Is there still a place for traditional radio airtime?

The world’s first radio advert aired in the US nearly 100 years ago, the same year the BBC was formed and made its first broadcast from London.

Given the BBC’s dominance of the airwaves following its first sports and music broadcasts in 1927, the first radio ad wasn’t heard in the UK until as late as 1973. This followed the growth in the 1960s of pirate stations which paved the way for today’s commercial radio.

That first ad was for Birdseye food – heard on what was then the London Broadcasting Company, today still going as LBC.

Of course, almost a century has elapsed since 1922, and today’s broadcasting landscape is unrecognisable, with one major landmark being the 1995 UK launch of Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) radio.

Thanks to apps such as Spotify, it can be tempting to assume that younger people in particular no longer listen to mainstream radio shows. Yet all the indications are that the death of conventional radio listening could well have been grossly exaggerated. Many of us find it hard to imagine getting up in the morning or going on a car journey without flicking on some sounds, musical or otherwise, while Radio Joint Audience Research (RAJAR) figures show that in 2017 nearly 90% (89%) of people UK-wide tuned in each week.

In fact, in an average week, we might catch up to 21 hours of radio. And while there may be slightly fewer young people among radio audiences these days, the evidence shows that all generations, from baby boomers to millennials, are still listening. So, actually, radio still beats podcasts or privately stored music.

How radio is reinventing itself

There are now more ways than ever to enjoy radio, wherever you are, including via digital or DAB stations. Heart FM, for example, has nearly 9m weekly listeners, while its breakfast show, hosted by Amanda Holden and Jamie Theakston, is Britain’s biggest commercial radio show, reaching more than 4.5m listeners. You can listen via streaming and podcasts as well as tuning into the live broadcast.

Bauer Media launched New Country Hits Radio– the nation’s first exclusively country music brand – as recently as April 2019, so radio is always open to innovation.

As Bauer CEO Paul Keenan puts it, “Radio is the master of reinvention, the ultimate adaptive medium, and commercial radio has proved agile and opportunistic in launching new services.” Keenan has also publicly commented that “The UK’s love of radio shows no signs of diminishing.”

Indeed, in 2019, commercial radio in particular could be said to be having a moment, with ex-BBC broadcasters including Chris Evans, John Humphrys, Simon Mayo and Moira Stewart moving to the likes of Virgin, Classic FM and Scala Radio.

Why radio advertising remains important

It may not be the medium that springs immediately to mind, but it’s evidently a booming one. Radio is still a highly cost-effective way of reaching current and potential customers, despite an uncertain financial landscape.

Radio revenue in 2018 hit record levels of £700m, with an 11% decline in local advertising offset by a 5% increase in national advertising and a 7% increase in sponsorship. There was also an 18% growth in other relevant turnover (such as revenue from on-air competitions). In the third quarter of 2018, radio revenue increased 5% year-on-year.

Weetabix is one example of a brand which recently returned to radio (in autumn 2019) following a five-year break, with audio ads to complement its TV advertising. The move is part of a wider plan to triple ad spend across various media by 2020, and will reach new and existing consumers through national radio ads run between 8 and 11am.

As industry body Radiocentre put it, “radio continues to exceed expectations”.

Above all, it’s an intimate medium which forges strong emotional connections with listeners and cuts through busy daily lives in a way that other media often can’t, working its way into the imagination and the subconscious. Even the decision about which station to tune into is often an emotional one.

Research shows that listening habits are generally stable – possibly because in an era of fake news, radio somehow feels a lot safer and more trustworthy than other media. It also offers value for money and quick results.

What’s more, according to Radiocentre, the industry is expected to grow by a further 5% in 2020, so there is still very much a place for traditional radio and audio advertising in the twenty-first century. .

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