This weekend Hamilton played host to the annual Association of Community Access Broadcasters (ACAB) conference. Industry experts and partners, radio hosts (“content creators” in the access radio sphere), staff and funders came from around New Zealand and in the case of the keynote speaker, across the ditch, to attend. One of the drawcards to the conference was to have a glimpse at what Radio Futurologist (yes there is such a thing) James Cridland has to say about trends and the future of the humble radio.
You would be forgiven for thinking that radio is a dying industry, and while any industry usually looks to positives rather than negatives to feel better about themselves; the pulse of broadcast radio is statistically still looking strong. You would be forgiven for thinking that less people tune into the radio, and considerably less younger people… but stats say otherwise. Younger people just tune in differently. The radio industry has proven it is an adaptive one and has kept up with technological developments. Speaker James Cridland shared images of the history of radio including this fabulous image for Phillips Autoradio. One of the earlier significant technological advances was to put a radio in a car… and if you think about when you most listen to live radio even today… you can see how underestimated that humble development has been for the industry.
Insights into how our national broadcaster Radio NZ have navigated technological changes in the last few years were shared by Carol Hirschfeld who is now Head of News at Radio NZ. Radio NZ is now multi-platform – and includes the daily visual news “Checkpoint” being shared across social media, bringing listeners back to the traditional station. To further explain developments in “the visual layer of radio”; Hamilton social enterprise “the Volume Collective” shared their story, which involves a shoe string budget to provide a platform for emerging artists to share their creative work. They also showed how effective a phone can be to add another dynamic to shareable content. The story of Wairarapa TV was inspiring to show just how automated things can be by sharing content across multiple platforms, at little or no cost – all at the press of a button.
Speakers gave us the proof we wanted that public broadcasting can adapt and continue to provide quality; diverse and dynamic content under resource constraint. This constraint is from an industry budget freeze for the last 10 years. Chief Executive of NZ on Air Jane Wrightson tells us there is no way of knowing what the future will hold. Recently community driven “Action Station” put public broadcasting onto the political agenda with a campaign to end the freeze on Radio NZ funding. They presented a 32000 strong petition to the Minister for Broadcasting and during the elections published a reportcard with National and Labour being unable to commit to an unfreeze (all minor parties could). It will depend on political will as to whether we will see more funding.
Regardless, success (however that is measured) will come down to the community access radio sector, rallying together to come up with new ways of delivery to improve listenership and engagement. Social media is a big part of that.
The future of radio is personalised (algorithm based), it’s on-demand and it’s multi-platform. The challenge is to get that content to it’s audience in a crowded online market. The strength of community access radio is it’s relevance to you and me. It’s our stories; told with our voices; it’s the niche, the fringe, the regional and the minority voices and interests. Viva la radio.