In My Opinion: John Collins: Digital radio stations and their scrolling text

LISTENING to radio via DAB (digital audio broadcasting) is a wonderful thing because as well as hearing crystal clear sound, you are provided some scrolling information.

Except that when I tuned in last night, I realised that something was missing.

While the presenter in the studio knew what was being played, I didn’t. I liked the track and wanted to know more.

But during the whole time the track was playing, I didn’t see the artist or title mentioned once.

Oh yes, I was given the opportunity to log into the station website to find out more about fabulous chances to win and much more. And a review across several stations was similarly frustrating: links to competitions, studio phone numbers, in one case a mention of the station’s FM frequency (why?) and trails for upcoming shows.

I don’t need the scrolling text to tell me the name of the station because it shows when I go to it.

So, what would I put in the dynamic text?

‘Now playing’ information for sure. Perhaps ‘next artist’, but not the title. News headlines and when to hear the stories next on air. Weather latest, including current conditions. Travel news would be a good idea too. Consider also, pithy quotes from listeners or contributors – especially in speech formats.

Then, and only then, would I let the marketing folk in to drive their messages home.

To me, the whole point of the dynamic text on any digital platform is that it adds to the listener experience. And given that the Holy Grail for many digital evangelists has been the installation of DAB sets in cars, it also has to be ‘glance-able’. That is, the listener should be able to glance at the screen and get immediate, useful and timely information.

The industry knows that the typical ‘listen’ is fairly short and presenters are briefed to keep people listening a little longer. The incremental extensions in time listened go a long way to increasing hours listened and market share. Giving digital listeners the benefit of scrolling text ‘that matters’ is also simple given today’s automated play-out systems.

It’s a little thing, but it’s going to become an important on in the next few years. The digital switchover in radio via DAB, IP and whatever technologies follow is inevitable. I suggest it’s time programme makers reclaimed the scrolling text and made it genuinely useful.

Oh, and the song?

Shazam told me that was The Script’s current single.

John Collins lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone at both the BBC and in commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up occasionally on the radio, at Clyde 2 on a Sunday morning. Pic: Michele Dillon.