Below is one of the essays I wrote whilst at Bournemouth. I’m rather proud of this piece as it is an area of radio that I am extremely passionate about plus I managed to achieve a distinction for it. I believe the concepts discussed are still pertinent to today’s radio with the ideas of convergence being developed further in order to reach new audiences and the idea that new technology has allowed something considered “an old medium” to stay relevant and in my belief, more cutting edge than television.
I recommend getting a cup of tea prior to sitting down and reading this…it’s a long read!
Since the turn of the century, there have been many major developments in the way radio can be listened to. It will be these developments that are focused on with particular attention to web radio, DAB, podcasts and mobile phone applications that are all recent additions to the way audiences can choose to listen. The effect these different platforms have had on radio will be discussed in reference to the way audiences now interact with programmes through their choice of platform and the control they now have in when and where they can listen. The use of social media to interact further with programmes will also be considered. How these developments have changed the nature of radio will then be considered, in particular to the following characteristics of radio; its portability, the intimacy between output and the listener, its role as an accompaniment to daily life and routines and its resilient nature.
Before discussing the recent technological developments that have affected radio, it is important to consider changes that occurred before the turn of the century to appreciate how the characteristics associated with radio came to be. The concept of radio’s portability and ability to be taken to practically any environment would not have happened if the invention of the transistor in 1948 did not take place. Thanks to this invention by Bell Laboratories, who subsequently licensed Texas Instruments to develop the invention and ultimately produce the first transistor radio which was commercially available in 1954 and thus change how the radio could be listened to (Davis, 1994). This development also helped with creating the intimate nature between listener and radio, especially as the first transistor car radio was produced by Chrysler and Philco in 1956 (Hirsh, n.d.).
It is worth acknowledging the challenges faced by radio from other media platforms, particularly the unbroken broadcasting of television since 1957 and the addition of new channels and services alongside the threat from the Internet and its ever increasing influence and use by individuals for their media consumption (Rudin, 2011). Despite these challenges, radio remains hugely popular with 90% of the UK population still choosing to listen, showing the resilient nature of radio for remaining a part of the lives and routines of audiences, although today this resilient nature is due to radio adapting to the modern world and becoming accessible on more platforms, such as on the web or on DAB (RAJAR, 2013).
Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) was originally hyped to be the successor to analogue broadcasting, solving the issue of no space left of the analogue spectrum by allowing for an expansion of new stations and also as a means of adapting radio to fit into the increasingly digitalised lives of listeners (Rudin, 2011; Fleming, 2010). However, the high expectation for DAB to take off and become the popular platform for listening have faltered with the majority of listeners still choosing to listen via analogue method. According to the latest figures from RAJAR (2013), 64.4% of all radio listening is done through analogue. The reason for this lack of enthusiasm may be due to its similarity to the traditional analogue platform.
DAB is only a part of digital listening and still requires a radio to receive broadcasts. Although many are happy to spend extravagantly on televisions or other devices such as the latest Apple product, the same feeling does not transfer to a more expensive DAB radio over an analogue radio, especially with younger people (Rudin, 2011; Fleming, 2010). DAB is the most popular digital platform for listening with a total of 23% of total digital listening hours, beating the 6% of total hours listened through web players but this may change in the future due to the interactivity qualities web radio can provide through convergence (RAJAR, 2013).
Another point worth exploring when considering whether DAB affected the nature of radio is the Save 6 Music campaign. 6 Music was one of five digital stations launched by the BBC in 2002, providing a station for a more specialist audience interested particularly in live and archive performances and supporting new alternative music (BBC, 2010; BBC, 2013). With the BBC facing financial scrutiny in 2010, an announcement was made that in order to save money, 6 Music would be axed and subsequently an ultimately successful campaign was created by those who worked in the station and those who listened to the station to save it (Rudin, 2011). This reaction to the proposal shows that despite the new technologies and platforms available today, the relationship between radio and the listener is still a deep and meaningful one.
Listening to the radio through online platforms has become increasingly popular with 24% of adults listening to the radio through their mobile phone at least once (RAJAR, 2013). The online platform allows audiences to be able to multitask whilst listening, an idea supported in a study by Absolute Radio’s Head of Strategy and Planning, Adam Bowie, which found that a quarter of those listening online do so whilst performing other activities such as gaming or shopping and that almost four fifths of online listeners also check their emails whilst simultaneously listening (Rudin, 2011).
