Monday, 27 November 2017

From 5G to Smart Speakers - RadioTechCon 2017

As far as Radio conference venues go, the original official home of the BBC (1923-1932) is pretty hard to beat. This year for TechCon, attendees gathered at the headquarters of the IET at historic Savoy Place.

After my fine announcing of the fire escapes, the day kicked off fittingly with a tribute from the BBC’s Angela Stevenson to the rich engineering heritage of our great industry. The pioneers who persevered were pictured in sepia, not least W. T. Ditcham (who, in his Marconi days, had been the first European voice ever to be heard on radio in America) alongside his huge 6kW transmitter.

We were reminded about the engineers' efforts in World War I, hiding in tents and intercepting signals; and about Dame Nellie Melba’s valiant broadcast debut, sponsored by the Daily Mail. Mention too of the truly wonderful Peter Eckersley, who became the BBC’s first Chief Engineer, but whose relations with Reith were to become strained.

Then to the future - and 5G is on the way. Andy Murphy from the BBC defined it, as we imagined, as enhanced mobile broadband. That means it’ll have the capacity to handle all manner of things from consumer to business and public sector. The extra capability being as much about the quantity of usages, as much as some of them being demanding of capacity. From lights to wind turbines and washing machines. He also stressed that it would offer higher reliability, much needed for its critical potential uses.

Using higher frequency spectrum (700 MHz, 3.5 GHz and 26-28 GHz) with software-driven solutions, the network can be partitioned well for different users, with defined parameters for each. Important though our own industry uses may be, vehicle to vehicle communication will likely be seen as more so on the arrival of driverless cars.

Whilst it was envisaged 5G would start its rollout in June next year, there’ll now be an ‘early drop’ in time for Winter Olympics trial.

Could 5G replace broadcast? The speakers agreed it could constitute an ever-growing part of our listening cake, not least as it handles greater traffic with ease, albeit the familiar challenges of coverage and consumer cost (data) remain. There was some concern too about the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' - given that access would be seen increasingly  as something which should be a utility for all

Mark Henry from EE, battling on as he recovered from his broken leg, addressed coverage, reminding us they are heading for 95% population coverage for 4G, having risen from 40% in 2015. 5G, he suggested, would take longer, and his EBU colleague suggested longer still, owing to the rollout complexity. 

Simon Fell’s EBU slides were replete with detail, and we’d expect nothing less. His examples even included hospital use - controlling everything from a wheelchair to a bed. Simon talked about some American in car experiments too, with signals robust even at 60 mph. He also cited one original demand of the standard was that it should be able to provide non-SIM access to provide for free-to-air TV. I questioned him whether the same could presumably allow for free-to-air radio too, at which he nodded.

To Virtual Reality, and Roger Hall from Global offered a practical demo of their genius virtual training studio. He knows what it’s like when programmers and engineers get calls at 2.00am when their dim new freelancer has forgotten how to put their desk into sustain. Having introduced ‘driving licences’ for presenters, this VR solution now offers a chance for a hands-on interactive guided tour round a virtual Leicester Square studio. Trainees are told which buttons to press when, and quizzed to see they’ve remembered. There are also disaster rehearsals too - from studio evacuation to ‘what to do if the ads play over the songs’.

Global's virtual studio took three months to develop, and is available both in London and around the UK thanks to a flight-case version. It’s a stunning cost-efficient training idea from an impressively together commercial company. I like the idea of 'driving licences' too. Maybe we should extend that across the industry to basic presentation skills.

Happy Christmas. This year, smart speakers will be a big thing, and without doubt, we’re all highly likely to live in smart homes by the middle of the next decade. Dan McQuillin, of Broadcast Bionics, spelt out the perils first. He reminded us of one US presentation which said the potential was 'magical', but one which had ‘turned our daughter into a raging arsehole’. It’s true. Those touchscreen toddlers will soon be replaced by kids who just shout and expect something to happen.

The always impressive Mike Hill from RadioPlayer reminded us that of all the entertainment audio people choose on their smart speaker, radio stations lead the way. He weighed up the strengths of each smart brand, with Amazon Echo, armed with Alexa, great for linking up with shopping and the wider world; Google Home (‘plug in Glade air freshener’) being typically brilliant with its artificial intelligence; the Microsoft option good for Skype; and the delayed Apple Home pod probably the best sounding but most costly option.

