Radio kills the radio stars
“She doesn’t do radio interviews… she says it’s a dead medium”.
A recent conversation with a publicist about an American starlet nearly knocked me for six. According to the publicist the said starlet wasn’t going to waste her time on radio, because she simply didn’t believe anyone would be listening.
While it came as a surprise to me, it wasn’t the first time I’d heard it – particularly from an American. In the US, radio has really struggled in the wake of internet broadcasting. As listeners switch off in droves, programmers have been forced to look for new ways to reach out to their audience.
But this hasn’t resulted in radio evolution – in fact just the opposite. A disturbing new trend has emerged: it’s called user generated radio.
Next month in the States sees the launch of a 24 hour digital radio station, Hot30 Jelli. It will let listeners log on and see the queue of songs on the way and allow users to “rocket” or “bomb” songs as they come up. If enough users “bomb” a song it’ll be taken off the air immediately, even if it’s only 10 seconds in.
Here at home, Austereo has decided to jump on the bandwagon and 2DayFM has decided it will simulcast Hot30 Jelli from 10pm to midnight four nights a week.
So what’s wrong with that?
Absolutely nothing. Audience feedback has always been crucial – talkback radio relies on callers to feed the conversation, and the good old request show on FM has always been one of the most successful formats. Getting listeners to drive the show is a no brainer.
What’s disturbing is that these user generated stations have scrapped the DJ altogether and tried to replace them with a computer-generated robot.
You know that robot voice. It’s the one that tells you to keep holding the line when you’ve been put on hold by your internet provider for 20 minutes. It’s the voice that makes you repeat your suburb 3 times when you’re trying to order a cab over the phone….”no N-A-R-E-M-B-U-R-N not NARRABEEN.”
It’s the voice that makes you turn left after 300m, sends you in the wrong direction and makes you seriously consider picking up your SatNav and chucking it out the window.
And this is where this revolutionary new experiment falls apart. You can’t have a radio show without a personality behind it. Listeners won’t cop it.
Radio is a magical medium – and the beauty of it comes from the connection you make with the person behind the microphone. People establish a relationship in their mind with the voice coming out of their speakers. They make friends with them, or in some cases (enter Kyle Sandilands) they make enemies.
I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve had radio crushes on. I spent my high school years getting giggly and swooning over Merrick Watts. I’d hear his name and blush.
While I was at uni I’d find any excuse to be driving in my car between midday and 3pm so I could do the tacky lunchtime quiz on TripleJ with my ladycrush, Myf Warhurst, I never actually rang in to enter the competition, but everyday I would find myself playing along in my car and screaming the answers over my steering wheel.
Radio presenters become our companion. You can do ten things at once and still follow what they’re saying. They are driving around with you in your car, in your kitchen while you’re making dinner, and they can be your sparring partner in the gym.
It’s this companionship that led to John Laws having such a following around the country during his 50 years behind the golden microphone. It’s why Alan Jones is considered to be such a political influence, even though I can count on one hand the number of times the Prime Minister has been on his program. These people are respected by their audiences, and they’re opinion matters.
Like them or loathe them, they’re the reason why we turn the radio on.
Austereo isn’t the only broadcaster tinkering around with the idea of a show without a host. Last month Vega in Sydney (owned by DMG) announced that they were axing Tony Squires and Mikey Robins from their breakfast program and replacing them with…... no one.
Instead, you’ll hear songs, followed by a basic announcement telling you what you just heard. Whether or not the announcer will tell you who they are is still to be decided, but you get the picture. They’re no longer the glue that binds a show together or the magician who waves the wand…. merely the monkey who pushes the buttons.
Breakfast is considered to be the crucial timeslot in radio - the theory being if you can win the audience over with your breakfast show they’ll generally hang around for the rest of the day.
A major metropolitan station deciding to scrap the personality that holds the show together speaks volumes. Clearly the bosses running these stations are too busy worrying about what’s in the bank. I mean, what’s cheaper than a computer generated voice or a couple of nameless announcers?
Well a quick wake-up call to the decision makers of the airwaves. This isn’t revolutionary radio. What you’re offering is no different to what any standard mp3 player can do. My iPod shuffle let’s me program my own playlist and a nameless voice tells me what I’m listening to while I’m working out, on the bus, or driving my car.
Unlike Jelli, I don’t have to wait for a thousand other punters to “bomb” a song before it changes. I can press a button and do it myself.
If these recent experiments are any indication of where our airwaves are heading then it looks like the only thing I’ll be pushing on my radio is the off button.
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