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Your second-favourite radio station: how NTS makes great radio happen all over again

Recycling your best content and making the most of it post-broadcast? Australian station NTS shows us the way

By James Cridland
Posted 30 April 2016, 9.50pm edt
James Cridland
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I regularly talk about making the most of your content: ensuring you don't fall foul of the 'transmitter mindset'. In radio, we produce content for the audience, not just to feed a transmitter, and that content has a much longer life than you'd expect.

It turns out that an innovative radio station is operating in my home country of Australia, which is using content in a very clever way. So, let me introduce you to NTS - News, Talk, Sport. NTS is a 24-hour talk radio station which makes great radio happen all over again, and I'm quite a fan of it.

I happened across NTS on my DAB+ digital radio in Australia, though it's also carried online and through its own mobile apps. It's also available for other radio stations to take, to add an additional stream for their websites as well as open up additional advertising opportunities. At first, I'll be honest, it was a slightly bewildering experience.

NTS sounds like a typical newstalk radio station: a presenter interviews someone about a topical subject. They finish the interview, break for commercials, and then... you hear a different presenter, a different subject, and a different interviewee. And then another, and another; plus some national news bulletins. It's like a continually-resetting talk station: because that's essentially what it is.

NTS is run by Macquarie Media, one of the large radio groups in Australia; and NTS is a national "best-of" network, with highlight interviews and features from Macquarie's local news and talk stations. It's a clever way of reinventing talk radio, and a surprisingly good listen.

I spoke to 2AY's Mark Taylor, who's also a fan. 2AY is an AM station in Albury, NSW, covering 150,000 people. He offers NTS with local advertising on the 2AY website, as an additional service for his audience. He says it's a great addition: allowing them to offer some of Macquarie's big names like Alan Jones or Ray Hadley. It's an on-ramp for advertisers, he said: a good low-cost trial for smaller advertisers to understand how radio works before committing to the higher costs of their popular AMer. It runs ten minutes of advertising an hour, helping keep ad yield higher on the main service, and makes money.

Bill Barrington, the General Manager of Maquarie Media Syndication, talked me through some of the secrets of how it works. Producers across Australia clip segments of their programmes after transmission. These clips are then edited to remove original station idents or "call now" invitations, and are then sent to NTS's playout service.

On a typical day, there are around 100 programming clips in the system, which are played alongside national news already being produced by Macquarie for partner stations. The clips themselves are scheduled as you would schedule a song: so if you regularly listen to the service, you shouldn't hear the same clip being used more than once. Oh, and those clips are as long as they need to be, so the station doesn't follow any typical time clocks, either. Another refreshing idea.

NTS also carries bespoke programming, including a politics show that, among other things, uses the full interviews with politicians rather than the soundbites from the news headlines. It also acts as an additional local outlet for sports coverage, where that makes sense - or, one presumes, as a sustaining service where streams would otherwise fall silent due to rights reasons.

It’s not aiming to be your favourite station, instead offering an additional stream to a primary service. And it does a good job in this: a safety-net for the button-puncher to keep them with Macquarie content even if the current subject on 4BC isn’t to their liking.

An entire national radio station, re-using the very best content from local stations, is an innovative idea. Even cleverer when you realise that it only takes half a staff member to keep it running. You can take a listen at http://radionts.com.au/ - where, usefully, you’ll get prime-time content whatever time of the day or night it is.

By the way - there’s also a “best of” station in London: “LBC London News” is a small, mostly-automated station that runs interview clips from the main LBC service, alongside news and sport bulletins, extended travel news, and occasional live event coverage. This small, part-time service posts similar listening figures to BBC Radio London. That, too, is worth a listen - as it, too, makes the most of great content.

James Cridland — James is the Managing Director of media.info, and a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. His website is at james.cridland.net, where you can subscribe to his weekly newsletter.
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