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How can radio broadcasters successfully run a radio station in the 21st century, with an eye on attracting the youth — a target audience that seems to be abandoning radio?
Haseena Cassim, CEO of youth radio station YFM (‘Y’) in Johannesburg, joined Rüdiger Landgraf, program director of Kronehit in Vienna and Portland, Oregon-based Ken Benson, cofounder and media, radio and audio strategist for P1 Media Group to discuss this topic and more with RedTech’s Omar Essack.
They all agreed that radio is undergoing dramatic change driven mainly by social media technology, of which young people are invariably early adopters. “There’s been a conservatism in radio for far too long,” said Benson, “we’ve been playing defense instead of offense.” He pointed to TikTok’s impact and the fact that it’s been the most-downloaded app for two years.
Threat or opportunity
For Cassim, media developments such as TikTok are opportunities, not threats. It’s a comfortable area for the station. “Y has always been at the forefront of change. Wherever our audience is, is where we need to be. When TikTok took off, we made sure we were there, in that space. Benson nodded, “Radio needs to work really hard to redefine itself.”
This is something that drives Landgraf. Kronehit is Austria’s biggest CHR station and has a lot to lose if it fails to reach young audiences. His assessment was brutal: “People our age have a limited customer life.” But he warned of the dangers of chasing after every successful new social media tech to mirror its offering.
So, what should stations do? Embracing new media technology as part of a 21st-century station offering meant not looking at them solely as means of broadcasting content, but what they offer as an experience. “Right now,” said Benson, “TikTok is breaking music. CHR stations should be monitoring TikTok to see what is breaking now. Investing in creating a TikTok radio station is not the solution.”
Landgraf pointed to the advantages of radio over streaming services like Spotify. “Radio can bring people together. Radio can build a community.”
Essack quickly focused on radio as a “shared experience.” Cassim agreed, saying one thing in Y’s favor was its ability to make a personal connection. “We do a tremendous amount of research to find out where our audience is and what they are going through so that our presenters know how to connect with them.”
Landgraf presented a simple example that worked on Kronehit. A presenter shared a story of being in a minor car accident — something, judging by the degree of audience interaction, was surprisingly widely shared. It’s the small, personal stories, said Landgraf, that connected with the audience. Cassim agreed, dismissing notions that young people always wanted upbeat content about entertainment. When Y introduced a weekly two-hour discussion program during lockdown, focusing on “serious, sensitive, very real issues” such as mental health and unemployment, “The take-up,” said Cassim, “was incredible.” That feature is now a daily event on Y.
Benson went one step further on shared-experience content, saying that stations need to ask if their offering is subscription-worthy. “Many stations would fail that litmus test,” he said. “Ask yourself: What is your station offering that is unique and recurring, that a competitor cannot recreate, and is so entertaining that people want to listen? If you have nothing, you’re in trouble.”
Stations must embrace an uncomfortable fact: Some of those who have switched off will never return to radio.
According to Landgraf, stations must embrace an uncomfortable fact: Some of those who have switched off will never return to radio. “Don’t run after those who have already left radio,” he said. He presented German hip hop as an example of a music style popular with Austrian YouTube users that never took off with younger radio listeners on Kronehit.
There was something about the visual experience on YouTube that didn’t translate well into radio. “We realized that we need to address those who stick to radio and do our best job there.” He echoed that reaching out to a younger audience would rely on spoken word content. “Music-wise, they’re gone.”
So, what is the right thing to do? “We need to experiment,” said Benson, adding that managing a radio station involves examining human interaction on social media platforms. “Examine the response of young people watching TikTok and YouTube — they’re laughing, they’re excited, they’re engaging, they’re waiting to see what happens. That doesn’t work with music.”
He offered some solutions: listener-hosted playlists, a late-night podcast feature, a Spotify playlist, a late-night talk show. He echoed Cassim: “We need a much more meaningful connection with our audience.”
Essack wondered if this was key to radio surviving this century. “The advantage of radio is gone,” said Landgraf, but added that he doesn’t see radio coming to an end as long as it can deliver the “goose-bump moments.”
Watch the video at https://bit.ly/3qyM4QX.