VANCOUVER — Listeners are being given control of the airwaves, via software allowing voting for the next songs to be aired. With digital station Union Jack in the United Kingdom receiving millions of votes in its first year on air, Vancouver’s Kiss Radio has now become what it describes as the first “fully interactive” radio station in Canada.
The Kiss Radio mobile app.
The Rogers Media-owned station allows listeners to choose what songs are aired through a new voting system on its website and mobile app. Songs on the Kiss playlist are pushed up and down in real time through user votes, with the most popular songs going to air.
“Audience expectations are changing, and we’re always exploring new ways to deepen engagement with our listeners on digital platforms,” said Kiss Program Director John Hipper. “This innovative approach to song selection makes the listening experience a true partnership between our station and our audience, by offering listeners the chance to co-create the musical experience of the entire station.”
Clint Marsh is Futuri product manager.
The system at Kiss is driven by three audience engagement systems from Cleveland, Ohio-based Futuri Media: Post, an on-demand audio production and publishing tool for broadcast and original content; TopicPulse, a story discovery tool; and #engage, which powers the user voting system.
Futuri’s Product Manager Clint Marsh explained: “#engage is the evolution of a product originally known as ‘Listener Driven Radio,’ which launched in 2009 as a way to give listeners control of their radio station. That was a voting tool; today’s #engage has evolved into a fully interactive engagement tool, with a focus on social media It’s currently in use in the U.K., Canada, the United States, Italy, Brunei and Finland, with more territories launching soon.”
At Kiss, listeners vote on every song that plays, within a set of parameters that the PD controls. Stations using the system can choose from six different types of voting sessions to keep programming fresh. As well as voting songs up and down, other options include multiple songs pitted against each other, or listeners picking the number one most-voted song each hour.
“We install a program that enables our servers to interact with the station’s automation system,” said Marsh. “It’s a simple install, and from that point, the proprietary Futuri software does the work.” He explained that they’ve had to overcome challenges when interacting with listeners. “One of several examples: we’ve built many layers of security into #engage to keep voting pure, and protect results from overzealous fan groups who try and flood the system.”
At Vancouver’s Kiss, audiences can also sign-up to receive alerts indicating when their favorite song is about to play, and also share their favorite tracks to social to encourage friends to join in the fun. An up-to-date list of “Recent Songs Voted On-Air” keeps the audience informed of the station’s biggest hits.
Kiss also now uses TopicPulse, Futuri’s real-time story discovery tool that scans social networks and more than 100,000 verified sources of news and information on topics. This can identify which local demographics are responding to stories, and where those stories are in their life cycle. It’s combined with a live stream of content ideas specific to the format and target, based on the data, and curated by a team of writers and producers.
Giles Gear of Union Jack and friend celebrate the Best of British.
BEST OF BRITISH
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, listeners have been choosing the music for over a year at national digital station Union Jack. Launched in September 2016 on the country’s second national commercial DAB multiplex, over 100,000 people now tune in to the Oxford-based station each week.
“Jack as a brand has a history of innovating and ripping up the radio rulebook,” said Program Manager Giles Gear. “Union Jack continues that tradition by allowing every single song to be voted for by listeners, something that’s clearly popular, with almost nine million votes in just 12 months.”
Alongside the songs, Union Jack also features comedy. “Union Jack celebrates ‘the Best of British,’ which goes beyond just music,” explained Gear. “Humor is part of Britain’s DNA and Union Jack incorporates that into its programming. From IDs that acknowledge our love of queuing, to classic clips from British sitcoms, and even producing original, innovative comedy, Union Jack recognizes Britain’s love affair with comedy and provides a home for it.”
Union Jack logo
Listeners are also heard on air on Union Jack. “We are inundated with ‘Backchats’ on a daily basis,” said Gear. “These are short 20-second messages left on our app, that range from awful Christmas cracker-style jokes to people just thanking us for existing! The Backchat feature gives listeners a direct relationship with the station, and we’re constantly using their voices on air.” When asked how the listeners have influenced the output of the station, he sighed: “My goodness, they really love ELO!”
Alongside the national Union Jack, listeners are now also choosing the music on separate local Jack-branded stations in Oxford, Surrey and Portsmouth.