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 Jacky Cheung, Zhang Hui Mei, 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.

How are radio listenership surveys conducted in Singapore?

Every year, between March to May and September to November, Nielsen will randomly choose 2000 respondents (with around 250 respondents per week, with a cap of 2 booklets per household) to fill in a manual form or opt-in for mobile data (M-data) to track on your radio listening habits for a week. The figures collected over the 8 weeks from around 2,000 individual participants will then be used to compare against the Singapore population. A detailed report will then be generated to provide details of every radio station, such as the tuned-in ratio figure, total market share, and total time spent, etc for each station.

Due to COVID-19, there were no results tabulated for Wave 1/2020. During the wave periods, radio stations usually hold contests that give out huge cash prizes and organize big campaigns, hoping to up the listening figures.

In Singapore, we have 19 stations in total. 11 are owned by Mediacorp, 5 are owned by SPH Radio, 2 are from So Drama! Entertainment and one syndicated station (BBC World Service 88.9FM). There used to be Lush99.5FM, but was closed down due to Low listenership; XFM96.3 was vacated and the frequency was returned to IMDA and later placed on an open bid. SPH won the bid and the new 96.3HaoFM was launched in January 2018, together with MoneyFM89.3.

As this radio diary survey or less commonly known as Singapore’s RAM (Radio Audience Measurement), is commissioned by MediaCorp and SPH Radio, So Drama! Entertainment was excluded from the survey. The actual figures for both 883Jia and Power98 Love Songs radio stations are only reflected under the Others section.

RAM’s next renewal is due next year, with the option to renew for up to 2 years (2021 – 2022). 

Other research companies which conduct radio listenership surveys include YouGov, Milieu and etc.

So… how is Milieu media consumption survey conducted then?

The methodology used by Milieu to gauge Singaporeans’ media consumption survey is different from Nielsen’s. They would first sieve out users who live in Singapore (from the 1 million user pool worldwide) and purge the survey randomly to those who fulfil the criteria set by the client (i.e. age, occupation, income group etc). 

The survey would first ask what station(s) does the user listen to daily. For those stations that the user does not select, there is no way he or she can provide additional inputs on that station, even if you do listen to it occasionally. That’s the major downside of this survey.

Comparatively, Nielsen’s manual diary and M-data disallows survey participants to indicate that they are listening to two stations concurrently, and are recorded based on blocks of 15 minutes (total hours per day should not exceed 24 hours too). As for Milieu, it is an open field for you to fill in how many hours do you tune in per day, and it does not need to add up to a logical number of hours per day.