Mike told of the journey of the RadioPlayer skill. Skills, it seems, require the devising of a series of instructions - from 'wake' to 'invoke' a named skill, and 'utterance' of what you want it to do, and how. RadioPlayer was constructed to play a named station, or a station with nearly the name you’ve mentioned, or recommend a similar station, with that result informed by analysis of RadioPlayer data on listener crossover. I'd love to see all that data.

Radio evokes emotion and Mike reminded us how much we ask of a listener when seeking to harness that passion. We expect them to remember how to get in touch - and bother so to do. Mike demoed: ‘tell the studio I’m enjoying the show’ and Alexa duly despatched a message to the relevant station's Broadcast Bionics dashboard. ‘Tell the studio I hate/love this song’ was similarly channelled. (Being a believer that the listener relationship is with the presenter or station rather than ‘studio’, I do hope it can also be programmed to ‘tell station/presenter name’ rather than ‘studio’ - but I see no reason why this brilliant thing also couldn’t).

Alexa can similarly answer questions about what’s playing. Who’s the interviewee on Desert Island Discs? What song is this? Test your station on RadioPlayer, pleaded Mike, and review your metadata.

It’s all hugely exciting and yet another example of how radio is set to rule its second century. We must understand it well, and thanks to Mike we are starting to. The risk is others may steal our clothes, but there is no reason for that to happen given our unrivalled understanding of the audio world. Mike talked too both of the excellent relationship with Amazon - but of some of the challenges, for example in finding just the right catch up content when requested by voice command

Audio over IP is now commonplace, getting audio round stations with far less wire, and the ever-smiling Jamie Laundon from the BBC talked about the challenges of the interoperability of products from different vendors. One helpful move is the, shortly to be updated, AES67 - the ‘O Negative’ of audio networking.

Archiving next, and a timely topic. I’m always amazed how many lovely stations call me, Stephanie Hirst, Andy WalmsleyAircheck Downloads, Richard White or like minded anoraks when they need their own vintage audio. Surely the wealth of archive from this great medium of ours cannot just be down to us and our old cassettes or stealing 5" spools from skips.

The BBC is taking it seriously - and is now digitising with a frenzy, for example recently committing all BBC Wales material to audio cryogenics. Steve Daly told us they’d not only preserved the tapes, they’d preserved the tape machines to play them on, and got through 37 litres of alcohol and goodness knows how many cotton buds in transferring treasured audio from crumbling quarter-inch tape. He also mentions the BBC has archived its ceremonial spoons. So now you know.

The challenge is clear, the lifespan of the medium appears to diminish, as the the storage density grows. Messages carved in stone last a long time, but you don’t get too much info on a tombstone. Do check the DPP guide to digital archiving.

Who is the most famous engineer? When children in the North East were asked that question, they answered with the name of Coronation Street’s Kevin Webster. 

Little wonder that, over lunch, senior engineering heads were lamenting to me the challenges of recruitment. Carol Harrison from STEM Ambassadors talked persuasively on the matter, and the challenges of getting children interested in the STEM subjects (science, technology. engineering and mathematics) in the first place. She cited the increase in forensic science students following CSI. (Can we make radio engineering 'sexy'?  Maybe a charismatic Chief Engineer at Radio Weatherfield?) In blunt terms, she felt far too many students were pursuing subjects they were unlikely to put to good use, and our all too rare graduates are simply being tempted abroad to countries where their jobs have the status they warrant. 

I’ve never been so persuaded by a talk. Carol invited you, if you work in the technical field, to volunteer to spend an hour in a school talking of what you do. As an ambassador, allow the kids to see what is possible - not least if you are talking at the school you went to. You could change the course of a child’s life.

In the U.K, there have not yet been cases of broadcasters being hacked, although a dozen US stations have suffered. Denis Onuoha from Arqiva is Chairman of the AIB Cyber Security Work Group. He reflected on the categories of cyber security threats, from computer network exploitation where your data is seized and used by ne'er-do-wells and about which you know little until they get in touch with their cheeky demands, to computer network attacks where you become aware with alarming speed. He reminded us of the Wannacry hack in May, where simply keeping PCs up to date with the latest patches would have helped.

