Redefining Radio

What is the future of radio? That was the question asked at a HOMAD conference of college educators, students, and radio professionals. The upshot: radio is alive and kicking. What needs to be fine-tuned is its definition.

“Radio” isn’t one device, but audio content delivered on multiple platforms, including smart phones. As Bell Media’s Paul Cugliari identified, “the pipeline is irrelevant”; radio has a bright future if it is defined as “the medium we deliver content through.”

That future though, is intrinsically bound with the web. “You need to have digital bleeding through everything you do” was the advice from Eric Morrison, a panel member and long-time media exec.

For students another clear message: “You can’t just be the on-air person who doesn’t write. You can’t be the person in the field who doesn’t like technology.” Jeremy Smith from CBC Field Operations echoed multiple panelists who emphasized the need for students to hone their storytelling skills, as well as their ability to continually learn new technologies.

Renowned radio co-hosts Humble & Fred got lots of laughs on their panel, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take the subject of radio seriously. Humble’s observation that what audiences want is “authentic content” is bang on—and that’s what they’re trying to bring to their new Internet radio show . Whether the show will be a hit remains to be seen—as does the best way to measure a radio program’s success.

Chris Boyce, the Executive Director of CBC Radio and Audio, said there should be “less concentration on ratings.” The focus should be connecting with the audience, consumption patterns, and the value of the engaged user.

Media Consultant Jeff Vidler said, PPM—the Portable People Metre used to see who’s watching or listening to what—only measures “exposure” and that the ratings watch should be balanced with monitoring engagement. If you want to know more about why, here’s an article by self-described “newsosuar” Alan D. Mutter that focuses on newspapers, but is relevant to all media.

While everyone agreed engagement is what matters, Corus’ head of radio, Chris Pandoff, rightly reminded everyone that the radio advertising business is still based on the number of listeners a program can draw, and that’s how stations make money to stay on the air.

A few other highlights:

  • Program Directors and radio execs need to make room for more live content, because that’s what people want
  • Making room for more live content will give new radio talent a chance to grow—lack of new talent was pinpointed as a big problem
  • Radio needs to work on letting the audience pull content, not just push it out

And I’ll end with my random favourite quote of the conference, and a little plug for publicly funded radio:

“CBC is the vegetable of radio. You’re supposed to eat it because it’s good for you and then you get older and realize its importance.” Jeremy Smith, CBC

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