Thursday, 16 May 2013

Did the digital Age Kill Local Radio?

Following last weeks blogs Did Radio Make the Wrong Digital Choice? and Radio's Battle to Keep its Listeners in today's blog we are asking the question did the digital age, the internet and the multi-channel media market kill local radio and quality regional content? 

Plus we find out the 5 ways the digital age can save local radio, local voices and local content.

The evidence for today's blog was gathered during my recent Masters degree at the University of Sunderland.

Photo by Heinrich-Hertz-Turm

Now that's an impressive broadcast tower! Clearly technology is getting better as the years progress but can the same be said for content?

What's the problem?
Once the internet was common place and broadcasting became easier and cheaper to do the barriers to entry became lower (doing it became easier). This allowed more people the opportunity to broadcast to audiences. These new broadcasting outlets took audiences away from traditional broadcasters such as radio. As a direct result radio broadcasting became less unique and the market became saturated. A busier market meant radio advertisers had more places punt their wears. It became a buyers market! This meant radio stations had to lower advertsing rates and cut costs. 

Another studio standing empty

The solution?

One over used solution was (and still is) to sack local presenters and productions staff then "network under performing" time slots. This tack tick is used by many of the the large regional radio stations (owned by huge media companies) who are trying to survive in the multi channel digital age which we live in. Local voices and programmes are are being replaced at an alarming rate by "automated centralised local programming" from large radio station hubs in cities such as London, Manchester and Newcastle.

So what?

As a result more shows on regional stations are coming from less places. Someone in London can broadcast syndicated programmes to multiple regions with no understanding of each of the local communities to which they broadcast. This way of working costs jobs, takes skilled professionals out of the regions and gives increasing less opportunity to local voices and stories.

For an example of how local stories can be effected by local radio rationalisation check out our interview with singer Bryn Haswell on the a past show via the link below  

Series 4 EP7 - "Music"

Is syndication such a bad thing?

Radio theorist J. Berland sums up the situation in this quote from as far back as 1993. 

“Format radio is thoroughly industrialised (…) increasingly technologically rationalised and less and less local in origin (…) this paradoxically allows format-based music radio to be omnisciently ‘local’ without arising from or contributing to local cultures”.(Berland. J 112:93)

Many say poorly executed centralised and syndicated programming is bad for the radio industry and some even say it is lieing to the audience? If a show is not local why say that it is?

 With bottom dollar syndicated shows pumping out a mix of generic stock banter, endless ads and the same 150 or so songs all week long is radio at risk of loosing two of its USP's - its personal-ness and its understanding of it's audience needs. 

Can a lack of authenticity and understanding of audience wants really harm radio? 

How are audiences effected?

Radio theorist J. Tacci had this to say in 2000 in the book The Need for Radio Theory in the digital age... 

“The appetite for something new was being fuelled by narrowing playlists in the USA and Europe". 

The narrowing of playlists and lack of local voices turned many listeners to niche radio stations broadcasting on other platforms online.

Could the world wide web be the new home of local? 

5. reasons why the digital age could save local content?

1. Cheap, easy to use and accessible tech makes creating quality content easy.

2. Cheap broadcasting opportunities such as mixcloud and iTunes allow content producers and presenters to talk to potentially huge audiences with very low operating costs.

3. Online audiences can find your content with ease thanks to google searches and relevant directories... for more info see the blog 1st Step to Search Engine Success.

4. Low cost advertising and marketing can be done using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and other relevant online forums.

5. In the information age which we live in useful local and audience specific info is needed now more than ever.

In conclusion

Local info and stories are still a major part of audience content consumption (what people want to hear). Large radio stations - worried about the bottom line - may not be able to afford to cater to the growing online audience looking for local and niche content but you as an individual content producer can. 

It's not easy and many fail however their are a growing number of people who are making quality local and niche content pay their bills and serve audience at the same time. In the online world generic banter and the same songs over and over again are no longer what people need.

Next week we ask the question radio vs iPod vs Spotify... who will win?

Find next Thursday right here on the MYOB Show blog

 Take care,

Dom O'Neill
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What is the MYOB Show?

MYOB Show is here to help you live the dream! We are the UK's most honest and realistic show dedicated to giving you all the info you need to kick start your career in the arts, media and creative industries. MYOB Show is on the radio & online as an on-demand radio show (or Podcast as they used to be know). The show is full of useful tips, discussions and information to help folk like yourself adjust to life after the 9-5. 

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