Business Music Industry Insights

Terrestrial radio vs internet radio: A guide for the African independent artist and tips on how to manoeuvre in the respective radio avenues.

In technical terms, radio is the transmission and reception of electromagnetic waves of radio frequency which carry audio messages — but too many radio is something that is beyond the technical description of the media platform. Radio has carved its way into the childhoods of many millennials as a platform where they got to hear the latest songs, discussions on topics that interested them and current affairs. As a traditional media platform, radio has been compartmentalized according to the different demographics that exist within the general population. The role of the radio DJ has always been important — in many cases people fall in love with the vast amount of personalities that exist in the radio space. Radio has, throughout history, formed and shaped cultures and created discussions that humanity needed to have to overcome its trials.

The way people think of radio in 2017 is drastically different from the way we people used to think about radio in the 1997. The year 1997 is possibly the most important in the digital age, as it was the web had seriously gained a lot of ground and more people had moved on from wrapping their heads around what the internet was to using it. It has been 20 years since then, but why is important that we include the web in the radio discussion. The answer to that question is simple — the internet was new and fresh and radio was a very flexible traditional media platform that could be integrated with the web. The concept of online radio existed in the heyday of the internet in the early 1990’s but successful implementation of online radio only came in 1997–1998.

Photo credit: Oliur Rahman

When internet radio stations started popping up in the late 1990’s, the radio space had to be segmented into terrestrial radio and internet radio — and these respective spaces were either complementing each other or going against each other. One thing is certain, the internet had opened up the flood gates for anyone to jump into the radio space and radio broadcasting was soon no longer a game which consisted of large corporate players.

Terrestrial radio still fares quite impressively as one can gain easy access to it — on cars, buses, cellphones, stereos and other digital devices that have radio functionality. You cannot separate terrestrial radio from the commutes of millions of people that head to work in the mornings. Morning radio slots have become vital for brands as the listenership numbers for radio shows are mind-boggling, this has led to a lot of money being paid for radio ads to be played in breakfast shows. Breakfast shows and afternoon drive shows are slots in a radio station programmes that bring in the most revenue.

Photo credit: Drew Patrick Miller

Internet radio has to compete with streaming platforms which house podcasts — which also draw large numbers of online listeners. The burning question with respect to internet radio is to understand how people generally behave online, what compels them to tune into internet radio stations and how long they listen to online radio shows.

The one way that terrestrial radio is adapting to the digital space, a space which essentially the predominant home of internet radio, is act of filming the radio shows and posting them on youtube. This strategy ensures that terrestrial radio stations extend the conversations created in the terrestrial space and also allows them to get a different type of engagement in the internet space. Internet radio has an upper-hand in having a platform which is highly measurably and one that can take advantage of the vast of amounts of listener data which they can easily mine from their web-based platforms. Terrestrial radio is difficult to measure and in most cases listenership research is often done by the a third-party and then the respective radio stations can use that data to curate the shows and come up with better radio programmes.

But how should independent artists think of radio? Both avenues of radio, terrestrial and internet, are important for artists but in the digital age they are not the only options for artists to get heard. Independent artists should always have the following on request:
1) Press release
2) Bio
3) Social media links

A proper public relations strategy which will ensure that the right person hears your work. In the internet radio space, it is important to target smaller internet radio stations and see if they have shows which fit your brand and the type of music you make. The artist has to make sure that they understand the differences of terrestrial and internet radio and how they work, particularly the means of contacting the right people.

A strong social media presence is key for artists and social media pages that are properly set up can assist with making sure that the right people within the radio structures get a feel of what you’re about and if you’re worth their time. It is also important to do more research on how to get on radio and the many alternatives to radio. A solid digital presence can go a long way.

While TV is dying, terrestrial radio is proving to adapt quite well to digital disruption and as a marketing tool for artists, it still holds a lot of value for promotion. In Africa, internet access is still an issue which makes it difficult for people to listen to internet radio and this is why terrestrial still has a strong grip in the continent. As an artist, you can get international radio spins if you get the right internet radio station to play list you. The key is to do your research and be relentless in your pursuit of brand recognition.