Denis spoke of simple fixes, reiterating the recent changed guidance that you should use sufficiently complex passwords you can remember rather than silly ones you need to write down. Avoid the user-name 'admin' temptation too. That's just daft. You can't stop everything, said Denis, but window locks make your house less likely to be burgled than next door's.

He goes further, sending in 'red teams', disguised as cleaners or receptionists to test vulnerabilities, and even mock phishing emails to see who responds, and then patiently educates the red-faced would-be victims.

Object Based Audio is like baking a cake,according to Lauren Ward, a postgraduate researcher at the University of Salford. Rather than deliver the cake, you deliver the ingredients, a recipe and someone to mix them. If you don’t like raisins - just leave them out. In the radio world using object based techniques, a listener wanting fewer sound effects or quieter music, can adjust their personal mix. A great way of avoiding those TV complaints about mumbling actors. Do take part in her experiment at

An endearing presentation came from Scott McGerty from Spark, a community/student station in Sunderland. Knowing where his young audience spend their time, he wanted to stream live at no budget. With help from an assortment of phones, his wife’s iPad and then a web cam and an iRig, lo, his show was live on Facebook. For multiple cameras and a vision mix, he identified some useful open access software, and even fixed up talkback and graphic overlay. In short, he insisted that with little technical knowledge or cash - but with a lot of curiosity and experimentation - you can achieve a great deal.

How can you maintain a transmitter without killing yourself or others? Nigel Turner, RF Safety Officer for Arqiva, introduced us to the physics of EMW and how the body absorbs them. He knows. He’s been up a few masts in his time, sometimes in bad conditions. Whatever the weather, he said, it’s worse up a mast. He shared with us the perils of lone working, asbestos, working at heights, electricity and, of course, RF, which can cook you like a microwave oven.

His diagram reminded us of the size of wavelengths, with the Long Wave waves being about as long as a football pitch, and dainty VHF (FM) ones being the length of, well, a human being. No wonder we absorb RF energy, acting almost as a conveniently sized antenna. He reminded us that the ICNIRP guidance has now been effectively cemented into law as the CEMFAW regs 2016.

He finished by dressing up poor Dave Walters in full gear to demonstrate the precautions taken as an engineer scales the mast. You are harnessed, but, as Nigel pointed out, it still hurts if you fall.

Finally to that dark day of the Manchester Arena bombing. Ken Phillips, who's responsible for the team behind BBC radio's outside broadcasts shared the planning for the #OneLoveManchester benefit concert, described by some as ‘this generation’s Live Aid’.

He talked of the call which began the whole affair, and of his crucial initial task - planning food and accommodation for the technical team at the venue. Whatever happens, you need that. 

His colleague at Audio Factory, now the BBC’s platform for delivering audio over the internet joined in to explain how they got the signal round the country and indeed around the world, including Australia and the huge array of iHeart stations. He covered the challenges he routinely faces in generating the right flavours of audio packages for HTTP delivery; and also mentioned the latency which offered a serendipitous delay - meaning that presenters knew exactly what was going to happen before it did, resulting he noted, in an impressively slick performance from the Wireless Group presenter.

After a great fun quiz, hosted by the lovely Stephanie Hirst, the day closed - and engineers moved pub-wards to chat openly as engineers refreshingly do. 

A relevant, interesting and entertaining day - with an impressive array of speakers on an outstanding variety of topics. I was privileged to be asked to host once again. Well done to the committee for the best, and most highly-attended TechCon, and a special well done to Ann Charles. That team once again took the risk on their own shoulders and delivered a memorable and invaluable event for our industry. 

Thanks too to the IET for holding out a warm hand of welcome in honour of our forefathers who passed through the door of your impressive building almost a hundred years ago.

I’m not an engineer and not as clever as they are. If you notice anything factually awry in the above, drop me a note and I’ll correct immediately. 

Grab my book 'Radio Moments'50 years of radio - life on the inside. A personal and frighteningly candid reflection on life in radio now and then. The drama - the characters - the headaches - the victories.

Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it years.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

As 'Miss Snobb and Class 3C'  chorused the coda on Wizzard’s ‘I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday’ for the first time in 1973, those littl'uns likely did not envisage their song would still be aired on radio stations around the World more than 40 years later. But it is.  Alongside Slade, Jona Lewie and festive offerings from the repertoires of Chris Rea and Maria Carey.

