11 Jan 2016

Breathing life into dead air

Alan Wanders – Account Executive at Spreckley

Last weekend I cycled to Chelmsford. ‘The Birthplace of Radio’, a sign announced. Really? Little Chelmsford? The Birthplace of Radio?

Naturally, the claim is debated. In 1898, the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company opened the first radio factory in Chelmsford. Luckily for the microcity, Nikolai Tesla, inventor of radio, suffered a fire at his New York laboratory three years earlier that destroyed his work.

Radio could hardly be called cutting-edge, although it’s said to be having a bit of a comeback. Yet having contributed to the daily ambience of millions of listeners across the UK, its ‘comeback’ might be a bit of a red herring. The Today Programme alone has 7.18 million weekly listeners, and has been voted the most influential news programme in Britain in setting the political agenda. And that’s no flash in the pan: its listeners are loyal and have been tuning in for years.

That brings us to PR. Where the flood of press releases in the 1980s has raised two generations of sceptics who regard the daily paper with a scrutinising eye, radio might just be that final medium that people genuinely believe and invest in. Whether this is due to the presenter acting as an editor in real-time (if they’re any good) or because there are less visual cues to force snap judgements, radio poses a valuable opportunity for the canny PRO.

Imagine how stressful it is to provide novel content to span the entire day, every day. PROs can help: if relevant and well constructed, the offer of the odd on-air interview or pre-packaged broadcast could make a producer’s day.

Strangely enough, the prehistoric make-up of the radio broadcast is similar to the heady mixture of infotainment, distraction and brevity flaunted by Buzzfeed and other wildly popular internet news sites. As well as any other digital medium, radio matches the pace of modern life. Have you ever started watching the news and then turned to your laptop only to listen to the programme as it runs on in the background? You might as well turn that television off and listen to the radio. It is free, after all.

Since radio has been around forever (more or less), it’s easy to disregard as physical artefact. Yes, it was the first method of transmitting information to an entire population simultaneously, but its no-frills delivery of information has remained the same while the digital world turns a thousand times over. The undying relevance of its origin makes radio a haven for PROs and the birthplace of radio a cultural landmark.

Too bad Chelmsford, as an insomniac’s metropolis that hosts a thousand competing voices, New York takes home the plaque. Having said that, Chelmsford is quite nice. There’s a cathedral and a Zizzi’s.