Where is the best-sounding radio in the world? | radioinfo

Where is the best-sounding radio in the world?

Monday 17 April, 2017
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Radio Tomorrow with James Cridland

In a bar in Canada, two men jabbed their fingers at me - in a friendly way - and asked me a simple question. Where is the best-sounding radio in the world? What a great question.

I avoided the answer. We discussed it a bit. And I think we got broad agreement on what helps make great-sounding radio and the things you need.

First - the question expected a country as an answer. I don’t think that’s possible - there will be brilliant radio and rubbish radio across any country you look at. It’s also relatively pointless, too: you couldn’t go there and listen to it all anyway. Instead, the question is better answered with a city.

But which city? As we discussed it, we realised that you need a number of conditions to give you great-sounding radio.

You need a decent economy: one that helps radio companies invest in talent and programming, rather than solely cut costs. More money means more money for talent, production and marketing; and while it doesn’t always follow, a radio station with money spent on it will normally sound better than one without. Radio is growing in many markets in the world - both Finland and the UK have both posted record figures recently, and Australia is also up; but city economies are very different to country economies. Almost everywhere, large cities do rather better than rural areas in the same country.

You need a fair amount of competition, particularly within individual formats. No good just having one top 40 station; they can become complacent and don’t need to work as hard if there isn’t another station snapping at their heels.

And, as we chatted further, it would seem in most places, you need both public and commercial radio to keep the quality of both as high as possible. In most cases, public radio means fewer or zero commercials on-air, and the private stations need to bear that in mind when they produce their output. A high quality public broadcaster normally raises the quality of others.

A place with a multi-platform market helps to increase competition, of course. Whether it’s DAB or internet radio, more choice for the listener can lead to higher-quality programming, as radio stations work harder to retain market share.

Our beer-fueled panel also highlighted another condition: a fluid market. If there is no movement in the station rankings, things can get a little stale. But if there are regular upsets and switches in station order, that leads to rather more interesting competition.

Finally, and this is purely lazy, another condition is that it needs to be in the English language. This might be a little controversial, but it’s not much good pointing people to stations speaking Norwegian, for example, since the stunning programming might be lost on most people who don’t speak Norwegian. And as an Englishman, I’m inherently lazy when it comes to learning new languages. So, sorry. But there we go. (This column is translated into German, incidentally, so imagine the comments below the German version).

Anyway. With all those conditions in mind, I’d like to suggest the following four cities for “best-sounding radio”...

●  London: a strong BBC, almost permanent switches between Bauer and Global’s stations for the commercial #1, and a huge amount of choice on digital.

●  Sydney: well-resourced stations in a constant state of flux (at least on FM), with additional digital choice beginning to make significant inroads.

●  Vancouver: Rather more movement in this market than Toronto, and therefore a more interesting listen than the “same old” from Canada’s largest market.

●  Dublin: Very competitive market with a wide variety of stations and formats, both local and national.

And no, there’s no US radio market here. In the opinion of my friends round the table, US radio hasn’t been the “best-sounding” for many years. The comments are open if you think we’re wrong. 

About The Author

James Cridland is a radio futurologist: a writer, speaker and consultant on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business across the world.

A former radio presenter, James has worked for stations and companies across the world, including the original Virgin Radio in London, the BBC, Futuri Media, Imagination Technologies and Seven Network. He has judged many industry awards, including the CBAA, ABC Local Radio, RAIN and the UK's ARIAS.

He writes for publications across the world, and runs media.info the worldwide media information website. He also runs a free weekly newsletter with news of radio's future.  

British by birth, James lives in Brisbane, QLD and is a fan of craft beer.

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18 April 2017 - 9:56am
I'm not sure where the best radio is, but I can tell you where it's not. Brisbane! Here we have a city with 2.4 million people and only FOUR commercial FM stations! There is no classic hits station on FM - we have a crackly AM 4KQ. There is no easy listening/soft AC station on FM (e.g. no Smooth FM). All 4 commercial FM stations target under 40s. Triple M has morphed into some sort of talkback/sport station so there are really only THREE music-focused commercial FM stations - for a city of 2.4 million people!!!! All three target under 40s! HIT and Nova playing CHR and 97.3 FM playing the most bland, repetitive and safest playlist known to man. How is it possible that a city of this size has such a limited choice on commercial FM? It is clear that for FM formats to include easy listening (Smooth) or classic hits (Gold/WS) then there needs to more than FOUR commercial FM stations. Surely cities the size of Brisbane and Perth should have at least 5 commercial FM stations - then at least one of them would adopt a classic hits or easy listening format. It's a major failure of the ACMA when choice is so limited on FM in Brisbane. Small towns in New Zealand have double the number of commercial FM stations.

As for good radio, I do enjoy Los Angeles. So much variety and some pretty good stations like KOST and K-Earth and The Sound.
18 April 2017 - 2:41pm
Brianc68 - you and I need to have a coffee! I'm at james@cridland.net ;)

There's much you say that I agree with; though you ought to buy yourself a DAB set and get a bit more choice (most notably 4KQ in stereo, and Smooth too). I'm a bit disappointed at the amount of networking from Sydney or Melbourne on all the stations here, particularly 4BC (and, oddly, ABC Radio Brisbane, where great swathes are from Sydney); but the choice and quality is greater here than in many places.

You've also forgotten the delights of 4ZZZ, 96.5, 98.9 and the rest of the community sector. I'd listen to 4ZZZ more if it was on my radio; but my sets are mostly DAB and it isn't on that.
18 April 2017 - 3:43pm
Yes James we should have a coffee! I agree with your comments and I do have a DAB radio thankfully so at least I can receive 4KQ in stereo and also get Smooth FM that way. But for most people who don't have DAB - particularly in the car - Brisbane radio is a wasteland of southern networking with very little choice on the FM dial for the over 40yo. I agree there are some good choices on community radio, but I just can't believe that a city this size has only 4 commercial FM stations. It's just not right. Townsville has 4 commercial FM stations and it's about 1/10 of the size. ACMA will yabber on about the lack of spectrum, and yet you have a situation where a multi-cultural TALK station like 4EB is on FM! So community talk stations get high-power FM stations and no classic hits or Smooth on FM? The only other option for people in Brisbane is the overspill of great stations like Breeze FM and Rebel FM which are usually ok in the car. But really, in 2017 in a city this size, is that acceptable?
21 April 2017 - 12:21pm
4ZZZ and all metro-wide community radio stations in Brisbane, Adelaide, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney do have DAB+ services.

4ZZZ's DAB+ service is called ZED Digital and offers a jukebox service during the day but new programming after 6pm each night, see http://www.4zzzfm.org.au/program/zed_digital
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