Future of radio

After a spirited discussion in another thread I’d thought it would be a good time to start an ongoing discussion about the future of radio especially given the many recent developments. Unlike the “death watch” thread examples on the UK Digital Spy forums, I don’t think it’s that dire yet.

My 2 cents;

Transmission wise as I’ve stated before I firmly believe we are moving towards an internet based world (I’m there already) but I live in a metropolitan area with NBN at home and unlimited mobile data. I appreciate in regional and remote areas this may be a different story for sometime to come.

Business wise I really do wonder how healthy some of these broadcasters are (looking at you SCA) and how sustainable long term the business is.

Would like to hear others thoughts.

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An article in The Age on 21 October 1965 about test broadcasts of FM on UHF, that happened four years after the government shutdown the PMG-ABC FM VHF radio services. In the first column there is mention of a report from the Harvard Business School that predicted AM would be obsolete in 15-20 years. As we know, AM is still around in the USA, and here.

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I think you might have seen the very early beginnings of a long term trend here with the recent moves of the Hit network to an older audience, I think you won’t really see much attempt to target commercial radio at young audiences - as they will be the ones who have just never added listening to traditional radio to their routines.

That said, I think there’s a place for radio -

First - curation. I’ve got my own playlists to stream - but I still use radio as a means of hearing something that’s outside my library. I’ve never found any of the streaming services able to get close to giving me a good experience with their attempts at generating stuff I’d like from stuff I listen to.

Second - live and local. Traffic reports, talk about things happening in the city, sports - being live in general. A lot of my listening is to podcasts - but they fill a different niche to what live local content does. The closest I ever really get was that my Google Home would play me the ABC News feed when I woke up (back when my commute to work wasn’t 2 metres), usually but not always recorded about an hour before I woke up - but a short news update is about all that can be delivered that effectively and with that good of a turn around.

Third - ad models. Radio is really the only radio-like thing that has a proven successful business model. About the only thing less profitable than our major radio operators are the big streaming services and podcast giants - they are being sustained by being mega corps like Apple/Google, and by hoping enough growth and profits might eventually appear like Spotify.

So, those combined make me think there’s future in radio as a concept - just that they need to focus on their strengths to survive - piped in networked voice-tracking is a deathwish, people will turn that off and never come back. Invest in good playlists, throw in stuff that only a human with music knowledge would know to throw in, not just what an algorithm spits out.

Aside from music, I think you’ll continue to see pushes into more profitable niche formats - I’d be shocked if by the end of the decade there’s not an FM Talk station in each capital city.

That then leaves delivery. My personal experience with internet radio is simply being paralysed by choice - the stations I stream are just the stations I started listening to occasionally years back. Ages ago when I had heavily capped broadband, my ISP had Absolute Radio on unmetered streaming - so I gave it a shot and it’s stuck with me since. 106.4 The Zap from Belgium might be a station I’d like more, but I’m just never going to put the effort in to trying to track them down, so I find myself listening to a tiny subset of stations I’m aware of, and often it’s not worth the effort of me launching an app to go stream it so I just turn on a radio and hit a preset.

I think that makes a loop that sustains broadcast radio - you are aware of the stations because of strong brands, the easiest way to access those stations are on a radio - so you listen to a radio for radio stations, while you’d go online for the more on demand content.

So the questions in my view would be - how does a new internet only entrant create the level of name recognition to create a sustainable radio business without traditional radio? Can an internet service match the localism and live aspect of regular radio - or are people willing to lose that?

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I’ve often wondered whether a national commercial music service would work (a bit like an Absolute Radio or a Virgin Radio in the UK) and whether it could be a way of getting some of the incumbents to deliver a bit more localism (we’ll give you a national licence if you make your local services more local and less networked).

We should have used Digital Radio as an opportunity to revisit how our licencing works - looking at places like the UK for inspiration. Encourage greater diversity and new players

Its a shame that we are a market that for both TV and Radio that are so wedded to ratings, programming to a particular number (or rank) is producing some pretty turgid output

With audiences leaving radio, I dont how people think they can get them to return - is it through better music? or is it better on-air talent? or none of that?

Are those seeking out these services particularly interested in local content? It may be an issue in the future if radio tuners become less ubiquitous in items like clock radios and cars.

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Totally agree re FM talk, if somebody doesn’t bite the bullet and do a BBC Radio 2 style network or station then they’re clueless. Talk rates and older music rates, that’s your audience. Vega was too early on and not well structured enough, I’d also argue their talent wasn’t well chosen.

ABC should have done this with Classic FM already and switched Classic to DAB.

Jono Coleman and good solid entertaining radio personalities presenting talk, interviews and great music would do well.

Podcasting is great and the networks are doing a decent job at getting into it, albeit late to the party.

Internet radio is shit, too many weird stations and ones made by people who couldn’t make it in real radio. Streaming services are the future of new music, radio needs to evolve and figure out how to remain relevant.

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Some very good points there @Moe.

I lol’d at the paralysed by choice on internet radio! I totally agree. Only yesterday I thought I’d go searching for new stations - after putting that thought off for literally months. It’s not like it’s hard as its all integrated into my Marantz receiver, but I just could be bothered looking.

