Three editors with exceptional personalities built its success, but with the generation changeover, the decline began
The epic story of one of France’s most successful radio stations is reconstructed in the book ‘EUROPE 1. De la singularité au déclin (1955-2022)’, written by Denis Maréchal, French journalist and columnist. The broadcaster was founded in 1954 by Charles Michelson, a visionary entrepreneur who was already thinking about Europe and television. But he is an awkward character and the government bars his way, making Sylvain Floirat, owner of the Matra aeronautics group, take his place. Floirat is also a man of great qualities and makes the station grow further. Among his employees is Jean-Luc Lagardère, a young engineer who takes over in the mid-1970s, continuing to develop the winning format and consolidating the station’s success.
An innovative formula
Live programmes, an independent newsroom with great personalities, and political debates are Europe 1’s strengths. The music is no less: jazz, yé-yé culture and rock, pop music, and chanson à texte (so-called because the authors claim the literary quality of the texts). But in 1981 the competition from free radio began and since 2003 the second generation has been at the helm of the company. Arnaud Lagardère, however, made strategic mistakes that aggravated the crisis and prevented the station from being renewed. Meanwhile, digital erodes ratings. In 2020, the group was in crisis and the shareholders challenged Arnaud, who, in order to remain at the helm, ‘opened up’ to Vincent Bolloré’s corporate entry. He starts with 10% but within two years, the Vivendi group patron takes control of the Lagardère group, further downsizing Europe 1. We talked about it on Radio Reporter here, here, and here.
Nearly a century has passed since the beginning of radio broadcasting in Spain (the anniversary will be in 2024) and we are preparing to celebrate it. But who really deserves the podium?
There is a curious struggle for radio primacy that is recounted in the newspaper La Vanguardia by Jesus Fraiz Ordonez, author of “La Barcelona de antes,” a series that recovers the historical memory of the Catalan city. Talking about the first radio stations (in every country there is always someone who boasts of having broadcast first) he reconstructs what happened almost a hundred years ago. To go on the air first was Madrid’s Radio Ibérica. But perhaps its promoters did not read well the ordinance that required a prior visit by an official of the Directorate General of Communications to apply for an official license. It thus began illegally (a custom that has remained to this day: there are over a thousand unlicensed radio stations in the country), while in Radio Barcelona they followed the procedures and the radio received the coveted EAJ-1 license. The fascinating story of what happened can be read here. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
Couleur 3 is the first European radio station to go on the air for half a day with programs created by artificial intelligence: lyrics, music, and speaker voices. Only the news remained handled by the traditional newsroom. Here’s how it went
The Swiss are not afraid of innovation. After all, it is through innovation that their watch industry has achieved world leadership. In radio, they are ahead of their time: in the early 2000s, RSI (Swiss Radio International) moved to the web by dismantling the powerful shortwave transmitter at Sottens (500 kW) in 2004. Twenty years later they are ready to switch off FM for DAB (from 2024), but unlike Norway, they have prepared the transition methodically: widespread coverage of the territory and information campaigns to buy digital receivers. And artificial intelligence sees them as pioneers once again: while in the States they are announcing software, Colour 3, the third public radio network in French-speaking Switzerland, has already gone on air on 27 April 2023 with programmes made by AI.
Thirteen hours of programming, three months of preparation
Although the experiment lasted half a day, it was meticulously prepared for months, experimenting with ten types of artificial intelligence and selecting five of them, including ChatGPT. The texts of the programmes were generated by algorithms, the music composed by AI, and the digital voices of five female and male animators of the station, cloned by Respeecher, a company specialising in film productions, were put on air. Only the information was handled in the traditional way, with articles written and read by live editors. Speakers, however, can rest assured, because artificial intelligence, as Antoine Multone, head of Colour 3, pointed out, is ‘cold’ and cannot replace the creativity, improvisation, and humour of a human.
Work less, work better
But the path is now marked out and the experiment is considered interesting by Pascal Crittin, director of RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse) because the energy that can be saved by entrusting the management of part of the programming to artificial intelligence can be concentrated on the originality of the content. Also, he adds that RTS and SSR (Société Suisse de radiodiffusion) want to use AI in an ethical manner, offering verified information and protecting the public from fake news. All of this is in the DNA of Couleur 3, which was one of the first Swiss radio stations to computerise its schedule, use samplers and, more recently, try out binaural sound, create social network videos and new musical currents before they spread. (Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini)
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has sparked a resurgence of interest in shortwave broadcasting, as nations strategically harness this medium to serve their individual interests. As in the case of the newly founded Ifrikya FM, which operates from Algeria to sub-Saharan countries.
