Why modern listening will erode old school Broadcasters…

New Listener. New content.

Given that I have been involved in the broadcasting industry for the last 14 or so years with the last year spent in Internet radio I possibly should have written about this a year ago. But then to be honest, a year ago I wasn’t entirely sure it was going to work.

We had an idea, but like many entrepreneurial ventures, what was on paper and how it went to market were two very different things.

The research we did said global trends were going that way. The British Government had passed some paperwork that would see transmitters, both FM and AM switched off in 2015, forcing their shell track-suited voting base to move over to digital receivers, both at home and in their cars, in order to listen to their beloved Terry Wogan (should he still be a alive then). And despite the vast truck loads of cash spent by the Americans on setting up Satellite radio, even they had worked out that in fact there was a cheaper and simpler way of doing radio via the internet.

I am not for a moment suggesting that we are about to pull our FM and AM transmitters anytime soon in South Africa, but with the push for digitizing of our TV signals and the fact that SENTECH seem to be struggling not only to be in business but maintain a consistent infrastructure there has to be an argument for using the web as an interface for radio transmission. But it wasn’t the argument we are looking to use in order to grow an audience and convince people to listen to us.

Few people respond to the fact that this is the way of the future. Sure some early adopters and perhaps our first few listeners picked us up for the “cool” factor. iPhones and internet radio in South Africa; “its all in one app, check it out”. But the real message we were selling and are still peddling, is freedom of choice and perhaps more importantly wider and more “real” and relevant content.

In South Africa we have perhaps three major players in the Radio space including the SABC. Three broadcasters who decide what you listen to, how you do it and the way you interact with it. All of it driven by a formula dished out by consultants who are selling the same message the world over. “What you need is listeners; numbers; that’s what sells”. And sadly they are right. Its hard to get it wrong in South Africa as we have so little diversity on air. Media Buyers are trained to buy at a cost per thousand; clients are told that the more people who hear their message the better they will do and so radio stations tune themselves into the biggest audience they can find by trying to be everything to everyone.

How do they do that? They simply go generic. Inoffensive music (by genre; mass appeal), lackluster entertainment with wallpaper DJ’s telling you what you just heard, (because as a human you are incapable of working that out) and then playing 4 minutes of adverts back to back, hoping you don’t tune out by promising “more of the same hits” just after the break.

The problem is though, the clients are being sold a lie. If you are like me and I suspect some of you are, when you’re in the car and you hear an advert, you almost immediately start playing with steering wheel looking for music on your dial. You will come back to the station later, once the one you have just shifted to goes into an ad break. So we develop a habit of just playing dial hockey and the client inherits an audience who is actively avoiding listening to them at any cost.

I suspect the major reason is that very few of the adverts actually speak to our wants and needs – because the client is chasing numbers of ears rather than actual “listeners” a lot of money is been thrown at a huge wall of silence. And its an ever-decreasing circle. There is no choice when it come to stations so we are forced to listen to what we have, which gives the stations more “listeners”, which gives the media buyers more credibility when it comes to pushing numbers to their clients. Eskom can claim to have the “most clients” using its grid because the client has no other option, yet how many of us would jump ship should a decent alternative become apparent?

We become accustomed mediocrity and anything slightly different sounds amazing – so when a radio station plays a tune and you haven’t heard it for a while you are genuinely surprised and delighted. But why aren’t you all the time? Well that is simple. I am willing to bet that you have more music available to you in your iPod or mp3 player than the average South African radio station has in it’s database of tunes. while you require a choice of several thousands songs via your mp3’s, CD collection and Soundcloud access, radio stations generally carry a list of 500 – 700 songs on rotation at any one time. Sometime less. That database is the one that operates 7 days a week, 4 weeks a month and 52 weeks of the year. At an average of anywhere between 8 – 16 songs an hour depending on content, variety is not on that playlist.

That playlist and how it is played out is also out of the control of the DJ. Its chosen by someone else in an office. Or rather its chosen by the computer program and then audited vaguely by an underling to make sure it’s all in order to out on air. So what you are actually listening too is a computer program, programmed to “think” what you would like to hear, within the parameters set by the radio station. Essentially its over thought and over analyzed.

People are used as guinea pigs in researching their music likes and dislikes; that is converted into a numeric input into the computer program, which in turn spews forth what it believes humans wish to listen too. The actual human input here is based on emotional state at the time of selection, whether the office-rugrat was doing their job that day and what the computer deems fit to play.

At 2oceans we let the DJ choose the music. Revolutionary I know. Does that mean we will please everyone every time? Certainly not. But nor will the major stations. But I am damn sure he likes the music there will be an audience out there that does as well.

You see we aren’t looking for large audiences. That one left the building a while ago. We are looking for likeminded ones. Sure the pool will be smaller but the loyalty is greater, the sense of ownership stronger and the people playing the music more passionate. Brands associated with loyalty, passion and community are going to do far better than ones buried, at extortionate prices, amongst others, all trying to get there message out in 30 seconds amid the clutter of station promotions, competitions and nefarious “listen to use because” messages.

It’s like when your iPod is set on random and you’re surprised by a tune that you had forgotten you even had on there. You don’t need a radio station to tell you “when did you last hear this?”; it shouldn’t be a point of conversation. It should happen naturally and often. If they are telling you that, then by default everything else they are playing is pretty mediocre. Because when you have to point out the good stuff, you know your menu is falling short of what it it could be.

It’s not about numbers. It’s not about carefully selecting your music. Its about playing to an audience that wants to listen because you speak to them and they can identify. That comes at a cost to the station (old school ones) but with far greater value to both the listener and the client.

Listen to 2oceansVibe Radio here or not. But at least you have choice.

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2 responses to “Why modern listening will erode old school Broadcasters…

  • Richard Oakley

    Well done, Rich! 100% agree and think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this. The same thing can be seen with the shift from traditional to digital media in general – whereas 5yrs ago everyone used to subscribe to a magazine of interest, they now follow 100s of unique individuals on Twitter, subscribe to blogs and sites around their interest groups (such as this one) and the task and challenge is for those people to build loyal and dedicated audience around that. That is, after all, what the internet is all about these days…

  • jb

    well said. the stuff on mainstream radio is absolute and utter trash. but then, they are just playing to their target markets.. makes you think doesnt it

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