Some happy-go-lucky jocks cannot wait to get stuck into their festive songs; others yawn. Programmers too are divided.  Some sensibly evaluate the tastes and moods of their audiences alongside their formats and brand values; other grey suits just seize a rare opportunity to take out their frosty miserableness on their listeners.

The Value of Festive Music

We know Christmas is a time when a lot of people get very happy.  Being Britain, we also recognise that those who are not happy thoroughly enjoy moaning about it.

We know too that music, particularly Christmas songs, affects people emotionally.  EMR qualitative research concluded: "For three quarters of people, Christmas music has a very powerful impact, helping to surface strong emotions - it remind them of happy memories".

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, disagrees - suggesting that festive tunes can impact on mental health. She agrees that music goes straight to our emotions and 'bypasses rationality', but fears that it simply brings on the worries of the duties and obligations to come. Linda suggests that shop assistants have to expend much energy in zoning out of the music which is being drip-fed to them.

John Lewis is predictably cheery.  Alongside the Coca Cola truck, the arrival of its TV ad has become a seasonal landmark. There's no doubting the emotions such campaigns stir, and no doubting the enthusiasm of viewers for exactly that feeling.  'On Brand', which works with some major UK brands and shopping centres, agrees with the power of Christmas music - and suggests that the retail Christmas begins on the 15th November and ends on Boxing Day. 

When thoughts of Christmas are evoked, listeners feel good – and feeling good is likely one of the reasons they came to you.  So much research over the years recognises that listeners value radio as it ‘cheers them up’. 'Mood' is an increasingly recurrent theme as an audience driver.

Impressive research from the RAB, the Radio Advertising Bureau, suggests people are happier when consuming radio, that when spending time with any other media.  And they are happier with radio than with no media, with happiness levels climbing 100% and energy levels up by 300%. 

So, what better music to play than a Christmas song?  The first chord whisks you back to your toddler times, Advocaat with grandma, or partying with friends.  And it reminds you of that end-of-term feeling: the rare period in life when you can be off work and the emails are not mounting up as everyone else is off too. 

You might imagine Steve Penk, of 'Radio Dead' fame might be a cynic, but, on Radio Today, he said:

"The reason I have always played Christmas songs early on the radio, throughout my career, both as a presenter and station owner, is because I always remember as a child instantly feeling Christmassy when I heard Christmas songs being played on the radio, and this feeling has stuck with me since being a kid.

When to start?
Heart certainly goes with the Sleigh List fairly early and, judging by what I judge their brand values to be, that’s eminently sensible.  The AC Gem 106 in the East Midlands revels promptly in the warmth too.  From what I heard of some BBC local radio stations in years past, however, they did not rush out with the tinsel tunes until Santa was stuck in the chimney just a week before. 
Research consultant Roger Wimmer asserts: "If you plan to play Christmas music and you give a rat’s tail about what your audience thinks, then you had better ask them. The only way to know the answer is to ask your own listeners".

Let’s remember that people are talking about Christmas in every workplace by mid November.  The Christmas party emails have gone out, and you’ve likely started to choreograph your Christmas with grandma, the kids and your ex husband.  By the start of December, it’s got to be time to nod to what your own listeners are feeling.  For the rest of the year, most listeners do not notice the odd song you have chosen not to play, but they do notice if you are not ‘sounding Christmassy’, and they will tell you so.

In some online research about shopping habits and the like, conducted  by the then Orion Media in 2013, we asked around 600 listeners when they wanted Christmas songs.  Yes, it‘s a flawed question in the wrong research methodology for this topic, but we tried the best we could.  Something along the lines of ‘when do you want to start hearing Christmas songs on the radio to help you feel festive, yet not so early so you get fed up with them?’.

I expected listeners to seize the opportunity to be miserable on a dull September day.  They didn’t.  Witness the graph of listeners aged 15-54 below, assembled by Orion Media's then hard-working head of research, Sophie Hancock.  That 'start of December' lead seems pretty decisive.

The identify of the listener's  P1 station choice appears not to make an appreciable difference to their views.  The demos do show variances; with even more of the younger demos wanting their celebrations to begin before December.  Amongst those 45+, however, the decisiveness of the 'beginning of December' vote leaps ahead even further than amongst all adults.  In fact, if you leave it any later than a month before you reach for Chris Rea, three quarters of your 44+ audience are going to be disappointed. 

