I don’t write about radio very much, which is probably a good thing. I tend to leave it to people who are actively involved in the business and are up on the workings of today’s radio industry. Admittedly, when it came to posting this I re-published some of my older radio memories that I pulled in from a blog that died years go.
Anyway, radio remains to me the best of all the media: intimate, personal and accessible yet ultimately shared, social and everywhere. I once wrote – and now re-posted – about my passion for radio but, looking at it now, I don’t think it does the medium justice.
Occasionally, however, I do get to bash my keyboard and crank out the occasional comment – the last one being on Matt Degan’s excellent radio-related blog (and reproduced here) where I tried to say that, for an entertainment industry, commercial radio is woefully bad at presenting itself well. Reading last week’s Daily Express article on the great FM switch-off just goes to show how bad the industry is at marketing itself. Somebody, other than the radio industry, is setting the radio agenda. And I do believe that matters. Some internal industry bickering about the digital switch-over quickly turns, via little lobbying, into another government white paper and the news industry gets to bash Ministers in bold headlines and swirling TV graphics.
So, in scanning the papers earlier I noticed a Guardian piece on News International’s closure of SunTalk. Now, I’ve never listened to it so I can’t comment on the programming but John Gaunt is an excellent broadcaster (you certainly don’t have to agree with his opinions to think that) and I am sure it was cleverly positioned. Relaying on FM to some ex-pats in Spain is a stroke of marketing genius that still makes me smile.
And therein lies the root of my disappointment. News International would have breathed some fresh marketing air into a medium that I regard above others and would have been bold, brash and – I’m sure – would have unsettled many. Regardless of what you may think about their cross-media ownership, NI’s reach in the press and on television would have given digital radio the profile boost it needs (to say nothing of how it might have impacted programming). They poured money to create the satellite television market and they could have, similarly, helped the digital radio cause. For those concerned about the increasing power of News International well, in radio, they would not have controlled the platform or access to it, but they might have had money to spend to add programming diversity and build audience awareness.
If digital radio is to grow and be accepted in the UK then something big – and I think it’s got to be enormous – needs to happen. Yes, the BBC will play its part but, while I am happy for the BBC to tell me about their services, I don’t want my licence fee spent on advertising for commercial businesses. The market may a little unfair but it’s the one we have; it’s been here for decades because it’s better than most alternatives and – generally – drives great programming, but I do not pay my licence fee to subsidise privately-held companies or increase the share value of a plc. And I say this as somebody who, podcasts aside, almost exclusively listens to UK commercial radio (with a bit of international Jack FM thrown in).
So where is the business with the marketing savvy, financial muscle and experience in creating compelling, must-see/hear programming (or content)? Well, News International was one such business and it appears to be saying it’s not interested any more.
I think it’s an opportunity missed.