Online radio could compromise the listenership of ‘traditional’ radio

Radio stations around the world have taken note of the rise of popularity in Online Radio. Quite truthfully, however, first world countries are more conscious about it than third world countries because of the difference in accessibility and affordability of internet.

In the American context, more cars are being installed with internet access, which poses an immediate and increasing threat of listenership of the AM/FM radio stations. Furthermore, due to the technological advancements in devices such as smartphones and tablets, more coal is added to the fire.

The same cannot be said for South Africa, but why? Four individuals who were interviewed, all of whom are highly involved in the radio industry, agreed. According to Natalie Brandreth, the administrator of UCT Radio 104.5fm (the community radio of the University of Cape Town), says that this is for a number of reasons. The cost of internet and data packages in South Africa is just too expensive for listeners to be able to freely stream online radio at one’s leisure. And the handful of individuals who do have Wi-Fi in their households belong to the upper-income group – which does not make up the majority of the South African population. Mrs Brandreth goes on to say that terrestrial radio caters for all the official languages, whereas the online route is predominantly spoken in English.

Duncan Patrick, a senior radio presenter at UCT Radio, states that “FM [radio] is not compromised at all. Radio [in South Africa] has a bright future” and he goes on to say that technology is not as advanced here yet to allow online radio to do any listenership damage. Mr Patrick also has an optimistic approach, claiming that South Africans are “loyal listeners to their FM station.” He claims that there is not a single online radio station that has a strangling grip on terrestrial stations; not even which has close to sixty thousand followers on Twitter.

That is the perspectives of individuals who are involved in the terrestrial radio sector, but what does the alternative party say? Richard Griggs, a former radio presenter at KFM and CapeTalk and more recently, founder of Zone Radio (an online radio station based in Cape Town), agrees that frequency radio is forecasted to keep its hegemon in the broadcasting industry. Mr Griggs says that for online radio to start ‘stealing’ listeners away from terrestrial radio, the price for data in South Africa must be lowered significantly. This would result in listeners turning off the car radio and streaming their favourite online station on their smartphone on the way to work. Where online radio has the upper hand, continues Mr Griggs, is their niche market. You can turn on your car radio not knowing what music to expect. The online route caters for specific audiences, who can choose the music they want to hear. Richard suggests that where online radio has perhaps ‘stolen’ listeners from terrestrial radio is in the household. Where one would listen to their kitchen radio per say, may very well replace that by streaming their favourite online music station. But as mentioned earlier by Natalie Brandreth, even this is limited due to the accessibility and affordability of internet.

Duncan, Richard and Natalie have confidently acknowledged that terrestrial radio will continue its hegemon for the foreseen future. Mark Firtzgibon, also a radio presenter at UCT Radio and an active vlogger, stipulates that online radio is much like smaller community radio stations: they may have a fan base, but nothing more than “leaching” off of the main commercial stations.

One day in South Africa, online radio may pose a similar threat to that of the USA or the UK. But for now – while the accessibility and affordability of internet [and data] is crummy, ‘traditional’ radio has, without a doubt, the upper hand.



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