We need more personality on radio, not less
Radio should be reclaimed for the listeners - and should be more original, more innovative, and have more personality
One of the highlights of being around at the beginning of commercial radio is that, in the intervening years, I've seen people make all the mistakes. The sad thing about radio is that people have continued to make the same mistakes. They don't seem to have learnt anything. Anything at all.
Radio relies on personalities; it doesn't rely on music choice. It relies on the people on the radio wanting to be on the radio; not just using radio as a vehicle to get onto television or some other medium. It needs people who want to work specifically for radio and who have the good of the business at heart. Radio is not the poor relation to TV. Radio can still be one of the most exciting mediums there is. Even with the internet and computers and all the other technological advances we're seeing, modern radio is still very fresh.
Yet it has to be appreciated for what it is. There are far too many people who go into radio these days to use it as a stepping stone to something else. They want to be big stars on TV, and they think that radio will open the necessary doors. They want it as a stop-gap until something better comes along.
In some ways, though, I can't blame these people. Most radio stations pay their on-air talent crap money. The people who make all the money out of radio are those who go on to management. They're the ones who've made enormous amounts of money from the radio industry.
It's definitely not us. Not the DJs. Don't get me wrong, I get paid well, but not the fortune that many people imagine. It's true that household names like Terry Wogan, Chris Tarrant and Chris Moyles make loads of money on radio, but not your average presenter or DJ and certainly not those working for regional stations.
I think the radio industry really needs to appreciate the people who work on its stations. The smaller the station, the more that station has to find its own personalities. It needs to recruit people who are going to stay with the station, and not just wait until they can find a job on a bigger one. All the stations have got to attract some new blood, obviously, but they must also nurture the talents and personalities they already have - if they've got any at all.
Even though I hate doing this type of thing, I've spoken at conferences about how personality was dead on radio. Lots of programme directors like to have complete control of their DJs and presenters because they are frightened of personality. They're scared of anything they can't control. Sometimes, they're frightened of originality. That's why the majority of radio is so bland. Most stations follow the same tired old formats.
But, ironically, it's personality that listeners want to hear. Let's face it, if you just want to hear music, then you use the CD player in your car. There's only one thing that makes a good radio presenter and that's the ability to communicate. Whether you're a DJ playing records or whether you're doing a talk show, that ability should be inherent within you. Lots of people have been doing radio in this country for years and are still deadly dull and boring. They haven't got that natural gift for communication.
There are certain people who've been on the periphery of radio for years and years. They joined the organisations, the clubs. They go to the award ceremonies and they're photographed all over the place. They are the people who control who gets on the air. And, in my opinion, they have absolutely no business getting involved. Radio managers can murder a station's programming - and, it probably goes without saying, I don't think any of them deserve the over-inflated salaries they supposedly 'earn'.
I think radio should be reclaimed for the people at the heart of it: the listeners. Give the people what they want. That means originality. That means innovation. That means broadcasters who are committed to the medium. That means personality.
If that happens, then believe me: radio will be around for ever, no matter what the future has in store.
Reprinted with permission from Almost a Celebrity: a lifetime of night-time (available on the Amazon Kindle).
James has enjoyed a successful broadcasting career for over thirty years. The winner of three prestigious Sony Radio Awards (not that he gives a damn), he currently presents on London's LBC 97.3.
Visit James Whale's website
Really good post and some interesting thoughts… Looks like a good book too. But rather than these great personalities hoping radio (and I assume he means commercial music radio) changes, won’t these people simply use other methods of distributing their content eg audioboo, pod casts, YouTube etc etc. Why all the determination (and not just in this post) that radio must change? There doesn’t seem to be the same passion for TV to change, or the movie industry. If someone wants to distribute a certain type of content there have never been more opportunities. I get the sense some people argue that they should have the right to ‘earn a living’ from a certain kind of content. It doesn’t work like that. An author doesn’t have the right to make a living from sales of his/her book. He will earn whatever the market and the publisher dictates he should. Why should radio be different?
More listeners mean more value for advertisers. That means more money to innovate and employ great presenters.
Give people something other than music strung together by the odd line here and there and they will listen! Carry on the way it is and radio is little more than an iPod you have no control over.
It’s such a shame this will doubtless fall on deaf ears….it’s spot on.
Colin: First, I’d argue that radio has the listeners – and podcasts, audioboo, and YouTube simply don’t have the listeners in most cases. (Look at the total listens for Audioboo’s featured content if you don’t believe me).
Second, and perhaps more importantly, this is all about people who are committed to the medium of radio. Not the medium of audio.
Fair point, understood James. I just think much of what makes radio great is either still available on the radio or available on other platforms. It’s only commercial music stations which have gone a little narrower and formatted (in some cases, not all) and I don’t think things are as bad as some things I read make out. Let me put it this way… Do the Sony award judges despair every year at the lack of creative entries?
Completely agree with this, to many people involved with community radio, student radio use it as a stepping stone into TV. I do it because I have a passion for the medium of radio not TV! and hope one day someone will sit-up and take notice of people like me with a real passion for it and give them a chance.
Well, This article almost exactly matches the thought’s I’ve had about local radio for many years now.
I almost always consume digital radio now and podcasts, and on the rare occasion I do hear local FM stations, and it’s NOT syndicated, I get assaulted with the same old cheesey crap from the 1980’s & 90’s (name that tune, celebrity gossip, golden hour) or as the last time I listened to 96.2 The Revolution…. ‘Names that sound like food’
I wouldn’t even have local radio on in the background anymore!
I don’t know of any personality/presenter that makes a living off YouTube, Audioboo or podcasts — if there was, every radio presenter in the country would be flocking online! The reality is that individual bits of audio content are not that valuable to people. They work only as part of a bigger entity – in otherwords a traditional radio station which offers a mix of content from different people. That’s the medium that still gets the big listenerships and attracts the most advertising.
I’m making money from my show Graham which is podcast and broadcast on about 48 stations (online and uk community FM as well as commercial FM overseas) as well as producing audio for business clients. There is a living to be made it’s a case of getting enough work in though!
I wouldn’t say its enough to make a living although it’s more than minimum wage on a 40 hour week.
Your show may be podcast John, but I suspect you’re making your money mainly from traditional FM broadcasters. And in any event, as you point out, it’s not enough to earn a living! Certainly nowhere near what you could make working for a big market radio station.
Its Calder (everyone gets it worng – odd name).
No the money from the show comes purely from sponsors. Online stations won’t pay and the FM ones wont either. They offer me ad slots which I pass on to the sponsor as well as give them sponsorship within the show.
The majority of my income right now comes from VO’s and audio ads for websites / YouTube.
Although I have a new sponsor lined up who is doubling what I bring in. If my show went out more than once a week at the rate I’m charging now, I’d be happy.