If your music format allows it, why would you not want to spin a few Christmas songs at the beginning of December, enough for your P2s and beyond to catch one or two?  It also allows you to give some of your regularly rotated songs a holiday.

At the time of updating this blog (Nov 17th 2017), some songs are already  creeping up the UK Spotify chart (Maria Carey and Wham). Youtube too sees the Carey kick right at the beginning of November.

In the Philippines, streaming figures suggest the season starts on September 1st, with other countries not really joining in until November 1st.  Pre-Christmas listening of Christmas music surges at the weekend. 

Portland Radio Group suggests “It can never be too soon to deck the halls. And when it comes to Christmas music on the radio, it's never too early to begin the reindeer games”. EMR’s research in 2013 spoke to several hundred UK respondents aged aged 15-54. For 85% of people, they suggested, "Christmas without Christmas music wouldn't be as good".

My old friend, John Ryan, suggested that songs can burn quickly because every shop plays them. I know what you mean, John, but the tills of those retailers, year after year, probably give better indications about the success of a music policy than Rajar ever might.  Happy people spend money.   GaryStein, then at Key, cautioned sensibly “increase the Christmas music rotation slowly. We don’t go mad on the 1st of December.  When you go into a coffee shop on Christmas, you’ll get a special cup and maybe the ‘Ginger Bread Latte’but it’s just a variation”. True, there are format considerations. 

In the US, ‘Christmas Creep’ means some stations fight to be the first to play Christmas songs. Traditionally, it's the day after Thanksgiving - which places the start of the American festive season in late November. And let's remember it's still around 25 degrees in Arizona at that stage.

Others flip to all-Christmas formats, playing back-to-back Christmas music, with marked audience benefits in busy markets, a trend dating back to the mid '90s, but showing an upturn after the dark days of 9/11.  The audience figures there appear to bear out the format wisdom and it's thought to build cume. 168 US stations went 'all Christmas' in 2015. Tracy Johnson (TJMG) suggests a figure of 500.

In a New York Times article,  Gary Fisher from Equity Communications pointed to the benefits of the format flips: “Christmas music is comfort-zone radio for a lot of people”, “Given everything that has happened in Atlantic City and in South Jersey, this music really is a link to better times. That’s why we feel it works for us early”.

The UK has joined in too in recent years. Some are fresh stations, others re-purpose existing subsidiary channels. In the UK, Smooth Radio was one of the first to present an all Christmas format on a new ancillary DAB channel in 2011. Since then, such brands as Free, the Wave (Swansea), Pulse and Signal have joined in too. In 2017, Magic Christmas arrives on DAB. There's also Heart Extra Christmas.  How many people will be asking Alexa or Google to play them a Christmas station - and which will they think of first?

Whilst Rajar cannot easily accommodate specific Christmas service ratings in the UK, their respective parents likely benefit from heightened brand might.

Witness the online offerings too. Not least SantaRadio, from the wonderful Guy Harris who  has carved out a well-deserved reputation in recent years for being the best 'radio santa', appearing on so many different stations, with an 'on-brand' Santa for each: cool or fruity; naughty or nice. On Santa Radio - hear the kids' content too - fed in via the app. Some really interesting thinking here - also proving how truly brilliant a well-run voice-tracked station can be.

Dublin's Christmas FM first went on air in 2008, joined by other parts of Ireland in ensuing years and diversifying into themed offshoots. The main quasi-national FM station doesn't carry ads on this temporary additional channel, supported by a hundred volunteers, but does include sponsorships; and has raised  an impressive 1.25m for charity to date, with Sightsavers being 2017's chosen cause. 

When  to stop? I'm a fan of Boxing Day; and blogger Hugh McIntryre points out that 4 out of 5 US stations flip formats back on that day.

Which songs to play?

PPL's most recent data suggests the top songs played in 2015 were as below (full 30 at foot of blog)

The Power of Love, Gabrielle Aplin 
2. Fairytale of New York, The Pogues
3. All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey
4. Last Christmas, Wham
5. Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid
6. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Wizzard
7. Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea
8. Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens
9. Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade
10. Step Into Christmas, Elton John

From overseas (US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), iHeart Radio collated data from listeners in 2016 giving the thumbs up or down as songs played on-air. Thumbs up went to: Winter Wonderland; Sleigh Ride; Let it Snow;  All I want for Christmas is You; and It's Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas. Thumbs down went to: Happy Christmas War is Over; Do They Know It;'s Christmas; I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus; and the Christmas Song

Spotify's data scientists suggest seasonal trends in music consumption, with Winter dominated by "Spoken word recordings, "mellower" subgenres, and music associated with particular countries".

