Radio's obsession with popularity
A few weeks ago I was having a nice conversation with a former RTÉ 2FM presenter about how the industry has changed so suddenly. Imagine my surprise when, just a few weeks later, that conversation was played out over social media.
Let me explain. I work in radio. I don't have the most amazing job in the world, but I have a great job in a great industry. I have lots of friends who work in the same industry. When there's radio news, there's reaction to it all over my social media feeds.
This morning's news is that the people's darling Greg O'Shea is being parachuted into a top job at RTÉ 2FM. People who have worked hard to refine their craft in radio are being overtaken by some chancer purely because gossip magazines happen to like him at the moment.
I get why we aren't happy, I just don't see how anybody be surprised. For the last couple of years all of the UK's top presenting jobs have been given to famous pop stars, existing TV stars and new reality TV stars. Hundreds of small stations with amateur presenters have been merged and replaced by one station with an all-star cast. It was inevitable that RTÉ would want to follow. The media industry invented influencers, and it worships them.
As an industry those of us at the bottom of the ladder should all be sticking together, but there is a danger of us all getting caught up in our own hubris. Radio isn't supposed to revolve around the staff, it's supposed to be thinking about the listeners. The listener is everything.
Is the average listener to a young people's station asking to hear more from a stranger who spent five years studying radio, or are they excited about hearing from the person they've been tweeting about for the last six months? I know what I want the answer to be, but I don't think it'll happen.
Life is full of "if only"s. If only I'd have known Bitcoin was going to be a big deal, I'd be rich now. Sometimes we back the wrong horse. Unfortunately I'd say all of us who thought the route into radio was hard work rather than having a gym body are in that very category. We took the wrong path at the wrong time.
That's not to say that there aren't programme directors out there who still value years of commitment. I've met a few of them and can confirm these people do exist. But if they're doing their job right then commitment will only be one of many things on their mind.
I don't want to imply that influencers are totally skill-less. They may not know the first thing about checking your levels or how much of Hotel California you should play before you start speaking. But most of them are experts in building an audience, creating content and encouraging engagement. We have been warned for over a decade that those are the skills radio is looking for. Why pay a producer to update the station Instagram page when you have an Instagram star behind the mic?
This brings me back to that conversation I had a few weeks ago. The world has changed. We might not like it - of course we don't. We might give out about how management or corporations or whoever are killing the industry. But we can't pretend we didn't know change was coming.
I totally understand why people who have been working hard to get into radio feel that they have been screwed over by the industry. We have. That's not unique to radio, it happens in most jobs. It's not a good thing, but it's not a new thing. It has happened to most of our listeners.
Listeners still believe that the world of media is all glamour and sunshine. I don't think they will give us much sympathy if we tell them that sometimes we don't all cuddle while the songs are playing because we've got our own office politics to deal with. Sadly we are expected to simply accept that old-fashioned principles won't help us in the new age.
Impossible though it might seem when circumstances are against you, the only way you can ever hope to compete with somebody who's doing better than you is to raise your game.