Decline of Identity and Listenership among Local Chinese Radio Stations

Lim Guohao

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In today’s technological age and consumer-driven economy, Singapore’s Chinese radio stations are mainly concerned with listenership figures, which predominantly determine their survival and success.

In their race towards attaining greater listenership, these radio stations are gradually losing their identities. Greater uniformity in song features and discussion content are key factors that account for such a trend.

Individual identities of many Chinese radio stations across the region have been declining, especially within Singapore. A predominant factor behind this trend lies in the declining number of the target audience, specifically those below the age of 35. This is due to the growing popularity of alternative forms of entertainment, such as online radio channels, social media platforms (eg. Facebook, Twitter) and online broadcasting avenues (eg. YouTube, DailyMotion).

As a result, many local radio stations are now aiming to attract greater numbers of middle-aged (35-59 years old) listeners, in addition to their pre-existing group of core target listeners. As most of the middle-aged in Singapore have greater purchasing power, they could help boost the radio station’s appeal towards various advertisers.

However, such ‘strategy’ adopted by these radio stations might provoke a backlash as more high quality and niche radio programmes, targeted towards a smaller group of audience, is being demolished.

For instance, the once-popular jazz radio show UrbanNite on UFM100.3 was terminated due to the relatively lower commercial revenue that it generated, as compared to other programmes for the general audience.

Another example would be a local paid radio service, Rediffusion. Offering unique and alternative radio programmes, it had once reached its peak with an impressive number of 120,000 paid subscribers in the 1980s.

Traditional storytelling programmes, hosted by ex-local radio veterans Lee Dai Soh (or Li Da Sha) and Wang Dao, were extremely popular on Rediffusion. However, as time passed, listenership began to decline and this led to the closing down of the historic cable radio service in 2012. It was announced in December 2012 that a new form of Rediffusion would be launched, with an array of radio shows that would appeal more to general public preferences.

Instead of cultivating a radio listening culture among the younger generation, the radio industry is focusing on retaining its older listeners. Songs broadcasted are those from the 1980s to 2010, with many repetitions of singers such as Aaron Kwok, Daniel Chan and Julie Su (more commonly known as Su Rui). Additionally, the content of news discussed is centred on entertainment, family and relationship issues.

Such moves could be unfavourable for the local Chinese radio industry. Young listeners below the age of 35 might be disinterested in Chinese radio stations if programme contents do not appeal to them.

They might also have difficulty in identifying the radio stations. In the next 20 years, without the existing group of older listeners, local radio industry might face serious survival problems. A major re-adjustment of programme contents would have to be carried out so as to suit the preferences of the new batch of audience.

It is extremely important to cultivate a more appealing radio environment to the younger generation as well. It is also crucial for each radio station to constantly create new ideas and concepts and to develop a unique identity, instead of accommodating to the needs of advertisers or focusing on listenership figures. This provides a greater variety of choices and attracts listeners of different age groups.