The top Spotify artists across the combined period of Winter 2014 and 2015 were as tabulated below.  Whilst the Beatles lead, owing to their songs being streamed for the first time in December 2015, it's easy to see many of the remainder have a festive flavour. 

  1. The Beatles*
  2. David Bowie
  3. Bing Crosby
  4. Yellow Claw
  5. Nat King Cole
  6. Mark Ronson
  7. Bushido
  8. Michael Bublé
  9. James Newton Howard
  10. ZAYN

Make of it all what you will.  But remember: unless you are Radio 4, people likely turn on your station to lift their mood.  And, if your format and brand can stretch to it, stop being so miserable. Your listeners would agree. 


 Here's a Christmas gift for a radio-loving friend. 

My book Radio Moments tells of the last fifty years of radio - from the inside.  A  very personal account of growing up with radio, before becoming a tetchy jock  and then a hassled MD and programmer. The laughter and tears of an  unrepeatable era.

    Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and         
    producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it      

Top 10 most played Christmas songs in 2015 (PPL)

1) The Power of Love, Gabrielle Aplin
2) Fairytale of New York, The Pogues1
3) All I Want for Christmas, Mariah Carey2
4) Last Christmas, Wham3
5) Do They Know It’s Christmas? Band Aid4
6) I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, Wizzard6
7) Driving Home for Christmas, Chris Rea5
8) Merry Christmas Everyone, Shakin’ Stevens8
9) Merry Xmas Everybody, Slade7
10) Step Into Christmas, Elton John9
11) Stay Another Day, East 1715
12) Happy Xmas (War Is Over), John Lennon11
13) Wonderful Christmas Time, Paul McCartney10
14) Stop The Cavalry, Jona Lewie    13
15) Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Dean Martin22
16) I Believe in Father Christmas, Greg Lake17
17) Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses12
18) Thank God It’s Christmas, Queen20
19) 2000 Miles, The Pretenders14
20) It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, Andy WilliamsNEW
21) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Brenda Lee16
22) Sleigh Ride, The Ronettes19
23) A Winter’s Tale, David Essex27
24) The Power of Love, Frankie Goes To Hollywood30
25) Lonely This Christmas, MUDNEW
26) A Spaceman Came Travelling, Chris De Burgh28
27) Christmas Lights, ColdplayNEW
28) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, Mel & Kim38
29) Please Come Home for Christmas, Bon Jovi21
30) White Christmas, Bing Crosby26

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Who's Listening and How - the Latest

It's tempting to wrap up and send a copy of the latest MIDAS survey to every press columnist  for Christmas.  This jolly publication from the Rajar folk always offers some interesting data, which often contradict many of the assumptions from those innocents with the temerity to pen articles about our beloved medium.

In September, the intrepid researchers re-contacted just over two thousand of the long-suffering folk who'd already filled in a Rajar diary to dig deeper into their listening habits. We should thank Ipsos for their valiant efforts.

How is radio being consumed – and how are those methods of consumption trending?

Despite all the hullaballoo, live radio still commands an impressive share of ear-time for UK citizens. 75% of all the stuff on which we feast our ears - from online music streaming and podcasts to ‘listen again’, CDs or battered Agfa cassettes – is good old live radio. Everybody else’s share of that ear-cake is surprisingly about the same as two years ago, with only another 2 percentage points of live radio’s time being scattered across the many other options.  On-demand music streaming (OMS) accounts for 8% of adult ear-time now - and its consumption is daytime-led and male-driven.

The picture changes by demo, of course.  Although a very healthy 82% of 15-24s do seem equipped to turn on a live radio, they appear to get bored pretty quickly.  Only around half of  the ear-time of messy-haired 15-24s is taken up by live radio – compared to 77% for 35-54s. As can be seen, on-demand music streaming (OMS) is the single biggest villain eating the breakfast of those 15-24s.

The couple of standard Rajar radio audience graphs (below) indicate that live radio’s weekly reach generally amongst 15-24s has declined from 90% at the turn of the decade to 83% now, against a reassuringly stable 'all adult' figure. 

