I have recently been reading “Digital Adaptation” by Paul Boag (Smashing Magazine). It talks about how organisations need to adapt and put digital first, and not leave it as an afterthought (perhaps as a part of the Marketing or IT department).

This got me thinking, how can this thinking be applied to the humble radio station, to help us place digital at the front of our minds?

Let’s be clear. When I say “digital”, I absolutely do not mean DAB+, HD Radio or DRM. I mean mobile and online. As far as I’m concerned, these digital broadcast technologies aren’t where consumers are – they are online and mobile.

Radio used to be cutting edge. It was the cutting edge broadcast technology for a while. Then some clever people worked out how to broadcast pictures too. This didn’t kill radio – the two existed side by side. However, families slowly stopped sitting around the radio at home and listening together. I think it’s fair to say now days people mostly listen to radio on the go, in their cars and on public transport. Maybe it’s on in the background at work.

Now we have the internet. Radio, TV and the internet are currently co-existing just fine. However, something interesting has started to happen. With the rise of mobile devices and fast data networks to support them, we are seeing more and more people forget about their radio and stream content online instead. Radio is loosing it’s exclusive position in the car dashboard. It’s already lost it’s position on public transport where phones and tablets reign supreme.

Apple CarPlay - Car DashboardSuddenly, we find ourselves in a position where the entertainment choices aren’t limited by the number of licenses the government have allocated in a region. There are no limits. People can get whatever they want, in any part of the world.

If at this point you are thinking “but mobile networks don’t have enough bandwidth for everyone to stream content all at once”, then remember that every day networks are allocating more and more bandwidth to this and the Digital Dividend in Australia is only helping this.

What do we do about the car manufactures squeezing us out? Shall we fight this change with lobby groups and campaigns? Please no. We’ve already wasted much time lobbying to have FM chips in phones. Why pick another battle we can’t win?

What we need to do is give digital the highest priority, and let it be at the centre of what we do.

You’d be hard pressed to find a major radio station without a website. Most of the networks in Australia have solid presences, and indeed are doing quite well in terms of visitor numbers. However, too often we see radio station websites treated as an after thought in terms of content. The digital content team is separated from the on air content team.

Often times, website content is created like this:

  1. Announcer does something interesting on air.
  2. Later that day/week, a producer or announcer grabs the audio from the logger.
  3. Web person uploads it.

What is wrong here? The website is treated as an after thought. At no point does anyone think “Oh, maybe this should go online at the same time as on air”.

What we need is for the internet to be placed right at the top of the content creation food chain. And why wouldn’t you? The potential audience for digital is much greater than any broadcast signal. It makes business sense to go after this bigger audience.

Digital Culture

How to Prioritise Digital at your Radio Station

  1. Get management buy-in.
  2. You’re not a “Radio Station”. You are a “Media Outlet”. Embrace it in more than just marketing material and shareholder reports.
  3. Make it the responsibility of your entire on-air staff to contribute content to the web, and set measurable goals and guidelines to ensure this happens appropriately.
  4. Work on a plan to bring all of your on-air segments online. Consider transcripts, feature articles, photos, video and audio content. Bonus Tip: In the context of a Christian radio station, the place to start is with your Ministry Spots.
  5. Go after a bigger online audience. Consider building up your SEO efforts, as well as Social Media content marketing. Remember: There is nothing to stop online from being bigger than on air. Much, much bigger. And as a result, more profitable too.
  6. Constantly iterate online. There’s no point doing a big website relaunch every few years. Have in-house developers constantly iterating based on user needs and technical changes.
  7. Be on every platform. Websites, responsive design, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Car Dashboards, and whatever other platforms pop up. Don’t waste time here. You need to secure your position before it’s too late.
  8. Reconsider your online brand. Most station websites are named after their radio station’s call sign, frequency, or are simply suffixed with “FM”. Consider making your online brands independent of this. A frequency means nothing online and will become increasingly irrelevant.
  9. Innovate. Don’t be afraid to break out of the box, and build something new and unique. This is where having in-house developers is essential. It’s not a waste of time to be engaging in R&D.

These are just a few steps towards becoming digitally focused. I suggest you read Boag’s entire book. It should only take a few hours, and is well worth the read.