Digital technology has not dampened the public’s spirit for live radio - in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
According to OFCOM, 63% of audio listening hours are still live radio, while the official body for measuring radio audiences, RAJAR’s 2022 statistics show that nine in ten adults listen to radio in any given week.
“Listeners are now able to access the content they want, when they want it, wherever they are,” said Rob Wills, Head of Broadcast at kmfm - who is also the station’s drive-time presenter.
“But smart speakers - and of course other digital technologies, too - are levelling the playing field, especially for local stations.”
Smart speakers are just one of the ways in which customers continue to access radio, with much of kmfm’s output accessed by listeners in cars or on laptops and smartphones.
But as a local radio station with a small team and limited resources, he also says that simplicity is vital when it comes to operations and processes. That’s why he’s an enthusiastic advocate of Amazon Alexa’s Radio Skills Kit.
“Setting up the Radio Skills Kit was ridiculously simple. Genuinely ridiculously simple.”
kmfm was an early adopter of Radio Skills Kit: a no-code, free-to-use solution for radio providers which removes many of the barriers that local and independent stations face when reaching listeners in the digital age. It also gives radio providers access to their station analytics through a user-friendly console, offering them another way to measure their listener-base.
Radio Skills Kit now supports hundreds of radio partners in the UK and offers deep integration with Alexa features, such as multi-room casting and offering users the ability to set the station as their morning alarm clock.
“Setting up the Radio Skills Kit was ridiculously simple. Genuinely ridiculously simple,” he said.
“We don't have a huge team but the system works so seamlessly, and the fact it represents a sizeable chunk of our online audience today speaks volumes.
“We need to streamline processes as much as possible and the Radio Skills Kit is a plugin solution that’s low maintenance and doesn’t take a huge amount of everyone’s time and doesn’t require me to give anyone else in the team much training.”
“We’ve been working with Amazon since 2018. We were an early adopter of the Flash Briefing to allow our audiences to access local news on their smart speaker. And that’s evolved to using Radio Skills Kit where, to this day, 65% of our overall internet listening comes through Alexa.”
Since 2018, kmfm has used Amazon Alexa’s Flash Briefing Skill API, which is available to all, to make its local news content available via Alexa. Since then, kmfm has evolved to offering its radio streams to Alexa audiences too when it onboarded to the Radio Skills Kit in an effort to serve its audience better and reach more listeners.
And while it sits as equals with national radio stations, streaming services, and podcasts, when it comes to audience choice on Alexa, it has a unique connection to its listener base.
And it’s that sort of community connection that is at the heart of local radio in particular - something Rob illustrates in an unexpected way.
“We hate snow days!” he jokes. “But they really do sum up the connection we have with our audience.
“Even though anyone can access social media, or any website, I can still guarantee you that when a snow day comes our phones won't stop! People will shower us with questions and ask, ‘Is our kids’ school open?’
“Because we have that connection, we also get local taxi drivers calling us up asking Rob, do you know what's happening on the M20? It allows us to actually give people extra information, because we’re then able to tell them exactly which roads are going to be affected.
“Without that community side, radio stations our size just wouldn’t last two minutes.”
Rob’s audience is drawn to the simplicity of the smart speaker experience, but also the intimate listening experience it offers.
“There's an element of companionship where you can almost feel like you've got somebody with you. Terry Wogan always used to talk about ‘my listener’, and it’s that connection that you have with the person listening, as if they’re right in front of you.
“Radio still has this way of connecting you with others and I think the idea of being able to quickly have Alexa connect you to your favourite presenter is so quick and simple. It also makes it accessible because the cost of the device isn’t prohibitive.”
But for Rob there are some unintended benefits to the simple digital experience that Alexa offers.
“In the space of two months we had two transmitter sites hit by lightning, and one of which was completely shattered. In the 20 years I’ve been working in radio I’d never even seen that once.
“But one thing I’ve never thought is ‘oh, I wonder if I should just check and see if everything's okay on the Amazon stream. I’ve just never had to think about it.”
If radio has adapted to the digital age, the appeal of local radio in particular remains unchanged. And that’s the depth of its connection to its local community.
After more than a century, radio programming is still an essential part of the day for many, and Alexa is providing the tools and partnerships to ensure it remains so for the decades to come.