Last week, I was part of a panel discussion at my alma mater (and sometimes employer) Ryerson University, talking about “Radio in a Digital Age” alongside Steve “Dangle” Glynn, Raina Douris, and moderator/former-prof/sometimes-boss Lori Beckstead.

The video’s online now:

Lori sent out a few questions in advance of the panel, and I used them to prepare a few notes (most of which I forgot). So then, for posterity:

What are the challenges for radio in the digital age? How is it adapting? What will radio sound like in the future?

  • Measurement is a big challenge, because the ways in which people are listening continue to grow, but we don’t yet have great ways to measure. PPM measures broadcast, and some streaming, but on the web, we’re still measuring unique visitors and stream initiations, and podcast downloads, which don’t give us a great picture of who’s listening, or how we can better serve them.
  • Discoverability, particularly online, is a challenge. Great Digg piece about why audio doesn’t go viral outlines why audio is a second-class citizen on the web.
  • Opportunity: I’m excited about digital radio in the car. When you look at how many people in this country have a regular commute (80% of Canadians drive to work, 25 minutes each way). There’s a huge opportunity for radio there. Cars are a natural fit for radio.
  • I’m also really excited by all the really great independent work coming out of places like Dan Benjamin’s 5by5 network, or Radiotopia from PRX (Roman Mars’s 99% invisible, and Love + Radio from Nick van der Kolk). Jesse Thorn’s Maximum Fun network. Earwolf. So much great indie stuff. Encouraging.
  • The opportunities are in embracing the digital distribution opportunities, while at the same time, remembering the things that radio is really good at. The inherent advantages that the medium has. Portability. Immediacy. Intimacy.

What is “radio?” If it’s not coming through an AM/FM transmitter, is it still radio?

  • It’s clear that the definition of “radio” is broadening.
  • Are podcasts radio? Are on-demand streams radio? If you take an over-the-air radio program like This American Life and turn it into an MP3 and put it on the web, is that radio? Is Rdio or Spotify or Pandora radio? Is iTunes Radio radio? If you take a clip of a radio show and put it on YouTube with a static image, is that radio? If there is a video camera in the room and you can watch a radio show, is that still radio?
  • So, the definition is broadening, but there are fundamentals that don’t change. We are human beings and we are naturally wired to respond to other people’s voices. Our voices are a great medium for storytelling.
  • Personally, it’s not super-helpful to try and define what is and isn’t “radio.” For me, it’s helpful to think of what radio is when it’s at its best.
  • People talk about radio as an immediate medium. I remember listening to WBUR during the Boston Marathon bombing coverage. That was immediate. I remember listening to CBC during the storms over the Christmas break, talking about where power was out, keeping people updated. At its best, radio is immediate. Immediacy can come from a different places. Interesting to see experimentation with podcasts that have live chat rooms as they record.
  • People talk about radio as intimate. Radio is with me in the bedroom when I wake up in the morning. That’s intimate. Or listening with headphones to a podcast. It doesn’t get much more intimate than sticking someone’s voice in your ears
  • Don’t forget portability. Radio is something you can bring with you, and it’s there when you want it, where you want it?

What are you doing to engage a young demographic? There’s much handwringing about whether 18-34’s are still interested in radio.

  • The demographic of CBC Radio generally skews older.
  • That said, CBC’s 18-34 numbers have grown in recent years.
  • I think there used to be an idea that listening to public radio was like learning to enjoy olives or good wine. That you grew into it.
  • I know that CBC Radio thinks of itself as an information and entertainment service for adults. We don’t do children’s programming in the same way that CBC TV does.
  • But when I look at what’s going on w/ CBC Music, or I listen to the Jian Ghomeshi Q show, I definitely hear stuff that appeals to the 18-34 demographic. I’m in that demographic (just barely), and I hear stuff that appeals to me.
  • I think podcasting has helped a lot to get people interested in radio and audio storytelling. When I meet people who know the show that I work on, Spark, more often than not they say, “I love your podcast.” Not, “I love your radio show.”

What’s the story of what you do and how you came to this place in your career?

  • Graduated from RTA in ‘05
  • Came to RTA with the specific goal of working in public radio
  • Whenever possible, turned my schoolwork into freelance work
  • I’m not a network-y person, but I sucked it up and tried to find as many people as I could who could tell me about their job.
  • The fact that I was a student was really helpful. It’s much easier to say yes to a student when they say, “I’m a student and I’m interested in learning more about what you do for a living,” than, “Hey, I’m some guy and I want a job. Or I want your job.” Make use of the fact that you are a student.
  • Ask for referrals. If you meet with people who are doing the kind of work you want to do, ask them who else you should be talking to. Ask if you can use their name, or if they can send a letter of introduction.

Advice you have for students interested in getting into radio?

  • Know your audience. If you’re looking for freelance or contract work (which is how many people get started), know which shows or units have money and can hire you. Know where the money is, who has budgets, and what their preferred way to get in touch is.
  • Have samples of your work that demonstrates your skills: being able to get good tape, to be able to perform on air, to be able to write. Having a few real-world examples that demonstrate your skills is good.
  • You get good by making stuff. Make lots of stuff. Start now.
  • Be careful who you take advice from