James Cridland’s International Radio Trends: More talk, less music

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.

Listening to speech/talk vs music is something I’ve been really interested in recently.

Last year, I noted the difference in speech radio vs music radio during the pandemic. Lock people in their homes, and they don’t listen to more music radio, it turns out: they want to listen to human beings.

The only piece of research I’m aware of about spoken word audio – NPR’s Spoken Word Audio Report, compiled by Edison Research, now has seven years of data, and there’s a clear trend – younger people are listening to lots of spoken word.

There’s lots of data in the full study, which you can download free: but it should give some pause for thought to radio programmers.

If we focus on music as radio’s thing – “#1 for dance and RnB” – or even “Ten great songs in a row” – I’d doubt whether this is a strong enough postioner to get audiences: especially when music is being listened-to less (as Tom Webster makes clear in his own writeup). Spotify, YouTube Music, Deezer et al is rather good at delivering music anyway.

Radio’s unique selling proposition – the thing radio does that nobody else does – is the human being. Not the music – we can get that everywhere. We’ll survive by as an industry by broadcasting peoples’ favourite songs for a while longer, but that’s a me-too game these days. Spoken word should be where we excel, even if it’s great spoken word between two songs. This should be a real opportunity for radio; but it does look as if we may be squandering it.

In Australia, Matt Doran, an apparently big-name presenter for Channel 7 who I’ve never heard of, flew to London to interview Adele about her new album. The interview was part of a package worth $1m of exclusives with the singer – but in spite of that, Doran hadn’t bothered listening to album even once, and told Adele so, after doing a full interview without asking one question about the album. Sony has denied Channel 7 the rights to air it. He was suspended for two weeks.

This is perplexing to me for a number of reasons.

Obviously – it’s a 24 hour flight to London, so why hadn’t Doran bothered to listen, at least once, to the album he was interviewing her about? That would have been the smartest thing to have done, you’d have thought. Preparation, and all that. I admire those interviewers who fully read a new author’s book, as one example. That’s a bit harder than playing an album.

But second – why did Channel 7 spend more than $1m in rights, and the flights/accommodation for at least three people, to go and interview a saleswoman about her new product? Would they do the same for a new phone, or a washing machine?

And third – isn’t it a bit sinister that Sony has decided that they can’t air any of the interview/advertisement because they don’t feel that it promoted their product in the right way?

More questions here than “is Doran a nitwit”, which he undoubtedly is. Not least for posting this on Twitter – anyone who uses the phrase “the boys” in an industry which still suffers from poor gender balance…

  • This is a good précis of this year’s ASI conference. I love learning things at this yearly conference, and this write-up looks at transparency and radio measurement. A good read from Richard Marks (not that one) (to my knowledge)
  • I was a guest on Radio New Zealand’s Saturday Morning programme on, er, Saturday. Here’s the interview with Kim Hill. I’ve mixed feelings about this – the first question highlighted my career and went on to accuse that I “started the erosion of radio as a standalone medium”. The rather combative interview rather encircled around that point for 22 minutes, and seemed to be the radio equivalent of an old man yelling at a cloud. Interviews about radio on the radio rarely go well – it’s hard to know where to pitch the conversation to keep it interesting to the interviewer (who’s also an expert) and the audience (who aren’t); but I’ve rarely been accused of killing the medium! I wonder what she wanted me to say?
  • Last week, I highlighted the poor state of the BBC Radio 4 Today website. A week on, the main story on the website remains too old to be played; one of the highlighted stories on the front page dates from 2019. However, I’m grateful to Gareth who mails me to point me to this page from June 2, 2008 which appears to possibly have offered everything I was looking for – audio clips and some kind of understanding of what was on the programme. The URL would seem to suggest that these pages were overwritten every week. Argh.
  • Fancy a studio clock for those times when you’ve been told not to embark on a big story at :59 minutes? You’ll want this Chrome app – a proper studio clock for a spare screen somewhere.

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James Cridland