Radio, Where are we now? Greg Gaughran
It’s hard to believe that I have been doing the same job for over 40 years. I don’t feel old. I certainly don’t feel like I’m old enough to have been working for 40 years.
But I have, I do and I am.
Over the past 10 years, people have persisted in asking me one question, over and over – Is radio dying?
And over the past 5 years, people have persisted in telling me the answer, over and over. Yes, they tell me, with a strong nod of the head, as if to convince themselves. Radio is on the way out.
Yet, every year, we see the research that tells us exactly the opposite. As of the latest figures, over *81% of people in Ireland listen to radio every day. And before we assume that this is made up largely of an ‘older’ demographic, we also know that 70% (*7 in 10) 15 to 25 year old’s listen to radio, while *38% of them listen to Spotify* (*all from Ispos/MRBI Feb 2021).
Every year, we are told that we need to embrace change (I agree). We need to move with the times (totally agree). We need to engage a wider, younger audience (Sure).
But based on these figures, are we not already doing this?
As radio presenters, we are told that ‘these days’, it’s all about our social media profile and how many followers we rack up each week. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that social media plays a part in increasing the reach of any radio station. If our audience looks for us in other places, then we should be easy to find. If they are spending more and more time on social media, it makes sense for us to have a presence there also.
So, after pressure from my two daughters, I have stubbornly joined Instagram and I’m still trying to work out the difference between a post and a story. And why it even matters. But, as Instagram looks down on it’s older sibling (Facebook) for being out of touch, I figured I may as well have a look at what the platform has to offer, before the kids write me off for the same reason.
For the limited amount I use it, I don’t mind the platform. I certainly see the attraction for those trying to build their brand and are looking to find some instant engagement. I can also see the benefit it holds for a station or presenter that wants to remain top of mind with their listeners. So, I’ve joined the party and so far, everyone seems very nice. Let’s see how it goes. I also embraced Spotify almost as soon as it was launched and I love it. It helps me to discover new music. It also helps me to discover old favourites that I had completely forgotten about!
So yes, I get it – there is a time for Spotify and Social Media. But it should always take second place to what we do in the studio – and what comes out of the speakers. Whether a listener is 25 or 65 – or listening in Marino or Rio, it is about keeping them engaged in the listen, by placing them in the conversation. We are there to help them through their day, however or wherever that day unfolds.
Our world has changed. I totally accept that the media landscape certainly looks nothing like it did 40 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Everything is moving faster and there is enormous pressure on us all to keep up. But, can it really be said that radio, in terms of what it delivers, is that different now to it was 20 or even 40 years ago?
Basically, radio hasn’t changed over the years. Despite all the technical improvements, it still boils down to a man or a woman and a microphone, playing music, sharing stories, talking about issues – communicating with an audience.
Once a year, I have the pleasure of being invited to a radio social gathering (although like last year, this year also seems unlikely), with some other die-hard radio people who have survived this industry along with myself. It’s an annual showcase of battle scars, red wine and much talk about how much simpler things used to be.
Most of us get along, some of us don’t, but that is what makes it interesting. This is a bunch of smart, talented, funny people, some of whom are household names and all of whom still remain actively employed in the radio industry. Self-esteem is left at home for safe keeping for the evening, as the threat to life would be too severe for even the hardiest of egos.
But, we appear to have survived because, over many years, we have worked out what our audiences want to hear.
It was no surprise to any of us that radio listenership soared during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone’s routine was thrown into disarray and people looked to the radio for the latest news and information about the virus. But they also looked to the radio for comfort, for a sense of ‘we are all in this together’. And as presenters worked hard to set a tone to meet the palpable anxiety out there, they also needed to provide a sense of positivity and optimism for listeners.
Of course there are changes to the way our listeners consume radio – there are growing numbers listening on-line, on an App, or via Smart speakers (the latest figures here are worth watching for sure). But radio, as a medium, has not changed. It remains the same intimate, engaging medium that you can take anywhere and listen anytime. The only difference is that you can now listen to your favourite station, show or presenter anywhere in the world. Radio is about people. We cannot forget that. If we do, what happens to ‘the listen’? What about the 3.2 million people across this country who take the trouble to turn on the radio every day to hear a presenter that they feel connected with?
Are we becoming so obsessed with putting stuff on Facebook or Insta that we forget about what a good link sounds like? Are we really going to abandon our engaged and loyal audiences, for a percentage of disengaged people who are flicking through their daily social media feed?
Yes, social media has its place, but is radio’s job to cut through the muddle of information that people find on so many social channels and bring them real news, some light-hearted conversation (and hopefully, good music too!)
Let us never forget that each listener has their own s**t going on and very often, the radio can the one place they may turn to, in order to escape whatever might be happening for them on that particular day.
Video did not, in the end, kill the radio star – and very few of us are ready to give that accolade to Social Media either…
Because, when we turn on the microphone to engage with our audience, I doubt very much that they care about how many followers we have on Instagram. Let us try to remember what we are doing here.
You will find me here on Wasted.ie or on Radio Nova
Nova Nights: Weeknights from 7 pm Nova Nights with Greg Gaughran
Saturday Soundtrack: Saturday evening, 6pm to 9pm
Toys & Tech: Saturday morning, 8 am Toys & Tech on Radio Nova