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Innovations in South African Radio

Almost taken as an affront, once I raised the suggestion that local radio is lagging behind in the disruption stakes, colleagues and friends across the industry got in touch to gently remind me of what their stations have been up to.

Radio stations and podcast networks in the US and UK market have attributed the health of their industry to the rise of smart speakers in almost every home. No longer just a trial or novelty, smart speakers from Google and Amazon are now in 23% of American homes. Locally, we are nowhere near that penetration but, when we get there, the Primedia Broadcasting brands will be waiting for us.

Amazon Alexa and Echo

Amazon Echo logo
Amazon Alexa logo

947, 702, KFM and Capetalk, as well as the news brand EWN, are the first radio stations in Africa to tap into Amazon Alexa and the Echo. Listeners are now able to access their favourite stations from the group and their content with simple voice commands.

You might instantly imagine how this functionality would increase the time you spend listening and improve your chances of discovering new content on the station. However, it’s crucial that the stations don’t tether themselves to any specific device and rather create the habit of voice prompted instructions that activate their stations. Instead of waiting for everyone to have an Alexa and assuming that, over the next few months, most of their listeners would have some sort of voice-activated assistant on their phone, how is Primedia gearing itself to tap into the behaviour that it says its audience is displaying?

Should radio advertising be looking for competitions that are entered by a listener saying a keyword? Can advertisers now drop their web addresses from their ads and replace with some variation of “Hey, Siri, get me the details of XYZ company?”

The listeners are asking for it but is radio advertising delivering it?

24-hour all-day playlist

Music is still the no. 1 reason listeners tune in to most stations and East Coast Radio (ECR) has broken the format with a 24-hour all-day playlist. The culmination of a month-long listener survey, the station took off all presenters and features for 24 hours to play ONLY music and ONLY music selected by the audience.

Listeners love gimmicks like this more than we in radio like to acknowledge and, even in this age of Spotify, Apple Music and our own music whenever we want, for 99% of audiences, having your song played on radio is still something special.

I always like what ECR does; there is real heart behind whatever it gets involved in. It’s a big commercial station in a key region but somehow manages to keep a community-station feel about its content.

This idea shows that we don’t always have to do the latest and greatest to be innovative but do it in a way that means something to your audience.

New lineups

Just in closing, by the time you read this, most stations will have been several weeks into new lineups. There are no major changes this year and I qualify major moves as changes in the AM and PM drives. Rather, there have been enhancements to supporting casts in those shows and other shoulder shows, with the biggest name move being Tumi Morake taking over breakfast on Motsweding with Amon Mokoena.

Keeping lineups stable is not surprising as the precarious nature of most listenership numbers means that no station wants to take the risk of upsetting their audience at this point in time. While stability is always lauded, I also wonder if it points to the possibility that no new talent is coming up, or being given the chance to shine.

With so many other outlets available to young talent, do kids sit in their bedrooms dreaming of being the next Anele — or are their ambitions on being next year’s breakout YouTube star?

YouTube gives them the one-in-a-billion chance; radio’s odds are even higher.

[Full disclosure: While Primedia Broadcasting is a client of Ultimate Media, none of the campaigns mentioned above are by Ultimate Media.]

Paulo Dias