Audio – it’s Radio, but not as we know it.

Comment from Dean Buchanan.

Much is made of Radio’s digital future in Australia. The publicly listed broadcasters and the industry body CRA are obsessed with digital. And so they should be as the content equation continues to fragment and the battle for your attention increases. The buzzword is AUDIO.

However, this appears to me at the significant risk of over-looking the goose that lays the golden eggs – FM and AM radio. The audience numbers and revenue this “traditional” medium continues to generate are staggering and dwarf many “digital audio” businesses.

This from radiotoday.com.au: “Commercial radio ad revenue in May was up 11.2% compared to May 2021, continuing months of sustained growth in the sector. (April was up 8.8%) That’s according to data released today by industry body Commercial Radio Australia. Ad revenue for the five major Australian capital city markets totalled $66.273 million during the month compared to $59.605 million a year ago. Commercial Radio is currently flying on all fronts with record audience listening levels in the most recent GFK survey and now an 11.2% year on year increase in commercial revenue for May.”

I would have thought that’s something for Radio to be very proud of, especially in the light of declining television viewership and publishing readership trends? But the word Radio is in danger of extinction.

This from SCA’s Annual report: “The four pillars of our refreshed corporate strategy are to entertain, inform and inspire our audiences; to establish LiSTNR as Australia’s ultimate audio destination; to use our assets to help our clients succeed; and drive and embed a digital audio first operating model.” Where’s Radio?

“NOVA Entertainment is Australia’s leading independent audio entertainment business, creating unforgettable experiences loved and shared by our listeners.” Where’s Radio?

“HT&E owns Australia’s leading audio company, ARN, providing the most complete audio experience for our listeners and the most comprehensive audio solutions for our partners.” Where’s Radio?

I’m being cute, of course; Radio is there or implied, but it doesn’t seem sexy to the commercial networks anymore. In fact, “Radio” almost appears to be embarrassed by the word “Radio” often preferring “Audio”.

Podcasts are sexy; smart speakers are sexy; digital platforms like iHeartRadio, LiSTNR, and Nova’s Podcast Network are sexy. However, at the heart of their growth is FM and AM radio!

So what’s driving this? It is not the listeners or advertisers because they are still tuning in and buying Radio. Sure they’re listening to podcasts and digital audio, but they’re still loving FM and AM Radio.

I’m yet to hear someone say, “did you hear that on the audio?”

It’s the analysts, share market and advertising agencies winding up the commercial CEOs! They demand the sexy story and the “what happens next” to quantify share price and potential growth for investors. And that’s all well and good, as long as they don’t forget that FM and AM Radio is generating the cash for these investments.

So often, their worldview is unrepresentative of the rest of society and their perceptions differ from reality. Studies still show Radio to be a dominant force in-car (by far), and podcasts are still an emerging platform, and way behind the consumption of Radio.

What price do you think a new FM license would go for if it were released in Sydney now? Think about that … Radio is still a cash cow.

My point is this. RADIO is not a dirty word, or old fashioned, or a tired media that has had its day. It’s not a word due for retirement. The digital future is here and exciting, but there are no signs that its revenue model will outstrip FM and AM Radio anytime soon.

Resist the woke urge to lose Radio and replace it with Audio. Radio has a heart, a soul, a history and a future. It is a storied people medium that continues to engage and delight its audiences, despite the plethora of new entertainment choices. Radio is the medium that incorporates new technologies, systems and habits into its ecosystem. Video was meant to kill Radio, MTV, cable, satellite, iPod, iTunes, smart speakers and Spotify – now AUDIO is the threat, but Radio people are driving it!

AUDIO is a technical bean counter’s term. It’s a machine, a software, a hope, not the creative, human, living being that Radio is.

An electric and digitally driven Porsche is still a Porsche. Try telling Porsche to call their brand EV’s.

Radio is FM, AM, DAB+, Podcasts, time-shifted content, listener-generated content, Video, Social, Reels, and so much more. They complement Radio; they don’t replace it.

The definition of Radio has changed, and that is something to celebrate. But don’t replace it with Audio – that’s for robots…and it’s Marketing BS.

About the Author

Dean Buchanan is the founder of www.drbentertainment.com; a Sydney based strategic consultancy and talent company.

He is best known to Radio Today readers as the founding Group Content Director of the Nova Network.

Dean has over three decades of experience developing highly successful world-class media brands, businesses and talent in Australia, New Zealand and internationally.

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