James Cridland

Can a smart speaker replace a kitchen radio?

Last week, a small fluffy bundle arrived in our house. We now have a small puppy — she’s lovely, thank you — and the effect to my radio listening has been interesting.

Next to the sofa was a jumble of wires — something to charge an iPad, some USB-C connectors to charge laptops and mobile phones, and a different USB connector to charge an ebook reader and, oh god, my doorbell, I have a wifi doorbell, it needs charging every so often, heaven help me, what has happened.

Anyway, you’re probably well ahead of me: but for some reason, wires and puppies seem to have an attraction for one another, so after seeing at least one of those cables being chewed and ruined, the charging station is in the much less satisfactory location of the kitchen.

Like any normal household, we don’t have enough plug sockets. I could unplug the microwave, but that would be foolish, so instead, I unplugged the only other thing I could unplug: the radio. Yes, the radio is gone. And this receiver is the one I use most often (particularly now, given puppy’s little bladder means she gets us up at 5.45am).

In the radio’s place, in one of the six USB ports that I now have available, is a little Google Home mini speaker. It is this that I’m now having to use as a radio.

This has been interesting. Instead of the 60-odd stations available to me on DAB+ in Brisbane, I now have probably a hundred thousand to choose from; and many more podcasts, too.

My listening habits have changed — but probably not in the way you think.

I’m still listening to my local public radio station, ABC Radio Brisbane, given it’s got decent local news and I recognise the voices there. I ask “Hey, Google, listen to ABC Radio Brisbane” and it responds that it’s playing “Six hundred and twelve ABC Brisbane”, which ought to be “six-twelve ABC Brisbane”, except this branding was dropped 20 months ago. It works, though.

But I’m also listening much more to my local community music radio station, 4ZZZ. This station doesn’t broadcast on DAB+ here in Brisbane, and so I listened very rarely to it. Being on the level playing field of the internet, however, I’m remembering to ask for it rather more often. “Listen to 4-zee-zee-zee” is the strange incantation that I have to use: the station’s branding of “four-triple-zed” doesn’t work, of course.

I’m also listening to on-demand news (which, I might point out, can now include “Podnews podcasting news”, my daily news service, on both Google and Alexa speakers). But no, I’m not listening to any overseas radio. (Few people ever do, says the research).

There’s no doubt that smart speakers are being used more than ever to listen to the radio, and that’s good news for the industry. I’ve certainly discovered that it is a very viable replacement for a kitchen radio. But it’s been interesting how it’s changed my radio habits, too — rediscovering a radio station on an inconvenient waveband, and hearing a bit more on-demand content, too.

Checking how your station is presented on these speakers is probably a good idea. I’m not of the opinion that you need “a skill” necessarily; but you certainly need to ensure that the service works as you’d expect, and with the spoken brand you’re using on-air. Both a Google Home Mini and an Amazon Echo Dot are very cheap to buy, and you probably ought to.