Phil Riley at Orion Media does not believe in fortune telling, astrology and the like. Surprising really. Given he is a Gemini.
But. If I put on my chiffon scarf and gaze into the crystal ball and look forward ten years; What do I see?
I see a very different sort of radio presenter.
Few would doubt radio itself will still be around by 2022. The first radio programme was on Christmas Eve 1906. Great it was too: a bit of a speech; a phonograph record; a live violin solo; then a Bible reading. It's not changed that much since then. It's still records and chat, really. OK, not too many Bible readings on Capital, but you get the gist.
As we approach the 105th anniversary of that fab show, there's simply no evidence that this great medium is on the wane. Yes, some miseries will draw graphs suggesting there is already decline in time spent listening, suggesting a generation of light radio listeners will slide into the most populous older demographics soon and then we are all doomed. Yet older folk have traditionally always listened to the radio more than younger folk. Your life changes; and you change. Older folk go out together on cold days wearing matching cagoules. Young folk don't. People change.
What is changing is the relationship of listeners with their radio stations and with the presenters. Tony Blackburn tells the story of how he used to want to descend to the small boats full of eager listeners which ventured into the North Sea to see the '60s DJs onboard Radio Caroline. He suggests he was advised that this was not the thing to do: listeners 'wanted' their idols to remain slightly distant. Just so the magic remained. Even in 2011, the best presenters are no longer 'stars', they are just people with more friends than normal folk, thanks to their useful platforms. That will be more the case by 2022.
The days of a presenter opening a coffee morning will be gone. They'll be there, and they'll get their listeners there, but they will not be the headline act. I hated those gigs anyway. They ask you to open the event; then ask you to stay to draw the 150-prize raffle. At the end.
Successful presenters are already starting to do what will be the norm in ten years. They live their lives openly on-air , and then the relationship continues off-air too for the remainder of the day and night in social media. Studio technology will adapt accordingly too. There must be a better way than ever more screens. Easy access to social media will be part of what the presenter does, not an adjunct to it. Social media 'going down' will be as serious as a transmitter failure. A presenter who does not master this platform as well as they do the words they say on-air this will not be employed. It would be like employing someone now on-air who cannot speak.
Will the majority of radio still be live? Yes. It's interesting how even the TV pendulum towards non-live has now swung back. Life changes too quickly to record the future.
Payday for the presenter in 2022 will be interesting. In commercial radio, they'll be paid more like sales executives are now. There'll be a modest station retainer, and then fees from clients for the sponsorship of programmes, endorsement and product placement. The latter will be the big bucks for major talent. A key station-client relationship will be via the presenter. That will eradicate overnight those annoying 'commercial reads' we hear at present; where a presenter's goal currently appears to be to deal with the material as unenthusiastically as possible. In 2022, they'll need every word to work; and the best presenters will be paid the most by the biggest clients. The presenter will become a persuader, building the closest relationships with listeners and then selling that relationship to a brand.
Will the presenter still be on FM? Yes. To what extent will they be on DAB? That's actually a tougher question. What will break through is the scale of 'non-transmitted' radio, In the next ten years, an 'online' big-brand live programme stream which does not appear on FM, AM or DAB will attract the scale, influence and revenue to be truly part of our industry.
Who will the presenter be? They'll certainly reflect the great tapestry of the UK more accurately than they do now, in sex, race, colour and creed. And they'll likely be a bit older, on average. More mature commercial radio markets than ours already have older presenters; and as the medium moves to un-substitutable content. The experience only life brings will be a key attribute.
Which formats will rule? As listeners have ever greater access to exploring music; and exposure to it, stations will move towards targeting mood and feel in their music rather than demographic. Even genre-focuses will be less powerful. As music streams become increasingly available elsewhere maybe not even defined as 'radio', the importance of personality to our medium will grow. There'll also be better prospects for total talk formats: not only traditional 'BBC speech', but news talk and personality talk; and a younger breed of 'talk' (in the mould of Richard Bacon/Iain Lee).
There. All looks fine to me. Am I now a futurologist like James Cridland? Alas no. Like many enjoying the peak of their radio ride in the early 21st Century I am simply a reformed jingle anorak. In 2022, there'll be people better-equipped than us to tackle the new challenges. But still, on this day in 2022, someone somewhere will be about to give a time-check and say something which stirs some emotion of some sort. That is radio. And it is here forever. Actually, thinking about it, maybe not the timecheck.
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