James Cridland

The secret to achieve a growing radio industry could be as simple as this

I wrote this in London while getting ready for Next Radio. It’s a positive radio conference with an uplifting feel; you’ll now find many of the sessions online, free, on the Next Radio website.

Go to a radio conference in the US or Canada, and there won’t be very many smiling faces. There’s a general feeling in the US and Canada that radio is managing decline. But in other countries, radio is behaving differently.

The UK commercial industry has grown, over the past year, by 5.2%. It’s now a US $887m market.

Australian commercial radio has grown too — over the past year, metro stations growing 3.8% to a US $573m market (and there’s more from the regions, too).

Commercial radio in Finland is growing, too. Their figures are harder to decipher, but July grew by 6.6% over June; and June grew by 17% over May. The market’s comparatively small at about US $93m — but it’s doing better than the UK if you bear in mind Finland’s small population.

These aren’t the stories you hear from the US and Canada; and I’m often asked why.

It’s not an easy answer.

The UK’s seen relaxation of some regulations, and has a strongly multiplatform market (with AM/FM listening at under 50%). Brand consolidation has been an important part of the industry, as has national broadcasting.

Australia’s regulation has historically been quite relaxed, too, but it isn’t particularly multiplatform. Brand consolidation has occurred here as well, with great swathes of radio stations losing their heritage callsigns in favour of more straightforward national branding.

Finland has rejected digital radio, so isn’t multiplatform to any great extent. Much of radio is national, though there are a good number of local stations too. There’s no particular story of brand consolidation either.

So — at first glance, there’s nothing in common particularly to these markets. Except, I think, there is. And it’s probably rather more simple than you’d think.

In the UK, commercial radio has an effective industry body, Radiocentre. They promote the medium to agencies, lobby government, and sing radio’s praises. They’re really very good at it.

In Australia, commercial radio, too, has an effective industry body. It’s called Commercial Radio Australia, and they, too, promote the medium to agencies, lobby government, and sing radio’s praises. They’re tenacious and efficient.

And in Finland, their industry body is Radio Media. They lobby government, promote the medium to agencies, and market radio as well: to great effect.

Unlike North America, these industry bodies only look after radio. They don’t represent television broadcasters as well. There’s no conflict of interest here. Their only concern is a healthy radio industry. And they do that one job very successfully.

And, unlike North America, there’s one organisation doing everything from advertising promotion to lobbying and research. One, simple, straightforward organisation, made up of a membership of commercial radio broadcasters.

Perhaps one of the ways for a successful, growing, industry really is as easy as copying these successful countries — and establishing an industry association that has only one focus: radio.