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Radio Research Paradox

Been conducting some informal research of late about radio consumption and the one thing that keeps getting mentioned as the main driver for radio is the opportunity to find new bands, tunes etc.  that you would not otherwise find out about [unless you have an array of friends who are all heavily into different musical genres]. 

The other main thing I’ve noticed amongst those I’ve spoken to is that people when asked to express a favourite musical genre, couldn’t.  They reeled off names of bands, traversing the traditional boundaries of genre.  Then they invariably said their musical tastes were "eclectic". 

If this small sample of the listening public were representative [and frankly, does it matter? ] radio stations [channels, whatever] should be being brave and playing a more eclectic mix. However, more and more stations, let alone programmes are now becoming more niche [though BBC 6 Music is pretty varied].  That is a result of the long tail phenomenon I guess, though broadcast radio costs are relatively low which has meant there’s always been a lot of radio stations catering to niche audiences [both geographically and editorially], only now there are more – look at the ultra-local radio stations around on restricted licenses [e.g. Malibu FM for 28 days only in Newquay!] and very niche online ‘radio’.  But this plethora of niche or ‘narrow’ stations would then make you think that people would shift around more programmes and radio stations to get the variety they obviously like? But from the research I did [and it was all quick and dirty] people only had a repertoire of two or three they could name and actively listened to. 

Odd, no?  So perhaps there is a paradox here. Perhaps in the drive to define ourselves and be defined by what we consume the producers of media are pigeon-holing us when what we want is more variety and eclecticism in the mix. 

What we could be seeing of course is the move toward a unique expression of a myriad of influences.  We are no longer ‘mods’ or ‘rockers’ or member of different ‘tribes’ but seek to draw upon a wide variety of influences to find and express our own unique ‘me’.   

My initial research seems to be backed up by Neo-Radio in the States which has cottoned on to this desire for more eclectic playlists:

A new style of commercial FM radio station
— based on eclectic music and informed commentary — represents a
backlash against the rest of the industry’s consolidation, narrow
playlists, and copycat sounds. Stations that have tried the new format
have shot up the charts.

Be interesting to see what happens over here. 

2 Comments
  1. Eclectic is definately popular, but it’s clearly not as commercial as playing ‘safe’ classic pop & rock which is less likely to make listeners switch off.

    One of the key barriers to more varied radio listening is simply that, unlike TV, switching stations on analogue radio requires a fair bit of effort. There’s also the familiarity factor – familiarity with the presenters and station formats.

    However, I imagine people with DAB listen to a wider range, and internet listening is a lot more pick-and-mix…

  2. I take your point Frankie – the dial is a barrier of sorts and from what anecdotal evidence I have people also tend to be very loyal to radio ‘brands’ especially on a local level [perhaps because there are fewer and there are wider editorial gulfs between ‘stations’].

    I actually think that the dial as barrier can be seen as partly responsible for the upsurge in popularity amongst stations that have become ‘braver’ and more eclectic. It is a fag to have to change ‘channels’.

    Take for example the rise of Radio 2 in recent years. It has become the national station and RAJAR figures report it to be the most popular of any media outlet during daytime. Their lastest advertising campaign on TV is based on the eclecticism of their output. This desire for a broader range of music and opinion is not a ‘youth’ phenomenon – but something happening across a far wider demographic. Ease of switching betweeen ‘channels’ won’t necessarily dent the popularity of the channel that has more varied output as I believe people like listening to things they might otherwise not listen to. There are obviously limits to this loyalty – I tune into a different station as soon as Eddie Nestor comes on BBC London! But allowing the Radio to represent a wide range of interests as opposed to reinforcing a narow range is, I believe, a new trend.. whether it is possible for many ‘channels’ to do this remains to tbe seen. I’m trying to think of other non-radio but media based examples of this desire for a wider editorial mix and a range of opinions… any ideas?

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