RADIO has a problem: its past.
All of us who love the medium frame it in the radio that we grew up with. Whether it was listening to Radio Luxembourg under the covers, as it faded in and out, or me listening to a heady mix of American Football and US DJ shows on the US Army’s Radio Network. Others listen nostalgically to recordings of old radio shows from around the world or share recordings of the ‘glory days’ of 1970s and 1980s commercial radio in Scotland.
Working in radio from the 1980s, I saw it a different way. There was a constant march of technology. When I started, BBC producers in Glasgow weren’t allowed to cut tape – that was a specialist task. Now, thanks to computer-based editing systems and more forgiving studios, most content in Scotland is edited and balanced by producers – as was always the way at commercial stations.
Much of the way radio was run was about individuals mastering technology and chatting to listeners. And there were many, many listeners. Even at supposedly-struggling Scot FM, we got over 300 letters a week for a weekend love songs slot. Listeners called or actually posted letters.
The technology now allows a presenter in Glasgow to press a button and appear to be local to listeners in Aberdeen or Edinburgh. This has happened for years and proprietors have slowly come to the realisation that they don’t need to have 40 presenters dotted around the country playing much the same music when ten well-resourced presenters can deliver just as much audience.
That’s why I welcome Bauer’s decision to appoint Robin Galloway to host a ‘networked’ Breakfast Show on their AM stations in Scotland.
I’m gutted for some wonderful former colleagues who’ll be looking for work in a contracting market, but it’s the right move.
Robin is talented, creative and already well-known in the markets he’ll be broadcasting to. He also does my favourite radio trick of always sounding relevant to his listeners, whether they’re young or old. He’s kept his act modern and fresh and avoids cheesiness. He’s a class act.
Strategically, Bauer are right to create a national brand for Scotland. Done right – and I expect more developments in the next year – they can grow the audience with a station that doesn’t make 45 year-olds feel old. For them, it’s not about local. For any commercial radio operator it’s about using what they’ve got to maximize audience and revenue – and sorting out the Greatest Hits Network can deliver personality radio that’s relevant to Scotland.
Bauer’s competitors have an open goal and the challenge is for them to find an USP in each market and exploit it. Of course, they understand their target audiences and play music that’s relevant to their listeners. But will they be generic, preferring to sound ‘big’ and regional or will they exploit the fact that they’re at the heart of their communities? There’s plenty of evidence that the latter works, but in an industry where people want to work for ever larger stations, it’s a tough fact to accept.
Radio’s future isn’t about where a DJ is sitting when she or he plays a record. It’s about the compelling, relevant content between the songs that will differentiate it from services like Spotify, Deezer and so on. Different broadcasters will have different approaches and new formats will emerge.
Radio is every bit as exciting as 40 years ago when land-based commercial radio launched in the UK. It’s just different.
And better for it.
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, or anybody else that’ll have him. Pic: Michele Dillon.