Radio's future frequency

From personalised music and news channels to giving the audience more say about what matters to them, the radio is here to stay and has a rich future.

Last week I was interviewed as part of a 30 minute panel discussion on ABC Queensland on the future of radio. It was a wide ranging discussion, and we covered a lot of territory. At the conclusion of the program, when we were each asked to give our vision for the future of radio, I described what I see radio becoming.

As I pointed out, just as what we have thought of as TV is shifting to multi-channel video, radio is shifting to multi-channel audio, distributed over IP to a multitude of devices, notably mobile phones. However, audio will remain an important media channel forever, as there are many reasons we sometimes want just audio without visual accompaniment.

Radio is still a dominant media in cars, where people are not supposed to be watching TV while they drive, in homes as people wander about or do housework, and sometimes in the workplace, where many tasks can be done with partial attention on audio, but probably not with on a screen.

One of the reasons people listen to the radio is for weather and traffic news. As I pointed out back in 2006, the rise of mobile traffic data continues to put pressure on local radio. As people can get weather and traffic information on their mobile phones, or through their car AV systems, they don’t need to listen to the radio, though it can sometimes be a convenient way to get the information.

However, people certainly want to hear local news and often listen to and engage with local personalities or celebrities who they can feel more connected with than global mega-stars. A breakfast show almost always includes local colour as it makes it more personal for the audience.

There is a real potential for true community to emerge from radio. Many people say that talk-back radio was the first community media. True to a point, but it is still a hub-and-spoke model. What is now possible is for groups in the audience to have conversations between themselves, spinning off what the host is talking about, and parts of these conversations can be incorporated back into the main broadcast audio channel.

When it comes to music, that’s when the global jukebox comes to the fore. A world of audio channels means that people can choose their favorite genre, era, band, DJ, or a personalised radio station that understands their taste.

National or global news will come from a trusted source, probably with a political bent to match the listener.

From all of these, every listener will be able create their own personal mosaic of global and local audio segments, woven together to create a radio channel that works for them.

This suggests that local radio has a future but the revenue and financial models will be quite different from today. However, as local and global content is syndicated and monetised locally through subscriptions and advertising, radio (or rather multi-channel audio) has a rich future.

Ross Dawson is globally recognised as a leading futurist, entrepreneur, keynote speaker, strategy advisor, and author. His Trends in the Living Networks blog is ranked as one of the top business blogs in the world.

You can listen to the podcast of the ABC program here.

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