Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland
In a bar in Canada, two men jabbed their fingers at me – in a friendly way – and asked me a simple question. Where is the best-sounding radio in the world? What a great question.
I avoided the answer. We discussed it a bit. And I think we got broad agreement on what helps make great-sounding radio and the things you need.
First – the question expected a country as an answer. I don’t think that’s possible – there will be brilliant radio and rubbish radio across any country you look at. It’s also relatively pointless, too: you couldn’t go there and listen to it all anyway. Instead, the question is better answered with a city.
But which city? As we discussed it, we realised that you need a number of conditions to give you great-sounding radio.
You need a decent economy: one that helps radio companies invest in talent and programming, rather than solely cut costs. More money means more money for talent, production and marketing; and while it doesn’t always follow, a radio station with money spent on it will normally sound better than one without. Radio is growing in many markets in the world – both Finland and the UK have both posted record figures recently, and Australia is also up; but city economies are very different to country economies. Almost everywhere, large cities do rather better than rural areas in the same country.
You need a fair amount of competition, particularly within individual formats. No good just having one top 40 station; they can become complacent and don’t need to work as hard if there isn’t another station snapping at their heels.
And, as we chatted further, it would seem in most places, you need both public and commercial radio to keep the quality of both as high as possible. In most cases, public radio means fewer or zero commercials on-air, and the private stations need to bear that in mind when they produce their output. A high quality public broadcaster normally raises the quality of others.
A place with a multi-platform market helps to increase competition, of course. Whether it’s DAB or internet radio, more choice for the listener can lead to higher-quality programming, as radio stations work harder to retain market share.
Our beer-fueled panel also highlighted another condition: a fluid market. If there is no movement in the station rankings, things can get a little stale. But if there are regular upsets and switches in station order, that leads to rather more interesting competition.
Finally, and this is purely lazy, another condition is that it needs to be in the English language. This might be a little controversial, but it’s not much good pointing people to stations speaking Norwegian, for example, since the stunning programming might be lost on most people who don’t speak Norwegian. And as an Englishman, I’m inherently lazy when it comes to learning new languages. So, sorry. But there we go. (This column is translated into German, incidentally, so imagine the comments below the German version).
Anyway. With all those conditions in mind, I’d like to suggest the following four cities for “best-sounding radio”…
● London: a strong BBC, almost permanent switches between Bauer and Global’s stations for the commercial #1, and a huge amount of choice on digital.
● Sydney: well-resourced stations in a constant state of flux (at least on FM), with additional digital choice beginning to make significant inroads.
● Vancouver: Rather more movement in this market than Toronto, and therefore a more interesting listen than the “same old” from Canada’s largest market.
● Dublin: Very competitive market with a wide variety of stations and formats, both local and national.
And no, there’s no US radio market here. In the opinion of my friends round the table, US radio hasn’t been the “best-sounding” for many years. The comments are open if you think we’re wrong.
James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.
A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK’s ARIAS.
He writes for publications across the world, and runs media.info the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio’s future.
British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.