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Tuesday, June 19, 2012
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New Radio: The Splintering of Programming

It's really nothing new in the radio industry: programs that cater to specific segments of life. Weekends on many broadcast talk radio stations still carry a set of financial, gardening, home-improvement, and vehicle repair programs. You can even find a few community service programs if you get up early enough on a Sunday morning.

"As custom radio stations grow in number, they will replace the podcasts a majority of radio industry stations are/were capable of producing, but don't/didn't." But a new approach to programming online radio stations is starting to gain speed, in ways nobody was guessing as little as five years ago. Industry specific radio stations are beginning to grow.

"Custom radio" is the nomenclature being placed on these stations in the few instances when radio industry trades have written about them. Though, this label doesn't give the full competitive nature of these new radio stations, which are born to feed specific information to people in a specific industry.

In radio's past we've had "formats" covering country, AC, classical, rock, urban, etc. Programming was based on the lifestyles for lovers of each of these music genres (or talk formats, which swing from liberal to conservative). These formats will not disappear, but there appears to be a growing number of stations catering more to the lifestyles people live.

In recent weeks we've learned of Health & Nursing radio, Beauty Radio, Food Service Radio, Curated Restaurant music, and Century 21 announcing an advertising deal with Pandora that will include its own brand of real estate based radio.

In the past I've pointed to Live 365 and a number of other companies which are launching more "custom radio stations" for clients. This concept runs to items like "Heineken Green Room is a membership program that provides card carrying members access to exclusive contests and events." We've even seen the NAB produce its own radio programs, which air during conventions then, abruptly, disappear at the show's close. (Would radio people listen to an online radio station devoted to improving the radio industry?)

By themselves, the drain on broadcast radio's audience by the aggregate numbers of "custom" stations is minimal today.

What those in the radio industry need to heed is how specialty stations will be a concern as the digital dashboard becomes prominent in vehicles. Business people, looking for a more direct line on information that's relative to their career, will add audience to this concept (think of a perpetual audio self-help book in nursing).

On the plus side, we'll see more advertisers taking advantage of radio to reach a targeted segment of society - like a radio station aimed at food service personnel, with suppliers to that industry advertising on it to reach people in that industry.

Within radio trades we currently see talk of the morphing of podcasting. There's possibilities a podcast will become more valuable as technology becomes slightly more intuitive with the public. I'm not on the side that believes there's much future here, simply because so little audio programming is being produced that's worthy of storage for later listening.

As custom radio stations grow in number, they will replace the podcasts a majority of radio industry stations are/were capable of producing, but don't/didn't. After so many years, podcasts never caught on because the radio industry was too busy laying off the talent needed to produce programs worthy of "going back to listen to, later."

A custom radio station is a whole other story. It has a national (international) audience, and it's concentrating on gathering only those showing interest in one specific silo of information or entertainment. As an aside, it also can show accountability in advertising products because it is an "online radio station."

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