Radio is the overlooked medium and yet it reaches a huge chunk of the population. Comms people need to spend more time thinking about it, one experienced lecturer says.
by Richard Horsman
There's a medium that reaches nine out of ten adults in the UK every week. The number of publications is expanding, and canny marketing means offshoot brands are growing the appeal of the core product. It's the only mass medium we can legally consume whilst driving a car. Yet the chances are, as communications professionals, you largely ignore it.
The medium is radio. The audience is remarkably consistent. It's been at or around 90 per cent reach for decades. After a period of turbulence in the commercial sector its internal ownership battles are largely resolved with Global, Bauer and News Corp the dominant players. Brands such as Capital, Smooth, Magic and Talk are gaining sophistication. The technical roll-out of digital DAB radio is nearly complete, and most new cars can pick it up.
The problem is that radio just isn't sexy. It's always suffered from the tyranny of pictures; how many Chief Execs don't demand their picture up front, centre, preferably in colour and ideally moving? What TV wants, TV gets, even if that means moving the time of the big announcement. It's ephemeral. It's easy to impress the boardroom with a file full of newspaper cuttings, much more difficult to capture equivalent local radio broadcasts that probably reach many more lives.
The digital revolution has made things worse. There are gongs to be won for innovative online campaigns, and just when you've got your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram strategies working fine Snapchat comes along to disrupt it all. Radio keeps on delivering, but it's not shiny and there's nothing to project on the big screen at the awards ceremony.
I worry in my own world, training the journalists of tomorrow, that the skills of radiocraft are being lost. The curriculum becomes ever more crowded as employers demand video, live-tweeting and SEO optimisation skills on top of finding and writing a good story that's legally safe. A generation of journalists and PR professionals is growing up who don't use their ears, creatively deaf to the potential of breaking news, storytelling and communications in the theatre of the mind.
Which is a real shame. Because buried in the stats it's easy to overlook that one in five Americans heard a podcast this week. As did more than one in ten Brits. Radio is evolving, whilst the skills to make it are relegated to the fringes. I for one will be resisting that trend.