While the transition to digital is being considered for FM, the war in Ukraine has shown that the ‘old’ short and medium waves are the only ones capable of bypassing the blocks that freedom of information might suffer from an authoritarian regime. By launching the signal from thousands of kilometers away, they cannot be countered except by jamming transmitted in isofrequency by the other side’s transmitters, a practice much used during the Cold War but now almost in disuse. So much so that many broadcasters, from the BBCto RFE-Radio Liberty and Vatican Radio, have dusted off old transmitters or created new transmissions aimed at crisis areas. But international services are also at the service of political propaganda, as in the case of Algerian Ifrikya FM.
The multi-ethnic editorial staff and correspondents in nine countries
Inaugurated in Algiers on 3 May 2023, to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, Ifrikya FM was created ‘to give a voice to African listeners‘ and its slogan is ‘The African voice’. It is actually a strategy of rapprochement with the sub-Saharan area, supported by the relaunch of new air and sea lines between Algeria and Senegal, a country with which diplomatic relations have been renewed. The station broadcasts 24 hours in French, Arabic, Targui, Hausa, and Bambara and has a staff of young journalists from Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Lesotho, Mali, Cameroon, and Niger as well as a network of correspondents in nine African countries. It broadcasts on shortwave on 13790 kHz, on the AlcomSat satellite, and on FM on 105.6 MHz (Algiers/Bouzaréah, replacing Radio Coran) and 98.4 (Tamanrasset, replacing Radio Sahel, which goes off the air).
Schedule and frequency updates for the shortwave service are available through WRTH (World Radio TV Handbook) at https://wrth.info/news/.
Artificial intelligence is the topic of the moment: it will change the world of work and also radio. Two American companies already propose AI-based programmes not only to automate functions, but to create content and free up energy for programming.
In Italy, the m2o network has called it the radio killer, but American Futuri says that with RadioGPTTM it wants to simplify program creation and create local content suitable for any radio format. The U.S.-based company was the first to gain publicity by capitalizing on the chatbot’s notoriety launched in November 2022 (as of March 14, 2023 to version 4). Futuri combines three AI-based software: GPT-3 writes program texts based on stories and trending content that the Topic Pulse software extracts from the web (it scans Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and 250,000 other sources), and finally has them read by a digital voice. One can choose from a catalog of entertainers, create shows with two or three hosts, or instruct the software to “copy” radio speakers.
Today, two out of three programs are automated
But the platform does more than just create the schedule (which can be customized for any area, leveraging news fished from the Web). It can automate other processes for the station to interact with listeners: such as feeding a blog on the website, creating social media posts, making short videos, and then converting program content into podcasts. Daniel Anstandig, CEO of Futuri, says his company created RadioGPT to save radio because in many stations 70% of broadcasting is already automated. While with the help of artificial intelligence, live and local content can be increased. A demo can be heard at this address. Impressive!
Program Director is more management-oriented
On a different front is American Super Hi-Fi, which offers Program Director to automate scheduling and reinvent the traditional workflow. Based on artificial intelligence, among many things it curates playlists, does intelligent music rotations, creates shows with artificial voices, and visually shows how the time slot is scheduled. It manages music catalogs, tags songs, and can run an unlimited number of stations simultaneously (useful, for example, for broadcasters who offer dozens of thematic web radios on their site to build listener loyalty). Designed for professionals, it has features that can manage stations operating in different time zones, syndication of stations, and the flow of advertisements.
Released in a free edition, thanks to a collaboration with the EBU, the study produced by RAI’s research office, where experts, professors and researchers of different nationalities draw the future of radio
Presented on March 29, 2023, in Rome, at the Universi Sonori conference, Audio-Sound Ecosystem is the English summary of the volume Audio-Sound Ecosystem published in July 2022 by Rai Libri, the publishing division of Italian public radio and television. Italian and European experts, professors, and university researchers shared their perspectives on their areas of expertise, drawing future scenarios of the radio and audio landscape in Europe and North America (USA and Canada). Collaboration with the EBU-European Broadcasting Union (an association representing various public and private operators), made it possible to produce an English summary of the publication (230 pages, compared to 512 in the original) to make it available to the entire industry. The book can be downloaded for free at this link.
The competition is getting tougher and tougher
Although radio is the most listened-to source of sound (over 50% of daily listening time, in Europe and North America), it must evolve to respond to competition from increasingly sophisticated audio products. It knows how to stand up for reliability and authority: ingredients that during the pandemic have allowed it to maintain important listening shares, and combined with the ability to entertain that have allowed it to consolidate a strong bond with audiences bombarded by bad news. And for years it has also innovated, creating a new editorial product, radiovision, which in Italy and Belgium has been developed in an original and more mature way. However, the situation is different in France (where it remains unconvincing in terms of ratings) and the United States (which does not consider it fundamental) or Sweden (which has excluded it from its strategies).
