Everyone’s a winner on JNLR Day and that’s not a good thing
The publication of new listenership figures on the day TXFM closed highlights radio’s over-reliance on the wrong metrics
One of the dictionary definitions of irony is “the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.” For many in Irish radioland, another definition of irony would be the fact that Dublin alternative music station TXFM, which shut down yesterday, turned the lights off on JNLR Day, that quarterly date-with-destiny which dominates the working life of all Irish radio professionals.
The irony also extended to the fact that TXFM had a decent JNLR Day as their audience increased since the last quarter. In normal circumstances, they would have spun this as significant increase in listenership, but the 3,000 extra listeners to 19,000 is really small potatoes in the world in which TXFM operated. It shows just how low the audience was for the station and how difficult it is to make an alternative station stack up given how radio rulers the BAI wants its stations to be run, even the ones which are unviable under the current rules and regulations. It also shows, though, that a TXFM freed from a horrific playlist of bland, beige and boring music, as the station was for the last couple of months of its life, could and did attract an audience. A lesson for heads of music and programme directors everywhere.
Were they not dealing with the online and social media reaction to the station’s closure, TXFM’s makers and shakers would have spent yesterday, like all their Irish radio world peers, in a closed room digesting the contents of the latest survey into Irish radio listening habits and finding the positives in the data. All radio stations partake in this spit-and-polish-and-spin-and-repeat ritual every quarter when the JNLR book arrives, which is why everyone is a winner on JNLR Day, as the self-congratulatory ads and press releases proclaim. There’s never a decrease in a station’s audience because the data mining will always reveal some increase somewhere. You can always claim an increase in listeners by comparing year to year or book to book figures in some segment or other.
But just how effective are these JNLR figures in really gauging radio habits? Every single person I’ve spoken to in radioland over the years has been hugely disparaging and negative about the survey and cast aspersions left, right and centre. However, when they give you a quote on the record about the JNLRs, it’s a different matter. Because this is the data that advertisers use to book campaigns and spend their dosh, the radio stations stick with it because it’s the only game in town. In truth, they probably go with this great TechDirt headline: Traffic Is Fake, Audience Numbers Are Garbage, And Nobody Knows How Many People See Anything pours scorn on every single media metric we take as gospel in our always on world because those figures can be gamed.
When it comes to radio, there’s never a mention of the elephant in the room that more and more people are just not listening to the damn thing and, moreover, the inevitable switch from FM to digital is going to mean huge changes to the current status quo. That latter change may be some time away, but it’s going to happen at some stage. Of course, there are those in the radio industry, like those in other media sectors, who will say that nothing will change. They’ll laud the surveys which show that 91 oer cent of us listen to radio every day. They’ll point to the fact that there’s a serious element of “congealed cowshit vapour”, to quote Pat Kenny, in Ireland in terms of ingrained radio listening habits. We’re good to go for decades, lads.
I’ve written before about a presentation from BBC Radio One head of programmes Rhys Hughes at Eurosonic earlier this year. He produced many statistics, such as the finding that 50 per cent of 10 to 15 year olds have stopped listening to radio compared to 10 years ago, which should give anyone in radio cause for pause that the good old days are going to last forever. The huge volume of media distractions means audiences are going elsewhere and they’re not coming back.
Is Ireland really going to be immune to such changes? Are we really raising Gen Z kids who are going to be happy to keep listening to boring radio like Breakfast Republic on 2fm or whatever or are they, like their peers worldwide, going to find new attractions like Musical.ly to be more attractive? I know DeValera went on about self-sufficiency and all of that, but it’s hard to believe that worldwide trends in media consumption are going to stop at the Irish border. We’re not North Korea. Really time for Irish radioheads to stop following the crowd and face up to some hard facts about their industry.