Young people still listen to radio, but they spend less time on it. Ideas on how to engage the Smartphone Generation and keep radio relevant for a young audience.

How to reach young radio listeners in a multi-platform world? The Belgian public broadcaster builds 360° brands to reach young people with radio by doing more than just radio. UK radio professionals shared similar and other ideas in The Radio Academy‘s excellent RadioTalk podcast. “You’ve got to brainwash your audience to always think of you.”


“The range of entertainment

at their fingertips is enormous”



George Ergatoudis, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra, Radio Festival 2011

BBC Radio 1 music director George Ergatoudis knows the challenges of reaching a young audience that is always connected to the Internet via mobile devices, more than to the radio via desktop equipment (photo: Thomas Giger)



Pre-sell content coming soon

“Keeping our young audience listening to the station is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we have”, BBC Radio 1 head of music George Ergatoudis realizes. He sees every program element – from promos to content to music – as important. “Everything is a potential switch-off point, or a moment of enjoyment, or a moment of push forward to keep them listening. There are some very old-school techniques that still matter. Give them an appointment that’s coming up fairly soon or create some kind of a narrative or soap-like plot.” In his experience, it’s easier to engage listeners within one day part or ask them to come back during the same day, than to make them return later.



teenage girl holding mobile phone, young woman using cell phone, young female using smartphoneCatch youngsters online & mobile

While young people still listen to radio, they listen for a shorter amount of time. And it seems that it’s happening fast. Ergatoudis knows that last year, BBC Radio 1 lost 10 percent of its hours, while Capital FM lost 19, and KISS even 21 percent (!). He thinks it’s important to anticipate on the fact that a young audience is addicted to smartphones and other mobile devices. “The range of entertainment at their fingertips is enormous.”



Play awesome new music

How to keep radio relevant for a young generation that consumes music, games, videos and social updates on a mobile device? BBC Radio 1 wants to be present on many platforms, but what comes first for George Ergatoudis is an audience focus. “You have to understand what their life is like, and what they are looking for in radio and entertainment. What is compelling for them?” Research indicates that music is still a key driver for young people to listen to the radio: “The vast majority of people do tune in for the music predominantly. It’s my job to make sure that the music is absolutely relevant for a young audience or is brand new, and is really going to excite them.”



“It’s like paparazzi shots”



Nicki Minaj, KISS, YouTube

KISS program director Andy Roberts stresses that immediacy is everything when you put (the visual version of) your radio content, such as morning show celebrity interviews, online for a young audience (photo: YouTube / KISS)



Be listenable, watchable & shareable

KISS PD Andy Roberts wants to produce multi-platform content as “the audience is stimulated by more than audio.” Similar to the vision of BBC Radio 1 Controller Ben Cooper about radio innovation (listen, watch, share), Roberts is describing their own strategy as “hear it, see it, share it. You might hear the interview with Nicki Minaj on KISS, but then you’ll also be able to see it pretty quick and share it with your friends. That’s really thinking of more than just the touch point of audio through speakers.” He regrets that these other types of content are currently not measured by RAJAR.



Andy Roberts, KISSMake interviews sound human

As Nicki Minaj would probably also pay a visit to their competitors BBC Radio 1 and Capital on the same day, who will also post a video version of the radio interview online, how can KISS make a difference? The program director (photo) replies that they have their own style of celebrity interviews. “We’ve always wanted to put presenters on the same level as the artist and the listener. There’s no ivory tower and it’s very touchable.”



Publish online version fast

Producing and publishing the visual radio version of your audio broadcast is all about immediacy. Andy Roberts: “It’s like paparazzi shots; the first picture to get out wins.” The station’s goal is “getting into somebody’s timeline” because it’s “less about them coming to you” and “more about you getting to them” on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other places where a young audience like to hang out. “If you’re an audio producer, you should know how to edit video as well”, is Roberts’ advice for today’s radio people. Most of the staff at KISS is multi-skilled and trained in video production.



“What we’re trying to do, is atomization”



Rod McKenzie, Newsbeat, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 1Xtra

Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie has a news team that includes social media producers, in order to be present on as many online platforms as possible and interact with the young audience there (photo: Twitter / Rod McKenzie)



Produce several content versions

Rod McKenzie is Editor of Newsbeat for BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra. The team is always looking for ways to present content, besides putting it on the radio or sticking it on the website. “Some of our stuff on YouTube is enormously successful because YouTube is the website of choice for young people.” Radio 1 has social media producers who post content, and receive content back. “It’s a job I see having a long life, because we need this sort of communication.” Although YouTube is an important channel for Newsbeat, they also post audiovisual content on Facebook and short clips on Twitter’s Vine.



social media logosBe heard & seen everywhere

“What we’re trying to do, is atomization”, McKenzie says. The BBC’s flagship news service for a young audience wants to blast content out to as many platforms as possible, most of them being online. “You may want to consume us in an old-fashioned way or in some new way, like grabbing a 15-second chunk of a Newsbeat video because it looks interesting on Twitter. That’s how we’re providing content across the whole spectrum.”



