The Question of World-Class Radio

If you’re a regular radio listener or advertiser, how do you know that your chosen station is world-class?

  • Because whooshy swishes between songs tell you they are?
  • Because, every now and again, you’ll get a presentation showing some numbers that try to prove as much?
  • What are you comparing it to?
  • Is your station pushing the boundaries to offer you the best experience possible as a listener or advertiser?

How little has changed

I started writing this column just under three years ago and, when I sat down to plot what this column would look like over the next 12 months, I was struck by how little the game has changed.

When you need to identify a subject every month on a medium that is notoriously stable, you really start reaching for topics. Don’t get me wrong — radio’s stability is the reason for its success. It has largely dodged the segmentation issue affecting other media, and listeners love stability on air, but it leaves a sense of “so what?”

I look at radio stations these days as 24/7 of lost opportunities. Knowing what’s likely to come out of the speaker 365 days a year is great to a degree but at what point is your radio station taking you as an advertiser and a listener for granted?

When last did you come across something linked to radio that made you stop? When last did you talk about a radio feature round the dinner table? When last did your radio station introduce you to a technology or experience for the first time? You’re listening to a great station if you can name a handful from the past year.

So, what does this column look like from here on?


I want to open your mind to innovations happening in radio, every day, in markets where, if you stay still, you fall behind. I’ll look at markets similar to ours and some that are a little more removed. Now, I don’t believe anyone can do South African radio better than South Africans and we shouldn’t copy formats but innovation is innovation and, if you’re an advertiser, you should be asking your stations why they aren’t pushing the boundaries or using the tools available to create commercial radio programming that makes a difference to their listeners and, ultimately, rubs off on your brand. Let’s start this new journey in South America.

South America

The Copa Libertadores is the continent’s premier soccer competition featuring the biggest names. For the first time in 2018, it featured an all-Argentina final between Boca Juniors and River Plate. You don’t need to be a football expert or loyal watcher to know that South Americans are nuts about soccer and the rivalry between these two sides, in particular, sees fans burn each other’s houses down, non-stop crowd trouble and even homicides.

So, just a little tense.

To embrace this, a Uruguayan radio station saw the opportunity to run a feed to help fans with heart conditions and hopefully not die of a heart attack because of the final. The station, Radio Colonia, ran a calm and soothing feed of the match. Two commentators gave running commentary but were joined by a cardiologist throughout the game who gave recommendations to listeners so they could lower their heart rate.

In addition, commentators spoke in a calm voice and did not scream the obligatory GOOOOOOOOOOAL!!! when either side scored. Along with this, no crowd sounds were played and, instead, the commentary happened over soothing music.


Let’s jump across to Afghanistan and how it is using a radio drama series to battle polio.

Radio dramas are incredibly popular across our own African language stations and are an interesting tool for reaching audiences through infotainment. The long-running drama series, “Da Pulay Poray”, is set in the remote border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It has a huge following and combines drama, everyday stories and public information messages. The series has gone a long way to debunking myths about the disease in the country — where some people refuse to take the vaccination as they believe it’s George Bush’s urine!

And, finally, to the UK; the radio market in that part of the world — and particularly for their share of London — is vicious.


Across a number of stations, the UK boasts massive radio personalities and audiences. Listeners kicked off a new radio year with Zoe Ball becoming the first female host of BBC 2’s Breakfast Show — a station which boasts 15m listeners. She replaced Chris Evans, who moved over to breakfast on the newly branded Virgin Radio — which, to compete with the ad-free BBC, offered up its own ad-free breakfast show, instead featuring an over-arching show sponsorship. Not to be outdone, Radio X opened up its new year rebranded as Grohl FM — celebrating the 50th birthday of Dave Grohl, lead singer of the Foo Fighters.

Gimmicks, stunts and programming that looks to resonate with its audience — this is what radio should be, dynamic, surprising and built for new audiences.

Paulo Dias