This multitasking approach to listening has long been a characteristic of radio with it often being perceived as a background medium providing ambient noise to tedious tasks (Chignell, 2009). Although this may still be the case and radio still provides accompaniment to the daily routine to lives especially in morning routines for getting ready for work or school in today’s society, the tasks are changing to more digitalised ones, possibly in part due to the changing nature of younger generations and their ease with technology. A term developed by the Radio Advertising Bureau called “Digital Natives” has been used to refer to those who have grown up in an already digital world and the use of technology feels as natural to them as using a pen does for older generations (Fleming, 2010). It can therefore be argued that the nature of radio has not changed as it is still providing background noise, it is the audience and the changing expectations they have towards technology and its role in society.
One of the biggest changes technology has had in everyday life is that of the use of social media to communicate with others. As social media has grown in popularity, its effects can be seen on radio with the repeated referrals to Facebook or Twitter however, social media has not radically changed the nature of radio but rather has altered the way intimacy is created. Social media still allows the audience to interact but in no longer asking for listeners to ring in but rather to tweet in their views or comments, the intimacy between listener and broadcaster has changed in the sense that audiences no longer have their voices aired but their opinions. So though social media is allowing more opinions and feedback to be heard therefore creating an appearance of a stronger two way relationship between listeners and broadcaster, the power still remains with the broadcaster to voice these opinions. The integration between radio and online services and content and the use of social media can be defined through the theory of convergence.
Convergence can be explained as the process of one form of media adopting the form of another type of media specifically in the reception, the type of device used to receive content, and the content itself (Rudin, 2011). Radio has done this by adopting characteristics from online processes and content in the way that it can be accessed through laptops or tablets and that users can interact with broadcasts through the use of websites such as Facebook or Twitter. Convergence is vital in radio’s survival as by allowing itself to adopt the characteristics of other media; it is strengthening itself by making it still a relevant place to go for entertainment or information.
A great example of this is Radio 1 and how it is not only reaching out to its audience through the use of social media but by taking the characteristics of other media that appeal to its younger target audience to ensure its relevance to their lives. This has been done through the integration of video on their website and on Youtube but also the announced proposal of linking together Radio 1 and iPlayer to form a new platform for visual content (Hall, 2013). Convergence of audio and visual material in radio can be traced to the integration of radio programmes and websites with webcams streaming live footage from the studio. This union of audio and a webcam that was originally only able to update the image every 30 seconds or so, gave the audience the chance to add another dimension to their listening.
The convergence of both audio and visual content may change the nature of radio in the sense that radio will no longer be a “blind” medium. It can be suggested that the blindness of radio is what helps create the intimate relationship between listener and broadcaster as the listener can create their own imagery and also its role as an accompaniment to other tasks as it can be in the background (Chignell, 2009). However it can then be argued that a sense of voyeurism can be taken from the availability of visual material to allow listeners to go “beyond the speakers” and into the studio and that this can still provide an intimacy, although this may be lost if visual material becomes a major part of radio output.
Yet technology has made the majority of radio’s characteristics adapt to the modern world rather than radically change them. By taking the characteristics from other areas, it is increasing its resilience against changes in broadcasting by showing it is relevant and is still worth taking the time from the audience’s busy lives to listen. By being available on other platforms, it is allowing radio to become more portable and more intimate in that the listener can choose when and where to continue its relationship with a programme allowing them to feel more integral to the broadcaster to listener process. This is especially true with the availability of radio on mobile phones.
Rudin (2011) suggested that the lack of FM receivers on mobile phones may hinder radio’s chances of survival. However many developments have been made with producing mobile applications for listening to stations whilst on the move such as the BBC’s iPlayer Radio app or Radio Player. This advancement in providing radio with a new platform to be accessed from is likely to be key in allowing it to still to be relevant to people in today’s world where individuals are more mobile and relaxed towards scheduling. With the mobile phone second on the most missed media in a survey by Ofcom in 2010, allowing radio to be available through the phone is a key way of engaging with a younger audience. Although radio has often been regarded as a “mobile medium”, the developments made in recent years have expanded this quality further to make it truly accessible from almost anywhere just through the device nearly all carry in their pockets (Rudin, 2011).
Alongside the interactivity of web radio, mobile phones are another platform that provide the opportunity for audiences to get involved with programmes as they have gone from purely communication devices that only call and text to a multimedia one that can allow users to access their emails, social media, videos, games and much more (Rudin, 2011). It is worth considering the impact these multipurpose devices have had on radio. As radio as become more convergent and taken influence from the Internet and mobile phones, it can be argued that content has become produced into smaller “chunks” in order for it to be easily searchable and shareable, idea for the mobile platform (Cordeiro, 2012).
Being able to listen to radio through a mobile phone allows listeners to be able to access programmes instantaneously, a point addressed in the latest speech by the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall. It was made clear that it was understood that audiences expect to have instant access to information, especially when an event or breaking news story is occurring; “people don’t want to wait” (Hall, 2013).
