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09 August 2016

Nine Out Of Ten

The figures are in. Again. The beast won't lie down. Radio, that most unglamorous of media, is consumed by 9 out of 10 people in Britain every week. Nine out of ten. Ninety percent. We need to shout that number loud and long at every opportunity. It astounds each new class of students I face.

Astonishingly, given the proliferation of shiny new distractions, that figure has hardly budged in decades. Big events like the Olympics, or a general election, can even nudge it up a point or two. Calmer news agendas might see it subside to 89, but there's no doubt radio remains an established part of our lives for an overwhelming majority of the population.

Commentary on the latest figures has been pretty upbeat, with Folder Media's Matt Deegan even suggesting we're in a new "golden age" for radio (lots of detailed analysis on that link too). That might be putting it a bit strong, but I think there's definite room for optimism.

Let's remind ourselves of a few facts. Radio is cheap and simple to produce, and to consume.

For the listener there's no need to give in to the big tech, big telecom cartel of expensive iGimmick tech and data contracts to access content. Broadcast radio is free to the audience. Even the kit to listen is cheap as chips - or cheaper. I love showing my news trainees the fully functioning FM radio my kids were given, free, with a burger at Disneyland Paris.

Further evidence of radio's health comes from OFCOM's latest market report. Look at that big, pink slice - that's radio, with the paler bit for "other audio": Really look at it. If a new medium came along today with a performance like that it would be the wonder of the age.
Radio is there, in the air, free to consume with a multitude of music to discover for every taste from grand opera to hip hop. Speech formats include two superlative national services (and their growing DAB offshoots) from the BBC as well as emerging national contenders from the commercial sector, with newcomer talkRADIO taking its place alongside LBC and talkSPORT.

It's not just the big kids at national level who are growing speech. UKRD is experimenting with specialist content on stations like Stray FM that combine added local listener choice with great opportunities for advertisers to sponsor content - squaring the golden circle, if the sums add up.

The much-maligned BBC local stations are doing great work. I know that because I'm a judge again this year for the Frank Gillard Awards, and once again I'm blown away by the range and quality of the original journalism currently sitting in my inbox. At its best, the content is brilliant, and the overall BBC local brand just needs a bit of repackaging so people become more aware of what it means, with great local journalism at its core, and presenters who relate to a 50+ audience.

For the first time in my professional lifetime the industry isn't staring at its navel.

For the commercial sector, the long running zero-sum game to decide who owns what appears to be largely over.

Rupert Murdoch buying into radio by taking over Wireless Group will no doubt give my hackademically-inclined chums in HE a fit of the vapours, but with News Group, Global and Bauer as established players perhaps we might see a bit more attention given to the output.

In commercial radio there should always be a healthy tension between shareholders, advertisers and listeners. For too long now the desires of the boardroom have dominated, the showroom has been sold short and the living room has been totally neglected. I see signs of a will to put that right.

For everyone, DAB has arrived. It's arrived in cars as more or less standard, and creative innovations such as pop-up stations, as well as brand extensions, give a richer radio experience on the move than I could ever dream of in the days my Vauxhall Viva had four pre-tuned buttons. For those who insist on paying big telecom for the experience, there's also the Radioplayer and iPlayer radio.

Perhaps most exciting of all, the punters have found an appetite for podcasts. Dreadful name, but we're stuck with it. That's clearly where the future lies if we can start transferring radiocraft skills to a market currently well supplied with overlong self indulgent audio twaddle (amid the good stuff). I'll be writing more on this topic soon.

So radio has a new opportunity to enjoy a golden age. Just keep pushing that number. 9 out of 10.

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