Did technology kill the radio star? Here's why it didn't.

The real radio star embraces the technology with which they can connect personally with their audience.

By Ken Rayner
Posted 25 July 2014, 6.52pm edt

Over the years I've come to allow the insidious whining of a small, but vocal, subset of people who have worked in radio at some point in their lives (but are most likely no longer employed in broadcast) that bleat on about how great radio once was and how, now, it's not - because technology ruined it.

I've allowed it to nibble away at the edges of my consciousness for nearly 20 years. Whether the gripe is around computerised playout systems, networking or "the internet" ruining things for "proper" radio DJs, the mantra is the same, never-ending dull rerun of the same dismal arguments that keep these people from truly wasting simply all their time every day.

Here's a typical article where moany old gits bemoan stuff and moan some more.

The truth is, technology did not, and never will, kill the radio star. The real radio star embraces the technology with which they can connect personally with their audience. Radio stars at LBC create and guide conversations with the audience, tying in a broadcast medium with a manycast approach to social media. Radio stars at Absolute Radio play the music you want to hear on their genre digital services while investing time & energy into the bits in between. Radio stars at Central FM in Stirling create compelling, vital and life-saving on-air and online content during "snow days".

In a recent weekend, Jazz FM produced 19 hours of live broadcasts from a fledgling jazz festival in the Sussex countryside. Due to the not inconsiderable efforts of the team of radio stars there, every second of those 19 hours was filled with glorious audio content that, 30 years ago, would have taken an investment of several tens of thousands of pounds - most likely hundreds of thousands of pounds - to produce.

Thirty years ago, they would have needed a team of engineers on site throughout, costing thousands. That weekend, we had the grand total of zero engineers on site during the broadcast. Zero. I'll repeat it again, as it's worth repeating. Zero. None.

Thirty years ago, planning for circuits would have started 8 months previously and involved major infrastructure installations by British Telecom or eye-wateringly expensive satellite hires. Instead, we used satellite broadband at £25 a month and a cheap Pay As You Go 3G modem as backup, all arranged within the last few weeks before broadcast.

Thirty years ago, playing the music between the interesting talky-bits would have required a full studio installation in the Sussex countryside. So, what did we have? A bouncy old vintage Airstream that would have sent the needle on a piece of vinyl screeching to the centre but made the whole thing a lot more fun. We played out most of the music from London by controlling the already-expensively-installed-and-shiny playout system in London by remote control.

So, did technology kill the radio star who was able to spend the weekend creating engaging, lively and valuable content for the Jazz FM brand - or did it enable them? Did the fact they weren't able to line up a triple-stack mean they were somehow disillusioned with being in a radio studio because it's like "a medical centre" or did it give them time and energy to create the very next piece of engaging, live and responsive radio? Was the fact they couldn't play a piece of plastic on a turntable somehow an impediment to their ability to sound joyful and alive in their conversation with musicians and the listener? In short, did they fail at being a radio star because technology had arrested their abilities, their talent and their attitude to broadcasting?

No, they did not fail. They triumphed - as will countless radio stars of the future. As every day, every moment, people like me and other much cleverer engineers, developers and other technologists work to give vital oxygen to the talent that breathes life into radio and to the conversations with audiences around the world.

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Ken Rayner — Ken spent six years as Head of Technology with TLRC, and several years as a Broadcast Systems Manager after stints in programme management and traffic. Ken now runs his own broadcast technology business.