More than ever, the future of radio relies on its past

 Southern Cross Austereo Sydney agency account manager Max Collett
By Southern Cross Austereo Sydney agency account manager Max Collett | 26 March 2020
Max Collett

I have always been fascinated by radio. Always have and always will be. It was never something I thought could turn into a career, and I certainly didn’t go to sleep as a child dreaming of media schedules and post-campaign reports. But at a time when traditional marketing strategies are being re-shaped by the shiny new toys of the advertising world, the sweet art and science of traditional broadcast radio still rings true.

If you were born in the - *cough* - 80s like me, you’ll perhaps remember radio in the 90s and early 00s as one of the defining soundtracks of your life: in the kitchen at home; in the bathroom while you showered; in the car on the way to and from school; and before you turned your light off at night.

I looked forward to waking up to my favourite breakfast radio hosts feeding me overnight news, and we trusted the information coming over the airwaves in real-time. Radio connected people on a local and national scale in ways that no other medium could; simply by creating sound through vibrations of air. Magic!

I distinctly remember that my only fond memory of studying Accounting 1B at university was listening to Kyle & Jackie O in the car on the way to the library in the morning and Hamish & Andy on the drive home in the afternoon. It was a safe place amongst the torture of numbers; my tribe of people who admired and trusted radio just like me. The rest was simply a blur of caffeine and highlighting random paragraphs in textbooks.

It’s no surprise then that many commercial radio networks in Australia have a “feel good” reference in their tag lines. That’s exactly how I felt listening to radio as a uni student. I still do to this day. And that’s where the romance of radio is just getting started.

When I strip it all back, it’s memories like this that remind me exactly what I love about radio; a sense of community and companionship that I felt with a couple of radio jocks who were paid handsome sums of money to make me feel like they were talking to me rather than at me. Long before social influencers and “digital everything”, radio spoke to me in ways that made me take notice and, more importantly, take action. The best part? Radio is still kicking the same goals for listeners and brands now more than ever.

Today, we compete for attention in an increasingly crowded landscape. The marketing mix is changing evolving and commercial strategies are improving, but I still sit in the car on the way to work and feel that same connection to the well-paid radio hosts that I did back in my uni days. What is old becomes new again, and in the muddled times of bushfires and global pandemics, perhaps radio can use its mechanisms of trust and companionship better than ever.

The difference between yesterday and today is that audio platforms and experiences have improved out of sight, far beyond what 80s babies like me could have ever imagined. Audiences are stronger than ever, and new products are forcing us to adapt and educate ourselves to keep up with the pack. Buzzwords and phrases like “live streaming”, “catch-up”, “podcast”, “segmentation” and “curation” are just a few of the modern hooks characterising audioland, but the purpose of each is still fundamentally the same - reach an audience, have an impact.

Brands are realising the benefits and importance of audio branding to their marketing strategies, and its ability to create memorable experiences for audiences is getting better by the day. It is still a truism that a rising tide lifts all boats, and the traditional ideas of radio that I love the most will be better off as a result of this audio surge.

The new marketing “stuff” and “digital everything” is forcing radio to adapt in order to thrive. There will always be mediums that have a certain power that the vibrating air of radio does not, or may never have, but it’s important that marketers don’t always get caught up in advertising hype at the expense of traditional media.

Nowadays, I still listen to Kyle & Jackie O in the morning, even though they no longer work for the organisation that I represent. I tune-in to my old friends Hamish & Andy via their podcast, and I also flick over to Jamie Angel, Lawrence Mooney, Fitzy & Wippa, Jonesy & Amanda and the rest of the Sydney breakfast radio gang. All of them compete for the same audience pool, but they are also all great ambassadors for what radio stood for in the 80s, 90s and early 00s, and what it still stands for today.

You never know, there might just be a radio tragic or two like me out there who want to hear your brand’s message the traditional way too. Some things stand the test of time and I believe the magic of radio is one of them.


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