Today, all one hears on the wireless is music – and bland music at that.
One Direction, a boy band made up of children who can’t play instruments, dominates the airwaves with tunes that sound like all the other rubbish pushed out by the music record labels.
The biggest radio stations in South Africa are also saturated with “shout outs” and “office busters”.
The commercial stations are owned by a handful of media organisations that copy and paste the same formulae and the audiences don’t really have a say about what they listen to.
Or do they?
Internet to the rescue
Once again, the Internet saves the day. The first name to slip off the tongue, and the almighty FM dial, is Gareth Cliff. He took the bold step to not stay on a mediocre station and rather start his own one.
Darren Scott also started a web-based radio station and has become syndicated across the country.
The problem for these talented South Africas is that their competition is no longer just the other stations on the FM dial. Their competition is every other web-based radio station in the world.
There are millions of streaming radio stations on the web. Some simply play music, while others are just talk shows.
The cost to entry as an online radio station is small and anyone with a smartphone can start one and spread it on the web.
Online audiences are fickle, though. With such choice, it is easy to change a channel to something else. The majority will change channels regularly through the day.
This is not good for advertisers as the best measure of audience is something called “Time Spent Listening”. The bigger that number, the better.
Internet radio is the way
There are some amazing things being done on Internet radio. NPR in the US had a hit with their podcast “Serial”, with millions of people tuning in weekly to keep up with the story of a young man accused of killing a woman.
There are regular downloads available from organisations like the BBC, CBS, and ESPN. There are also online personalities like Ricky Gervais who presents regular programmes for our ears.
This is the type of competition that South African podcasters and online broadcasters will come up against.
Are South Africans currently keeping up? I think not.
The reason: broadband access is too slow and expensive.
The costs of access denies a large part of the population the ability to hear these great radio shows – forcing them to listen to mediocre radio on the FM dial.
There are promises of genius and bits of talent that shine through as students and young people stand up and make us realise there is more to radio than just music.
We live in hope they will go on and create better and bigger things. They understand the web better than I ever will, and they will embrace it and do things with it that will surprise even the most experienced web surfer.
Radio is not dead, it’s just resting, waiting, and will explode into a new, exciting medium. It will just be different.
Jon Gericke has over 20 years’ experience in broadcasting, and was a radio presenter at SAFM and East Coast Radio.