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Radio’s Place in Society

Despite a rapidly changing media landscape, radio still brings together communities, reflects diversity and allows access for all

Rosemary Smith

LONDON — The impact of radio in today’s society is undiminished. Faced with a multitude of media choices people still turn to radio in their every day lives.

Broadcast radio remains a strong presence in people’s homes and cars and now slowly on mobile phones — although streaming is causing some difficulties for not only broadcasters but also mobile network provides.

No matter the device people use to receive radio, the medium continues to have an impact on society as a whole. The power of radio is also something people forget — radio is personal, it speaks directly to the listener and shares their lives, points of view, culture and language.

According to the CIA World Fact book, there are some 44,000 radio stations (mostly AM/FM) worldwide.

That number however doesn’t include Internet stations, frequencies used by fire, rescue and police services, and the many other types of small “ultra-local” stations that service the smallest niche markets and interest groups. Yet, these small local stations are the backbone of many communities and cannot be replaced by social media alone.

Radio provides a voice for diverse groups within society with radio programs targeting ethnic groups, minorities, young people, old people and lower income households. The diversity of radio reflects the diversity of most societies today and is part of the radio mix.

Even the business of radio is seeing an increase in diversity with the number of women who now hold key positions in the radio sector. These include Dee Ford, managing director Radio, Bauer Media UK, Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio and BBC England and Susan Marjetti, executive director of Radio and Audio, CBC English Service, Canada, just to name a few.

The medium plays a crucial role in countries where the fabric of society is being destroyed through war. A quick search suggests that there are more than 20 radio stations in Syria on-air today. In other war-torn areas radio has provided stability, information, news, entertainment and sadly at times propaganda.

The importance of radio is clear whether during war or in natural disasters, as was recently shown during continued flooding this winter in France, England and across the United States — mobile communications went down while radio remained on-air, a vital communications tool.

Radio stations also provide a place for people to come together to share their collective grief or support their community. The recent terrorist events in Paris have impacted the world. Not for the first time did radio play a part in the aftermath of the events, which left communities in shock. Like all other forms of media, radio was used to show support for the people affected by the attacks.

A radio receiver today still costs a fraction of the price of a TV, mobile phone, laptop or tablet. In the world’s poorest countries, radio reaches communities where coverage for mobile reception and cost could exclude some members of society. At the WRC-15 radio spectrum continues to be protected for exactly this reason — access for all.

Radio is also still a hugely popular choice in cars with all cars today including an FM radio at no additional cost.

The accessibility radio offers gives drivers the chance to hear local and national traffic and travel information. There are no signs that the radio will be taken out of cars any time soon, and it is one place where the “lean back” nature of the medium is still key. However, radio will in the future have to fight harder for a share of the ear, and in general needs to move with the times to remain relevant to the younger generation.

There is a great concern that radio is falling behind, that there won’t be a place for it in the heads and handsets of younger listeners who are wrapped around their phones and tablets watching “Youtubers” and wanting content that is “Snapchatesq” in its simplicity and immediacy.

Radio stations are inviting younger presenters in all the time and they are accepting. The BBC has even hired a head of Youth Audiences, Patrick Collins, whose job is to help the corporation understand 12 to 24 year olds.

Other stations are following suit in hopes of winning over this very important and lucrative group, capable of ensuring that radio remains relevant in the future.

Radiodays Europe celebrates all the best bits of radio and the people who make it. This year the lineup of speakers reflects radio’s diversity, the impact radio programs have on people’s lives and society, the accessibility of radio, technology innovations, which bring radio to new and younger audience.

Rosemary Smith is press officer for Radiodays Europe.

Radio World welcomes other points of view. Please send comments to [email protected].