This idea that audiences want immediacy in their access to content yet again reinforces the intimate and trusting nature between listener and radio. Radio has often been regarded as a place to get content from first, especially with news. Although now competing with rolling news channels and multiple news sites online, radio can often be the first platform to deliver stories or eyewitness accounts as happened with the London bombings in July 2007 and the spike in listeners for local station LBC and their coverage of the attack (Rudin, 2011).
One of the main benefits of listening via mobile phone is the flexibility in where radio can be listened to. Being able to take content on the move is one of the features that have made radio so popular and to be available on a device that the majority of the population carry on themselves most of the time allows radio to be even more accessible. The idea of being able to take content with you is also prevalent in podcasting.
Podcasting can be explained as “media content delivered automatically to a subscriber via the Internet” (Berry, 2013). It allows an individual to choose whether to receive new content created especially from a chosen source and then this can be transferred to a portable media device. According to the RadioCentre (2011) 50% of podcast listening is done in the car or on public transport, highlighting the portability of such content. Once again, technology has not changed the nature of radio in the sense of its portability but has helped adapt it to modern society.
It would be unfair to say that there is no longer a sense of shared listening in today’s consumption of radio as there once was in the past, as there are examples of these new platforms bringing listeners together and forming new radio communities. For example, 30% of those who download podcasts have said that they now listen to programmes that did not listen to before (Radio Centre, 2011). This is bringing more people to these programmes and sharing in the same broadcasting experience as other listeners, albeit not necessarily in the same time frame. Another example of listeners being bought together into a community is with the podcasts from 6 Music’s Adam and Joe’s Show. On the show, listeners are affectionately referred to as “Black Squadron” and those listening via iPlayer as “Slack Squadron” and those who download the podcasts, “Podcats” (Shroff, 2010). Listeners would often identify themselves as one of these or occasionally as a derivative of these such as “Oz Squad”; a listener from Australia. These podcasts and the labelling of listeners allows for a sense of community, a quality created by radio and the participation of listening that allows the audience to feel they are sharing an event. This feeling of inclusion of a co-listenership is described as imagined communities, in that the audience could easily imagine others sharing the same programme without ever meeting them (Douglas, 2004). What is particularly interesting about Adam and Joe’s podcasts is that the community created by them is not imagined. Listeners were able to identify others in public through a “secret” calling code that would only make sense to other listeners who understood the phrase. The call and reply came from a story sent in by a listener and ended up becoming a well used phrase on later shows. Listeners out at places such as a live gig would shout “Stephen!” and would recognise another listener by any response of “just coming!” (Adam and Joe, 2008; Shroff, 2010).
It could be argued that despite the strengthening of some characteristics of radio such as intimacy, podcasts have changed the nature of radio in creating a new sphere of listening for audiences. It has created a whole new expectation for audiences that they no longer have to seek out new programmes or episodes but that it will come to them to be listened to at their leisure. Podcasting has truly broken down the idea of a prescribed listening schedule as it is up to the audience to choose when or if they do listen to a podcast rather than the traditional idea that radio chooses what the audience should be listening to as it did with the inception of the BBC and Reith’s values.
It is worth considering about the changes in technology and for radio in the future. Plans were made in Tony Hall’s speech about integrating technology further into radio listening, especially with uniting Radio 1 and iPlayer together so that more supporting visual content can be made available (Hall, 2013). Also expressed was a desire to reach out to younger and more media savvy listeners and allow them to be more involved with the station by giving them the opportunity to create online content that can be accessed and enjoyed by other listeners. This plan reinforces the characteristic of shared listening and communities created by radio and shows that the nature of radio is not changing, just the process of realising these characteristics and means. However, there was a slight shift in attitude in accepting that listeners want a personal and individual experience. Towards the end of the speech, Hall (2013) made it clear that the aim is to allow the audience to feel that they are in control of content and how it is accessed, creating a more personal BBC for each individual. Yet again, the changes being made are to reinforce the existing nature of radio particularly in this case intimacy between the listener and broadcaster.
Overall the nature of radio has not really changed since the start of the 21st Century, the audiences have. Listeners now expect to be able to access media and information on all devices wherever they are and so radio has adapted to this expectation by becoming available on all these platforms. Essentially the nature of radio comes down to relationships; the relationship between radio and its audience and the relationship between listeners themselves. For many, radio is a friend that can be turned to for joy, reflection or for comfort and these concepts still remain, it’s just the method in which to achieve this has become more digitalised. The use of convergence to merge the appealing characteristics of other media can only strengthen radio’s appeal to audiences and ultimately, the resilient nature of radio is one of its key facets and its ability to change and adapt to new challenges and threats is an aspect that will ensure its survival.
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