The big players
But the challenge coming from the network giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) is insidious: these platforms, which act as intermediaries between the public and radio stations, structure their offerings based on the enormous amount of information collected from users. To counter them, operators need more effective and detailed listening detections that deepen the knowledge of their audiences, and new professionals who can make information adapted to the digital challenge: streamlined but dense and producing a positive feeling. Network presence can be leveraged to increase notoriety, but there is a risk of losing control of programs, so much so that major broadcasters are creating proprietary platforms to establish direct contact with audiences.
Podcasts and streaming
In the (steadily growing) podcast industry, radio stations are prominent publishers, particularly in Europe, which allows them access to a younger audience, including children and Generation Z. However, the music streaming market is highly competitive, with platforms witnessing increasing consumption among the 16-34 age group. This demographic is gradually shifting away from radio, though the pace of this trend varies across different countries. Despite the challenging market conditions, leading broadcasters like BBC and Radio Canada are taking measures to counter the trend by launching their proprietary platforms.
Changing modes of listening
If the car today is the main listening space for radio, it is increasingly undermined by other media, accessible from the infotainment system. And when all cars are connected, it will have to contend with Google, Apple, Amazon, and Spotify. To meet the challenge of mobile listening, the main weapon is digital radio (DAB+ orHD Radio in the United States), which with its improved sound quality allows it to keep up with technological innovations, such as those in sound reproduction (spatial and immersive) from Apple and Sony and which will innovate fiction and other areas of entertainment. Regarding home listening, smart speakers will supplant traditional receivers: EBU research estimates that 60 percent are already being used to follow radio. To take advantage of this trend, some broadcasters are making specific and often interactive programs specifically for these listening devices.
A company that assists radio stations to climb the ratings charts publishes on its website the share of the top radio stations
Which radio stations are the most listened to in New York, Paris, or Sydney? To find out, consult the rating page of Radio Intelligence, a radio consultancy that has put online the rankings extrapolated from audience surveys in thirteen markets. For the United States there are: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami (Nielsen Audio data); for Europe: France (Médiamétrie); UK and London (Rajar); Italy (TER); Berlin (Media-Analyse); Holland (NLO) and Spain (AIMC). Last but not least, the Australian hit, with the city of Sydney (GFK). A useful resource provided by the consultancy, which wants to ‘ensure that every minute of programming is focused on the broadcaster’s audience’ and cites success stories in which it has helped clients quickly climb the rating charts.
An American company promises to realise the dream of advertisers, greedy for information on the audience of broadcasters that would enable them not only to choose on which stations and at what time to air the commercial, but to understand who listened to it and whether they zapped. Television, with smart TVs and set-top boxes, has long offered the possibility of monitoring audience habits down to the last detail. For radio, on the other hand, listening surveys detect the age, socio-economic profile, and musical tastes of the listener but do not offer precise data on when one stops on a station or whether one ‘zaps’ when there are commercials.
The system integrates radio, streaming audio, and TV
Photographing in-car behaviour is now being attempted by Xperi, a giant that holds the patent for the equipment (transmitters and receivers) of digital HD Radio (used on medium wave and FM in the States). The company has launchedDTS AutoStage, an infotainment system that lifts the veil on how people behave in the car. This is important data since in many countries mobile listening accounts for 60% of the audience. The new infotainment system integrates radio, streaming audio and video, promises an immersive experience, and… records what the user does. Joe D’Angelo, senior vice president of broadcast and digital audio at Xperi is excited because the system will offer radio stations and advertisers ‘new revenue opportunities with brands and advertisers‘. Written by Fabrizio Carnevalini
In order to intercept young people, who mainly inform themselves on online platforms, the German international broadcaster restructures and accelerates its digital transformation
Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcasterof international programmes, will close its German-language TV channel. Despite state funding amounting to 406.5 million euros, the broadcaster may have a deficit budget. Director Peter Limbourgrelies on digital transformation in order to intercept young and experienced target groups who inform themselves via online platforms. The German TV channel, whose audience has dropped to 250,000 viewers, and the German Twitter and Facebook accounts will be closed. The operation will result in the ‘socially responsible’ cutting of around one hundred jobs, mainly in the Berlin office. The broadcaster will continue broadcasting in 32 languages.
A conference in Rome analysed the radio system in Italy and some other European countries, as well as how radio is chasing the young audience, which is moving further away from listening
The conference ‘Universi sonori’ was held in Rome on 29 March 2022. ‘From radio to new spaces of production and listening’, it took stock of the radio ecosystem and future prospects. Promoted by Confindustria Radio Televisioni (an association comprising the major national radio and television operators), in collaboration with the Department of Communication and Social Research of the Sapienza University of Rome, it developed thematic panels, round tables, laboratory experiments, and talks with university radio stations. Experts, important players in the radio market, supply chain operators, and institutions, drew scenarios and showed how radio pursues the young audience (which is moving away the most) with thematic offers, talent and formats that represent them, presence on platforms and social networks, and events in the territory.
On Radio Reporter we will present some of the most significant interventions. The morning and afternoon session speeches can be reviewed at the respective links.