Picture: 123RF/TZIDO
Picture: 123RF/TZIDO

Radio stations are going to need to become much more innovative if they want to keep their audiences, particularly younger audience members. This was one of the overriding messages emanating from a recent Radio Awards digital event hosted by Tim Zunckel.

Following the 10th annual Radio Awards a panel comprising Kaya FM MD, Greg Maloka (winner of the Commercial Radio Station of the Year) together with Leanne Kunz, station manager at Tuks FM (winner in the Campus Radio Station of the Year category) were joined by media guru Gordon Muller and head of marketing at African Bank, Kaibe Mollo, to discuss some of the issues facing the radio industry both now and post Covid-19.

Not only has Covid-19 ravaged the world economy but it has irrevocably changed our world. Radio stations have been forced to work hard at innovation simply to stay on air, said Kunz. “We’ve had to change our business model entirely to focus on digital channels. Streaming has shown massive growth during this time and digital will play an even larger role than ever in our everyday lives - particularly within the radio space.”

For Mollo, the pandemic has meant a shift in focus - and spend - from certain platforms to others - television and radio being the prime beneficiaries. “We’ve looked for the appropriate media environment to find our numbers and have traditionally always tried to use radio for a 360 degree experience; from the relationships we have built with presenters, to leveraging radio on social media channels and on the ground activations.”

Muller pointed out that the radio landscape looks much the same in 2020 as it did a few years ago. “There has been the addition of some new stations, but essentially, radio has not progressed beyond trying to sell its audiences and radio is still measured in silos,” he said.

While The Radio Awards judge entries across a number of diverse categories, audience numbers are the only one that seem to count with advertisers - and this is distressing, said Muller. “We need to start looking at the value and the quality of the audiences and not just the numbers alone,” he argued.

Maloka agreed that radio needs to show value beyond its numbers. “We all want to present our advertisers with high numbers, but we should be balancing this with our ability to provide a variety of platforms and opportunities.” He pointed out that radio stations are actually ecosystems that cater to different audiences - some may want to watch you, others will want to listen - the idea is to talk to people’s interests and concerns. We need to move away from the traditional radio environment and prove that we are a multiplatform environment from which to start conversation, he said.

FM is simply a channel and not the be all and end all of radio, said Maloka, adding that what counts is the different platforms one can offer to start a conversation. Post Covid-19, radio stations will have to fundamentally change, he said, adding that there will be financial questions into the viability of working from home, team numbers and the like. “There is going to be a lot of cost cutting, remembering that we entered the pandemic from a low base with a lazy economy,” he pointed out.

Those stations that have created a number of spaces and places from which listeners can access them will survive the pandemic, predicted Maloka. “Ultimately content remains king, regardless of the platform,” he added.

Are brands are leveraging their spend with radio in the right ways? African Bank, said Mollo, leverages its radio spend beyond the station and uses various opportunities to engage with audiences. “It’s not only about adverts. We also look for audiences who listen online or perhaps they follow the presenter,” he said, adding that radio is about engaging with audiences, answering their questions and providing them with information, rather than talking at them.

“Radio is more than a rational or functional platform - and the very best thing about it is that you can speak to audiences in their own language,” said Mollo.

On the downside, however, measurement is a challenge when it comes to working with smaller, community radio stations. “Our planning partners tell us to look for reach and numbers,” he revealed. “With that in mind, most brands require stats around confirmed listenership. Unfortunately, it’s easier to bank on stations that can confirm the reach and target audiences. That said, our mandate is to provide consumers with education around financial health and here we have partnered successfully with community stations.”

Radio is about personality, said Maloka. For radio to find its place within the community it serves, a relationship needs to be built on trust. Essentially, radio stations trade in trust and a large part of this is having the right people on air, at the right time. As such, presenters must be appropriate, relevant and relatable to form that bond - the host of a parenting show must be a parent themselves, for example, he argued, adding that ultimately, radio personalities are far more than a voice.

The big take-out:

 The radio industry needs to focus on innovation and invest in its youth markets to stay relevant. Critically, it has to add value beyond audience numbers.

Equally important is nurturing young talent and building a pipeline for the industry going forward. “This is why it’s so important to find and grow talent at campus level,” Kunz said, adding that if this link is weak, the entire industry is affected.

“Training and mentorship are crucial for the breeding of well rounded and adjusted people to feed into the commercial system,” she said, concurring with Maloka that radio personalities need more than a good voice.

There should be no debate around brands investing in young talent, said Mollo. “Many brands are already invested in this conversation by supporting industry bodies, providing mentorship, bursaries and internships. This is something corporates want to be involved in as they’re able to see the benefits of investing into the future.”

In conclusion, each panel member was asked to provide a brief parting shot. Kunz emphasised the importance of investing into young talent and the youth market as a whole; Muller said stations should stop selling numbers and offer more value; while both Mollo and Maloka said that connections are critical.

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