Radio stations have embraced the reality that reaching an audience means going where that audience is. And today, that audience is online. The Internet has transformed radio into a visual medium wherelisteners can more accurately be referred to as users. And by implementing social networking media, like personality websites, blogs, MySpace pages, and Facebook profiles, radio stations are reaching audience members with an unprecedented level of interactivity. A recent survey conducted by News Generation among the top-20 radio markets collected more information about which type of social media stations are using and the function they serve. Findings from this survey and other noteworthy sources offer compelling insights and potential implications surrounding this burgeoning trend.
Among 36 stations surveyed, virtually every station reported that they use a webpage to provide extra publicity for the station and to stay connected to listeners. Websites appeal to the active listeners/users who visit the radio station site almost as often as they tune to its frequency. In order to satiate an ever-growing interactive appetite though, station websites must give their listeners more than what they can get on the air. Dana Hall from Radio-info.com states, “Social networking through your favorite station is one arena where broadcasters should be taking their websites.” Hall urges stations to go beyond their on-air format by offering web-only contests, expanded interviews with core artists, DJ blogs, systems for listeners to chat amongst themselves, and featured podcasts. By utilizing more interactive tools, a station website can help define and sustain a station’s brand.
As for the use and function of other social networking media, almost half of the survey respondents utilize DJ blogs, and several offer links to a DJ’s MySpace page or Facebook profiles. Why throw listeners to external sources outside the station realm? Again, that’s where the audience is. MySpace currently services 110 million users and Facebook houses 59 million. These users post their favorite photos, contacts, videos and songs and so naturally, their favorite radio station and DJ fall right in line. Websites for WQHT-FM in New York, Mix 102.9 in Dallas, KOST-FM 103.5 in Los Angeles, WJR-AM in Detroit, and WOMX-FM in Orlando, to name a few, all provide links to blogs, MySpace or Facebook. In essence, DJs are no longer just the voices or faces of a station. They are an added ‘friend’ and ‘favorite.’
As station websites gain more visibility, and relationships between stations and listeners grow to become more interactive, there are some potential implications worth noting. DJs must protect their exposure by strategically inviting new friends to their profiles, and stations must monitor the content posted in blogs or chat rooms. But some pundits argue that a handful of radio station websites abuse their visibility and make extensive use of hyper-sexual content just to encourage people to visit the site.
A study conducted by The Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy reports that some stations “continue to feature objectifying portrayals of women and so-called “soft porn” images [and] these images often have little to do with any of the music beyond appealing to a coveted young male demographic.” The study cited examples of website links that feature ‘babe of the day’ bikini pics or suggestive pictures that are posted by listeners and DJs. These stations have perhaps drifted farther from the station’s identity and granted too much creative space to a certain listener subgroup while simultaneously offending and alienating another.
Combined, the Internet and newly emerging social networking Meccas like MySpace and Facebook have molded radio broadcasting into a medium that will never be merely listened to again. Now it will be used, viewed, bookmarked, and responded to by interactive means beyond our imagination.