James Cridland, radio futurologist, is a conference speaker, writer and consultant. He runs the media information website media.info and helps organise the yearly Next Radio conference. He also publishes podnews.net, a daily briefing on podcasting and on-demand, and writes a weekly international radio trends newsletter, at james.crid.land.
I discovered a new radio station in the car earlier this week. I don’t get into the car that often, but was driving to the University of Southern Queensland, where I was speaking to the students about radio’s future.
The station was called “Australia Today”, and because I don’t read the radio trades as much as I used to, I hadn’t heard of it. I listened at 7.00am to it for a bit: a talkback station (5 Live with more callers). Steve Price, 66, was broadcasting, a well-known announcer from other talkback stations.
11.30am, I got into the car again. Steve Price was on. He had a good number of calls and texts, and I listened for a bit before pulling into somewhere for some coffee and lunch.
1.25pm, I got into the car again. Surprisingly, Steve Price was still on, still taking calls. I listened a little more attentively, and realised that there were no timecalls/timechecks; or, indeed, any station IDs other than a jingle. Steve Price himself never identified the station; at one point he did tell one of his guests “as you know, we broadcast right across Australia”, but that’s as far as he got.
It turns out that this is a new digital talkback station from SCA, Australia’s biggest commercial radio broadcaster. And it’s bloody clever.
The absence of timechecks might be because Australia has a number of timezones, including some which are on the half-hour; and or perhaps because radio programmers appear to at last have woken up to the fact that we have many other devices with clocks on these days (not least, every computer or mobile screen, every car dashboard, and even a thing called a ‘watch’).
But the absence of timechecks might really be because the station’s actually only live for three hours a day, 7am to 10am Sydney time. I’m told that the news bulletins continue to be updated for the rest of the day, but everything else is on repeat.
And why not? To take a three hour show and repeat it through the day, on a DAB+ channel, seems just fine. It was just as enjoyable at 1.30pm, after all. And the reason why that worked is the lack of timechecks and “good morning” mentions, which meant that the station didn’t sound out of date. That small affordance in programming suddenly made the output work at whatever time of day or night you dip in. (As most listeners do).
The other reason for the lack of spoken station IDs might be a little more commercial.
Many SCA stations outside the cap cities take talkback programming from The Ray Hadley Morning Show. Hadley, 66, is a ratings winner; but the show is now owned by Nine Networks, a large competitor to SCA. It’s probably not the worst strategy in the world to be building a talkback service of your own, to pipe into your own stations just in case. After all, Hadley can’t go on forever, and nor can a relationship with one of your biggest competitors.
Clever move from SCA; and some clever programming to back it up.
- Save money by dumping that special weekend programming, says Eric Nuzum. The article is aimed at US public radio stations, and he uses the euphemism of suggesting that weekends are “over-programmed”. I think if I were a local NPR station, I’d work with other NPR affiliates to find set times for the big shows that you take, so that national promotion works better (“listen to On The Media Sundays at 5pm on your participating NPR station”); but still to try out new shows and new talent over weekends – it’s where you can super-serve smaller communities.
- Edison Research (and NPR) released radio: live on air and everywhere. Lots of interesting research here showing the continuing strength of radio as a medium, and a set of interesting listener segments. And here’s more data from Westwood One, which is built from data from another Edison Research study.
- In Australia, a show called MediaWatch is worth, um, a watch. It’s a highly critical view of the media industry in the country, aired Mondays on the ABC but available for anyone to watch on YouTube and the ABC’s iView app (which is globally available). I link here to an episode which starts with three highlights (or perhaps lowlights) from Australian commercial radio, though to be fair, it is equally critical when its own services fall short. It led me to wonder why the UK hasn’t got an equivalent show: the closest are perhaps Points of View (BBC One), Feedback (Radio 4) or Newswatch (BBC News), all of which only focus on the BBC, entirely consist of audience feedback (which makes for a dull and repetitive show), and are much less critical. I’d recommend watching one or two episodes of the ABC’s MediaWatch (here’s another about the state of reporting of the vaccine); it’s scheduled on Mondays in primetime at 9.15pm, just after Four Corners (if British, think Panorama; if American, think 60 Minutes). Ratings gold, surely?
