Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0” and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.

6 Responses

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  1. Chris Doidge said, on February 20, 2009 at 7:37 am

    My old stomping ground (http://www.andoversound.com/) has a pretty impressive new website that has at least half of what you mention.

  2. cellulord said, on February 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    It seems to me it’s all about Resources, Willingness and Point.

    You acknowledge, the reason the BBC has invested time and effort in The Web is because it is *required* to invest the money that needs to be there first, before any time or effort can be spared. They have teams of people paid to specialise in this one area. They have departments paid to spend years working on R&D. They have the staff, they funds and they have the responsibility. in other words, they have the Resources adn the Will.

    Independent Media doesn’t.

    As you well know, if Independent Radio or TV is going to do *anything* it has to be monetised (as they say these days). There has to be money attached, simply to pay the wages of the people who are doing the work, licensing the software, designing the graphics, mixing the audio or what-have-you and then, beyond that, there needs to be profit.

    No profit, no chance.

    Further … how much does some of this *add* to the experience of listening to a radio station? Twitter is a very shallow experience, the point of which I have yet to find. Online polls are a dime a dozen. The traffic/Google thing is okay if you aren’t already in the car. Blogs are all well and good if you have the time to write one properly and don’t just reproduce what you’ve already done on air.

    Otherwise – what’s the point?

  3. Ben said, on February 20, 2009 at 5:57 pm

    I did work exp here back in the day. still has the same website – less web 2.0, more web 0.2

    http://www.radiojackie.com/

  4. derekthebandit said, on February 22, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Hi Adam, wonderful post! If radio stations stopped voice tracking shows and look at the bigger picture……It would be a start!

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