Anyway I gave it a go for about an hour but gave up. It just takes too long to find anything better than the favourites you’ve already found. Unless I get a recommendation from someone I don’t see how I will bother looking too far for something new.

Anyway for me that’s actually an advantage of DAB. A bit more name recognition (eg the different Triple M stations on DAB) and also a manageable list of stations to choose from.

I also agree about an FM talk station before too long in at least one of the major capitals.

And yes I think some of the major players might eventually give up on youth.

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Agree with everything you say 100%. Especially the points about BBC Radio 2 and Vega. I reckon Vega could have worked if they’d started off with the music a bit more mainstream for a start and also better execution and personalities.

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My predictions for the future of radio, hopefully covering the most significant broadcasters in this country.

Aside from the ABC stations (SBS too, where available on AM) and perhaps each city’s higher rating commercial talkback station, AM radio in at least metropolitan Australia will probably be a largely irrelevant wasteland of narrowcasters & niche formats by the end of this decade.

The recent sale of 2CH, I think is likely to be only the first in a wave of lower rating AM commercial stations in metro markets being sold off to niche broadcasters. The status of the Nine Music stations, 3MP and perhaps even 2SM will be ones to watch in coming years.

SEN, Sky and other sports/racing stations will likely survive for as long as the money from gambling advertising is sufficient.

One word and a letter comes to mind: Triple M. They’ve already got sports coverage and overnight talkback, predominately sport and/or comedy-based breakfast & drive shows. It wouldn’t shock me if at some point in the future, the Ms essentially become “younger” and slightly more musical versions of 2GB, 3AW, etc.

Hasn’t SCA been gradually moving away from youth with some of the Hit Network’s more recent changes?

ARN I think will largely stick to their current strategy in the foreseeable future, perhaps moving Kyle & Jackie O to WSFM later this decade (as they become too old for KIIS with Jonesy & Amanda becoming too old for WSFM) but that’s about it really.

They most likely won’t, but I reckon Nova Entertainment probably should seriously consider whether or not it’s worthwhile to flip the Brisbane, Adelaide & Perth versions of Nova FM over to Smooth (a format which IMO, would probably be a top rating one on FM in most markets of Australia) at some point in the future.

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I reckon 4KQ and Cruise will be the last AM music stations standing.

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It will be interesting if they will do a restack of the FM Band. Are suburban community stations here to stay? I hope so. Although I think the pressure will be on in the cities to move to FM for the commercial operators left.

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I think there will be ongoing pressure to get all the commercials onto FM at some stage in the next few years. I also think the metro Local ABC stations could potentially move to FM where Classic FM is now. I know it’s not a popular idea for some, but I think it will happen.

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I’m in Western Sydney and AM inside the house is pretty much unlistenable with all the electrical noise so this will be a worthwhile step.

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I actually miss Pandora and listened to it a far bit when it was available in Australia (I know it can be VPN’ed but I couldn’t be stuffed, too lazy). Obviously they couldn’t make it profitable in Aus.

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Yep, I agree with all of this.

4KQ and Cruise are likely to be the last AM music stations standing, but I think that will be due to their ARN ownership (a company of that scale is probably in a somewhat better position to make significant investments in their stations than the likes of Capital or ACE) more than anything else.

This isn’t something that’d be a popular move with all, quite understandably I suspect the smaller suburban/regional community stations would be fiercely against it. But if all commercial radio operators are to remain viable in the future, I think every major station in a particular market being available on FM (where possible) would be in the best interests of the industry.

I also agree about the possibility of metro ABC Local Radio moving to FM in the future, although the ABC would likely have to continue running the AM services for some time yet.

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Well apparently AM doesn’t take much useful spectrum up so should be kept for emergency broadcasting and rural broadcasting.

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How long before we see a raft of complaints that AM is too expensive to broadcast?

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Along with 2CA too.

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I agree. I assume JJJ is here to stay, ABC Classic Music might be on DAB. It might simulcast 702 AM for a while. Getting the 702 AM coverage on FM is impossible :slight_smile:. Given the size of our country.

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I could never get Pandora to be adventurous enough for my tastes. The relatively small music library (a few million songs) probably explains a lot here. The best method for music discovery- at least for older stuff- is to wade through compilations on Discogs and then use Spotify/YouTube to create a playlist. The people putting together compilations knew what they were doing, by and large, and certainly do it better than an algorithm.

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Does anyone have a good sense of the actual costs here? Is it just the need to own appropriate land and maintenance of a tower to broadcast AM? Or is something actually more expensive about transmitting AM itself?


I’d say without trying to drag the conversation too far down that path, point out that DRM30, so DRM in the Short wave/AM band, would deliver the abilities to cover huge parts of the country as a backup transmitter from the primary FM and in some areas DAB transmissions, or indeed where people would usually rely on internet radio/streaming.

The key would be cheap battery/wind up receivers - but for the role of radio as an emergency service, wide coverage from small numbers of transmission sites across Australia is a strength of AM radio, and DRM30 has those benefits, plus being able to deliver text data (possible next to analogue AM, but it uses DRM tech to do it) and a clearer signal.

I can’t imagine we’d ever be in a situation where the Mobile network, however robust, would match a transmitter model for wide area and emergency coverage.

I’m more surprised that they haven’t tried to bump SBS FM down to AM to free it up for the ABC.

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