Weekly time spent listening amongst 15-24s across those years, however, has fallen a hefty 16% in that time down from  17 to 14.2 hours per week. 

We’re all spending a little less time with radio each week, though - falling in seven years by 11% for all adults, 12% for 35-54s and 4% for 65-74s. We've all got a lot more to do with our lives.

Back to MIDAS, podcasting only accounts for a small slice of all ear-time –  although taken together with listen again, it now accounts for 4%, much the same as last year. That’s certainly not shoddy for this thing with a funny name and it looks set to grow slowly - but it's not exactly disruptive. Podcast listening is younger than its 'listen again' sister - and more male. 

Live radio - and podcasts - both reach their maximum audiences between 8.00-8.15 am. On-demand music services see a high between 3:00-3:15 pm - and for 'listen again', the peak is between 10:15-10.30 pm. It's true though that 'listen again' rattles along fairly consistently through the day.

So – what do we listen to live radio on? Mostly on a radio-shaped radio.  There is little doubt, however, that AM/FM listening is gravitating to DAB. DAB has grown from 35% of listening in Autumn 2014 to 41% now – and FM down from 43% to 39%. 

If you draw a straight line graph based on the FM decline, which would be utterly foolish, FM dies out in the year 2036 - by which point Judi Dench will be 102. The UK was late to join the FM transmission party – but it’s lasted us over 60 years already, so let’s not moan. 

Maybe strangely, the amount of live radio consumption which is not on a radio set has stayed about the same (16% in 2017) across the last four years.

Around half of adults now have a radio app on their phone - about 8m more people than three years ago. Penetration amongst the demos are bouncing around – but overall amongst all adults the figure rises from 35% in 2014 to 49% in 2017. Perhaps as smart phones have become more affordable, the 15-24s have been catching up with their 25-34 balding brothers. Whatever 2018 brings in our changing and worrying World, we can relax knowing we’ll likely hear the news that many more Brits have a radio app on their phone than don’t.

We once paid non-listeners to listen to our station as part of a focus group exercise. One recalcitrant trotted back in the following week in a frayed crimson parka to say they couldn’t find us on their telly. Listeners expect you to be everywhere – and it’s an expensive business for our industry. AM/FM radios are unsurprisingly the most ubiquitous gadgets which people turn to - followed closely behind by DAB radios. 11.6% do use their TV for at least some of their listening. But to turn a stat on its head – just to make again the point that radio listening remains more traditional than folk think - 90% don’t listen to any live radio on their smart phones.  So – they may have a radio app on their phone – but they are not thumbing it too frequently.  Can we do more about that?

OK Google, we really should applaud smart speakers and buy everyone one for Christmas.  ‘Cos when it comes to using those, people are far more likely to ask Alexa to play a radio station than any other form of comparable audio entertainment (58% of device eartime). On i-pads and smart phones, folk are much more likely to get up to all sorts. 

Although it accounts for but a pint-sized proportion of radio listening time and by currently just 1.1% of adults - there is something hugely encouraging about the love affair between radio and smart speakers. The biggest - and most distinctive - radio brands will win - and current radio operators may or may not be running those. Analyst firm OVUM suggests 40% of homes will be 'smart' by 2021.

Radio remains a one to one medium. 51% of all adults suggest they listen to radio on their own, with 20% saying they listen with their partner.  Amongst the less -coupled 15-24s, there are a wider variety of possibilities -  just 43% listen alone, but 11% with families and 32% with colleagues

In-car listening is interesting. MIDAS suggests that whilst a majority of adults will choose to listen in on the move (57% reach), the share of listening attributed to those travellers is much less than columnists might expect, being outshone by the amount of time people listen whilst working or studying.  I often wonder whether we programmers take into account sufficiently when our light and heavy listeners are most likely to be with us.

Overall, MIDAS suggests, if you picture your listener serving an angry customer, reading a physics text book, driving to Ingoldmells, eating a microwave meal, scrubbing the grill pan or just chilling – then you’ve accounted for about 90% of all listening.  The column headings indicate, however, no-one has sex whilst listening to the radio. Most off-putting if it's your own voice-tracked show.

All data MIDAS, RAJAR/IpsosMori September 2017 unless otherwise stated.

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Also 'How to Make Great Radio'. Techniques for today's presenters and producers.  Great for newcomers - and food for thought if you've been doing it years.

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