Do we need to think differently about music radio?

Once upon a time, up until the late 1980s (yeah I  know – ancient history for some of you) radio presenters had space to let their personality shine through. DJ’s were hired because they were good on-air personalities (they were not hired to be human Jukeboxes).

We had show hosts who were whacky, sarcastic, some featured humorous sketches, made their own jingles, and did things that really were entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny.

They pushed boundaries and played their own choice of music. They were given the time and resources to prepare award-winning radio shows that drew huge audiences.

Then someone in advertising/marketing/accounts decided these people were getting in the way of the music. And so started to curtail what their presenters could say and for how long they could speak between the music.

The fear at the time, I guess, was that people turned on their radio to listen to music and the hosts – as entertaining as they were – were getting in the way.

The great Wolfman Jack (have you seen American Graffiti?).

The iconic Wolfman Jack.

Personality DJs were pushed out to be replaced by people who’d happily play their boss’s choice of music and do and say what they were told. It was a sea-change in broadcast radio that saw many fine DJs left on the scrap heap.

Kenny Everett went from radio to TV.

The late great Kenny Everett (BBC Radio 1 and Capital Radio London). Just a taste of what ‘Cuddly Ken’ would get up to… Making his own jingles at home.

Once you admit that a radio station has little chance of differentiating itself with the music it plays then there is only one thing left – the presenter.

Anyone can play music. Not everyone is a great entertainer, has a great personality, or can get creative.

But if change is to come – to turn the clock back a bit – it has to be a top down change; station managers have to first understand that their listeners have changed; and a whole new audience has grown up without relying on radio for their music fix.

BBC Radio One’s Steve Wright in The Afternoon, spring 1983.

Successful radio stations will need to be known for more than just playing music because the competition is fierce if that’s all you can offer. Will the personality DJ, who can become so powerful they can hold their station to ransom, be allowed back on the air? I hope so.

It’s interesting to read Jacobs Media survey results that show why people listen to FM/AM radio.

Top of the list is because it’s easy to listen to radio in the car, second is because it is free – but third (59% of those who responded to the survey) is because of the DJ, hosts and shows.

Also interesting is the rise in people listening to digital radio broadcasts and podcasts via smartphone, smart speaker and computer.  The figure is up from 14% in 2013 to 31% in February 2019. Using a wireless radio is down from 85% in 2013 to 65%. WiFi is the broadcasting medium of the future; not AM or FM.


Of those surveyed more than 20% listen to podcasts weekly or more frequently.  Four in 10 weekly podcast listeners say they are listening to more podcasts today than a year ago. And two-thirds of weekly podcast listeners return to finish a podcast they couldn’t complete the first time.

It should be no surprise that most people (77%)  use a smartphone to listen to podcasts. Computer 40%, tablet, 24%, in car, 22%; and smart speaker 9%.

Interestingly, 40% discover new podcasts thanks to recommendations from friends, family and work colleagues. Recommendations via social media sits at 38%, and 40% of people discover a podcast by browsing iTunes, Stitcher, etc.

Social media

For broadcasters and podcasters wanting to promote their content, YouTube and Instagram are up, Facebook and Linkedin are down.

In 2018 79% of people discovered content on Facebook, in 2019 it dropped to 76%. During the same period; LinkedIn dropped from 11% to 10%, and Snapchat was down from 37% to 30%.

The ages of those who took part in the survey were: 18-24, 2%; 25-34, 8%; 35-44, 15%; 45-54, 29%; 55-64, 32% and 65+, 15%. Survey interviews were carried out by Jacobs Media between January 3 and February 3, 2019.