Are We Witnessing The Re-evolution Of Radio?

In Britain, you may still be ‘tuning’ into radio as we know it or maybe you’re not as we know it in the traditional sense, but for up-and-coming artists still trying to crack the code, breaking the code at radio is still one of the hardest codes to crack.

Understanding radio and making a record that works on radio all ties into that path to delivering a chart hit – for most. While radio gives you one big way, it’s not the only way, but it’s a way that for the present time is not going away. As an artist, if your sights are set on radio than don’t sniff at it, radio is a re-evolution in the making.

Trying to unlock the British radio landscape is also about figuring out how to put radio into the mix and as an artist that also means you’ve got to mix it up – that begins by checking out todays radio industry insiders report ‘Rajar’.

Inside The Rajar Report

The Rajar report for the latest quarter is also pointing to a re-evolution in the radio landscape but the key isn’t just looking at the figures it’s by taking a look behind the figures. If you want to know about the future re-evolution we’re going to still need to start with the figures but it’s also vital to go behind the airwaves and focus in a little closer on that coveted group of 15-24 listeners.

With a large share of that 11-24 group targeted through the big stations and into the U.K’s capital city, we turn our eye to London first. The latest figures show that BBC Radio 1’s share of London listeners took another dip posting a reach of 10.33 million listeners which went down from 10.56m last quarter and 10.43m last year. The network’s share of listening also fell to 6.1% down from 6.5% last quarter and 6.6% last year. Commercial radio stations also saw positions shift with Capital London overtaking Kiss with 2.077m listeners while Kiss London’s weekly reach hit 2.015m.

Capital XTRA saw a massive leap climbing up 38% in reach to 569,000 listeners quarter on quarter. Amongst the digital-only stations, BBC Radio 1Xtra had a reach of 982,000 weekly listeners across the period which was down from 1.15m last quarter and 1.11m last year, while BBC Asian Network drew 563,000 listeners, which also went down compared to 589,000 last quarter and 619,000 last year.

Nationally the landscape is also changing and Capital Xtra now has more listeners than BBC 1Xtra nationally. But while it may look initially like Capital Xtra has taken some major gains away from BBC 1Xtra what the numbers don’t yet show is how much internet radio is carving into both the share of FM and digital-only listeners.

What’s Next?

In 2015 alot has changed in the world of radio, and for the naysayers who may want to ring the death knoll for radio listening habits, as streaming continues to change our listening habits, it may be a long while yet before many people are willing to tear themselves away from the radio waves and switch to on-demand listening.

London radio already has longtime big players like Kiss, Capital, 1Xtra, Radio One with newcomers like Rinse, NTS, Reprazent, Bang, and Radar entering the mix. The future however also points to the players who dare to be different and offer their audiences something different – it’s not about entering the game to compete it’s about carving a new lane.

And there’s a different kind of radio that’s re-evolving and it could point to the decline of radio as we know it today. It may not mean people aren’t listening to radio, it may just mean they’re listening to a different kind of radio.

Ask how the next generation of listeners are tuning into radio, then you’ve got to ask where radio is heading? To go there, you need to know that new audiences want ‘real shit’ and it’s there where everything changes. Carving out a new lane, means cultivating a new audience and that’s a major key. Young adults are increasingly looking at traditional radio as something that doesn’t quite relate to their reality, and with the questions raised about the lack of diversity hanging over every major organisation it’s where radio needs to look closer into the future. Stations like Radar, Reprezent, NTS, Rinse are stations that are playing the music their audiences are into and in a way that they like to consume it.

So looking to the future, while today’s numbers don’t lie, what could future numbers actually tell us. Are young adults interested in listening to a station that plays the same 20 tracks day in day out when they don’t really have to anymore in the age of streaming? Listeners may not have had the plethora of choices back in the day, radio listening was restricted pure and simple by the only legal platforms that were providing it, but the game is slowly starting to change again.

Rajar 1

If digital is growing, it’s also worth asking who’s buying a DAB radio, is it still accessible to the young generation of consumers entering the market? For the younger generation who live on their phones how long before networks across the board will be competing to offer unlimited data allowances? After that is it game over for the future of FM and DAB radio?

Will the Internet Kill and Revive Radio?

Internet radio stations in London are making radio interesting again and getting all kinds of different people behind the scenes and getting a different kind of person on-air.  They are influential people, they are young people and they have an audience on Twitter who are followers first before they become listeners, they’ve got growing voices because they’re very explicit with their voices. Once you put that voice on-air, you’re giving them an extra platform and you’re going out to a different audience that wants to listen to them and hear what it is they’re going to say or talk about.

Competition is coming from every direction today, but when it comes to the music scene its hybridisation on radio is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Back in the 90’s when pirate radio station could just play dancehall literally all day, or just play R&B literally all day, or Hip-Hop all day, the only other places to hear multi-genre black music would have been on Choice FM or an alternative with dance music would have taken listeners to Kiss FM.

Protest outside of Global Radio headquarters calling for the media giant to bring back Reggae, Soca and Gospel music programming to Choice FM.

