By Darren Gilbert
“People should be able to hear the music that they want to hear when they want to hear it. That is what radio should be doing. It should be serving its listeners.” So says Zone Radio
presenter and owner, Richard Griggs. Unfortunately, one look at the medium and you will see that it’s nowhere near achieving this. In fact, if you were to apply Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to radio, you would find that listeners are sitting right at the bottom of the pyramid. Something needs to change. If you’re thinking exactly that, you’ll be pleased to know that something already has.
Born overseas out of a need to connect more intimately with audiences in a digital world, it only reached South African shores around two years ago. Since then, it has resulted in a number of stations springing up across the country. 2oceansVibe Radio
currently leads the pack, followed by Griggs’ own Cape Town-based Zone Radio
and the most recent addition, Ballz Visual Radio
. While I’m speaking of radio stations, there is something uniquely different about these three. Unlike your traditional FM stations, these are all run online.
And they have been fairly successful so far. While the idea of online or internet radio as it is commonly known may be viewed warily by some traditionalists, it is also the future of the medium. If you’re wondering why I am so confident about this, it’s because 2oceansVibe Radio
presenter Richard Hardiman shares the sentiment. “When I resigned from KFM
and said I was going to go into internet radio, I was laughed at. At the time, people viewed it as a fad that wouldn’t get off the ground or have a future.” Two years later and 2oceansVibe Radio
is flourishing, having recently opened a studio in Johannesburg to complement its one in Cape Town.
“It’s definitely the future of radio. If you look at commercial [radio], you’ll see that it’s overseen by two or three consultants from overseas. That means you get the same feel from every station, with the only real difference being the voice.” It’s also an environment where content and music is controlled by the executives and there is little leeway. “[At 2oceansVibe Radio
], we are far looser [in structure]. If a subject comes up and the audience wants to talk about it, we will go with it. [Compare that to] commercial radio [where] you have one-and-a-half minutes to talk and most of that ‘talk’ is about what is on air rather than what is happening out in the real world.”
It’s a line of thought that Ballz Visual Radio
presenter Darren Scott readily agrees with. “The problem with commercial radio is that it’s staid. It has become too comfortable and listener interest doesn’t seem as important to them as commercial interests as it’s run by accountants. Yes, you might get a KFM
doing listener requests but I don’t think they are doing it right. Radio needs to move into the environment where people can hear what they want to hear and say what they want to say now.” In short, radio needs to move into a social media-like phase where listeners get to engage, interact and play a meaningful part in what happens with the content.
However, along with this new phenomenon there are challenges, one of which is the fight to attract advertisers. Griggs even admitted that one company refused to advertise with them because their market was too niche. It’s something that has happened to Hardiman as well but he’s more bullish. “We are online, so automatically you know that your audience will be a certain LSM. According to our statistics, it’s those in the higher LSMs, from 8 and up that engage with us [2oceansVibe Radio
]. While we might have a smaller audience than commercial radio, it’s more compact and our listeners are extremely loyal.”
It should be pointed out that the rise of internet radio doesn’t herald the demise of commercial radio. At least not yet, as Griggs points to the strong revenue stream for commercial radio stations and the fact that advertisers simply haven’t understood internet radio just yet. On the other hand, Hardiman believes that internet radio shouldn’t even be competing against its commercial cousin. “It [commercial radio] will always be sold by numbers. We don’t and can’t do it that way. We focus more on engaging with our audience.”
That’s what internet radio is about – interaction and engagement with your audience. After all, as Griggs points out, radio is the domain of the listener and not the radio executive.
What are your thoughts on internet radio? Do you listen to any particular station online? Tell us about your experience on our blog