Indonesia: Radio in the time of digital

Thursday 27 September, 2018


Article courtesy Telum Media

Radio has a long history in Indonesia. Beginning in 1925, in the colonial era, the first radio broadcast titled Bataviase Radio Vereniging (BRV), then came local stations owned by Indonesians which became the forerunners of unifying Indonesian youth. In 1945, with the help of radio, the reading of the Proclamation Text was distributed throughout Indonesia, even the world.

What about radio today? With the internet as the new media, is it replacing the radio as a mass media? The answer is not necessarily. Based on a survey conducted by Nielsen Indonesia in 2016, that year, radio penetration in Indonesia reached 38 per cent or around 20 million people. Even though they lost to the internet (40%) and television (96%), interestingly, radio listeners in Indonesia were actually predominantly the younger generation.

Digital disruption?

However, it can't be denied, there is indeed a decrease in the number of radio listeners. According to Diera Fajriah Larasati, a Radio Announcer at Indika FM, around 2016 - 2017 in Jakarta, the radio was not even taken into account by brands as a marketing medium. She said, many advertisers are more interested in working with Instagram celebrities or influencers who have a large number of followers, likes, or comments. Sabhrina Herawati, a News Traffic Announcer / Creative Officer at the same radio, added that 2017 was the lowest point of radio, when many radio stations died because of this.

Besides influencers, another challenge comes from paid streaming services like Spotify, Joox, and so on. Diera explained the flexibility in choosing songs to listen, makes millennials prefer such services. "There used to be millions of people interacted with us by phone or text, now they can be counted on fingers. Feels like, I don't care if you want to play this song, I can listen to it as well on Spotify."

Diera argued that now the radio is challenged to have broadcasters with not only good voices. "In the past, to have a golden voice is number one, now it's not. If the voice is good but the face is not, it is most likely hard to be an announcer for you."

Although it sounds discriminating, such thing is deemed necessary to them because of the competition with digital content, including video content from YouTube. "We also have to entertain a lot of people. If someone has a good voice but can't be stylish or can't take care of themselves, they can be eliminated," she said.


Nevertheless, this doesn't make the radio practitioners' spirit recede. Shabrina explained that radio also has its own strength, for example, the placement of advertisements and information on the radio makes the listener remember quickly.

"The listeners who listen to our advertisements will usually be more interested when listening to the radio because they only need ears, they don't have to see it to remember it quickly. Furthermore, we play a lot of sound effects, so they can remember it faster." Citra Dyah Prastuti, Editor-in-Chief of Kantor Berita Radio (KBR), agreed on this, because radio needs to convey information in simple and short language.

"Radio also delivers information faster, especially for the rural areas. Sometimes, the internet alone couldn't even reach the highlands of Java, what about Kalimantan and others? Newspaper even takes longer. Around 2000, I went to Ambon and newspapers needed up to two days to reach there. Local newspapers also stagnate because they lack human resources. TV is also a relatively expensive item, actually," voiced Citra.

She also argued TV production could take longer time and price wise is more expensive than radio. For her, radio is where people can get the fastest and most accessible information.

Make peace with digital

Inevitably, radio does have to adapt to digital. This is understandable by both Indika and KBR. "Change or die. Who do you think has a transistor radio in Jakarta? If we talk about radio in the city, then we talk about the car radio. At home mostly what people have is a CD player. This means you have to develop," said Citra.

Translating radio to digital also varies, depending on the concerns and targets of each radio. "At first we felt we had to have a website. But the website also has limitations. For radio people, when it comes to news writing it will be short. Not even get to scroll twice, the news has been finished. There is also a learning process, especially since we don't have the luxury to have thousands of human resources," Citra expressed.

Citra revealed that KBR is currently developing an app, KBR Prime, for Android and Apple where listeners can listen to podcasts. According to her, podcasting is the right strategy to develop KBR through digital channels. "When KBR makes a package, there are in-depth reports, interviews, talk shows, and feature stories that are worth to listen to again. So that's how KBR embraces digital."

But Citra also did not deny that the challenge of introducing podcasts to radio listeners in Indonesia is quite heavy. "We can walk around and ask, out of 10 people, maybe only one knows what a podcast is. Whereas, with the podcast, which is audio news on demand, if you forget the broadcast schedule, it's okay. You can just download it anywhere, anytime."

Its first podcast will discuss popular events with educational and informative elements. "We are developing our kick-off content with MAFINDO (Indonesian Anti-Defamation Society), a show called Cek Fakta, where on a weekly basis we find the latest hoaxes and then we debunk it. We are also working with The Conversation Indonesia where we explain science in a simply and popularly, entitled Science Around Us."

Citra clarified that podcast application development does not mean they will abandon its website development. She said websites are needed to maintain KBR's presence in cyberspace, especially from search engines like Google, Yahoo, and so on.

On the other hand, Indika which focuses on entertainment, said that digital can actually help them in reaching listeners and maintaining closeness. "If we get curious listeners, they can also search us directly on the digital side then they will be able to love the radio, love the announcers," pointed Diera. They are also distributing Indika's broadcasts via YouTube. They consider their social media presence is important because the number of followers can also affect Indika's credibility.

Indika also targets listeners based on research. "For example, we focus on Indika's listeners in South Jakarta, which has 1,000 listeners, compares to West Jakarta, where there are only 100 listeners. We better focus on them, like make events in South Jakarta," Sabhrina added. Off-air events are very important to maintain intimacy with listeners.

In the future, both KBR and Indika are confident that radio will also continue to exist. They even think that if the digital presence is a boost to advance. "Take the positive side. We really have to upgrade our quality and what sets us apart from them," Diera concluded.


Telum Media is a Singapore, Hong Kong & Sydney registered company founded in 2013 by former PR & journalism professionals who saw the need for a comprehensive media database in Asia.


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