Turn On, Tune In, Text
By Carlo Longino, Mon Apr 26 17:30:00 GMT 2004

UK listeners are sending huge amounts of SMS to radio stations, but the challenge stations now face is how to utilize the texts.

One BBC Radio 1 show receives over 5,000 messages each day during its three-hour afternoon slot, and a promotion by the station to let users choose ten hours' worth of music got 150,000 SMS responses. One London station says it gets millions of messages annually -- and with an "official" audience of 2.3 million, that's some significant response and interaction.

People have always liked calling in to radio stations, whether it be to get on the air, win some concert tickets or request a song. But stations can receive far more texts than phone calls, allowing much larger numbers of people to interact with their DJs. But how does that interaction become something more?

Some stations are using the feedback in SMS to shape their playlists, but that's something stations have been doing with phone requests for a long time, and more recently over the Web and e-mail. The Guardian article says stations are wrestling with this, and thankfully, are mindful of turning over listeners' numbers willy-nilly to marketers.

The problem with radio and SMS, and even visual radio to an extent, is that although there's two-way communication, it's not necessarily interaction. A DJ asks for votes in a poll, so I send an SMS with a response -- and the conversation essentially ends. Much of the interaction in visual radio seems designed to support commerce, like downloading audio tracks or videos or ringtones.

Broadcasting is an intrinsically one-way form of communication. But when it's coupled with another technology, like SMS, or the Web, or even phones, faxes and mail, it can become a two-way, interactive medium. But how can radio stations harness the response they're seeing via SMS and use it to create a relationship with their listeners?