Photo: Eric Davidson.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Radio and podcast broadcasters put a new spin on radio’s future

Many Canadians, especially young ones, might think that radio is dead, with mega-hit podcast Serial holding the smoking gun. However, the presenters at Boom Box, Farm Radio International’s World Radio Day event, told a very different story.

The event, which took place on Feb. 13, featured a number of distinguished speakers from the world of radio and podcasting—Nora Young from CBC’s Spark, Katie Jensen from CANADALAND and Weird Canada, Kevin Perkins from Farm Radio International, and Piya Chattopadhyay from CBC Radio, who hosted the panel discussion.

The event took place live at the McMillan Agency’s studio in the ByWard Market, and was broadcast on University of Ottawa community radio station CHUO and live-streamed with video online. This multi-faceted media use seemed to be representative of the hope that radio will be able to coexist with the recent technological advances that were predicted to destroy.

Over the course of the event, the panelists discussed the rise of podcasts, both niche and blockbuster, and the growing role radio is playing around the world, especially in developing countries.

“We’re in a luxurious position in the Western world that radio is something that happens and entertains us,” said Chattopadhyay. But in other countries, it can be a lifeline. “How you grow your food, whether a certain threat is growing, that is all disseminated through radio,” said Chattopadhyay.

“I think one of the wonderful things in the electronic age is that there’s a free publisher out there called the Internet,” said Perkins on the rise of podcasts in recent years. “Very good amateur craftspeople can now have an audience without a radio station.”

The podcast landscape has grown to the point where, in addition to all the individual craftspeople, companies have emerged whose business model is built entirely on podcasts, like CANADALAND in Canada and Gimlet Media in the United States.

“20 years ago, people would bring books, newspapers, magazines on the subway. Now they download podcasts,” said Jensen.

So, will radio be the victim of a Serial killer? The panel instead suggested that perhaps these hit podcasts aren’t here to replace radio, but to coexist with it.

Perkins said big broadcasters should embrace the changing ways people consume media.

“Public broadcasters have to realize that a lot of their content will be listened to not over air, but (as podcasts) by young adults who are washing the dishes,” he said.

Perkins also said that the learning should go both ways. “I think one thing that public broadcasting can help podcasting with is journalistic standards,” he said. “That’s been argued out over 75 years in Canada, and I think we’ve got a pretty good set of them.”

The panelists covered a lot of ground in the hour-long event. According to Claudia Gutierrez, one of the event organizers, that was the idea. She said the goal of the event was getting people talking about the future of audio.

“I hope that people are thinking of radio as a global community,” said Gutierrez. “Radio is such a huge component of people’s lives in other parts of the world.”