Replicating the rules of an older radio generation may still be working wonders for the Radio 2 numbers, and digital-only stations like 6 Music are making sweet music for the 90’s era radio gen. But if you didn’t grow up in the 90’s and had no experience of that, the generation of the internet operates radio in an entirely new way. If you ask a 15 to 21 year old if they want to tune into a station that plays one genre of music all day long, take a wild guess what the answer might be. The difference is, to play one genre of music all day there needs to be a constant variety in that one genre and it’s got to be enough to feed that audience constantly. The main difference today that’s changed the kind of climate that bred pirate radio is that the quantity from the underground scene has dissipated from being about one genre and spread into multiple genres all over the internet.

Reprezent started as a youth FM station in 2011 and really took off by 2014, it began to change not only the kinds of presenters we were hearing but the kinds of listeners that were being drawn in. With ‘new name DJ’s’ attracting more ‘new names, it was also attracting a ‘new audience’ who knew these DJs/Presenters before they were on radio. They started to build out a new kind of radio listener and a new different kind of community on radio. Playing to their strengths with young adults, the station didn’t need to play to the string of their competition. While Reprezent came into the game early and soon found itself locked into challenges with funding, another kind of internet radio station started to get into the game.

More listeners around the world are interested in what’s going on in London and it’s a very interesting time for the music scene in London right now. This is where Radar Radio online comes in and they’re moving in a whole new kind of direction in London.  They’re not trying to compete with the existing stations, their competition exists on a new level. DJ’s and presenters are vying for the biggest show on the station and getting the most exclusive tracks on their show. By creating a culture, where DJs or presenters are adding more into the equation, they’re slowly innovating the sound of a show. Twitter followers are turning into tuned listeners, who tweet tracks that are playing every 15/20 seconds and getting to share the excitement with other listeners all on Twitter. There’s no need to call in to a DJ anymore, you’re calling into a tight knit community online at the same time. And Radar are getting away with having no playlists, their audience embraces the DJ’s and presenters not just because of their music but because they feel a lot closer to them – they know them already.

The focal may be local for stations like Radar Online but they’re going out to a different world. A world that also drums to the Beat of one – and their focal is global, Beats 1 are single-handedly revolutionising radio in a way that’s almost super-real.  If you’re sitting at home at 11pm on a Saturday night listening to Dr Dre or Drake present a show, that’s an experience in a whole other dimension that’s never happened on radio before. If you’re a fan of Elton John or a fan of Jaden Smith, or whether you’re being introduced to new music from the U.K through Julie or Stormzy it’s an altogether different kind of experience. Adding personalities like DJ Khaled who are sealing the deal not just on Beats 1 but on Apple TV, Apple Music is evolving into a celebrity led internet radio and streaming service that’s has bigger than life personalities like Mary J Blige and Pharrell.

If the game has changed, how long before the changes start seeping through to the wider industry, how long can a station keep to a playlist policy? A policy that’s increasingly irrelevant for Beats 1 or Radar Online. If you’re an artist and you’re looking to radio programming to deliver you that chart hit, the concept of playlists, music that’s on rotation, also gets you that ultimate radio rotation.

So why is Beats 1 revolutionising radio? It’s not hard to posit that Apple are getting us ready for a future that doesn’t exist yet, one thats not even happened yet, but there’s no doubt that internet radio is the future of radio.

Where Radio was once seen as the first source for music it has over the years evolved into the place where you’re only likely to hear music a guaranteed hit. What’s the future for in-car listening, cars were upgraded to DAB radio a long while back, so how long before in-car WiFi goes across the board. How quickly will listeners transition to internet radio in their cars?

For an artist that’s making music right now, getting that relationship with the DJ’s rather than radio rotation is becoming the key. These days not many young people can imagine listening the same station all day long but reality is these days you can’t tell what any new listener may be into. Artists need to keep experimenting, even if that means being conflicted about the choices between staying independent or going to a major label. Cracking radio by adding the power of a major label to mix in that coveted radio factor might not be essential to the mix, one artist who’s thrown something entirely new into the mix is Stormzy.

Everything for Stormzy is happening for the first time and it’s happening for the industry for the first time as well. The way he’s breaking through, has as much to do with his music as it has to do with the multiple platforms that he’s using to reach new fans and it’s spreading through his personality. From his early appearance as a guest on Lady Leshurr’s show on Reprezent to presenting his own monthly show on Reprezent, to his recent gig at Beats 1 London, Stormzy has also been cornering radio while being an artist at the same time.

2015 marked a year where building a community and growing the scene, came with the realisation for many artists and DJ’s that to compete you didn’t need other people to do badly in order for you to do good. People doing good, just meant that you could probably do better, and grow even further. It’s also becoming about building a lasting legacy one that creates something new that can go further down the line. There’s a much bigger picture and some people have the vision to look alot further and take some chances, while others may just be playing this a little more short-sighted and can’t see how far this can actually go.

One thing is undebatable, there’s a passionate new energy and enthusiasm in London and throughout the UK, with a drive and determination that’s feeding that energy and it’s inspiring others to follow. There’s no longer one way to rack up those numbers anymore.