FeaturesRadiodays North America highlights AI vs. authenticity debate

Radiodays North America highlights AI vs. authenticity debate

The inaugural Radiodays North America left those in attendance with renewed optimism for the future of audio, amidst looming AI disruption, changing consumer habits, and the challenges facing terrestrial radio.

Those were just a few of the hot topics that repeatedly arose during the two-day conference that took place during Canadian Music Week in Toronto, an extension of the Radiodays Europe event, which annually attracts roughly 1,200 delegates from the audio, radio and podcasting space.

Futuri CEO Daniel Anstandig kicked off the conference presenting on RadioGPT, the first 100% AI-driven localized radio content solution. Currently being beta tested by Rogers Sports & Media and Alpha Media in the U.S., Alpha’s Portland station Live 95.5 (KBFF-FM) is making headlines globally with the introduction of midday host “AI Ashley,” a cloned version of station personality Ashley Elzinga.

“AI is coming, there’s no avoiding it. We have to adapt, we have to adopt, we have to go faster,” urged Anstandig. “We can’t say ‘we’re just going to stay away from AI and not pay attention and we like the good old days’ because somebody else, a competitor is going to adopt AI and we have to be there first.”

Touting the prediction that by 2049, AI will be a billion times more intelligent than humans, Anstandig said like any technological disruption, AI will displace jobs, but ultimately new ones will also be created.

“In radio, we have to decide – is it our enemy or is it our ally? Are we going to be afraid of AI or are we going to adopt it and use it to our advantage? At Futuri, we think AI is an ally and ultimately we believe AI can help us do things we never dreamed of doing in media and entertainment,” said Anstandig, noting that in an industry that doesn’t need more help downsizing positions, he doesn’t believe artificial intelligence is going to replace people.

“I believe people won’t be replaced by AI, but people will be replaced by people using AI…by using it as a tool, we can make it a great asset, rather than a threat,” he told the audience.

Futuri’s research indicates of 20,000 North American radio stations, less than 30% or three in 10, have more than one live and local daypart. Anstandig believes AI opens the door for a local content “renaissance” that could help grow audiences.

“What if artificial intelligence was the greatest thing to happen to the radio industry? That’s what we should be asking ourselves because ultimately AI can help us to be more live, more local and more relevant,” said Anstandig, who noted in the follow-up Q&A that local dialects and accents have been identified as an area of targeted investment in the beta period.

AI vs. authenticity

AI was a consistent theme weaving its way into almost every discussion, juxtaposed by the message that authenticity will always win with listeners.

Dennis Clark, VP of Talent Development at iHeartMedia, led the session “Taking a Station from Good to Great!” advocating against the proliferation of “inauthentic, fake personalities.”

“Listeners know what’s not real…if it’s not real, I’m not connected, so please – every company in this room – work with talent, make them as authentic as possible, like real human beings,” Clark told the session.

CBC Radio’s Tom Power also touted the power of authenticity, discussing the evolution of Q with Tom Power, which since the end of January, has moved forward as a digital-first product – a first for the public broadcaster – available in podcast format to listeners at 4 a.m. ET weekday mornings, and re-airing in the show’s regular 10 – 11 a.m. local timeslot across the country.

Power acknowledged falling prey to the “tropes” of a CBC host in the former radio format, noting Executive Producer Ann MacKeigan had always encouraged the Newfoundland native to “sound like himself.”

Power said the move to a more conversational podcast format has resulted in overwhelmingly positive feedback from listeners.

“People were writing in and saying, this show sounds like two people talking…this sounds like people actually speaking to each other,” he added, with it noted that the shift had resulted in a lift with the show’s key 35-49 demo.

“I’m old school in my belief in the CBC…but I feel we are trying to meet people where they are,” said Power, adding that the podcast has resulted in diving deeper into engagement metrics and more intentionally delivering content to the audience they want to draw in as the Q team attempts to “future-proof” the show.

AI was at the centre of discussion again in one of the conference’s final sessions on whether the medium can survive the digital age.

“AI has been here and is among us and we need to learn to live side by side with the technology,” said consultant Valerie Geller. “If you want company, if you want companionship, if you want humour, you’re not going to get that from a machine. The conversation now is how to best use it for radio, so that we can move ahead and win, and get, keep and grow audiences.”

Radiodays North America is already confirmed to return to Toronto next June with Radiodays CEO Peter Niegel telling Broadcast Dialogue that the event accomplished celebrating the resilience of the medium.

“The point is to celebrate what we’re doing…we’re a very, very strong medium – radio, but if you include all the new things we’re doing with podcasting and other audio forms, we’re so resilient. We will find new ways, we will break down barriers, we will reach new audiences and we should celebrate this,” said Niegel.

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Connie Thiessen
Connie Thiessenhttps://broadcastdialogue.com
Connie has worked coast-to-coast as a reporter, editor, anchor and host at CKNW and News 1130 in Vancouver, News 95.7 and CBC in Halifax, and CFCW Edmonton, among other stations. With a passion for music, film and community service, she led News 95.7 to a 2013 Atlantic Journalism Award and regional RTDNA award for Best Radio Newscast. More recently, she was nominated for Music Journalist of the Year at Canadian Music Week 2019. To report a typo or error please email - corrections@broadcastdialogue.com

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