Radio Roles

Radio Programming Roles

Chapter 6 - Using New Technology


new technologies are having an enormous impact on radio, what we listen to - and what we listen on. More than that, they also impact the way we listen and communicate interactively. The whole culture of communication has been changed across the worldlargely due to the switch to digital and the Internet.

I remember going on a photo shoot with my son when he got his first digital camera. We soon came to the conclusion that we had to treat digital photography as a different medium from what we had been used to. Although a digital camera can do many of the same things – and more – we seriously limit its potential if we only use it in the traditional way. For example, a digital camera delivers immediately photos that we have just taken. There is no processing. A digital photo can also be instantly transmitted by e-mail to any part of the globe via the Internet. Neither of these were possible under analogue.

In the same way we limit ourselves considerably if we make radio programs for the new media in the same way as for traditional use. New wineskins also call for new wine! A radio program becomes something else when it is listened to on the Internet, via an iPod, or other mobile device. Why? A few reasons come to mind:  People use new media differently and listen in very different contexts.  New creative possibilities exist. 

Why? Because new media are more than the technology itself, but also the social environment that goes with them. New technologies enable new ways and styles of communicating, and these in turn encourage new technologies. And so we move forward, the one feeding off the other.

What technologies are we talking of? Here are a few:

  • Smart phones like iPhone and Blackberry
  • SMS/text
  • iPod or MP3 player
  • Internet download
  • SD cards
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Description and Use

  1. Mobile/cell phones

    Mobile phones (or cell-phones, or hand-phones) have had a revolutionary impact on the way we communicate. In fact the name is misleading because phones are capable of performing so many functions these days with the arrival of 3G technology. Text messaging and camera functions were among the earliest features that made a mobile phone much more than a phone. The latest technologies now enable more connectedness than ever before and in many instances have replaced the need for personal computers. They have also brought the Internet and its related technologies to remote locations where land-lines are not yet available. The people of this world are now inter-connected to an extent we have never seen before. The Internet has been the most revolutionary communication technology since the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1440.

    As of this writing (October 2011) there are over 5 billion mobile phones in the world which means that on average 5 out of 7 people now have them. In many countries the penetration of mobiles is 100% or more (with some people having more than one).

    How can they impact what we do in radio broadcasting?   Here are few of the most popular ways (apart from the obvious of simply being a phone!):

    SMS feedback: Listeners now have an instant feedback mechanism which can be used in a variety of ways. Song requests can be texted directly to the presenter as the program plays to air. Talk-show hosts can also have immediate input from listeners. It might also be used for taking a quick poll – what people think about issues, or what their preferences are for sports, politics or whatever.

    Accessing web-related content such as Twitter and Facebook that corresponds to the program and encourages listener feedback.

    Reporting from listeners stuck in traffic, or who have been on location when some significant event has happened. They can provide on-the-spot reports for the morning Breakfast Show, or something similar.

    Listening: Many mobile phones are equipped with the ability to receive FM radio stations. In some parts of Asia listening via mobile phone is quite popular.

  2. Web/Internet access:

    The Internet itself is much more than e-mail and web-browsing. Interactive social networking now accounts for much internet traffic and adds another powerful dimension. Two stick out above the rest:

    • Facebook which in 2010 has around 400 million subscribers and has risen from nothing in just four years. It is the social networking site of choice for young and old alike. It enables people to find friends and start communicating. Much of the dialogue is social trivia but it also provide a forum for special interest groups. Radio programs can make use of this by having their own Facebook site or group which can supplement the on-air broadcast and provide opportunity for devoted fans and followers to interact and provide valuable feedback to program producers.
    • Twitter is newer and restricts messages to a mere 140 characters, but is an amazing way of passing terse messages quickly or for distributing pictures, videos and files. “Tweeting” can provide instant feedback to broadcasters. Broadcasters in return provide “followers” with instant breaking news that draws them to their broadcast.

    Knowledge at the click of a button: Powerful search engines like Google and Yahoo! find articles on almost anything we need to know within a few seconds. Wikipedia provides an on-line encyclopaedia of knowledge on anything or anyone – and at no cost. News sites are in abundance – not just for reading but also for listening to. YouTube also provides us video-on-demand on any topic under the sun.  It has never been easier for the broadcaster to do background research for his or her program.

  3. SMS texting

    Texting is a very quick and easy feedback tool for listeners to use. Although there are indications that it some parts of the world its popularity has been surpassed by social networking we still find that it is very cheap and affordable. For the broadcaster it provides a very adequate method for getting immediate feedback and interaction. Song requests, answers to questions, opinions can be fed back to the presenter while he is on-air. In some cultures it is preferable to calling a station since it hides ones voice and allows for greater anonymity. It is also an easy way for a listener to contact a presenter directly and submit questions for the program host or his studio guests.  Radio stations can also use SMS (Short Message System) texting for distributing information to a wide group of listeners in connection with their schedule.

    It can also be used as a quick-and-easy way to do research by soliciting immediate response from listeners – perhaps saying where they are listening, or what they are listening to at a precise moment.

  4. iPod and MP3 Player

    People today are enjoying greater flexibility in life by arranging their listening or viewing habits to suit themselves. One of the increasingly popular ways of doing this is by listening “on demand”. This usually involves going on-line via the Internet and downloading favourite programs that you need – and when you need them. Downloading of programs onto a computer can also be automated. In some countries this is available for TV programs too. The iPod or MP3 player, is a small device that plays back these recorded programs on a small mobile device and provides a personal listening experience via headphones. It is a common sight these days to see commuters on their way to work listening to their favourite music or radio programs.

  5. Internet streaming

    This is provided by many radio broadcasters. It enables people with an Internet connection to be able to listen to such stations anywhere in the world. This is convenient especially for diaspora people, living in parts of the world remote from their own country and culture. It also means you can listen to the radio while working at your computer.

  6. SD cards and memory sticks

    Where cassette tapes were once used for distributing important information for study SD cards and other solid state forms of memory stick are now taking their place. They are robust, cheap and extremely compact. They also contain ten times the amount of information or more, depending on their capacity. They might be seen as extensions of radio stations in areas where the signal is weak or outside of broadcast coverage. They can also be used in areas where private broadcasting is not permitted or where the terrain is not conducive to FM transmissions. Unlike CD and DVDs they are re-useable. The digital MP3 files they contain can also be played on a variety of devices including computers and dedicated MP3 players.


  7. Summary Comparison Table
     Type  Listen  Feedback  Upload/Input  Download  Discussion
     SMS    X  X    
     Mobile?cell  X  X      X
     iPod/MP3  X      X  
     Internet d'load  X      X  
     Facebook    X  X    X
     Twitter    X  X    X
     SD/Memory  X      X  







New Ways of Communicating

It needs to be understood that each of these is a different medium. They may all fit very well with more traditional media but we need to understand that people use these different media in different ways. And because of that it may be necessary to adapt the same content to the different media as appropriate.

New technologies also encourage new ways of communicating.

They are not just new technologies but new forms of communication that we have not seen before. Some like Facebook and Twitter have developed and encouraged their own culture and sense of community. It is an informal, interactive global culture that is almost completely unregulated in terms of content and style. People can write whatever they like. They can even conduct campaigns of protest or to advocate a cause or the promotion of a product. 

But this new culture also impacts the way we use traditional media. Expectations of media become different. Passive listening is transformed into interactive listening. Broadcasters can now be challenged on what they say – and disagreed with. Listeners for their part are being empowered to speak up and voice their opinions and ideas. Inevitably this impacts the way we make radio programs.



Last updated 19 Oct 2011