Why radio show producers are failing us


I often find myself listening to the radio as I drive to and from meetings or spending time with friends. Normally, I listen to BBC Radio 4, LBC or BBC London, where discussions are taking place on a range of topics. LBC and BBC London in particular are, by and large, phone-in radio show programmes which facilitate debate between citizens of London about the issues that matter to them.

Or, at least, that is the idea.

But I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the lack of discussion/debate on topics that are of great importance today, particularly those relevant to smart society.

New smart society innovations are surfacing all the time, which we already know will radically transform the way we live in cities, and as communities in general. Whether mind reading technologies, artificial intelligence and robotics, virtual reality, new ways of organising traffic flows or parking in the city, innovative ways of delivering education and governance and myriad other big data, smart society applications. These are innovations that are being prepared for and are usually already being tested in some communities/markets – sometimes even in the UK.

Key to successful delivery of innovation is an iterative process of feedback from those for whom these innovations are supposed to benefit. Without an iterative process of reflection by communities, many key problems with the innovation can be overlooked or opportunities missed, resulting in flawed or mediocre ideas being delivered. This in turn means that innovation takes longer to maximise its benefits to society, and can also mean that innovations result in immense harm where benefit was intended.

How can we be lurching at a gazillion miles an hour towards a new age of technology that’ll utterly transform our lives, yet those who facilitate public debate on radio offer us radio silence on these questions?

It’s not that there is an issue with many of the topics the producers of these shows focus on. Racism, gun crime, accidents on roller coasters and new political developments are of critical importance for public discussion.

Yet, firstly, I often hear the most inane topics being pursued, like the latest gaff by a public figure. Now, it is true that these are important questions to focus on because they help us forge our cultural personalities and evolve our sense of right and wrong. But really, might there be a bit of an overkill, particularly when there are (as it is being argued herein) more important questions to be explored?

Secondly, producers often have several questions for discussion on the go at the same time. They do this, I presume, because it’s hard for them to know exactly which questions are going to pick up listener interest. That being the case, why can’t the producers regularly add into the mix of questions those that relate to newly emerging innovations and just see if those questions hit the sweet spot with their listeners?

Third, there’s always the 12-5am shift! Surely, it is the nightowls who are predisposed to consider questions of magnitude. Yet night radio show hosts seem all too ready to rehash the previous day’s subjects, or choose to focus on the stories that were too boring to discuss during peak hours. That just seems like lazy programming. Why not test out the more interesting topics on the night shift?

Some may argue that even if an iterative process of feedback is really important to the success of innovation, we still have to be practical about things. For radio show producers it’s the pursuit of a simple goal: more listeners. The bottom line is that these innovations are just not ‘yet’ relevant to ordinary people’s lives. We must wait for the application of these innovations to actually matter in the day-to-day lives of the majority of people before listeners of radio shows will take a real interest.

At first glance, this seems to be a fair point. But, then, perhaps this assumes the listeners of radio shows to lack any faculty of imagination – an assumption that must surely be questioned. Indeed, radio show producers are brilliant at making even the most seemingly boring topics ‘interesting’ and ‘relevant’ to listeners. Applaudable! If they put even 50% of that creativity into questions about innovation, then the resulting debates might just turn out to be electric, thought provoking and highly empowering in what is now a sprint towards smart society innovation.

The UK has one of the most entrepreneurial communities of innovators. Moreover, finding innovations could not be easier. A quick scan of start up community websites or popular crowdfunding websites will provide an endless resource of ideas for radio show producers looking to pioneer these types of discussions/debates. Moreover, the authors of these innovations can be easily contacted and invited into the discussions to be interrogated and challenged about the value of their ideas, whether in terms of the challenges they represent or whether the application of their innovation has sufficiently considered to deliver maximum benefit quickly.

What excuse is there not to do this?

Why radio show producers are failing us