The state of the radio industry – Ray Paul on navigating challenges and embracing creativity

Navigating challenges, embracing creativity, and building a radiant future for radio.

It is an interesting and exciting time for the radio industry. The challenges in the pursuit of listeners’ ears, hearts and minds seem to be coming from all angles – DSPs, podcasts, other stations…the list seems endless.

 However, in my opinion, there hasn’t been a better, more opportunistic time for creativity within the sector. As the owner of a small production company, we have the scope to develop and produce a range of programmes from cultural documentaries to music shows and all the points in between whilst pitching to a landscape that has become more open-minded than at any point that I can recall in the last 35 years of my career.

Competition should always be welcomed – there is an old Caribbean saying; “Iron sharpens Iron”, meaning that if your competitors pull off a great idea, that should encourage you to do the same, thereby upping the skill level all around. It’s a mantra that can be helpful across the radio industry, but there are a few things that are required to keep live radio fresh, innovative and challenging:

Production BraveryThe “play not to be wrong” rather than “play to be right” methodology of production is outdated and threatens the very fabric of creativity. The best producers are the ones who want to help your vision and your ideas come to life, not those who want to make it fit into their box. I remember watching the likes of Chris Morris at BBC GLR treat every single show individually – never filling on-air slots – but creating something bespoke on air every week—pure genius. We can’t lose this mindset if we want radio to thrive.

TrainingIt seems some staff are jetted into roles without the due understanding or training at the basics. We were recently at a radio station and asked a group of young staff members about the differences between providing audio to the station in mono rather than stereo. We were greeted with blank stares, as half of the staff didn’t know there was a difference. If we want better shows we have to help the staff by giving them the basics to grow and flourish.

Calculated Risk – There is nothing worse than sanitised content. I firmly believe radio should challenge, provoke, enhance, entertain and educate all listeners. I think the live radio market needs to take the handbrake off and give staff the confidence to connect with the audience and create consistent content that will engage them. If you look at the recent Radio 1 feature ‘Giant DJ Hunt’, it had some amazing elements – well thought out, brilliantly planned, perfect on-air execution and loads of jeopardy. More of the same, please!

Reliance On Online – Of course, online is important – we all know that. However, live radio cannot rely on the “what does it look and feel like on Instagram” mindset. A good clip will end up as just that – a good clip. Where is the investment in core radio skills – having time to develop stories, research, core interviewing skills, great editing and soundscaping? The industry is crying out for more than disposable content that looks great on the ‘gram – let’s create some lasting audio.

Of course, there are some very talented radio producers and production teams out there. I recently attended the excellent Audio Production Awards in London and felt hugely inspired by some of the subjects and treatments that were nominated. So it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Connection With The Audience – With the unfortunate and unfair treatment of BBC local radio at the moment, I despair for that genuine connection with audiences.

Local radio is such a fantastic entry point for both staff and listeners alike and must be preserved for the good of the industry. As well as that, let’s get staff back out into the field, not just being stuck at desks – but back out into the communities and potential audiences. Nothing is better than understanding the audience from an ‘inside looking out’ perspective rather than an ‘ivory tower’ one.

 There is so much for us to be positive about as an industry, and with the right support, development and planning, the future looks bright.

Ray Paul is a highly acclaimed creative figure in the UK broadcasting industry, mainly known for advocating black music in all its forms. He is also the founder of The Playmaker Group, an innovative consultancy that brings together various aspects of the music and entertainment industry, including Content Production, Event Management, Tour Management, and Creative Consultancy. 

Ray on LinkedIn

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