Find interesting storytelling angles

How do they make a history-based news event relevant for 15- to 24-year-olds, like the passing of the Iron Lady? “After she died, we were voxpopping members of our audience who were saying: ‘Who is Margaret Thatcher? I’ve never heard of her.’ We’ve had a lot of social media interaction, saying: ‘She’s an old person. Why do I care? Why was she so famous? I don’t understand.’ So we kind of picked that up as a theme.” In the middle of the Ding-Dong controversy, a Newsbeat reporter went on the chart show to explain why a song from a musical that’s been produced before the Second World War suddenly found its way into the UK Top 40.



“Being memorable is a massive part”



Hattie Pearson, Xfm

Xfm radio presenter Hattie Pearson explains the importance of becoming top of mind with a young audience, like being active on social media platforms to connect with them personally (photo: Twitter / Hattie Pearson)



Don’t act artificially popular

How does BBC Radio 1 drivetime host Greg James prepare for his show to make it interesting for a young audience? “I try not to panic”, he replies. “There’s an obsession with: everything’s got to be young. Good radio is just good.” His advice is to be interesting and funny; targeted and relatable. “When I was 12, being a radio nerd, I wasn’t sitting there wondering how old the presenter was. I just enjoyed listening to Chris Evans, Christian O’Connell or Chris Tarrant. You go to a radio station for the music. If you like the presenters, you stay.”



Greg James, Ian Chaloner, BBC Radio 1Use your team mastermind

James is also anti-hype concerning online video – seeing it as an addition; not as a replacement. “If radio is good first and there’s a great supplementary video, that’s amazing.” He does talk a lot with the team about what to do in the show and how, because “that’s when you get the best stuff. If you write a book, you’ve got an editor; if you write a song, you’ve got a producer. There should always be someone else to help you.”



Connect music to imaging

How can radio engage a young audience even more? Xfm weekend nightshift presenter Hattie Pearson believes that “being memorable is a massive part”. She mentions a tweet @thehitsradio of a listener who commented that whenever he heard Avicii, he thought it was on The Hits, because Avicii was included in the station’s on-air imaging a lot [which shows the impact of, for instance, format explainers, music promos and power intros]. “You’ve got to brainwash your audience to always think of you”, Greg James adds.



“Pick up on the thing that’s hot

and associate yourself with it”



Greg James, BBC Radio 1

BBC Radio 1 drivetime personality Greg James learned that reflecting the day in your social media posts and radio shows is a good way to engage with a young audience on a regular basis (photo: Daily Mirror / Phil Harris)



Fulfill audience expectations (online)

Pearson points out that you should create an online profile that’s focused on what you do on the air – basically the principle of meeting listener expectations, applied to social media. “I might gain followers from doing my Xfm show. People expect me to tweet about going to gigs and talking about what Jake Bugg might be up to – making sure that I’m not totally random; always talking about cakes or about how much I want a cat, hahaha.” She adds that while you should be tweeting a lot about your profile topic, the audience still wants to see a bit of your personal life. “Telling those stories is very important for people to be able to connect with you on a personal level.”



TheRobEllisShow team, The Rob Ellis Show team, Rob Ellis, Rachel, Wingman, Capital FM Manchester, 102 Capital FM logoPost updates all day

Twitter lets us continue the conversation after the show and tease content for the next. Pearson finds @TheRobEllisShow on Capital FM Manchester a good example. “You can kind of see tomorrow’s breakfast show being built throughout the day. It’s hitting several different audiences; not just the ones that are on Twitter in the morning. If you’re driving on your way to work, you’re not on Twitter – but you might be in the afternoon.”



Be fashionable and relatable

Greg James recalls that when he was on the early breakfast slot (which ended at 6:30 AM), he and his producer Neil Sloan used a blog to keep the conversation going. Today, he’s using social media, as they’re much more instant. He advises to engage a young audience by reflecting the day, like he does during his afternoon slot on Radio 1. “Especially on drivetime, you can pick up on the thing that’s hot and associate yourself with it. One of the reasons that I’ve managed to move up the schedule pretty quickly is that I’ve managed to get people interested through Twitter and Facebook; knowing about me outside of the show. That has been such a massive part of my last few years.”