NRB Radio Pros Forecast AI Impact on Industry

NRB | April 11, 2024 | Industry News

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are driving innovation and change across a myriad of industries. The radio broadcasting industry is no exception. With the ability to analyze data, personalize content, and automate tasks, AI boasts the potential to provide radio broadcasters with many new opportunities to engage audiences and streamline operations.

Some media experts predict that AI innovations will remove traditional barriers of owning a radio station, such as startup funds, equipment costs, and the need for specialized training. These possibilities paint a picture of a very different radio industry for the next generation of owners, engineers, and talent. In conversations with NRB, member experts advised limiting the use of AI in broadcasting to functions that help achieve the main goals of radio.

Yvonne Carlson, CTO at Global Media Outreach, believes advancements in AI are democratizing the radio industry by making it easier and more affordable to create, distribute, and manage content.

“AI is leveling the playing field in the radio industry, enabling anyone with a passion for broadcasting to share their voice, regardless of their technical expertise or financial resources,” said Carlson, who serves as NRB Digital Media Committee Chairman and is an NRB Board member.

Dr. Jennifer Hayden Stokes, executive director at Kinship Radio Network, believes it is too early to say whether AI is a net positive for the radio industry.

“We’ve seen how monolithic media organizations have swallowed up local outlets, diminishing community voices and perspectives,” said Stokes, who is an NRB board member and member of the NRB Radio Committee. “Increasing a smaller organization’s ability to operate more effectively may help these media outlets to continue serving their audiences. As with the introduction of all new technology, there are always some unintended consequences. It’s important to guard against negative impacts, especially where ethical issues come into play.”

One example of an AI innovation aimed at making it easier to access the airwaves is AI Radio Bot, an online radio streaming server. The Bot generates autonomous text-to-speech, reading scripts to listeners in a variety of male and female voices with the option of mixing in “professional quality music produced by humans.” With a few manual customizations and prompts, producers can generate an online radio program in seconds.

Michael Shelley, Vice President & General Manager of NewLife Radio, says many stations are using AI voices for production and even air shifts.

“The question should not be, ‘Do I use AI?’ but rather, ‘When do I not use AI?’” said Shelley, a long-time member of NRB serving on the Board of Directors who has been in Christian radio for several decades.

Broadcasters must remember radio is still driven by personality. A survey of more than 800 Americans, presented by SmithGeiger Group earlier this year, indicates that radio listeners value radio personalities’ authenticity and human connection, something that AI-generated voices cannot achieve. In the same study, 86% of respondents said they prefer radio hosts who “feel authentic,” rather than perfectly polished and 47% dislike the concept of AI radio voices.

Features of human radio hosts that engage an audience’s attention—unique personalities, creativity, and improvisational skills—cannot be replicated by an AI voice.

Jacobs Media, a research consultant to leading radio, television, and digital media companies, suggests what AI can and cannot be used for. They advise using AI to write general website copy or to compile research for show prep. They say AI can fuel creativity, help producers understand their audience through data analysis, and increase advertising effectiveness.

“AI increases worker efficiency, especially when a task requires creation from scratch, such as radio copy,” said Stokes. “The producer is able to take the generated AI content and refine the finished product, saving much-needed time. At Kinship Radio, we’re already operating in this way.”

But the experts at Jacobs Media warn not to use AI to conduct primary research or try to replicate human’s on-air talent, and Christian broadcasters concur.

“When machines replace the person, it may seem easier, but in Christian radio it’s more than just a voice,” Shelley said. “Remember, listeners to Christian radio are looking for companionship. There needs to be a warmth behind the mic and understanding to what the listener is experiencing.”

AI-generated voices lack the ability to connect with audiences in a meaningful and emotional way, which remains the main appeal of radio. While human touch and connection of radio personalities is irreplaceable, AI usage in creating, distributing, and managing content can surge these voices into new territories.

“Supporting automation in the industry doesn’t mean we overlook the essence of radio: connection,” Carlson said. “This technological advancement supports the essence of radio by allowing more broadcasters to share their unique voices and stories, regardless of their technical skills or financial status.”

To find the right balance between human personalities who authentically engage audiences and the latest tech innovation, Stokes advises that producers provide careful oversight.

“We do this naturally when we mentor other human beings: we tweak performance, correct unhelpful word choices, watch for theological nuances that suggest concepts that aren’t in keeping with God’s Word,” Stokes said. “We must always be mindful of the listener, while remaining aligned with organizational mission and brand. It’s what we’ve always done as Christian media professionals and what we must continue to do in the future, even as we leverage the benefits of AI.”

Shelley added a word of advice to broadcasters considering station ownership: There are no shortcuts, even in a world of advanced technological helps.

“Ownership is not an easy track, and it isn’t for everyone,” Shelley said. “NRB is a great place to start! There are so many who can come alongside a potential owner and help them to avoid the pitfalls. An owner is a leader, and a leader is a learner.”


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