The National Communications Commission (NCC) on Wednesday said it has started taking applications for new radio licenses, asking that applicants show how they could increase listenership and address the interests of young people, Aborigines and immigrants.
Without specifically mentioning rural areas, the commission said that new licenses are being issued because communities are still not being reached by radio. Rural areas are often neglected, because radio survives through advertising, and advertisers are naturally motivated to target areas and demographics that will give them the best return on their investment.
However, rural areas — where broadband services are often lacking — are arguably the most in need of radio programming. The Executive Yuan addressed the urban-rural digital divide in March last year, when it announced plans to invest NT$46.06 billion (US$1.57 billion) in rural digital infrastructure over the next eight years.
In the interim, radio could be a good way to bridge this divide, bringing information about urban trends to rural listeners and allowing rural listeners to interact with their urban counterparts through interactive call-in programs.
Ironically, Taiwan Broadcasting CEO Ma Chang-sheng (馬長生) once said that rural areas do not need more radio access — that listeners there could instead listen to broadcasts online. Ma and others, such as Commercial Radio Broadcasting Association chairman Tu Chin-yi (涂進益), most likely view the issue from the perspective of attracting advertisers, as they often cite the difficulties of surviving financially as a modern-day radio station.
The nation has about 5 million listeners of over-the-air radio broadcasts, but in rural areas, there are often as few as 100 listeners, Tu said in a 2016 interview, citing survey results.
With such a small listenership, a rural radio station would not survive if it were only local. However, if a station were accessible nationwide — over-the-air for rural communities and on the Internet for the rest of the nation — it might be able to garner the number of listeners needed to attract investors.
Doing so could also make rural listeners feel more connected with their urban counterparts, but to be successful, such a station would need content relevant to both rural and urban listeners.
“In Taiwan, the industry at large has to change to capture the younger demographic through doing podcasts and videos,” Terry Engel, a DJ at the popular English-language International Community Radio Taipei, said in a 2016 interview.
Keith Menconi, one of the station’s producers, emphasized the importance of unscripted banter, and said that the goal of his Morning Show program is to give “guests a chance to goof off on air.”
Listeners want content that is personal and allows them to share experiences with hosts and other listeners, an interactivity that accounts for the popularity of YouTube and other streaming services.
Local radio is able to take this experience even further, as most of its content is live and most listeners live relatively close to each other. This geographical proximity matters from a marketing perspective, as listeners can share places of interest with each other.
One of the problems faced by attempts to address the needs of Aboriginal and immigrant communities is that policymakers in Taipei are often the ones to act on behalf of communities from which they are far removed. While their intentions might be good, policymakers might not be up-to-date on the concerns of the communities that they hope to represent. Interactive radio could bolster their efforts by allowing listeners from those communities to call in to talk shows.
A study from the Web site Western Advocate last year said that radio listenership is up, but those listeners are increasingly tuning in through mobile apps. The urban-rural divide must be closed through a digital-analog bridge.
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