Digital FM: the future of radio

Radio New Zealand is New Zealand’s only free publically funded media service and their polling constantly shows they are the go-to broadcast service around NZ, which is why it was such a surprise when CEO Paul Thomson forecast the demise of radio in a recent speech to the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association in Glasgow.

With a move to online and digital platforms there is much speculation about future for traditional media. While I can see arguments on either side of the future for TV and print, I have a firm faith in Radio and wonder if perhaps the shift of focus to online at the expense of traditional brands could be an error of judgment. I believe radio is still as relevant to the communities it services as it has always been, and will be for some time to come. Here’s why –

1, The millions of receivers in our homes and cars

2, it is cheap, portable, immediate

3, buffering

4, community


It’s hard to eradicate something that is so entrenched in our daily lives. Radio requires cheap technology and terrestrial transmission is more reliable than a smartphone on 3G. Until we can find a way to digitally stream that eliminates buffering and rainfade radio will still be relevant. As humans we feel the need to be part of a community and to connect, radios immediacy provides this where other media platforms, including pre-recorded podcasting, can’t.

I am interested in the investment on digital platforms that the companies are making and  it is a necessity to have a good website, accessible app and live streaming option.  There has to be the availability of content to share in the digital environment.

However, the push to digital is at the expense of traditional broadcasting as we know it is based on the underlying assumption that the future generations shun traditional media and get their entertainment online and will continue to do so. This is where I find the thinking flawed because I don’t think they will, because this is where life steps in.

I was the first of the internet generation – we were one of ihug’s original customers back in the mid 90s and I have engaged in online communities since I was about 15, and so have my peers. We have all grown up and moved into the adult world. We have careers, families, mortgages etc.  We have traditional lives. And that’s where traditional media comes in. I can turn on the radio and engage in my local community. I can switch to the youth station and hear the latest music. I may stream my stations on the app, or download my favourite programmes from the station in a handy podcast format, but I am no longer the online adventurer I once was. It’s a time thing, a life thing.

The technology has moved on just as much as the teenagers of the 90s have. The music has moved on, radio shows change, target demographs change, the places to hang out and converse change. For example, Napster, Winamp, mIRC, Myspace, Bebo. Facebook has had a great run but the kids are leaving it as quickly as their grandparents sign up. As it moves on new ones crop up but you have to invest time to learn the language and navigate a new platform and to connect to the community.

It works the same for a radio station – as a Hamilton-based job hunting mother of three in my early thirties I am interested in the world around me. I have no connection to any overseas announcer or show, and I don’t have the time to invest find one to connect to. I don’t have the time to manage a playlist on my ipod. I set it up once, but my music is now old and out of date, I don’t have the time to update and rejig. I don’t have the time to shop around on the podcasts app and find a new interest based podcast to subscribe to. I barely have the time to download the lastest episode from my favourite shows on my local stations. I do have time to flick the radio on in the car. It’s not just me, I see the same in my peers as well. It’s life.

When I started in radio I didn’t understand the importance of a Saturday morning breakfast show. I didn’t believe that anyone was listening. I thought cancellations were a bland time consuming product that continued out of some sort of tradition and to placate the local sports clubs. I honestly didn’t think there was a relevant audience. But now, we are a Saturday morning sport family, relevant to the target audience, listening in the breakfast show and hanging off the cancellations. It happened. Life happened. We got there.

And it won’t happen for everyone at the same age, but at some point, be it 20, 30, 40, people enter the adult world and lead a more traditional life, because as internet connected as we may be, we are still human and we still live in society, and eventually that catches up to us. For that reason, I don’t think the future of broadcasting is heading away from terrestrial broadcasting to the online space as much as we are being told it will. I am not giving up on radio and I do not believe it is doomed.



One thought on “Digital FM: the future of radio

  1. Pingback: The (broadcast) sky is your limit – to the airwaves, and beyond. | Anna Smart (NZ)

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