The figures (like Shakira’s hips) do not lie. Active radio listener figures are falling; in this year’s heavily anticipated Rajar figures, BBC Radio 1’s audience fell to an annual average of 9.9 million, with Nick Grimshaw’s flagship breakfast show losing 100,000 of its weekly listeners within the last year. It is undeniable that streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music have changed the game; seconds after release every song in the history of the entire universe is at the fingertips of the user – why wait by the rustic radio set eagerly awaiting Stormzy’s new anthem when you can download and play it on repeat with a service like Spotify? Indeed, I challenge you to name just one friend who owns a digital radio set, besides the one in their cars, and even then Spotify or Apple music often take pride of place on aux cable duties. As such, I struggle to dispute the fact that radio in its traditional antiquated form is indeed in decline. Yet, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for radio; listeners for Radio 2’s Chris Evans increased to 9.2 million, up from 9.06 million in the previous quarter. Clearly such fluctuation is not indicative of a platform breathing its last. It follows then that, as radio can no longer compete with those services offering the freshest new music to its listeners, it has had to reinvent itself by focusing on its strengths.
Consequently, as with most media platforms, radio has attempted to combat its falling figures by placing an emphasis on other means of accessing its content. Loving Ed Sheeran’s cover in the live lounge? Simply go to YouTube hours later and you’ll find the video you can repeat to your heart’s content. This is arguably something which radio does better than Spotify; music becomes not only an auditory experience but a visual one. This is acknowledged by the controller of Radio 1, Ben Cooper, who in a recent interview accepted that ‘as young audiences increasingly spend time on mobiles we have to evolve’. Interestingly, in explaining this evolutionary process, Cooper even compared himself to rivals, stating he wanted Radio 1 to be the ‘Netflix of music radio’. Arguably, the likes of Spotify and Apple Music are currently the most comparable to Netflix in terms of offering immediate access to the user’s favourite tunes. However, radio can offer a personal touch which even the streaming services can’t compete with. Sure, Spotify can suggest a new song based on some algorithm which monitors your music tastes, but radio can do this and more. A DJ such as Huw Stephens and his new music show recommend a brand new artist, at the same time providing some insight into who they are and offering a personal insight which simply can’t be achieved with a “you might like” button on a streaming service.
convenient for students who just want a quick blast of new music and some lively chat
A crucial factor to consider is that radio is free. No subscription costs, easy access through a simple app and podcasts of favourite DJs are readily available on the very services radio competes with. Of course, this makes it favourable for an audience who don’t need to get their heads around this new-fangled technology, whilst also being convenient for students who just want a quick blast of new music and some lively chat. Whilst the true music junkies might find the streaming services to provide all they need, the average Joe won’t be turning away from the solid service provided by radio just yet.