Podcasts deliver diverse programming to community radio listeners

E_cover_facebookIn the last decade, podcasting has redefined broadcasting for radio stations, producers, hosts and listeners alike. For community radio stations, which offer exceptionally diverse and niche programming, podcasts have become an essential part of making their content accessible for their equally diverse listeners. Commenting on listener demand trends are affiliates from local community stations: UBC’s campus radio (CiTR), Simon Fraser University’s campus radio (CJSF) and Co-op Radio.

Unlike commercial stations, which focus on one type of content, community radio delivers a wide array of content. Community radio programming is aimed at specific cultural communities, as well as non-English audiences.

Magnus Thyvold, station manager at CJSF, says with mobile devices listening has become portable. Offering podcasting attracts those listeners who desire on-demand access to programming on their mobile device.

“Podcasting is something our audience is looking for. That’s where things are going,” says Thyvold. “Taking advantage of podcasting is an advantage for community radio.”

From broadcast to podcast

Leela Chinniah, director of programming administration at Co-op Radio, points out a community radio listener is unlikely to tune in to a station’s live broadcast for an entire day but podcasts allow people to listen based on their interests, and at a time that is convenient for them.

“Our programming is very eclectic, and we have a tremendous amount of diversity,” says Chinniah. “It’s as though podcasts were made for community radio.”

Co-op Radio’s programming schedule illustrates how varied the content, and its intended audience, is from one hour to the next: “Democracy North” (a Canadian and global news hour) is followed by “The Armenian Variety Show” (featuring Armenian songs, news, and culture), which is then followed by “Y57” (a youth-focused and youth-driven program).

On the Co-op Radio, website listeners can access programs through online archives going back up to three months. Chinniah explains although archives are not offered in podcast form, each show can choose to produce their own website and deliver their show as a podcast.

Robin Alam, CiTR’s program manager, explains listeners are moving toward downloadable content and away from FM radio. CiTR was one of the first campus-community radios in Canada to introduce podcasts back in 2007. Through their website, users can listen to or subscribe to a show’s podcast, and access archives of past episodes and special programming.

“It is important for us to engage with listeners and stay current with changing patterns of listening to and accessing content,” says Alam, who feels the station is meeting these demands.

As part of this effort to make more content available to CiTR supporters, the station has also digitized their monthly magazine Discorder.

The future of radio

Leo Ramirez , who has been in broadcasting for 15 years, thinks podcasts are the future for radio | Photo courtesy of Leo Ramirez

Leo Ramirez , who has been in broadcasting for 15 years, thinks podcasts are the future for radio | Photo courtesy of Leo Ramirez

While providing improved accessibility and convenience for the listener, podcasts provide unique benefits for show producers and hosts at well, connecting them with their audiences in new ways.

“People put a lot of energy into their radio programs,” says Thyvold. “With live broadcast, they do all that work, it goes on air, and then it is gone. Podcasts extend the life of their work, and helps them to gain more of an audience.”

Leo Ramirez, the host of the Spanish-language program The Leo Ramirez Show, says having his radio program available online allows him to share it with people around the world: by posting the link on social media sites like Facebook or distributing the link via email.

“People can listen to my show whether they are located in California, El Salvador, New York, or New Mexico. The future of radio is that it will be on the internet,” says Ramirez, who has been hosting his show for 15 years.

Laurence Gatinel, host and producer of Excuse My French and Foodline on Co-op Radio, says podcasts enable her to promote her show beyond local listeners through social media and extend her reach to a broader audience.

“Right now, people don’t listen to radio on the radio. You reach many more online than on air,” says Gatinel.

Gatinel says another significant benefit of podcasts is a host or a producer can gather data on their program’s audience.

“When you are a community radio station, you cannot pay to know who is listening,” she says. “With podcasts, you can see how many are listening, or downloading, and what country they are listening from.”

Podcasts, mobile devices, and the internet have altered how, where and when people listen to their programs. For radio stations and programmers it is valuable to gain information on their audiences and their listening patterns.

“We have a lot of variety and we generate a lot of content,” says Thyvold. “Certain shows have a particular audience, and a lot of our shows target different cultural groups.”

The University of British Columbia’s campus radio (CiTR), Simon Fraser University’s campus radio (CJSF), and Co-op Radio offer approximately 8 per cent, 12 per cent, and 20 per cent of their programming, respectively, in non-English languages.

A podcast is an audio program in digital format that is available for download over the Internet. A listener can listen to a single podcast episode, or choose to subscribe to a podcast and listen to a series of episodes.