- Some of the random traditions of the BBC are fascinating. Like this, a special programme for staff at the British Antarctic research stations.
- Boom Radio launched in the UK in February, aimed at baby boomers aged 60+. As one of the launch team, David Lloyd, blogs, it’s been a tremendous success so far. There are some interesting learnings from its launch – not least this: “as for Alexa and Google, getting those devices to play our radio station was a mountain to climb: and access to that platform poses some serious questions for our industry far more important than the ones the competition authorities spent dilly-dallying with on the Bauer acquisitions”. Indeed. That is, of course, what Radioplayer is there for; Bauer, Global and the BBC should ensure they use their investment in the organisation wisely.
- The death of Prince Philip occurred in mid-April: a time for radio stations everywhere to suddenly jump into ‘obit mode’. From this vantage point, UK radio performed well (though with no audience figures currently being compiled, nobody really knows). On TV, where audience figures are still coming in, here’s an interesting point: the BBC FOUR caption saying “there is nothing to watch tonight” on Friday night got 30,000 viewers according to the official viewing figures.
- Those who enjoyed my occasional focus on “Video Killed The Radio Star” as a lazy way for any journalist to start writing about radio might enjoy this episode of Cold Crime Cuts; a proper true crime podcast, investigating who really did kill the radio star after all. Part of a series of spoof true crime podcasts, it contains many laugh-out-loud moments.
- NOVA in Australia is the well-performing set of stations where my ex-boss Paul Jackson is successfully in charge. While other stations in Australia seem to exclusively promote their breakfast show (almost exclusively “funny bloke, old bloke and laughing girl at breakfast!”), NOVA is bucking the trend with some well-executed branding messages. I can’t help but feel I’ve heard the positioning statement somewhere before, though… (turns out it was firt used, in the UK, at Galaxy Radio in Bristol before you-know-where).
- I love the subtle difference between “oh wow” and “no wow” in this tweet. Triple M round these parts, a rock station, is full of “no wow” for me – fine songs, I know them all, but perhaps know them too well.
- My local community station, 4ZZZ, almost never plays anything I know, and most of it quite sweary. Here’s my current favourite, as heard in the car on Saturday; Ali Barter’s Chocolate Cake. Aussie, obvs.
- After new unspellable names for radio apps like LiSTNR or Audacy comes Singapore Press Holding’s new app. It’s called AWEDIO. Because of course it is.
- Live, ad-free radio on a subscription – interesting move from Bauer UK. Not entirely sure about it as an idea, but it’s got to be worth trying out. I guess I’d wonder how they’re going to promote it without highlighting how many ads the stations play. (Also: if you can explain the existence of Planet Rock 70s and Absolute Radio 70s and what the difference is, I’d be very interested).
- Finally, disappointing to read that Gillian Reynolds, radio critic for the Sunday Times, has moved on. Bill Rogers suggests that her contract was terminated, but she revealed that “at least twice, she’d been asked to take a review of a Radio 4 show out of her regular weekly submission with something about Times Radio.”
- I’ve met Gillian a number of times, and hope that she appears somewhere soon – and she’s a great writer and defender of radio. However: I see little wrong with someone who pays your salary asking “can you review something from our radio station once in a while” – Times Radio was launched in June 2020, so that would be asking twice in a little under a year. Of course there’s an issue with being asked “can you give us a positive review”, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case. I worked for Emap when the magazines steadfastly ignored our own stations or, worse, promoted our competitors; and found it irritating when Virgin companies advertised (and even sponsored) features on stations that weren’t “their own” Virgin Radio. This is where the value of a brand is, and Times Radio ought to be of particular interest to Sunday Times readers, you’d have thought. Still, perhaps I’m the one out of touch here.