In My Opinion: John Collins: Why radio shouldn’t be afraid of ‘iRadio’

THERE are several reports – such as here, here and here – that, alongside some hardware and software developments, Apple are going to launch a new service at their Worldwide Developers conference, which gets under way in California later today.

The name that’s being bandied about is ‘iRadio’, though it’s likely that the finished service will have a different name, were it to finally appear.

The computer giant has reportedly done deals with the major music labels to allow it to offer a subscription service where users can stream music to their computers – much like Spotify, Napster and Rdio offer just now.

And that’s why it’s only a tiny threat to radio. Services like this have existed for years and have made only limited headway so far. Undoubtedly, Apple’s ability to market its products will make iRadio a success, but who will it draw its audiences from?

Not traditional ‘proper’ radio, of that I’m certain.

Sure, the stations that play songs in threes and have DJs who do little more than ID the music, the station and deliver the time and temperature, have a lot to fear as that’s not what radio is valued for by the listeners. I think that many of the stations that play a lot of music with bland links are hits by default as they inherit audience from what went before on the same frequency.

These stations have also given the streaming music services the chance to gain a foothold, as they can point to research that says presenter links make listeners turn off. So they’ve built formats – especially in the US – predicated on more back-to-back music. Speech, they say, is the enemy of profit in music radio.

Try telling that to BBC Radio 2, with more speech than almost any commercial radio station away from LBC and a dominant position across the UK.

The stations that engage with their audiences and understand the unique relationship they have with their listeners will be the ones that prosper. This doesn’t mean interviews with local worthies or calls for lost cats – though it might. It does mean content that relates to listeners’ lives and crucially offers something unique that differentiates one station from another.

In the same way that you can turn on a radio and hear half of the stations in your market playing mostly similar music, streaming music services like iRadio and its predecessors will allow you to continue to play your favourite music to yourself.

A good radio station will keep you listening longer, though. It’ll be relevant and have hosts you have an affinity with. Those hosts will mix music you know with some you don’t and will be with you on your journey.

It doesn’t matter where they’re sitting, they’ll be doing the thing the streaming music services can’t do.

Entertaining you.

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.