Why Radio Will NOT Fail

On Media UK last week an article appeared on Media UK – ‘Why radio will fail’.

To summarise the article, Scott Cohen made a speech at the International Radio Festival, arguing that radio (specifically, music radio) is dying out, because people no longer need radio to listen to music or to introduce them to new music – they just go straight to iTunes, Spotify or YouTube, and are introduced to new music by friends on Facebook.

“If you ask a teenager today, what would you rather have – a smartphone or a radio?” He says that radio receivers are slowly dying out.


Artists couldn’t talk directly to their fans in the past without radio: but now they can. “Radio used to be the place where you break an artist – now it’s the place where you ‘finish’ an artist’s launch.

James Cridland (quoting Scott Cohen),
Writing on Media UK

This article got us all thinking during one of our lectures at uni earlier this week. Is there any truth in the suggestion that radio is failing?

If you ask me, I would argue, quite strongly, that the answer is NO!

Firstly…the statistics. I don’t doubt that teenagers would rather have a smartphone than a radio. I probably would – but most phones these days have radios built in to them. Even my mobile phone, a cheap Samsung one, has an FM radio on it. A smartphone also has access to Internet radio.

Let me also point you in the direction of the latest RAJAR figures, which show that the number of adults listening to the radio via their mobile phone has risen to 18% (up 24% year on year – which is quite a significant rise). Specifically, 35% of 15-24 year old surveyed claimed to have listened to the radio using a mobile phone, and 17.4% have said they do so at least once a week.

So although teenagers may prefer to have a smartphone, this does not mean they don’t want to listen to the radio. It just means that they’re not listening on a traditional radio.

Now there is some truth in the claim that people go to their iPod, Spotify or iTunes when they want to listen to music. Perhaps, in a few years time, this may be a threat to the mainstream radio we’re all familar with. But some quite key things have been missed here.

Surely, not everyone wants to use iTunes or Spotify? CDs and vinyl still mean quite a lot to a large number of people. And then we must consider that the music collections we have on our computers and iPods lack the passion of the presenter.

Now… Each week I like to listen to both Desmond Carrington on a Friday and David Jacobs on a Sunday on Radio 2. They both play music which I don’t have on my computer. Many are tracks which are actually hard to track down on iTunes, Spotify and in the shops. They’re also not tracks which my Facebook friends are likely to recommend to me.

Specialist music programmes on the radio have introduced me to much more music than today’s ‘modern technology‘ will ever do.

What about other types of radio? I’d argue that drama, comedy, documentaries and news on the radio are strong, possibly even getting stronger. So even if music radio as we know it does fail, radio itself will not disappear. Here, I quote Peter Sissons speaking to me as he signed a copy of his book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival last October: ‘You’re studying radio? You’ve made a wise decision there, because radio is television for grown-ups, and there will always be radio. Never forget that’.

So we return to the question: Is radio failing? I’d argue that it certainly is not failing – and as long as it is able to adapt when new technology appears to threaten it, I’d argue that it never will.

These were just a few of my thoughs. I wonder what the world of radio will look like in 10/20 years time. We’ll have to wait and see!

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *