A Cuppa Media: Can a career in radio be done?

Written by Alex Veeneman

As the direction of the radio industry changes, some have wondered if a career is possible in the industry.

As the direction of the radio industry changes, some have wondered if a career is possible in the industry. Many different routes are taken to get into radio, but some debate whether a career is viable.

Richard Allinson, who has presented shows on BBC and commercial radio, notably Radio 2 and Capital FM, and is the recipient of multiple Sony awards in a career that has spanned more than 3 decades, says yes, a career in the industry is possible.

However, at the same time, Allinson says, a new strategy must come, particularly with younger audiences.

This week, Kettle had the opportunity to speak to Allinson about this, his current Radio 2 show and the future of the industry itself. Below is that conversation, a portion of which was edited for publication.

What is your assessment of the current industry? What do you think has been key to sustaining radio’s wide audience, that keeps people excited about it?

Commercial radio in the UK is about to enter its 42nd year and seems to aspire to the US model. What was a confusion of individually owned local stations is now a small and ordered collection of large specialist operators.

The notion of local broadcasting is old-school as groups ‘roll out’ their radio brands to the regions. Very on-trend. Drive the motorways with your tuner on ‘Seek’ and you can choose between, amongst others, 6 Smooths, 10 Capital FMs and 22 Hearts. Truly local radio remains with the 40 BBC Regional stations.

UK audience research suggests listening is marginally on the up. I’m not sure there’s one key driver here but, significantly, this is more about listeners listening longer and listening to more stations rather than the medium attracting new listeners away from TV, Facebook, Twitter, CandyCrush, their friends…Yes, there are more stations and yes it’s easier to listen to radio now, you don’t even need a radio. Radio now appears on your computer, phone, tablet, even your TV.

We really do need another word for radio. Thegrowth of digital makes it easier to retune and find stations again and there are more listening occasions. On demand listening such as BBC’s iPlayer means you can listen even when you can’t get a signal. And Radio is a true multi-tasking medium, it requires only an ear or two while you get on with doing something else.

Your weekend program has also been popular with listeners abroad in addition to UK listeners – how vital is the connection between you and listeners?

It’s essential. And radio is perfectly placed to make that connection because it remains the most immediate medium. We do not have the hindrance of pictures, typing, uploading; the listener only has a voice to focus on. This singularity means language can be hugely powerful, much more so than on TV. And the microphone is an incredibly analytical device.

I’ve always felt much more exposed in front of a radio mic than a TV camera. What we see on TV is exactly what we get from TV, it is all about control, but what we do in the radio studio plays out in the theatre of the listener’s mind in ways we can only begin to imagine.

Invite your listener to get involved and then you have that unique and wonderful thing, a live radio show. The beauty of the mobile device makes that a much more vibrant proposition than in the days of the letter and the postcard.

Do you think careers in radio are still viable paths for students? What is the most important thing for them to consider?

Definitely. There’s a wealth of new young graduate talent at Radio 2 and its evident on-air. Studying anything to degree level equips you with a lot of the tools necessary to articulate ideas in ways that might engage and entertain an audience.

This is vital because radio eats material and its appetite is huge. Contemporary hit radio will chew one idea up and demand another one 4 minutes later. What may sound like a bunch of people having fun on the radio is usually the result of hours of work.

The most important thing to consider is you. Have ambition by all means but I wouldn’t worry about a plan. I don’t know anyone in media, either in front of or behind a mic, who actually studied media or who had a plan. We all just ended up here.

What direction do you see the industry going in? What do you want to see from radio as DAB, the web and other new platforms emerge as the direction of the medium changes?

We have to attract new listeners with new content. However we listen broadcasters must exploit radio’s unique immediacy and involvement to engage and entertain young adults used to the myriad choices available online. Vital to this involvement is the relationship between broadcaster and listener.

An appointment to listen is more than just a brand statement. The challenge is to create a compelling and involving listen, and to tell people about it. Then they will come.

Richard Allinson presents the weekend early morning show on BBC Radio 2, Saturday and Sunday from 3-6am. Allinson is also Creative Director of Magnum Opus Broadcasting.

These interviews are part of an ongoing series featuring insight, analysis and perspective on the future of the media industry in the UK. Some of these interviews will be included in A Cuppa Media.

Have your say on the future of radio in the comments section below.

Cover image: M4th5 / Wikimedia Commons