4-Nov-2008 18:00

How About listening to my sweet indie show...
It runs in Takapuna And Devonport...88.2FM
Sunday nights...
But I'm not sure whats happening this week because im off down south to cover Southern Amp etc...:D

Comment by tallPete, on 4-Nov-2008 18:43

I am a big fan of radio, more so than I used to be.
90% of what is on the dial is absolute rubbish, I agree with other posters there, however there are shining lights.
I live in Melbourne now, but did only listen to National Radio in NZ, and here my choice is so wide - The ABC stations here are generally non commercial high qulaity radio, broadcasting either their own feed, PBS or the BBC World Service around the clock. There are local talk stations that rise above the dross. 
No matter what, I think over the air radio still has a major part to play in society. The receivers are uncomplicated, small, cheap and portable. The quality of service is high. Availability is high. It is for all intents and purposes free. There are a lot of people for whom radio is a valuable companion and keeps them company in the dark hours. I cannot see over the air radio going away in a hurry, or being replaced outright by internet based services. 
In fact, I believe that radio, as analog over the air streamed data was a technology ahead of its time and it still has its finest hour to come.

Comment by paradoxsm, on 5-Nov-2008 00:22

Radio stations here are a bad joke, they have audio quality that sounds like a streaming WMA with a the $13 speaker set thrown in a pot of soup, and there are just so many "me too" stations run by two commercial media giants.
My travels around the world did bring hope however, Overseas there are plenty of superb stations. (Nova, BBC, ABC, as just a few examples.)

There have been unique stations, Cool Blue was one of my favourites even though that type of music is not my forte, it was enjoyable without all that talk talk talk! and had a great playlist, Another was 9inetey6dot1 in the short time it ran.
Currently I listen mostly to UpFM, BaseFM, bFM and Radioactive, I still think there is a little too much jibble talk and some of the stuff that gets airplay is just awful but the escape from the commercial, compressed nd overmodulated drone of the major stations is very refreshing.

I have always thought that a trio of stations that play a certain genre of music each and have a "No jocks" and does not play a blaring ident after every song and fewer but higher priced commercial spots which also embraces a feedback, requests  system via the internet/sms would be a very welcome change.
Multicast over mobile/DAB will be a big future so try not to miss that boat either!

Macuser - 88.2FM lol, good ol Guard band.

Radio in nz:
"The best commercials, piles of talk and some great music too, We guarantee non-stop 12 minutes of blary commercial music in every hour! "

Comment by Dratsab, on 5-Nov-2008 21:09

Interesting that you mention Radio Hauraki in your post.  Many years ago when I lived in Auckland I used to listen to them all the time - they had great DJ's and great music.

I decided to tune in to Hauraki this morning, only to be greeted by absolute dribble from two DJ's, one of whom was Willy de Wit - IMHO New Zealand's unfunniest comedian, if not person - who followed their painful attempts at humour with music that was, quite frankly, depressing.  I won't ever repeat the mistake of tuning in to them again.

I think you're very right.  NZ radio is (generally) very poor, which is symptomatic of the stranglehold a few companies have and the lack of population (gee, sound like any industries???).  Like yourself, I no longer tend to listen to radio.

My preference at home is to have the large pool of music on my computer (about 80gb worth and growing) playing randomly.  In the car it's generally CD's or my MP3 player piping through an FM broadcaster to my radio.

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Luigi Cappel
New Zealand

Helping people getting their message to potential customers with blogs and social media.
Futurist and start up founder.
Passionate consultant about all things to do with Social, Location, Augmented Reality and Mobile.
Member of Auckland ICT Cluster
Chair of Computing and IT Industry Advisory Committee at National Technology Institute
Founding member and past president of the New Zealand Wireless Forum.
Past Vice President NZ Sales & Marketing Institute.