Re-thinking and reinventing radio

Wednesday 12 September, 2018
Image: Shutterstock

 

Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

Two stories last week made me think.

First, this off-the-cuff tweet from a radio station in Scotland, having a day of “going retro” by… playing CDs.

I shared this in a Facebook group, and it wasn’t long before the comments descended into Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch.

“Retro? I’ll give you retro,” said someone, before talking about cueing up 45s. “You had it easy,” said someone else, discussing editing on reel-to-reel.

I remembered my first full-time radio gig, doing afternoon drive at The Pulse in Bradford.

During a typical hour, I’d be playing a mixture of CDs and 45s; filling in full PRS returns, including record company and catalogue number. Each needed the levels setting and cueing to a suitable point. Every segue was, of course, live; selecting the right jingle or sweeper was up to me.

I’d be running to the fax machine outside the studio, where the AA would send over barely-legible hieroglyphics about travel issues (“A58 WB of Keighley TTL expect delays”) and essentially blind-reading these on-air.

The ads would be on individual carts which all needed fetching and putting away at the back of the studio; my news was at a clock-start at the top of the hour; without a producer I also needed to answer telephone calls and run contests myself. And somewhere in the midst of all this, I had to somehow work out something cogent to say.

You can sometimes understand the viewpoint of the former presenters in the group - who mostly appear to be driving trains, it seems - that radio isn’t what it once was. It isn’t. When the music and the ad breaks are all available at the push of a NEXT button, you can concentrate on other things; and the output should be (and almost invariably is) better.

The other piece of news was this piece of work by BBC News Labs, rethinking and prototyping online news story formats. It’s a good piece of work, informed by data.

It suddenly struck me that much of the structure of radio hasn’t changed from the days of 45s and carts.

We only got network news at the top of the hour twenty years ago, so that’s when we needed to take it. Many of us still break for news at the top of the hour, though, even if there’s no technical need for that any more (and plenty of evidence that news consumption is changing away from a “cram as much as you can” news bulletin).

We’ve moved away from carts, but we’re still selling thirty-second ads, clumping advertising stopsets together, and shoving many of them to the back of the hour for some reason. (Try setting your alarm clock to 6.45am to discover how bad this sounds).

There are plenty more things we do in radio that haven’t changed in thirty years: a horrid old news jingle ‘because tradition’, using callsigns rather than a sensible brand, and the utter pointlessness of travel news.

I love the idea of rethinking things. Much of the time, that process reveals that it’s always done that way for a reason; some of the time, it hits on something new.

We should do more of it, don’t you think?

About The Author

James Cridland, the 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.

Contact James at james@crid.land or @jamescridland
 

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