A lot of research has been executed for over a century into answering the radio practitioner’s age-old question: What does a listener want from their radio station?
The answers change, plainly stated of course. But without the bullseye answers to this question, radio is literally a person having a party for one in the most narcissistic way. Music, for one. Conversation, for one. Advertising, for one. Guest interviews, for one. Heck, throw in some fancy imaging, for one.
Here are some things we know.
a) Radio within a changing technological landscape
- Listeners’ relationship with radio today is in very good health: its core qualities are felt to have endured over time and in relation to other media, both traditional and new.
- Radio’s core qualities can be summarised as: an accessible, ubiquitous platform; a dependable companion; a deliverer of timely national and local information; and a source of a variety of entertaining and stimulating music and speech.
- For many listeners, the advent of digital platforms, web-enabled mobile devices, and new audio services has had a positive impact on their radio consumption, as it has extended access and increased station and genre choice.
- There is evidence, however, that radio is being challenged by digital and mobile media in two specific respects; firstly, as the primary source of music (especially among younger audiences); and secondly, as the unique medium for instantaneous news delivery; listeners claim that the internet has superseded press and lies just behind TV and radio as a news source.
b) What people want from radio
- When considering which attributes of radio they feel are most important on a personal level, listeners of all ages, and across all locations, consistently cite radio’s accessibility as a platform: this universal attribute is felt to be unique to radio and can be seen to underpin radio’s various content-based attributes.
- Listeners’ preferences and priorities regarding radio’s content-based attributes can be seen to vary considerably by age and lifestage, but little by location.
- On a content basis (in a very general order of stated importance) music is the key driver, followed by entertaining, interesting or informative speech output delivered by engaging presenters; up-to-date news; and local travel, weather and news bulletins.
- When considering which attributes of radio they feel are most important on a societal level, listeners prioritise radio’s capacity to serve and support individuals or groups within
- society, particularly the needy or isolated, as it offers company, connection, information and stimulation, all delivered by the platform’s universal attribute of easy access, wide reach and instantaneity.
- Alongside radio’s accessibility, we can group the attributes felt to be unique to radio, or uniquely delivered by radio, into four key headings: music variety and specialism; listener interaction; immediacy; and local content.
- In the context of local output on radio, listeners place highest importance on local traffic, travel, weather and news bulletins. This is particularly true of those who drive or commute regularly, and those with children in local schools or jobs in the local community. Other longer-form types of local output such as discussions, phone-ins, or competitions are considered less important, but can be seen as underpinning the public’s strong relationship with radio.
- When comparing today’s listeners’ hierarchy of stated attributes of radio with the public purposes of radio, generated by the 2005 Preparing for the Future research study, there is much consistency: radio’s accessibility, musical variety, presenters, news/information and key local information appear in both, as the most important attributes of radio.
c) Local content: current consumption and attitudes
- When considering local output on radio, listeners claim generally to be very satisfied with the status quo of local news and information delivery, on both BBC and commercial local radio services.
- Among local commercial radio listeners specifically, this satisfaction derives mainly from the short and frequent local bulletins which align to their needs. Key traffic and travel information, and important local news stories, are also considered to be delivered in sufficient detail but without disturbing the main listening purpose, i.e. music, or entertaining or stimulating speech.
- Listeners generally believe that a presenter rooted in their community, with local knowledge, is best placed to present local information in a credible way, although some felt that local provenance and accent assists in delivering relationship-based and longer speech content.
- Many listeners, including those who regularly listen to networked commercial stations, claim to be unaware of the practice of networking on commercial radio. This is at least in part due to the majority of the sample being peak-time listeners and therefore not necessarily exposed to networked output.
- Once informed of the practice, listeners tend to take a pragmatic stance, declaring they are satisfied so long as their basic need for concise and frequent local news and information (traffic, travel, and weather) bulletins is met. There is some variation in this regard: some express regret over the reduction of local output on their local radio
- services, while others welcome networking as a means of accessing a higher calibre of presenters, guests or live music events.
d) Local content: future scenarios
- When faced with scenarios representing different levels of networking and local content delivery on commercial radio in the future, listeners tend to show most satisfied with what is generally the status quo: local programming and presenters during peak time, with networked output on some stations at other times, while keeping short and frequent local news and information bulletins.
- Faced with a scenario whereby key local output at breakfast and drive-time is removed, but short frequent bulletins are retained, listeners who feel closer to local presenters and discussion of local issues show concern; others, however, feel that such a scenario would not significantly affect their current satisfaction with local commercial radio output.
- A scenario whereby all local output is given over to the BBC is, however, generally felt to be a step too far. This is for one or a combination of the following three reasons: o It would effectively signal the end of local commercial radio and the content it provides, which some listeners feel would be to the detriment of their own consumption of local news and information, and more generally to the local community and local economy;
- those listeners who are unfamiliar with BBC local/nations radio would find it difficult to consider the BBC as a replacement for their local commercial radio services; and,
- many listeners intuitively feel that no single broadcaster should have a monopoly over local output on the radio. This feeling is driven by a fear of editorial bias, and more generally by a desire to retain a range of radio services at the local level.
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